Don’t Live and Die by Your 1 Rep Max
by Erik Castiglione
Greetings Relentless Family!
Today, we’re going to talk about 1 rep maxes. We just finished testing 6 of them in the month of April, and we saw numerous PRs – 160 to be exact. Some people PR’d multiple lifts, others didn’t get any PRs, and some missed testing all together. No matter the outcome, we can move forward from here.
Testing a 1 rep max requires significant skill in addition to strength (especially in the snatch and clean & jerk). For the most part, any deviation from good form will result in a missed lift. (Paradoxically, as we approach our true 1 rep max, form inevitably starts to break down, which is why we spend so much time training at submaximal weights.) Furthermore, to achieve a true 1 rep max, your nervous system must be functioning properly. You must not be in an over trained or overstressed state, or you won’t be able to fire your muscles as needed. Unfortunately, because of the pressure we put on ourselves to perform, we often stress ourselves out prior to a max attempt and miss the lift.
Given the degree of difficulty, why then, do we even bother testing? Well, first, we like to see how you progress over time, and this is a very straightforward way to test. We spend a lot of time (usually 6-8 weeks) building our strength and refining our movement patterns, so we like to give you the opportunity to see how far you’ve come. And second, since most of our training is based on percentages, having an established max will give you a starting point to calculate these percentages.
That being said, don’t live and die by your 1 rep max; the percentages are there as guidelines. If you’re having a really crappy day and the weight feels SO HEAVY, go lighter than prescribed. If the weight is flying up, maybe you go a little heavier. The last thing we want is for failed reps during the percentage work (not counting the occasional technical fault in a snatch or clean), so play it by ear. Heck, even when we test, I’m a big proponent of ending on a made lift. I’d rather see you hit a 1 lb PR and leave a little extra in the tank than make a huge jump and fail. Here at CFR, we want to see you lift heavy WITH GOOD FORM, rather than go for an absolute 1 rep max where the form breaks down or miss a lift. This will ensure that you make progress long-term, while minimizing the risk of injury.
So, how do you continue to make progress if you missed a testing date, or missed a lift due to psyching yourself out or making too big a jump? First, look back at your percentage work. Are you consistently hitting the prescribed sets and reps? When doing sets to failure (e.g. 5+ or 3+), are you consistently exceeding the minimum number? If so, add 5-10 lbs to the number you were using as a 1 rep max. I would suggest 5 lbs for upper body lifts and 10 lbs for lower. This will increase the weights you use for percentage work and make you stronger over time.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, if your answer is “no”, then we may need to re-evaluate your one rep maxes. If you deadlifted 400 lbs three years ago and haven’t gotten anywhere close since then, it’s no wonder you’re failing at the percentage work; you’re going too heavy. In situations like this, it is important to take a step back and lower your working weights. Failure to do so will have the same mental (and possibly physical) effect as bashing your head into a wall. Believe me, I’ve been there. At one point in my CrossFit career, I was stuck at a 375 lb deadlift. I plateaued there for 19 months before I made progress. By taking a step back, we can figure out what the issue is and fix it. It may be a form thing, it may be a mental thing. Getting the reps in will help get you through it. The bottom line: don’t live and die by your one rep max.
See you in the gym,