1 RM is short for 1 Rep Max, and refers to the amount of weight (or force) an athlete can produce in one rep. You might be thinking, why is that relevant to cycling, which is an endurance sport that requires athletes to be light, agile, and put down high amounts of effort over an extended period of time?

The stronger an athlete is (remember strength doesn’t equal size) the more power they might be putting down. The more power they are putting down with the same (or less) effort, means that they are effectively a much more efficient cyclist as they will be putting down more power per pedal stroke. If that is with the same cadence, that equals more watts.

A 1RM test is simply a way to test an athlete and see if they are making adequate gains to their strength.

Covered in this blog

  • Is 1RM the gold standard?
  • 1RM testing considerations 
    • Relevance 
    • Safety
    • Examples
  • How a 1RM test works
  • What to be aware of when testing
  • Summary

Is 1RM the gold standard? 

If you want to find out your maximal force production in one go, then 1RM max testing is the gold standard. 1RM is the gold standard of measuring strength. However, there are more cycling specific tests available and essentially you could have any number of reps as the test. The problem here is that when you add reps, you deduct force production. So, while you could effectively do a 10 rep max you would lose (to an extent) an amount of maximum force produced and it would just really be like a workout with squats thrown in. It is not uncommon for coaches to ditch a 1RM test in favour of a 3 or even 5RM test with some athletes. However, just bear in mind that as you put more reps out, you will also fatigue your muscles which will ultimately lose power. 

1RM (rep max) testing can help you benchmark against future S&C gains

1RM testing considerations  

You can perform a 1RM test on any exercise, however for the test to be effective two things must be considered.

Relevance

There is no point in doing a 1RM lat pull down, this is a fixed (isolated) movement that is great for building muscle, but not really useful for cycling, or most other sports.

Safety

For a 1RM test to be valid, and safe, the correct form must be held throughout the exercise. Performing max effort lifts can be dangerous if your form is poor. It is for this reason that I would not entertain a bent over row with a barbell as a test of pulling strength. Instead, I would recommend you go for weighted pull ups as this is much safer, and it is also much more relevant as it is a measure of athleticism as well as brute force.

Examples

The most popular exercises for a 1RM test are the compound lifts, the multi joint. Multi muscle movements that you see a lot of in strength and conditioning plans.

  • Back/Front squat
  • Bench press
  • Pull up

These are what are known as the main 4. They are essentially the base of any strength building programme. If you only had 4 exercises to pick, these would be the ones you would do. It is for this reason that 1RM tests often use these exercises.

Make sure you understand exactly how to perform each exercise correctly

How a 1RM test works

A 1RM test works by working your way up to a max weight lifted. Obviously, the athlete would complete an activation warm up and prepare the body for a high amount of force.

Let’s take a look at how you would do this for the squat.

Starting at the barbell only, the athlete would perform a series of lifts with escalating weight and calculated rest.

Form would be dictated by the coach and would include limits on how low the squat should be, when the athlete either fails a lift, or fails to squat to the desired depth then the 1RM test will cease.

The athlete would be expected to be able to reach parallel and keep the correct squat position throughout the lift.

Depending on the coach’s opinion, the athlete may get two or three attempts at a lift before the test is finished. Obviously, the safety of the athlete is paramount here, so if the coach spots a dangerous drop in form (for example a rounded back) the coach will stop the test, instructing the athlete to drop the bar off of their back and to end the test immediately.

During a test, the coach will dictate rest periods and communicate with the athlete to check on wellbeing, confidence, and willingness to continue.

Always consult a qualified coach, if you are unsure on how to perform certain exercises

What to be aware of when undertaking a 1RM test

The first thing I would suggest here is if you are taking a 1RM test is to not do it alone. Max effort lifting is safe, but only when performed correctly and within the skill level of the athlete. 

Also ensure that you warm up correctly and do not rush into your max effort. It is well known that 1RM tests can go up to 15 plus sets before the max effort is lifted.

You will also need someone here to spot the barbell. Using squats as an example it can take 3 people to safely spot an athlete, one behind the athlete, and two on each end of the barbell ready to take its weight should the athlete fail. A spotted lift does not count either, so if you have a friend help you lift the weight, you haven’t passed that rep.

I would also suggest taking a foam roller into the gym with you, allowing your body to recover during sets with dynamic stretching and foam rolling is key to reducing the risk of injuries during a 1RM test.

Once you have completed the test you should perform two sets of lightweight exercises to allow the body to loosen off and then jump on an exercise bike for 5-10 minutes at low intensity to keep the blood flowing to the muscles while the body returns to a relaxed state. Stretch, recover and then marvel at your results! Keep these to hand and test yourself again at the end of the next training cycle.

 

Summary

1RM testing is something that'll help you find out what the max numbers you can produce are. It is perfectly safe if you know what you are doing with regards to exercise form, training ability and follow the correct protocol. 

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