How strong are you really? Simple strength testing to track your progress

Posted on March 2, 2021 by

Many of us are training all the time, but when was the last time you tested your strength? If you are an aspiring athlete or just looking to get stronger, testing your strength is a very simple process to make sure your program is effective!

Traditionally the one repetition maximum (1RM) strength test has been considered the “gold standard” for assessing an individual’s strength. It is simply defined as the maximal weight an individual can lift for only one repetition with correct technique.

Although the 1RM test is a very reliable indicator of muscular strength, it can sometimes be risky – especially when using free weights (barbells and dumbbells) or while testing alone. To mitigate some of this risk, you can complete a multiple RM, such as a 3RM, to reduce the chances of injury.

In the following post, we will outline the process for a 3RM strength test. Note that a 3RM can be substituted for any rep range you desire. You can also use any exercise however, to make sure you can compare results further down the track, it is important that each test be performed the same way, and being strict on your technique is very important.

The following general guidelines should be adhered to for all tests:

1. All actions must be performed in a continuous manner

2. A single rest of no more than two seconds is allowed between repetitions of a multiple RM test

3. Ideally, the specified RM test should be completed within four trials (not including the warm‐up)

4. It is recommended that a spotter be used

Here’s a step-by-step guide for you to test your strength in your local gym.

 

Preparation checklist

1. All appropriate safety equipment should be used. For example, for a back squat test, the safety bars should be set at the highest possible point without affecting range of motion and clips should be used

2. The use of lifting aids (weight belt, heel blocks, seat height) may be used but should be kept the same with every subsequent test

3. Determine your predicted 1RM from your previous training session and subsequently your 3RM (or any multiple you choose) using the table below. Having an estimated 3RM will guide your warm-up and first max attempt

1RM 2RM 3RM 4RM 5RM
Percentage of 1RM 100% 95% 92.5% 90% 85%

Note: These numbers are an estimation or guide only. True percentages will vary from person to person.

To estimate your 3RM use the following equation (Epley 1985):

Weight lifted x (1 + (reps / 30)) = Predicted 1RM
Predicted 1RM x Percentage of 1RM = Predicted Multiple RM

For example, if you max out at five reps on the bench press at 80kg, then:

(80 x (1 +(5 / 30)) = 93kg Predicted 1RM
93 kg x 93.5% = 87kg Predicted 3RM

 

Warm Up

 

General Warm Up

The general warm up is used to prepare the body for training. This should include foam rolling (myofascial release), mobility and various activation exercises.

 

Specific Warm Up

The specific warm-up is designed to prepare the body for the exact exercise which you are about to perform. If we are about to test our 3RM back squat, then you should warm-up by performing progressively heavier sets of back squats. As a rule, aim for 4-6 sets of 1-5 reps. During the lighter sets a rest period of 1-2 minutes should be sufficient, but as the weights get heavier extend this to 3-5 minutes to allow for adequate recovery.

There is no correct way to complete your specific warm up, a stronger person may require more sets than someone less trained.

An example warm up could include:

Warm-up Set 1:            50-60% Predicted 1RM x 1-5 reps (1-2 mins rest)

Warm-up Set 2:            60-70% Predicted 1RM x 1-5 reps (1-2 mins rest)

Warm-up Set 3:            75-85% Predicted 1RM x 1-5 reps (3-5 mins rest)

Warm-up Set 4:            85-90% Predicted 1RM x 1-5 reps (3-5 mins rest)

 

Attempting your 3RM to test your strength

Once you have warmed up, it is time to attempt your 3RM! Selecting your first weight will be dependent on your final warm up set. If the lift felt hard, add a small amount of weight. If it felt easy, add more.

Attempt new 3RM:       95%+ 1RM x 3 reps

 

If you feel like you could do more, add additional weight and rest for 3-5mins before attempting again. Continue in this manner until there is no possible way you can complete your fourth rep.

Testing your strength can be a simple way to keep track of your progress, and understanding how to do so in a safe way can give you confidence to try it yourself.

 

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