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What’s your max?

How does someone determine a max on any given lift? To me this is a question that hasn’t been, and needs to be, addressed in a little more detail. Given that most training programs run off of a percentage of 1 rep max, I believe it is essential to determine what, exactly, a 1 rep max represents. To me, there are three categories of 1 rep max:

  1. Competition max
  2. Gym max
  3. Exhausted max


Just as the name implies, this is the 1 rep, usually the third of three, that you do in a competition and should always be a personal record, which means a weight you have never lifted before. If you don’t compete the guidelines still apply to attempting a gym PR.
Generally speaking the day this PR is established will come at the end of a planned training cycle that peaks on this day. You will attempt the lift refreshed and rested, both mentally and physically. Stimulants will often be used to a degree that wouldn’t normally and you will get yourself psyched up to do this lift and, most likely, that one single rep is all you will be able to manage with the weight. In all honesty, most people will never experience this type of max. They simply don’t have the mental fortitude to dig that deep (and that’s okay).


This max is the one that most people will be familiar with. I define this as a feel good max. When you are lifting and everything feels good (explosive, smooth, rested, etc.) and you’re doing some max effort work, this will be your top weight for the day and may or may not be a grinder. This is a weight that you wouldn’t always be able to do and would take some time to eclipse in a Bulgarian influenced daily max situation.

High-Fives almost mandatory for a Gym max

For most people this would be what I consider their “true max.” Not something they could manage on a daily basis but something that would be more commonplace than a competition max. In a Westside inspired template this, in my opinion, is the weight that you would base training percentages on.


I’m sure most readers are scratching their head about this one and I can understand why since I may very well have invented this idea, although I think Jim Wendler probably shares a very similar sentiment. I think, however, that it is a valuable programming tool. Unlike the gym max, this is the max you can manage when you are at your worst. And I mean worst.

This is the weight you could walk into the gym after 2 hours of sleep because you were awake all night puking up that left over hamburger you found in the back of the fridge that you couldn’t remember when it was from but decided to eat despite that slightly vinegary smell because you were too tired to cook and didn’t want food to go to waste, and still manage to lift it. I can’t give a specific percent of gym max because everyone is different and it will vary with every exercise. It’s just something you have to think about or test.

In the next part I will cover how and when to program using these maxes as a guide. Stay tuned!

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