Maxing Out Without Burning Out


Authors: Ben Peterson & Cal Dietz 



Coaches always want to know exactly where their athletes are at (weight) and the progress that they are making. Being able to quantify results with actual data not only motivates the athlete to continue to push him or herself in the weight room but also validates the methods and practices of the coach. Despite the need and benefit of having up-to-date numbers for an athlete’s 1RM, coaches are often hesitant to take the time to perform 1RM testing. Whether they are concerned about injuring the athlete, interference with their normal lifting schedule or excessively taxing the nervous system, coaches tend to shy away from max testing other than once per year. 

Alternative to Traditional 1RM Testing 

It is advantageous for a coach to be able to include some form of maximal strength testing within the normal training routine which does not overly tax the athlete’s nervous system. Such a test would enable the coach to make adjustments almost instantly to an athlete’s workout, enabling them to maximize gains in a short amount of time. In order to do so, the coach may choose to add an additional set to the end of warm-up sets prior to beginning the work sets. 

For example, a normal and highly effective warm-up set protocol may look something like this: 

Warm Up Set 1: 5 Reps @ 55% 1RM Warm Up Set 2: 3 Reps @ 70% 1 RM Warm Up Set 3: 1 Rep @ 80% 1 RM 

On a test day, the coach could instead prescribe 3 reps for the final warm-up set at 80% of 1 RM. During that 3-rep set, the coach should closely monitor the athlete’s performance of the lift, specifically the speed of the bar and the athlete’s level of exertion. If the speed of the bar was significantly faster than previous warm-up or test sets at the same load (which could be measured via a velocity-recording device such as a Tendo ® Unit) or if the athlete lifted the load with ease (i.e., could have performed five or six more reps), the athlete’s 1 RM may have increased. 

On the other hand, if the athlete performs the repetitions but appears to struggle or the bar moves at a slow, steady pace, then their max is likely unchanged and should remain unaltered. 

Test Set Example: 

Warm Up Set 1: 5 Reps @ 55% 1RM Warm Up Set 2: 3 Reps @ 70% 1 RM 

Test Set: 3 Reps @ 80% 1 RM 

It should be noted that the athlete does not need to perform all three reps in the testing set. As a coach becomes more proficient at observing the athlete, he/she should be able to estimate the total number of reps that can be performed at a given weight by watching only one or two repetitions. This is beneficial because it diminishes the stress placed on the athlete even further, taking less energy away from their work sets. 

Modified Test Set Example: 

Warm Up Set 1: 5 Reps @ 55% 1RM Warm Up Set 2: 3 Reps @ 70% 1 RM 

Test Set: 1 to3 Reps @ 80% 1 RM 

Using the Rep Max Calculator 

After recording the number of reps the athlete successfully completed at a specific load, the information can be entered into the XL Athlete Rep Max Calculator


Being able to watch, evaluate, and change an athlete’s max within the outlines of a lifting schedule gives a coach a decisive advantage. It ensures that the athletes are using the correct weights and percentages to maximally stress their system at all times. A critical factor in dictating progress in the weight room is intensity. 

If an athlete adapts to a particular load and no further gains are elicited, the athlete’s progress will stagnate. Being able to continually change and accurately measure an athlete’s 1RM enables a coach to maintain the right intensity and make gains 365 days a year.