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Not subject to any of a number of impact-dampening factors such as deteriorating form or encroaching fatigue, it is the perfect distillation of everything we are trying to achieve with training.
Singles are a tried and true, blood and guts, strength-building method that has worked for legends from Bob Peoples to Paul Anderson to Jeremy Hoornstra. Let's see why.
Limit Strength Base
Your limit strength is your base!
Limit strength is tested by lifting maximal weights. A max-effort movement is generally classified as 1 to 3 repetitions with greater than 90 percent of your one-repetition max.
The most effective measurement of limit strength is powerlifting. In all other sports, limit strength is a component and, as an athlete advances and becomes stronger, decreasing amounts of time are devoted to building the limit-strength base. Powerlifting is limit strength and relative strength; you lift as much weight as possible for a one-repetition max; there is no time limit to lift the weight, and you are compared to competitors within your weight class.
The best way to test limit strength is with a one-repetition max in a core movement. Many people question the safety of this practice; I question the validity of their bogus max formulas that routinely have a 10 percent+ error rate. This might be acceptable for "general fitness" but downright debauchery for any serious lifter.
Look at it logically: Form can break down with heavy weight, but also with fatigue. Doing a one-repetition max, you risk some form breakdown. Doing a repetition max with 85 to 90 percent of your one-repetition max, you are still lifting heavy weight, but fatigue will manifest its ugly head. This is a surefire way to have form break down.
I have seen more injuries on the last rep of a squat or deadlift than on heavy singles. The mindset for a heavy single is just that, to perform a heavy single. For max reps, there is no true mindset besides "one more" and push through the pain. Technique from a psychological standpoint is the focus when maxing; it seems to be put on the back burner for rep maxes.
Sport Specific Strategy
"Sport specific" training centers in suburbia are about as common as a boob job in Beverly Hills. Unfortunately, "sport specific" is usually something like doing ladder drills with a weighted vest while holding a lacrosse stick above your head. Bizarre would be more descriptive. Nonetheless, the current fad says, "you practice how you play."
Powerlifting is limit strength; you lift as much weight as you can for one repetition. Performing sets that consist of one repetition is sport specific.
Stigmas are attached to singles. Some believe singles are unsafe. This is not based off of any empirical evidence. The other idea is singles demonstrate strength, they don't build strength because a lack of work. Hogwash! Try deadlifting 15 sets of singles at 80 percent of your one-repetition max with a 30-second rest interval between singles, then tell me what builds strength.
If you want to add weight to your one-rep max—train with one rep.
Different Singles Workouts
Dinosaur Training Method, popularized by Brooks Kubik, is doing five singles in one workout; start light and progressively add weight each set. The final set should be a max effort. Initially, you can work up to a two-rep max (for a single) on your last set, and then weekly take small jumps.
Cluster Training catalyzes strength gains. Start by using 90 percent of your one-repetition max, perform a single, and then rest 20 seconds between singles. Do 4-6 singles, then rest 5 to 7 minutes and repeat the process. This is extremely demanding and cannot be used on a week-in week-out basis. Cluster training intensity can be increased or reduced not only by adjusting bar weight but by adjusting the number of singles, the number of cluster sets and, of course, the rest intervals.
Daily Max Training simply means you work up to a daily max. The max is your max for the day, but the key to not overtraining is that the max means the most you can lift without "psyching up" or any technical breakdown. Poor form, failure and emotional arousal cannot be part of the mortis operandi for daily max training.
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Rest Pause Training is a favorite of old-time strength aficionados; this is the method Jim Williams used in Rockview Penitentiary to build a world record bench press. Put 85-95 percent of your max on the bar and do a single. Rest 15-30 seconds and repeat; your goal is to complete as many singles as possible.
Singles Guidelines and Benefits
- Perform singles in a Compensatory Acceleration Training style (putting maximum force into the bar each rep).
- Concentrate on technique; singles build technique. Singles also force neural adaptations for competitive lifts. In other words, you lift one rep in a contest so you get more coordinated at lifting one rep.
- Vary the weights; working up to a one-rep max is great, lifting 15 singles is great, 5 singles at 90-95 percent is great. Doing the same thing all the time is wrong! Each aforementioned method of singles has benefits.
- Piling more iron on the bar is the most obvious way to progress but also manipulate rest intervals and the number of sets performed.
- Singles help gain strength without adding muscle mass, great for athletes looking to stay in the same weight class.
- Try cluster sets. For instance, bench press 90 percent of your one-repetition max for a single, and then rest 15 seconds; do this for 4 sets. Rest 3 minutes. Repeat. Rest 3 minutes. Repeat. You have done 12 reps at 90 percent!
- Heavy singles are for advanced and intermediate trainees only.
Do you practice a form of One-Rep Max Training? If so, what exercise do you feel it is best suited to? The bench press? The squat? Something else? Let us know in the comments field below!