When lifting weights, if you want to see results, you have to push your body and demand more from it than what it is used to giving. Brutal beatings in the gym trigger adaptation, a process in which your body is forced to respond to the stress of exercise. With sufficient levels of abuse, your body will adapt by getting bigger and stronger and by performing better overall.
In the beginning, punishing yourself with a good weight training routine (using free weights and compound exercises) will be enough to trigger adaptation and see noticeable gains of muscle mass and improved strength. With time however, the body becomes accustomed to the strain of familiar exercise and you will need to increase the intensity of your beatings to ensure that continued adaptation occurs.
Not all adaptations are the same however. Training for size and training for strength both require grueling amounts of suffering in order to see results, but they each require different stimulus for the specific adaptation to occur. Whether training for strength, size, or both, you will need to know how to train with the correct intensity to achieve specific results.
Workout intensity refers to weight load and is typically expressed as a percentage of your 1-Rep Max (1RM). Intensity also refers to intensity of effort and includes specific techniques that push muscles to the point of failure and beyond to trigger gains in muscle size (hypertrophy).
THE 1-REP MAX
Your 1RM is the absolute most weight you can lift for one complete rep on a given exercise. It is a personal measurement of your maximum strength and is an important part of strength training and competitive powerlifting. Knowing your 1RM however is useful to everyone as a tool to determine appropriate intensity (weight loads) specific to your goals.
Performing a 1RM and knowing your 1RM are two different things. Before you run out and try to lift as much weight as you possibly can, let me stress that performing a true 1RM is for experienced lifters only.
For the purposes of determining appropriate weight loads for your training, an estimate of your 1RM will do the trick. Anyone can estimate his or her 1RM safely and accurately for any exercise.
ESTIMATING YOUR 1-REP MAX
For a quick and easy estimate of your 1RM, simply use this handy 1RM calculator * :
- Choose an exercise you want an estimate of your 1RM
- Perform a couple of light warm up sets of 8-10 reps
- Add weight that allows you to only do 8-10 reps
- If you complete 10 reps, wait 2 minutes and add weight (10-20% increase)
- Continue to perform sets with 2 minutes rest between sets until failure occurs at less than 10 reps
- Once you reach failure, enter the weight and number of full reps completed into the 1RM calculator for an estimate of your 1RM
* 1-Rep Max calculator uses the Brzycki formula
For new or less experienced lifters, using an estimate of your 1RM will be enough to get you going toward achieving your goals.
TESTING YOUR 1-REP MAX
If you are an experienced lifter and your goals are focused on strength training, you may want to test your true 1RM for the most accurate measure of strength. The video below contains some great information and detailed instruction on how to safely test your 1RM.
Performing a true 1RM is best done using compound exercises. Multi-joint compound exercises use more muscles and are better equipped to handle the stress of maximal loads.
Before testing your 1RM, be sure you can perform these exercises with proper form. Use a spotter or lift inside a power rack with safety rails (especially for bench press or squat).
YOUR 1-REP MAX & YOUR GOALS
If you have experience lifting weights you’ve probably heard that for strength, lift heavy weight for fewer reps, and for size (hypertrophy) lift less weight for more reps. Generally, this is true, though not very specific.
Training intensity when referring to weight load is expressed as a percentage of your 1RM. Knowing your 1RM gives you the specific information you need to ensure you are working with the correct intensity (weight load) for your training goals. Here are the basics:
Training for Strength
- Use weights within 85-100% of your 1RM
- Perform 4-6 sets of 1-6 reps
- Total reps per exercise should = 10-24 reps (warm ups not included)
- Focus on compound lifts
Training for Size
- Use weights within 75-85% of your 1RM
- Perform 3-6 sets of 6-12 reps
- Total reps per exercise should = 24-36 reps (warm ups not included)
- Train each body part with a variety of compound and isolation exercises (free weights, body weight and machines)
Understanding the 1RM and how it is used to determine training intensity is beneficial, but when starting out, don’t worry too much about how much weight you are lifting or training specifically for size or strength.
My advice to beginners is to learn to exercise with good form. Focus on compound lifts like Squats, Deadlifts, Presses and Rows. Use free weights as much as possible. Free weights and compound lifts use more muscle and are your best bet for building strength and size.
NOW GO & LIFT!
If up until now you’ve relied on feel to determine the weights you use in your training, consider using your 1RM as your guide. Once you have an estimate of your 1RM, try using the intensity guidelines above to determine weight loads. Start with your compound lifts. These should form the foundation of your training for any weight training goal.
In upcoming blog posts I’ll go into deeper detail on how to train specifically for Strength and Size. Until then… Eat. Sleep. Lift. Metal!