Strength Training

How To Test Your Bench Press One Rep Max

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For some reason, how much you bench is still the number one question asked of any male…who looks like they lift.

Even if fitness professionals point out that the deadlift is a better indicator of total strength, the bench is seen as… well, the benchmark of real strength.

If you’re looking to gauge progress or establish the correct weights to be used during a strength training program, then it’s important to discover what your bench press 1 rep max is. In this article we’ll help you learn how to test your bench press 1 rep max in a safe and effective way.

Bench Press One Rep Max Tips

This article is focusing on the bench press, but really, you could apply these principles to any of the main compound lifts. Mostly, it is about common sense.

Preparation

The first thing you want to do before a one-rep max testing session on the bench press is to plan it out ahead of time. If you’re going to be attempting to reach your one rep max on the bench on Tuesday, then you can’t be training chest, arms, or shoulders on Monday (the day before)!

Give yourself one to two rest days beforehand, ensuring your muscles stay fresh.

Little things like ensuring you’ve slept well and eaten right on the day can also make a huge difference. If you don’t feel right on the day then it would make sense to skip the session and do it on a day when you feel 100%. You don’t want to base your entire year’s training on a one rep max that was off because you had the flu but attempted it anyway.

Before starting your bench pressing you should warm yourself up, which can be done using light weights on the bench press itself. This will warm you up as well as activating the muscles that will be used for the bench press. Don’t use heavy weights during the warm up otherwise you will begin to fatigue your muscles, making them weaker.

You’ll also want to find yourself a workout partner to spot you throughout. One rep max testing is by definition the most difficult thing you can do, and mistakes can happen. If you’ve ever been pinned underneath a barbell in a crowded gym, you’ll understand the unique combination of humiliation and fear that we want to avoid!

Finally, you want to estimate what weight your one rep max will be. Obviously, you won’t know what your final weight will be, but you may have a good idea (if you’ve been lifting for a long time). If you have done a one rep max test recently this should give you a good indication. Use this information to plan out your one rep max session.

Early Stages

You aren’t supposed to jump straight into your heaviest weight, you want to work your way up to it. However, the most common mistake made by lifters when it comes to testing your one rep max is to go too slow. You really don’t want to tire yourself out on by doing endless amounts of “practice” sets. Keep your rep range very low (between 1 rep and 4 reps) and start with a weight that’s around 50% of your target.

After completing your first practice set, you can increase the weight to around 70-80% of your estimated one rep max and perform one rep. Analyse how your body feels performing this weight, if it feels very easy then increase the weight to 90%. If you still don’t feel properly warmed up, then only add a little weight.

You should be resting for around 3 minutes between sets, but you can let this last a little longer if necessary. Resting longer than 5 minutes is not advised though.

Testing Your One Rep Max

Once you have reached your target weight make sure that your spotter is standing by. Remember, they are there to save you from injury NOT to help you move the weight. Ideally, they should not be touching the bar at all. Let them place their hands as near to the bar as they can without distracting you, enabling them to take over if you’re struggling too much.

If you reach your targeted one rep max and feel like you still have more to go then don’t make the mistake of trying too much at once. A 5-10% increase would be ambitious, anything else is probably going to fail (unless your estimate was way off).

If you are beginning to fatigue, but feel that if you were fresh you would have easily continued then consider postponing the one rep max test and repeating in a week or so. With your new information you can aim for a higher weight with fresh muscles.

One thing that you should remember when performing a one rep max test is that your form should be flawless. Okay, maybe not flawless but around 90%. If it drops any lower (i.e. the bar not quite touching your chest or your spotter having to grab the bar) then don’t count that as a one rep max.

Sure, your ego may want you to get as high a score as possible but you’re only fooling yourself and it will mess up your future training programs, if the data you’re using is not accurate. Don’t let pride get in the way of your true strength gains, lift with excellent form and pay attention to when that form drops.

Steve Shaw

Steve Shaw is the founder of Muscle and Brawn, and a powerlifter with 30+ years of experience. Steve's recorded a 600lb squat, 672lb deadlift and a 382lb bench press.
Steve Shaw
4 Comments
  • Terrell Mar 20,2014 at 10:52 pm

    I will try this to get started because it shows in detail from a beginners point of few. Now I don’t have to guess . How would you put that into a weekly routine ?

    • God Sep 20,2014 at 9:07 am

      Fuckin Idiot.

    • Darell Mar 24,2015 at 12:43 am

      God damn it.. you son of a bitch!

  • BobbyMac Dec 20,2013 at 1:05 am

    Great article. Could you use this model for other exercises as well?

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