When I saw this video on Youtube, my first impression was the Strongman will win because of the incredible amount of strength endurance they must perform. I know, because I’ve seen Matt Szczerbinski of Max Strength Gym train down by Worthing.
But then I thought, your max weight (or 1RM or 1 rep max) can be extrapolated based on your repetitions from sub max weights.
Conversely, your 1RM max can determine your reps at sub max weights.
So it would be the Powerlifter who would win, right?
If you want to skip the results, you can watch the video, or scroll to the bottom of this article.
Calculating Your Weights and Reps
A reader once asked me, how did I calculate my weights from the past article Weight Training Routine from the Archives?
Basically, you need to know your Maximum One Rep Max (or “1RM” in short) and the approximate percentages at the lower weights.
Below are my guidelines on weight percentages that worked for me for my different lifts, assuming 1RM = 100% :)
- 8 reps = 70% (usually the warm up set)
- 6 reps = 85%
- 4 reps = 90%
The problem with testing the 1RM is you can get injured testing an athlete… just ask Asafa Powell prior to his preparation for Beijing 2008. Nowadays, we only test for “doubles or triples”… that is 2 or 3 rep sets.
I’ll use empirical weights as my weight room at the time still used those plates. I guess they bought them from the USA :)
For example, if my 1RM Bench Press is 315lbs (3 x 45 lb plates on each side, plus 45 lb bar), then
- 8 reps = 70% = 220 lbs.
- 6 reps = 85% = 267.5 lbs.
- 4 reps = 90% = 282.5 lbs.
You can easily use Microsoft Excel and use the ROUND function to round up to the nearest 2.5 or 5 lb increment, depending if your weight room has 1.25 or 2.5 lb “donuts”. Note that these are training weights, and not to failure.
But Will I Get Big?
In a nutshell, maybe. (skip to the functional vs non-functional hypertrophy below) This is my first question I get from both Men and Women, with different concerns or goals by gender. (Men = bigger, Women = leaner)
But I guarantee you will get strong :)
Doing 5 or 6 reps at 85% load is a good guideline for muscular hypertrophy and maximal muscle fiber recruitment. This is bad news if you don’t want to get big.
But that fact remains, if you do this after a 2 hour track workout, and you aren’t training to failure on all those sets, then you might gain some mass. But not as much as if you did only weights on a 5×5 type of program, for example. The next time you get injured from running, and are stuck doing weights as your primary workout, check out your numbers…. I’ll bet they’ll explode due to unused energy from the skipped track workout.
You will definitely gain strength, and that is the whole purpose of doing weight training:
- strength training, i.e. squats, bench press
- explosive training, especially from the Olympic lifts like power cleans or hang cleans.
In as much as I think the Bench Press is useless (unless you are a power lifter), it has one benefit: the Bench Press will hold you steady in the set position of starting blocks.
Honestly, when was the last time someone sat on your face while lying down and had to push them upwards with your arms and chest?
Other 1RM Testing Protocols
Another example of calculating 1 rep max is a simple test where you find an exercise and weight you can do for 8 reps or less. Then follow the cart to see where your weight and reps intersect, and that becomes your theoretical One Rep Max (1RM).
Comparing to my workouts, with exception of the 8 reps set (because it is a warm up set), the 4 and 6 reps numbers are pretty close to the actual 315 (highlighted in yellow, above).
Weight Training, Reps, Intensity and Benefits
Below is a chart with estimates on percentages of 1RM (one rep max or one repetition maximum) and the benefits associated with the reps and intensities. The chart may be off by one rep either way, but you can get an idea of the big picture.
You can look at this chart and it will explain why I do 4×5 reps or 8-6-4-2-2 or three-by-threes or why I do doubles and triples but never a single 1RM. Also, genetically I get very big lifting weights (most men would die for this problem) but I don’t want to get too big as 400 meters is a long way around the track carrying an elephant, grizzly bear and piano.
As a guideline, I never want to be in the weight room more than 45 minutes and the number of sets for a particular exercise should be limited to 3 or 4. If you are coming straight from the track (my personal recommendation, though some several world class athletes prefer a 9am weight session, followed by a 11am track workout) then you are already warmed up. Jump right in. Just put on a fresh T-shirt please, and bring a small towel to wipe off the sweat on the bench!
Do, what does this chart tell us?
- 1-3 reps: Max and Relative strength
- 3-5 reps: Max strength and low end hypertrophy
- 5-8 reps: Best combo of max strength and hypertrophy
- 6-10 reps: Good strength, better hypertrophy
- 10-15 reps: Excellent hypertrophy (for bodybuilders), average strength, lots of fatigue
- 15-20 reps: some hypertrophy, lots of endurance, tons of fatigue
The Results of the 5 Minute Max Squats Bodyweight (with a Cyclist, Powerlifter, Strongman)
Andrej Mostovenko, a Powerlifter, who weighs just under 90Kg, has a Squat Max raw at 300Kg.
The other guys were Tetzel 115kg, Thomas 93kg, Robert 95kg, and Viktor 85kg.
So based on that 1RM, you would think from the formulas (not reality) that he should be able to to 100 reps?
300Kg 1RM X 30% = 90Kg, his body weight, for 100 reps?
The answer was Andrej Mostovenko performed 87 reps with the closest competitor at 72 reps!
Ian Graham, I challenge you to try this test! At your own risk, of course!
You mileage may vary.