Mar 23, 2013

I've been chasing a new 1RM in my deadlift for some time now. I've created program after program, tweaked popular programs, and tried just about every way humanly possible to peak for an all-out effort just to have a new number to play with. Then I took a step back and asked myself a question: How important is my 1RM?

The answer I came up with kinda stopped me in my tracks ... it's not. I'm not a competitive powerlifter nor do I seriously have plans to compete any time in the near future. So having knowledge of what I can lift for one gut-busting rep really doesn't make much of a difference to my training. Unless it's on a platform during competition it doesn't do me any good other than supporting my ego and having something to brag to my friends about. Lame. Not to mention unneccesary.

I'm pretty sure I will never come across a time in my everday life where I will need to exert a 100% effort in the deadlift (unless some one needs their car moved out of a tight spot like Franco Colombu did in "Pumping Iron"). Plus, the constant chasing has put my CNS on overdrive and left me burnt out. So if I'm not going to be hunting for singles what rep range should I train instead? In my experienced opinion you should ...

Lift Heavy in the 3-5 Rep Range

This will allow you to move a significant amount of weight, will help to build up some high load strength endurance, and will stop you from getting injured under heavy weights with less-than optimal form. We all know things get a little sketchy when you're pushing with all you got. And heavy singles have their place but 3-5 is the bread and butter for the every day strength enthusiast and athletes not competing in strength sports.

The main reason is you are more likely to utilize high load strength endurance than you are maximal strength in every day life and in sport. For example, your buddy needs you to help move a piano. Sure the piano is heavy, but you aren't going to just lift it up and put it down. You have to pick it up, carry the sucker up a flight of stairs, and slide it into another room. If that's not high load strength endurance then I don't know what is. Don't think I'm bashing maximal strength, I just feel it's better trained in the 3-5 rep range rather than for singles. You should use it this way for any of the big 3 (squat, bench, and deadlift; we can add military press as well) and should be anywhere from 75-95% of your training max. Notice I didn't say 1RM. I said training max, which poses another question ...

What Exactly is a Training Max?

Your training max is a formulated estimation of what your 1RM should be based on some of your best gym numbers. THIS ISN'T YOUR ACTUAL 1RM!! The easiest and most accurate formula I've found is this:

(WEIGHT  x  REPS  x  0.033)  +  WEIGHT  =  TRAINING MAX

Now there are a few caveats to using this formula:
  • Use weights from your best sets of 5 reps or 3 reps. The reason you want to use these rep ranges is they are better suited to getting as close as possible to what you should be able to hit for a serious single. If you go any higher than 5's you're falling into strange territory. For example, let's say you were able to hit 250lbs for 8 reps in the squat. Using this formula your estimated training max would be 316lbs. A couple weeks later you hit 280lbs for 3 reps and it was tough. Your estimated training max with these numbers would be about 308lbs. See the discrepency? Although you were able to hit more reps with the lighter of the 2 weights, as the weights creeped up some, things got heavy. It's better to low-ball your training max and bring it up over time than to overshoot it and feel like crap every time you miss a lift in the gym.
  • Use recent lifts. If your trying to find a training max using weights that you hit 6 months ago, you're going to shoot yourself in the foot. This will force you to possibly start too high which would cause you to miss lifts.
  • Low-ball your training max. This needed to be repeated for a 3rd time because it's THAT important. You should be slowly building up your training max and making sure you're able to constantly make every lift you attempt - and with speed. In order to do this you have to throw the ego aside and start off where you're able to start off. This will ensure you get strong as hell an remain injury free.

Applying Your Training Max to your Program

As I stated before, to get strong you should be training somewhere in the 3-5 rep range and between 75-95% of your training max. How you plug these numbers in is really up to you. If I'm working up to 1 or 2 heavy sets of 5 reps I usually keep the weight no higher than 85%. If it's 3 reps it's usually 85-95%. This keeps you honest. Be sure to use the best form you possibly can and to move the bar with speed. Remember, these weights are based off of your training max which is based off of your performance ... So perform, and perform well.

Don't get caught up in chasing numbers. Lift to get strong, lift to break your own records, and lift for yourself. Stop trying to be a badass just so you can brag about it. Be Patrick Swayze in "Road House."

In Strength,
Franco Crincoli


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Franco Crincoli
I am a personal trainer, strength coach, and all around iron addict, with a philosophy deeply rooted in old school methods. My training has been influenced by strongmen, powerlifters, Olympic lifters, gymnasts, and the Golden Era bodybuilders. I believe in reaping the greatest rewards the simplest (not easiest) way possible and having fun doing it.
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