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Direct method to determine 1RM

Source: IronZen © - Workout Routines

In bodybuilding and powerlifting there is a direct method (DM) to find out your one repetition maximum. It is the exercise for a few sets with gradual increasing of sports equipment weight per set and reducing the number of reps per set, so that the last set is performed only once. In bodybuilding this method is rarely used, although its other option is widely used - the pyramid, but it is not necessary to perform only 1 rep in the last set, often it’s allowed to make more reps (6-8). The DM has found widespread in powerlifting, the aim is to identify the maximum weight that athlete is able to lift; in fact, even powerlifting competitions may be regarded as a kind of 1RM determination.

A distinctive feature of DM is a very small step in the final set. If in the classical pyramid each subsequent weight is 10-30 lb more than the previous one, in DM the difference between the weights can be only 2-6 lb. Also in contrast to pyramid the rest time between last sets is not regulated and can reach several minutes (at competitions in powerlifting - up to ten minutes, depending on the number of participants). Finally, professional athletes perform DM in special ammunition - overalls, weightlifting shoes and tight bandages (squats), a bench shirt (bench press). Bench shirt "adds" 10 to 110 lb to the result, overall - up to 110 lb, tight bandages - up to 10-20 lb, however, the athlete must still master the exercise performance technique in sports ammunition.


If in powerlifting the lifted weights are important, then in bodybuilding DM can be used to determine the operating weight of sports equipment, i.e. the weight with which results in growing muscle mass and improving relief is achieved. As a rule, experienced athlete can easily determine his operating weight "by eye", according to his own feelings, however, the error in only 10 lb can often cause sports plateau. Usually an effective operating weight for improvement of power performance is about 80-85% of the maximum, for muscle mass growing - 70-75%, for relief improvement - 60-65%. I.e. if you press 330 lb at 1 rep, in order to increase the weight you need to work out with 265-275 lb. Powerlifters perform DM to prepare for competitions. As a rule, the training stops 5-7 days before the event, this is the time to rest. Before that, the athlete performs DM in three competition exercises: squat, bench press and deadlift (during one workout, in order to maximally bring closer the conditions to the competitive ones, all other exercises are excluded from the training program to avoid fatigue, rest between sets are maximally extended). The maximum weight for each exercise will be used to determine the "first" set in competitions (it is allowed to perform three sets per exercise). Experienced coachesin the first competitive set put on the barbell weight that an athlete can confidently "take".

Powerlifters perform DM in only three exercises, however, bodybuilders sometimes use it in other exercises too: pull-ups with weights, barbell lift for biceps (which is pointless, because in case with large weight the barbell is pulled by the force of shoulders and body, not biceps), dips (one of the power extreme exercise) and some others. Strictly speaking, the DM is applicable only in those movements, where several muscle groups simultaneously participate. You should remember that DM requires significant internal resources, therefore recovering after workout is a matter of highest importance. Depending on the maximum weight DM is performed every 4-12 weeks. 4 weeks - for beginners, 12 - for people who do squats with at least 550 lb, bench press - not less than 375, deadlift - 550-600. However, a lot depends on the weight of the athlete, nutrition, rest, etc. Traditional recovery period is considered to be 6 weeks. Inexperienced athletes often make a mistake starting to work out with bigger weight ahead of schedule. They think that they are ready to repeat their previous record, but in reality the body has not fully recovered, and after 3-4 weeks is not ready for the same weights, hence the lower results and dissatisfaction after workout. There are no special requirements to nutrition during recovery period.

DM itself requires certain skills for its normal performance. First of all, it’s necessary to increase the rest time between sets with the operating weights (up to 5 minutes). Second of all, you need to make a normal warm-up, for example, do DM in the bench press, starting from empty barbell for 30-50 reps then - 110 lb for 5 reps less, then 150-170 lb for 3-4 reps less, then 190-210 lb 2-3 reps less, and so on, in 10-20 lb step, until you get to your last maximum weight. Then – with step of 5 lb and intervals of 3-5 minutes, but not more than 3-4 sets. The result of DM should be a muscle spasm or pain in muscles when you try to continue training with smaller weights. Third of all, DM is performed with a partner, otherwise the injury is possible. Squats can be done in a power rack. Fourth of all, each exercise in the DM has special performance technique. For example, in squats hands are placed as close as possible to the body, it allows more successfully spread the load on your back and improve results on a few kilos. In the bench press at the bottom dead point delay for 1-2 seconds is done. Deadlift is performed from the position of "Sumo". If you are a bodybuilder, then DM has to be divided into several days –according to the number of exercises; it allows to avoid fatigue.

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