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The Academy Guide to One-Repetition Maximum Testing

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One-repetition maximum tests are practical assessments of athlete strength and power. Because of their simplicity and supporting research, strength testing is popular throughout sport. After one-rep maximum tests are completed, coaches can use the information to better prescribe training and track progress or fatigue during the season.

This guide on the 1RM outlines the relevant science, best practice in testing procedures, and specific protocols to conduct the test safely and effectively. Along with proper procedures for maximal testing in the weight room, we include the information necessary for post-testing analysis.

The Common One-Rep Maximum Tests

Maximum strength and power testing in the field is relatively safe and easy to assess, and correlates well with sports performance and other training modalities. The degree of skill and technique necessary to perform maximum testing varies depending on the exercise used and the equipment selected. The reliability of one-repetition maximum is very high with advanced trainees, but when equipment and protocols are adjusted, less-experienced athletes can be assessed as well. The grey area between field testing and laboratory-grade evaluation is thinning because of access to technology and education; thus, the quality of data collected from coaches is improving.

Compound Movement Tests

The most popular tests are conventional strength exercises such as the bench press, barbell squat, and deadlift. Recently, 1RM testing has also begun including split squats and other exercises. Less frequently used are pulling and other motions that use the upper body only. While barbell testing is commonly preferred, machines are also options in some circumstances.

Power Tests

The weight lifts—specifically the snatch, clean, and jerk—and, at times, loaded jumps, are used with athletes. Due to the fact that the primary purpose of one-repetition maximum is to find the highest load an athlete can handle, technical limits and instrumentation are part of the testing process to ensure safety and appropriate load scoring.

Isolated Strength Tests

A single joint or muscle is commonly tested, such as hamstring tests and adduction of the hip. Additional tests to local muscle groups or specific joints are common in both the medical and performance environments.

Estimated Max Tests

Due to the perceived risk, technical breakdown, and residual fatigue of single-repetition maximum testing, submaximal testing is often performed with multiple reps and calculations. Several researchers and practitioners have used barbell velocity to estimate the potential maximal strength of an exercise, but conflicting results have made this practice controversial.

Isometric Maximum Testing

Technically, isometric testing is not a true repetition maximum assessment, but it is similar enough to merit inclusion in this guide. Peak force scores from load cells and force plates are useful metrics when the skill set of the athlete is not ideal for true maximal expression.

All of the tests listed have unique benefits and challenges that should be evaluated before implementation, such as the skill of the lift, the value of the data, and the safety requirements. Historically, testing is very safe if you follow proper procedures, and you can perform the tests with youth populations as well.

Time and Space Required for Testing

Strength testing involves very little space, but it does require adequate time to properly warm up the athlete and incrementally test their maximal force in the selected exercise. Generally, the more demanding the movement, the more time required to assess the athlete. Some tests require little to no warm-up, while primary lifts like squats and cleans may require more time for sufficient performance in team environments.

The number of athletes that can be tested is highly connected to the size of the area, access to equipment, and amount of supervision available. Due to the need for proper supervision, most teams can assess a roster of athletes in under an hour and have several attempts—and sometimes several exercises—tested. On average, a greater amount of tests decreases the total amount of relative warming up needed by the athlete. Fatigue may be an issue if rest periods are not adequately long and if too many maximum attempts are made.

Equipment and Procedures

Whenever maximum strength testing is assessed, the safety of the athlete and the reliability of the measurement must be priorities. While risk does exist with testing, the rate of injuries in strength testing in the research appears to be low enough that exclusion of the 1RM assessment is unwarranted. Coaches are expected to choose the right tests based on the skill required and the value the information has for sports performance. Safety measures to take include setting up racks properly and using competent spotters during the testing process.

In addition to safety and allotted time, you should utilize the correct additional measurement equipment, such as force platforms, velocity-based devices, and tools that ensure a replication of range of motion. Testing procedures should follow leading national certification providers and be documented for all staff members. You should fully explain the details of the testing procedure to the athlete so no errors are made in the strength assessment.

Required Equipment for Strength and Power Testing

The implied nature of one-repetition maximum testing reduces the need for instrumentation such as force plates, electronic timing systems, electromyography, and motion capture equipment. For those with constrained budgets, all you need for a basic test are open space and the right strength training equipment. There should be enough supervision of the session to not only test the athlete, but also ensure safety and organize the data collection.

Just completing the strength lift will suffice for most tests, but other measurements are commonly added to increase the reliability and accuracy of tests. For example, many exercises require a repeatable range of motion, so additional technology is used for later analysis or feedback of approved test scores. Other instrumentation often provides a richer analysis beyond the actual load used, so investing in proper equipment may add insight, as well as improve workflow of the testing process.

Here are the commonly used systems that support one-repetition maximum testing. Note the similarities to jump analysis and, sometimes, athlete speed evaluation.

Accelerometers and Linear Encoders

Velocity-based training devices can help ensure that repetitions are the same range of motion or estimate the probability of repetitions being successful later.

Electronic Goniometers

While not popular, some researchers and sport science teams have used joint angle measurement tools to guarantee that repetitions are precisely replicated. Motion capture and other technologies are common in research but rarely used in field testing.

Video Camera

Two-dimensional video can be used for barbell tracking and for estimating work performed in some testing movements. There are smartphone apps that estimate barbell velocity, but technique and range of motion feedback usually occur in real time. It is common in team testing to have the video streamed on a short delay.

Force Plates

Force plates or force platforms are especially useful for two reasons: They can quickly and comprehensively collect both the athlete’s mass and the performance of the system mass (athlete and barbell). Some programs want more than maximal load, as power and temporal measures are useful for profiling athletes.

Using sports science technology to gather and track this information is a standard for many organizations. Integrating these technologies onto platforms for tracking and analysis can be an essential step for many coaches. 

Testing Procedures

The first step in testing is ensuring the athlete is familiar with both the equipment and the load they’re expected to lift. The target lift weight should be reached within three to five attempts total, with enough repetitions performed incrementally for safety. Testing is terminated when the athlete feels they can do no more or when the administrator believes additional attempts are not appropriate. Some programs have used velocity cutoff points or visual monitoring of bar speed to determine if additional attempts are possible, but so far the research has shown that each athlete likely has their own load-velocity profile and less-experienced athletes have more variation in the speed of their lifting technique.

Rest periods can range from one to eight minutes in length, but three to five minutes is usually used in final attempts. Replicating competitive lifting isn’t practical, but based on research, longer rest periods are likely more effective than those under two minutes when testing power. Short rest periods were used successfully and demonstrated effectiveness in the research, but due to psychological factors, coaches opt to use longer rest periods.

A common error made in strength testing is changing either range of motion or technique; thus rendering the test invalid. Another error commonly made in testing is changing the environment, so an athlete is either more or less motivated because they have team support with a group or have to test by themselves. When you make small changes in the environment, the test no longer replicates the conditions of the previous test; coaches improve testing reliability by repeating as many factors as there were in the earlier testing session.

Obviously, the administrator of the test relies on the volitional effort of the athlete, and it’s assumed their efforts are maximal. Due to compliance, testing athletes is also a major psychosocial demand on those administering the tests, as poor efforts decrease the value of the data.

Analyzing Lifting Performances

If the athlete performs a maximal repetition or a near-maximal repetition, that load is recorded as their best effort (provided the technique was valid). Attempts that do not use either the same technique or same range of motion are not reliable, and coaches should use only the best acceptable attempt. Additional relationships and expressions of the performance can be made if the athlete’s weight is recorded. Often, the relative relationship of the performance is included. Dividing the weight score by the athlete’s body mass is a relative metric that is commonly used. Higher scores have been supported as indicators of sports potential and are favorable with reducing injury rates. Software like CoachMePlus offers advanced testing features to streamline the One-Rep Max Testing workflow. 

Coaches with jumping or explosive exercises sometimes do not use a maximal load. Therefore, the maximal power output of exercises requires the right sports technology. Due to the load-velocity relationship of jump squats and weightlifting exercises, a coach may choose to reach a peak measurement of power or velocity threshold rather than maximal load. Additional metrics and scores can be calculated using fat-free mass, limb length relationships, and even parts of the movement such as the pulling phase of the weight lifts like the clean. The primary value of one-repetition maximum testing is using those exercises and scores with later training. Even with the rise of autoregulation and barbell speed tracking (VBT), the utilization of percentages is the most common approach to programming strength training.

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