Maximal Strength: Measurement Techniques

Maximal strength, the pinnacle of force that the neuromuscular system can generate through voluntary muscular contraction, is a fundamental parameter in workout programming. It is the backbone of training programs, guiding the percentage of load lifted based on the one repetition maximum (1RM), which in turn influences the achievement of specific fitness goals. These goals could range from strength increase, muscle hypertrophy, to improvement in aerobic performance.

Measuring Maximal Strength

There are two primary methods to measure maximal strength:

  1. Dynamic Effort: This involves searching for the maximum load or 1RM, either real or theoretical.
  2. Static Effort: This involves an isometric contraction where a dynamometer is used to evaluate the force applied against an immovable resistance. This measurement needs to be repeated at various angles, as it is angle-dependent.

The 1RM or maximum load refers to the load that can only be lifted once. It can be evaluated through two methods:

  • Direct method: This involves a search through progressive attempts to find the maximum load that can be lifted only once.
  • Indirect method: This involves a search for the maximum number of repetitions possible with a submaximal load.

Direct Method

In the direct method, after a thorough warm-up, a few series are carried out to approach the maximum load. Only one repetition per series is performed, with careful attention to intensity and recovery. The maximum lifting attempt must be supervised, ideally by two partners. It is recommended not to perform the maximum lift more than three times during the same test, with breaks of 5-8 minutes between attempts. The load that can be lifted only once represents your 1RM or 100% of the strength you can express for that specific exercise.

Indirect Method

In the indirect method, after performing a maximum number of repetitions with a given submaximal load, the theoretical maximum force is calculated using specific formulas or tables. The closer the load used is to the maximum, the smaller the margin of error.

The number of repetitions performed is determined by the prevalent type of muscle fibers present in the muscle. Therefore, the following results can be found:

  • 2 to 6 repetitions: Muscle composition with a prevalence of white fibers.
  • 6 to 12 repetitions: Muscle composition with a prevalence of intermediate fibers.
  • More than 12 repetitions: Muscle composition with a prevalence of red fibers.

Calculating 1RM

Several equations can be used to calculate 1RM in the indirect method. These include the Brzycki equation, the Epley equation, and the Maurice & Rydin table.

  • The Brzycki equation: This equation estimates the theoretical maximal load as a function of the number of submaximal repetitions performed.
    1RM = Weight Lifted / (1.0278 - 0.0278 × Reps)
  • The Epley equation: This equation also estimates the theoretical maximal load as a function of the number of submaximal repetitions performed.
    1RM = Weight Lifted × (1 + 0.0333 × Reps)
  • The Maurice & Rydin table: It's a table that allows both to obtain the maximum load based on the repetitions performed and to calculate a submaximal workload and related repetitions that can be performed when the maximum load is known.

Knowing your 1RM allows you to structure training programs where the load to be used is not an approximate number, but a numerical data resulting from the execution of an objective and reliable test. This data can guide the percentage of work to set the training program at, leading to more effective and efficient workouts.

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