Why Testing Your 1 Repetition Maximum As a Natural Is One Of The Dumbest Things Ever

| February 13, 2019 by Truth Seeker |

Are you strong, bro?

The scholars say you should be. If you are not training for strength, don’t expect mega monster muscle gains, they said. Everyone should be powerlifting. Strength is the most important thing in life…in case you don’t know, bro. Everything else is non-essential. You will mutate into a very useful human being once you become as strong as humanly possible, they said.

How do you become strong? The mainstream dogma says that you must get your squat, bench and deadlift to a number that satisfies the powers that shouldn’t be. Only then you will have the right to call yourself strong. In case you are not aware, there weren’t strong men before the invention of the barbell. They were all weaklings leading sad existences in comparisons to the glorious life of a modern powerlifter who can’t tie his shoes. Just so you know.


To acquire strength, most people follow complex routines designed to bring their one repetition maximum (1RM) higher than the clouds. Once the program is complete, the lifter takes a gym video of his new 1RM and shares it with his digital friends to receive online applause. I certainly did that when I was a barbell addict. It was stupid and still is.

The truth is that testing your one repetition maximum (1RM) is one of the most pointless things you can do in the gym akin to squats on a bosu ball. The truthfulness of this fact amplifies heavily when the lifter is stranger to anabolic steroids.

Naturals testing their 1RM are rarely enlightened. They still think that their powerlifting heroes are clean and got their monster mass and strength by satisfying routines written by programming geniuses. The naive naturals break their bones to be like their heroes. That never actually happens. I know. I’ve done it. I remember squatting with an inflamed hip while listening to music extracted from Ed Coan’s squat workout. My work sets were 275lbs. What a monster!

The numbers that naturals lift are rarely impressive unless you are a lanklet with gorilla arms designed to deadlift. In that case, you can pull heavy numbers that could impress even some roid monkeys who have poor leverages for the lift. The question is why would you do something so illogical.

The deadlift is my best lift thanks to my body structure. Unsurprisingly, I used it to fuel my ego in the gym. I was happy to deadlift in front of an audience. I wanted the suckers to see what a real man is made of.

At first, I was doing one set of five, but later, my sharp mind figured out that you can lift a lot more weight if you go for triples. That’s what I did. Eventually, the triple turned into a double. Then, it became a double with 1 minute of rest between the two reps. I spent the downtime holding the bar. So, technically, I was doing two singles while resting in an uncomfortable position between them. This allowed me to lift the most weight while lying to myself that I wasn’t maxing out. The second rep would be so hard that a feather on the bar would have kept the iron glued to the floor.

Why did I do that? I was convinced that this is the road to greatness.

The gurus indirectly make you believe that your life will be so much better if you reach a number worthy of admiration. Then you gradually fall in love with the idea of seeing an aesthetically pleasing distribution of plates on the bar and start slaving to it. You want to be strong. You want to become someone that matters – a man of steel rather than a PlayStation boy accused of having ovarian cancer upon refusing to squat.

It’s all good until you hit the real plateau. Unlike the previous stagnation moments, this one is hard to overcome because it is based on your actual limitations. Like I told you before, at every bodyweight, you can lift only within a certain structurally predetermined range. Reaching the highest end of that spectrum requires a hardcore attitude.

This is when extremist routines such as Smolov and the Bulgarian training method come to save the day. But even if you subject yourself to this torture, your lifts still won’t be enough to turn you into a hero. That’s because it was all an illusion. You bought a pipe dream, my friend.

If the philosophical motives to skip this self-inflicted suffering are not enough for you, don’t panic. There are plenty of logical and practical reasons to never test your 1RM:

1. Testing your 1RM does not build it.

Continuous 1RM tests lead to mental and physical destruction without building strength. A productive workout consisting of high tonnage (the total amount of lifted weight) will do more for your strength than needlessly heavy attempts.

2. Your 1RM as a natty will impress no one.

Men say that they lift for themselves only, but that is as true as the statement that women dress provocatively for deeply personal reasons unrelated to others. Yeah, right. You put all that effort “just to feel comfortable in your skin”. That comfort comes from the external admiration – something that natties rarely get.

We live in the age when men bench 300lbs and squat 400lbs after a year of linear progression. Your attempts do not impress anyone unless you want to appeal to the members of the local bingo club.

3. Your adrenal glands will thank you.

A true 1RM requires a CNS overclock of the highest order. This does not come cheap and will affect your performance in other fields. The high that you will get will be short lived and not worth it in the long run.

4. Suboptimal technique

During 1RMs, the greed gets the best of us, and we allow form deviations that put our joints in danger. Sometimes the anomaly will be slim – the case for experienced men who know what’s up – but even if a lift looks impeccable from the side, the lifter can always feel a slight form breakdown during a 1RM.

When less experienced barbell samurai max out, the severity is much higher. A noob dedicated to generating massive turmoil within the watchers through iron-fueled jealousy is very likely to allow serious form sacrifices.

I know. I’ve done it. I was a camelback deadlifter – a sin that will haunt me forever.

It’s a Scam

Ultimately, the pursuit of high-end 1RMs is a scam that never leads to the promised and expected fulfillment. You are just breaking your body and allowing the wrong demon to get the best of you.

21 comments

  1. Glove

    I agree with you that a lot of max reps which I myself have done in my time as a lifter/bodybuilder or which I have seen of others were not perfect mildly speaking. Too many in a short period of time. Horrible performance. And many other reasons. Up to this point I agree.
    But I wouldn’t say that a young lifter should never try. From your perspective or mine (almost 60 years old) it might be clever or might be reasonable not to do max reps. Yes. But as an enthusiastic newby it’s normal to do. In other sports you always do it. You try to run faster, jump higher, throw wider a.s.o. In other sports maybe in every workout you have a kind of “max reps”. That’s the soul of competition. As a lifter you have to learn that you should do max reps seldom and correctly. This gets more important from year to year. As stronger you get as closer you get to your limits as more dangerous max reps are. Many careers end up with injuries. No doubt. On long term it’s neccessary to do things with care.

    I for myself was happy with my personal records. Not with 21. But later on I said: I did it well. It was o.k. To be happy with yourself is a learning process.

  2. Trackman

    Slightly off-topic but I too used to be obsessed with getting ‘as strong as possible’. I changed my mind and my training focus when I started a physical job and found that my limit strength honed in the gym wasn’t nearly as useful as the strength-endurance and grip strength possessed by the older guys that had been on the job a while. In fact, next to them I was a weakling – strong for a couple of minutes then useless thereafter. The whole ‘strong people are more useful’ shtick comes with definite caveats! I guess my point is that gym strength doesn’t necessarily translate well to real life, and limit strength is a bit of a white elephant in the context of many real-world tasks.

    1. Glove

      Absolutely. “Gym strength” says not much about the ability to work in a job as a furniture maker for instance. Even a set of 20 reps has nothing to do with an 8 our 10 hours job that is really challenging. If you are not used to a certain kind of work you are not as good as somebody who is doing it for 10 years. That´s easy to understand.
      But the other way round it´s the same. I remember that we invited 2 construction workers in our home gym when they accused us to have “artifcial muscles”.
      “We are stronger as you. We work hard” they said. No. They were not. They could bench something like 160 pounds.
      I agree with you. We shouldn´t compare apples with pears.
      I remember my time at the army. There were american soldiers. They saw my muscles and one of them said: “How about arm wrestling with this guy?” He was a farmer from Midwest. I saw his forearms and hands and thought: SHIT!!! What to do? I was 19 and didn´t want to loose my face in front of my comrades. Fortunately I could hold him. I didn´t loose.
      Years later I was in a tannery in Italy. Same situation. There was a worker who did nothing else than pulling the hides out of a machine. Of course he had strong forearms. How about arm wrestling he asked me. Go to hell I answered.

  3. Hoyos

    They’ve also succeeded in redefining strong or strength to mean only 1RM.

    Of course getting stronger is helpful in a bunch of different ways right up to the point where you keep searching for that heavier weight and jack yourself up. Even with the best form in the world, you will reach a point where you are screwing up ligaments, getting hernias, etc.

    That’s why they have to valorize this horseshit. A willingness to screw yourself up for essentially no reason means you’re a “real man”. A real broken man, but not like those lesser men you see.

    1. Michael

      Trackman,
      Indeed, it was both eye-opening and humbling when I took a job in a meat factory in my early 20s and was getting outworked by wiry old men, who were tossing around 20-30kgs awkwardly-shaped objects all day long.

      It would be interesting to see how well that lardbucket Rippetoe, a man who claims that strength training is the best way to build endurance\work capacity, and his army of fatboys would cope in a construction or warehouse job.

  4. Ectomorph Man

    I fell prey to this bullshit at 43. Four years later ended up with total CNS overload leading to a low level chronic fatigue syndrome I’m still dealing with and a weird pain in my hip that comes and goes.

  5. Frodo Lives

    You might like an old article (by old i mean mid eighties) by dr. Ken Leistner entitled “Sensible Training – A Logical Approach to Size and Strength” Dr. Ken is a big advocate of 20 rep squats and full body training done twice or even once a week. Many great articles by Dr. Ken but this one really stuck with me.

  6. Frodo Lives

    You may enjoy an article written by Dr. Ken Leistner in the mid eighties entitled, “Sensible Training; a Logical Approach to Size and Strength.”. Dr. Ken is an advocate of high rep squats which makes sense because one can use a reasonable load that is easier on joints, ligaments, etc. Full body training twice or even once a week with some sort of progression.

  7. Victor

    I agree with the whole point of the article.

    But it would be better without the adrenal and cns stuff, that is pretty much BS. It’s just another pseudo scientific crap created to overcomplicate training and diet.

  8. John Southern

    Most actual powerlifters would agree with you.

    If they do hit a 1rm, it’s planned in advance and most programs that do 1rms are intermediate programs. There’s no such thing as “getting greedy”, you hit the numbers you have to hit for the day with perfect form…or not and you go home.

    There’s no separate strategy for gaining muscle between powerlifting and bodybuilding. The only time that is true is when steroids are involved.

    All the studies tell us that progressive overload + max recoverable volume + 2-3x per week frequency = max hypertrophy.

    Probably the only thing most novice 3x per week programs are missing is direct arm work and some banded face pulls, maybe a couple sets each day.

    That should carry you into intermediate phase and give you all the mass you are capable of.

    But just going in the gym and screwing around? That’s bs.

    You get guys like Jason Genova who have been lifting 15 years, take steroids and GH and can’t squat 315 to depth or do 5 chin ups with body weight.

    1. Ryo

      >You get guys like Jason Genova who have been lifting 15 years, take steroids and GH and can’t squat 315 to depth or do 5 chin ups with body weight.

      Jason is weak because of the anti-psychotic medication he takes. He was much stronger before he started taking it.

  9. John Southern

    Most of the time, when gym bros try to hit a 1RM, it’s way past their actual capability. The form is bad, RPE way too high, everything is wrong, it’s totally counterproductive.

    I think it’s part and parcel of trying to learn something relatively involved without any real guidance.

    You can’t really teach yourself powerlifting or even bodybuilding, even though natural bodybuilding is basically a scam. Bodybuilding without steroids is kind of a joke so why even address it?

    If they had a strength coach, the coach would say, no, drop 40lbs off the bar, all the way down, pause on the chest, work sets of 5+ and things would be better. Instead of some dumb commercial gym, you’re around supportive people who don’t make fun of you.

    You might say lifting weights is simple, but if it was simple, 90% of the people out there wouldn’t be doing it wrong.

    If you have a good strength coach and you do what he says, you will get big and strong as you are capable. You will not fail.

    Even if you didn’t max out your hypertrophy with that approach, at least you’d have a strength base, which is more than most people ever get.

    If you screw around and try to do it yourself, based on hearsay and broscience you may well end up with negative results, weak and injured.

  10. joe santus

    Agreed, it’s dumb.
    Even during my first four years of bodybuilding when I was developing toward my maximum genetic hypertrophy potential (I’m age 63 this year, been bodybuilding since age 16 in 1972), I almost never attempted 1 rep maximums. Definitely never did after my fourth year, haven’t ever since in the subsequent forty-two years I’ve been lifting. Compound movements of sets in the 5 to 8 range were my staple during those first five years: compounds of sets in the 6 to as high as 30 rep range are my staples now.

    I’d understood from my first few months of bodybuilding that adding muscle depended upon progressively increasing strength, so strength was the means to the end. I realized the importance of becoming stronger, but not for the sake of strength.

    Helpful toward a paradigm shift which focuses on hypertrophy rather than strength for strength’s sake might be to coin new bro-challenges: “How much can you squat for seven good reps, bro?”

  11. MB

    I have an of-topic question:
    Is there a technical problem with the website?
    The lay out of the text is shifted and images are sometimes stretched.
    Does anyone else experience this too?

  12. mattsk1

    I only tried one rep max in the early stages of training. Each time I approached it with deads and squats my back and my knees were saying, you doing too much and take a break. So I have not tried my one rep max in forever. Now I still do one rep at a time (not touch and go) for safety reasons and to reestablish full body tension with moves like deadlifts, power cleans and pendlay rows.

  13. Ant

    I got into pl mentality, went from 80k looking Ok to 100k looking like shit, squatted 500, benched 300, sl 600, but when I eventually got sense to diet the fat. Off, I was no stronge than before the weight gain.

    Nowadays I am more into longer distance endurance, I still lift but I think the endurance gives more health, real life application etc. And I can eat pretty well..

  14. Ant

    I got into pl mentality, went from 80k looking Ok to 100k looking like shit, squatted 500, benched 300, dl 600, but when I eventually got sense to diet the fat. Off, I was no stronge than before the weight gain.

    Nowadays I am more into longer distance endurance, I still lift but I think the endurance gives more health, real life application etc. And I can eat pretty well..

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