Daily Dose of Coach #273: Increasing your 1 Rep Max

For those of you interested in getting stronger, especially in lifts like the bench press, squat and deadlift, here are a few tips on how to improve your one rep max.

I thought Chris Beardsley, who reviews the latest strength and conditioning research at strengthandconditioningreasearch.com did a good and simple job of breaking down four ways to improve your one rep max.

This gets a little nerdier than most my posts because the info is from a research guy. I tried to simplify it as much as possible.

-1- Improve Technique: There's much more to benching, squatting and deadlifting than just getting under or over a bar, loading it up and seeing what you can do. The more you improve technique, the more efficient you become at the exercise. Strength is a skill. And a skill must be mastered through perfect repetitions. The better coached you are and the more repetitions you do with the correct technique, the better chances you have of improving strength in that movement.

-2- Improve intermuscular coordination: This improving the way your muscular system works together. This is done by performing a combination of "high velocity" variations with light loads as well as training at high intensities, or close to your one repetition max as possible. By varying your training, you can improve relationships of muscle that produce and reduce force to help improve your one rep strength.

-3- Improving Voluntary Action: This is where the central nervous system increases the size of the signal to the muscle. When this happens, more motor units are recruited and it will be able to produce more force. Do this by adding heavy loads and maximal eccentric movements. The key to improving voluntary action is exposing the muscle to very high forces.

-4- Changes at the muscle-tendon unit: Increasing the size of the muscle-tendon unit will help increase force capabilities. But for more specifically Beardsly identifies the following:

  • "an increase in tendon stiffness (stiffer tendons allow muscles to shorten at slower speeds, and therefore exert more force),
  • increases in the number of lateral attachments between the muscle fiber and its surrounding collagen layer (this increases the amount of force that is transmitted laterally, but reduces the effective fiber length), and
  • increases in muscle size at specific regions of the muscle (this increases the ability of the muscle to produce force at certain, specific joint angles)."

These are all, once again, improved through a variety of training loads including training close to your one rep max and heavy eccentric training.

A combination of improving technique, training with light loads at high velocities, training at loads close to your one rep max, doing heavy eccentrics and training at high volumes at medium intensity are all ways to help improve the four above and increase your one rep max.