How do I test my 1 rep max?
Before you try something like this I suggest you spend some time under the bar. In fact, the subjects used in the research had been weight training over 18 years, so only use this protocol if you are experienced and of course using proper form. Also before you start you will want to know your 1 repetition maximum (1RM). You can figure this out by doing the following:
- Warm up with 5-10 reps, using 40-60% of your estimated 1RM.
- 1 minute rest
- 3-5 reps, using 60-80% of your estimated 1RM.
- 3-5 minute rest
- Try to reach your 1RM using anywhere from 3-5 attempts. 5 minutes rest should separate each 1RM attempt.
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Once you know your 1RM you then need to set aside 2 days per week, for 3 weeks where you perform the bench press. The research that supports this training protocol used a barbell bench press, but this will likely work just as well with dumbbells. The training method is really quite simple. First, warm-up just as you would on any other flat pressing day. Then calculate 85% of your 1RM, and load the bar up. 85% of your 1RM is not an easy weight to lift. And lifting it 2 times per week can be particularly taxing; so don't try to do this for more than 3-4 weeks straight.
So what's the catch? This sounds too simple, right? Well you're right; it's not that easy. The hard part lies in the fact that you need to lift each and every rep with the maximum speed possible. To successfully apply this training strategy it's absolutely critical that you move the bar (concentrically) off your chest as fast as you possibly can. You can still lower the bar in a controlled manner. Keep in mind when training at such a high intensity you're not going to be able to complete many reps per set. In fact the researchers who studied men using this protocol found that on average they were only able to do 2 or 3 reps per set. I suggest starting with just 2 reps per set, and trying to get closer to 3 near week 3.
How many sets do I complete?
Another key point is knowing when to stop. You don't just endlessly do 2-3 rep sets at 85% 1RM. Pay attention to your bar speed, and if possible have your spotter help you out. Usually you're going to hit your top bar speed around sets 2 to 4. From there you need to recognize when you fall off your top speed by around 20%. At that point you should stop for the day. For most people, this will fall into a range of 6-10 sets depending on strength, nutrition, experience, etc.
Putting this all together?
Let's use a basic example of a guy who 1 rep maxes 305lbs on the barbell bench press. He would load the bar up each bench-training day (2 times per week) with 260lbs. A 3-week progression would look something like this:
|Bench Day 1||6-7 sets x 2 reps|
|Bench Day 2||6-7 sets x 2 reps|
|Bench Day 1||7-8 sets x 2 reps reps|
|Bench Day 2||7-8 sets x 2 reps|
|Bench Day 1||8-9 sets x 3 reps|
|Bench Day 2||8-9 sets x 3 reps|
Following a protocol like the above has been proven to increase bench press strength in experienced weight trainees by over 10%! In fact, they compared this method to a method of training simply to fatigue with the same intensity (85% of 1RM). Another major benefit of this style of training is the overall workload. The average guy who trains at a normal bench press speed will be able to do more sets and reps simply because they are lifting less explosively (slower bar speed). In fact the researchers found that on average this group of guys were able to complete almost 8 sets per training session and 7 reps per set. By the end of the 3 weeks they found that the guys performing explosive speed reps performed only 62% of the reps that the regular group did. By lifting explosively they were able to accomplish the following:
- An increase in strength of 10% (compared to no increase in the normal speed group)
- Less overall work
- Less time under tension
- More time for recovery/repair
The method described above is an efficient and scientifically validated technique for adding over 30lbs to a 300lb bench press, putting you over that 3 plate per side hurdle. If you think that's a fairly small increase, I'll leave you with the comments from the researchers who published the study…
"Finally, considering the homogeneity of the subjects and their background training in bench press, it is quite amazing that in only 3 weeks there was a 10.20% increase of 1RM."
Effect of Different Pushing Speeds on Bench Press. Padulo J, Mignogna P, Mignardi S, Tonni F, D'Ottavio S. University of Rome, Italy.: Int J Sports Med., 2012.>