STRENGTH TESTING DETAILS
We incorporate 1RM, 3RM, and 5RM testing (as well as a few other RM tests) into class on a semi-regular basis, but over time we (your coaches) have observed that some people are chasing RM’s (rep maxes) at almost every workout that they do certain exercises, and for others while it’s not necessarily every time they do an exercise, it’s still too frequent. This is a sure fire way to slow your strength gains.
PR’s, MOTIVATION, AND WHEN YOU SHOULD AND WHEN YOU SHOULDN’T PR
As great as it feels to set a PR, there are times, however, that you shouldn’t attempt it. Though there are certainly other ways to test yourself to see if you’re making progress, and I’ll go over some of this in this post down below.
HOW THIS PROGRAM WILL HELP YOU GET STRONGER
We’ll be holding a Strength Testing day every 5 weeks that allows you to come in and test your strength in the four main barbell lifts that we practice on a regular basis (Back Squat, Front Squat, Deadlift, and Press). We can also do Snatch and/or Clean & Jerk and/or Clean/Jerk.
HOW THE TEST DAY WILL WORK
The idea is to pick 1-3 exercises that you’ll test, and do them every 5, 10, or 15 weeks. The Strength Test days will be held every 5 weeks, in order to facilitate everyone who wants to get involved. This way if you miss the first Strength Test date, you don’t have to wait 15 weeks until the next one to get started. Instead, you would just wait 5 weeks. But regardless of which date you start on, you’ll repeat your strength test every 5, 10, or 15 weeks depending on your training age (training age = beginner, intermediate, or advanced).
THREE COMMON SCENARIOS SURROUNDING WHETHER TO ATTEMPT A 1RM PR OR NOT
SCENARIO #1: BACK SQUATS
You arrive at the gym, and it says Find a 1RM. After checking out your lifting history in Wodify you see that you haven’t done Back Squats in about three weeks, and you know you’ve been averaging about 2-3 training sessions a week. In this case, it’s not advised to try to beat your previous 1RM. The level of tension required to achieve a 1RM whether you beat it or not, mandates a more frequent exposure to back squats with moderate to high volumes. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t come in and still get a sense of where you are with your back squats. You can work up to a comfortable “working 1RM”, which basically means, you’re in no way intent on beating or even matching your previous 1RM, but rather you’re just going to work up towards a comfortably heavy single rep. This means you’ll still be working hard, but you shouldn’t feel like you’re pushing things too much.
Recall that when you work up to heavy singles, you’re not “training” your strength, but rather “testing” your strength. It doesn’t train it because the minimum training volume (MTV) required to elicit training adaptations isn’t achieved. And since we still want to get a good workout in that will build strength, after hitting a comfortable yet heavy working single, you can take 80-85% of this number and hit 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps. This will provide you with a MTV that results in an increase in strength. With this suggested range of sets and reps, how do you choose? Well, if you’ve been training just 2-3 x per week, I’d suggest going with 5 reps. This gives you a higher volume. 40% more volume per set than just 3 reps. And how do you choose how many sets to do between 3 and 5? Similarly, assess how much sleep you’ve had recently; how well you’ve been nourishing and hydrating your body; whether you’ve been nursing a lot of colds recently; consider anything that you know might prevent you from getting as much sleep in the next few days; and over all that sense of how good you feel. Taking it all together, if you’re feeling lower overall, then do 3 sets. If you’re feeling not bad, go for 4 sets. If you’re feeling like superman, go for 5 sets. Remember though, this is 5×5 of your “working heavy single” you did today, because 5 sets of 5 reps will really call on your body to have some heavy restoration if your load is high (=> 75% 1RM). Chances are though, if your comfortable, heavy, working single was only around 85-90% of your true 1RM PR, you’ll be fine to hit 5×5 @ 75-80% of this number (not your true 1RM PR).
SCENARIO #2: SNATCH
You’ve been at the gym, training day in and day out. You’re an experienced CrossFitter with pretty good technique. You’re following a competitive programming schedule which has higher volumes of Olympic lifting. You’ve worked on Snatch a lot lately and today’s training calls for Finding a 1RM Snatch.
If you’ve been pushing your intensities lately on your strength work (Back Squats, Front Squats, Deadlifts, Cleans, etc…) and today’s training calls for a 1RM Snatch attempt, it’s important to understand that a 1RM in this context is not asking you to try to set a PR. A 1RM Snatch attempt in the programming is about seeing where you are given your current levels of fatigue/restoration. This means, build up to a 1RM, but keep technically correct. This serves to limit your highest weight to that which your current level of restoration and fatigue can manage.
SCENARIO #3: DEADLIFT
You’ve been absent more than you’d like in the past few months, finding it challenging to get to the gym more than 1-2 x per week. The last time you did deadlift was more than 6 weeks ago. You feel otherwise fine, and you’re eager to get back on the road to improvements in your strength. Today’s training calls for a 1RM Deadlift attempt.
In this scenario, because deadlifts are technically less demanding than Squats or Snatches and pretty much any other barbell movement, it’s quite easy to push yourself even when you shouldn’t. Not having done deadlifts in 6 weeks is a clear indication that attempting a 1RM is not a good idea, as your nervous system just isn’t familiar enough with the movement to be pushing for a heavy single. You still want to get a good workout, so what do you do?
ALTERNATIVES TO A 1RM: WAYS TO TEST AND TRAIN YOUR STRENGTH AT THE SAME TIME
When you haven’t been hitting your barbell lifts on a fairly regular basis, and today you make it to the gym and the training asks for a 1RM Deadlift attempt, there’s a good way you can still “test” your strength, yet at the same time “train” your strength.
The 5RM (AND SOMETIMES 3RM)
The ability to do 5 consecutive reps of a main barbell strength builder like deadlifts requires a certain level of muscle conditioning. Without sufficient conditioning, technique starts to break down towards the end of the set. This lends a useful “test” of your current strength that still yields a decent “training” effect.
Building up to and performing a technically perfect 5RM, when you’ve been less than optimally frequent at the gym will likely see you using around 70% of your former 1RM PR (had you set one previously when you were training more regularly). Obviously it’s a much lighter weight than a true 5RM which is often around 85% of your 1RM PR. However, if the emphasis is on perfect technique, the result is a perfect 5 reps which can serve as an easy benchmark with which to compare at future workouts.
For example, let’s say your 5RM on this day was 100 lbs, because you hadn’t been training regularly, but you are now, you should be capable of making increases to this 5RM number at each Deadlift workout. Some days you’ll build up and easily add 5-20 lbs to the previous 5RM you did. As you approach your previous 5RM number, always consider how much effort you’re having to put into matching this number and into how much effort you’ll need to beat it. If it took almost everything you had to match it and then you try to beat it, imagine what it will take at your next Deadlift workout to match or beat it again. If it’s taking a relatively high amount of effort just to match your previous 5RM, rather than trying to beat it on the next set, do a second set with the same weight.
There will be periods in your training where you may need to stay at the same weight for a period of weeks, where you’re simply increasing the number of sets you do with the same weight from workout to workout. After a few weeks of progressively increasing your volume with a given weight, you will likely be able to make another increase and set a new 5RM.
This method of training involves using a 5RM as a benchmark instead of a 1RM. You’ll be lifting lower weights, but you’ll be increasing your strength more because of the higher training volume.
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