“How much can you bench press?”
How many times have you been asked that question? Does it really matter that you know what your current maximum single effort (MSE) is in the bench press, or for that matter, any other exercise? The answer is yes, especially if you’re an Olympic lifter, powerlifter, or power bodybuilder who bases the amount of poundage used from one set to the next on a current un-fatigued MSE. Powerlifting guru Louis Simmons calls this percent training.
There are some experts who strongly advise against doing single-rep maximums. It’s their opinion that doing a single-rep maximum lift is dangerous, injury-producing, and counter-productive to a person’s training protocol, even when the lift is done with perfect motion and precise form.
These die-hard opponents also feel the one-rep system can, over time, tear down the body mentally and emotionally. Not only that, but they go on record and state that maximum single reps are only an indicator of a maximum poundage that can be performed correctly in a full positive and negative range of exercise motion. They say it’s not an indicator of anaerobic “size-strength” or endurance.
I have to disagree, and here’s why. Many of the world’s strongest bodybuilders, Olympic lifters, and powerlifters have found the one-rep system to be one of the simplest, quickest, and least taxing ways to make the greatest gains in muscle size and strength in the least amount of time. I’ve personally found the one-rep system to be a great shortcut in acquiring tremendous muscle bulk and power gains.
Another obvious advantage of doing single reps is that they can reveal the anatomical sticking points in the bottom, middle, and top positions on just about any exercise. For example, if a person is stalled at the mid-point of a supine bench press, then more anterior deltoid work is in order in the form of parallel bar dips or barbell front raises on an incline bench.
For those of you who are against doing the one-rep system for whatever the reason (e.g., arguments cited above, lack of a spotter, not enough weight available, etc.), continue on with your current training methods. But wouldn’t it be terrific to be able to determine what a single-rep maximum might be in a select exercise without actually having to do one? Of course it would, especially if you ever decide to employ percent training.
Okay, here’s how you can determine what your single-rep maximum is in just about any exercise. This is accomplished by using an assigned coefficient (@) to a corresponding number of repetitions. The coefficient is a multiplier which is used to find the maximum amount of poundage that can be correctly performed for a single repetition.
The following chart lists assigned coefficients and their corrosponding number of repititions:
Number of Repetitions / Coefficient (@)
2 @ = 1.07
3 @ = 1.12
4 @ = 1.15
5 @ = 1.18
6 @ = 1.21
7 @ = 1.24
8 @ = 1.27
9 @ = 1.30
10 @ = 1.33
The maximum number of repetitions (NR) listed on the left doesn’t exceed ten for the following reason: repetitions higher than ten don’t accommodate for Golgi-tendon readiness or the feel of really, really heavy poundages. Therefore, additional repetitions at eleven and beyond and assigned coefficients wouldn’t accurately reflect what a true, all-out single-rep maximum might be.
How to Use the Coefficient Table
On November 29, 1996, at a special strength event in Boston, Ted Arcidi blasted up nine full range-of-motion reps in the bench press with 500 pounds for a world “rep” record, and all without the aid of a bench shirt. The ninth rep was performed to absolute momentary positive failure. What a demonstration of Herculean raw power at its best!
To determine what Ted’s single-rep maximum in the bench press was, simply refer to the coefficient table. Nine repetitions (listed on the left) has an assigned coefficient of @-1.30 (listed on the right). Five hundred pounds is then multiplied (x) by the coefficient (@) of 1.30: (500 x 1.30 = 650 pound single-rep maximum).
Please realize that the chart isn’t chiseled in stone and a particular answer may vary by plus or minus 5% depending on a person’s prior or present training protocol, as well the development of the “will.” In Ted’s case, he was on the comeback trail from very serious surgeries on both elbows, so he feels, in all honesty, that his single-rep maximum is perhaps 5% lower than what the coefficient table reveals.
However, the coefficient table has stood the test of time and has proven to be quite accurate on just about all compound and many isolation exercises. To enhance the accuracy of the coefficient table, there are a couple of specific training factors to be considered:
Specific Warm-up Sets: Specific warm-up sets serve as physical and mental preparation for a maximum single set. There are some thirteen physiological adjustments which occur during warm-up sets. Three of the most important ones are:
1) Muscle temperature increases.
2) Muscle viscosity decreases.
3) Arterioles and capillaries supplying the muscles dilate and open up.
Do only what’s minimally required to accomplish the thirteen physiological adjustments. A guideline for accomplishing this would be to perform one or two specific warm-up sets, doing ten or so reps per set with approximately 50% to 65% of a maximum repetition set. Rest approximately 90 to 120 seconds between the two warm-up sets. Excess warm-up sets increase lactic acid in the muscles, which in turn can lead to undue muscle fatigue. So don’t turn your warm-up sets into a workout session! Rest approximately three and a half to four minutes after the second warm-up set and then perform a maximum repetition set.
Maximum Repetition Set: This set (be it a 3RM, 5RM, or 6RM) must be executed with the most poundage that you can correctly handle. For example, if you use 300 pounds for six reps in a select exercise, but can actually do eight reps to positive or concentric failure, then you must use the assigned coefficient for eight reps, not six reps.
Also, when multiplying with a coefficient, always round off an odd or unusable answer (poundage) either up or down (your choice) to the nearest five-pound interval.
A Final Comment
The mathematically derived coefficient table has been a tremendous benefit to me and thousands of other athletes for determining a true single-rep maximum in a selected exercise. I sincerely hope it will do the same for you as well.