Maximum strength - How to open the pickle jar

The term maximum strength or 1RM is often used in gyms or training instructions. But what does maximum strength mean and how do I train it? This article will give you the answers.

What is maximum strength? 

From a sports science point of view, maximum strength is the amount of force that the nerve-muscle system can deliberately apply against a resistance. What exactly does that mean? As an example, you can imagine any exercise in the gym. Your maximum strength for each exercise is the maximum weight that you can move properly for exactly one repetition. So there is not one maximum strength, but its value always refers to a special movement and the muscles used. This brings us to the second term from our introduction, the 1RM. The 1RM stands for One Repetition Maximum and describes in the facts just described, the greatest possible weight, which you manage exactly for a single repetition. This means that a concrete value is assigned to the maximum strength by the 1RM. Each exercise therefore logically has a different 1RM. The maximum strength is also called the basic strength for the other two important types of strength, endurance strength and fast strength. All three together form your strength. Basic force in this context means that the greater your maximum strength, the more potential you have to improve the other two forms of strength. For this reason the training of maximum strength is not only important to be able to move more weight in the gym, but also for a very wide range of other sports.  

How do I measure my maximum strength?

So that you can improve your maximum strength, it is of course necessary to determine it first. There are usually two different ways to do this. On the one hand you can measure your 1RM directly or you can calculate it. The best way to measure the 1RM is as follows: 

  1. Warm up the muscle groups. It is best to do a few light weight repetitions during the exercise. Do not perform too many repetitions in order not to fatigue the muscles.
  2. Slowly increase the weight. You should gradually approach your 1RM. Again, try to keep your muscles as little fatigued as possible. As a rule of thumb you should be able to determine your 1RM within 5 tries. If you need more, there is a risk of distortion due to muscle fatigue. So you have to approach your maximum weight first to get used to the high weight, at the same time you should be able to estimate the range of your 1RM to avoid too many repetitions.
  3. A partner is ready to help you. If the weight can no longer be moved, he will help you to finish the movement. 

With a maximum strength test, you should always get a partner to help you

As you can see, measuring the 1RM requires a certain amount of experience in weight training, as well as the exercise to be tested. For this reason, a maximum strength test is not recommended for beginners. With some experience and the support of a partner you should be able to determine your 1RM directly. But always be careful and perform maximum strength tests only on days when you feel good and rested. The risk of injury is particularly high with maximum strength tests due to the high weight. If you don't want to measure your 1RM directly because you don't have the experience or you don't have a partner at your side, you can simply calculate it. You can use the following formula:

1RM = weight x (1 + repetitions/40) according to O'Conner et. al.

So if you can do 10 repetitions with 100kg, your 1RM is about 125kg. Alternatively, you can simply use this calculator. Don't be surprised if you get different results for your 1RM on different calculators. There are different formulas for calculating the 1RM and some calculators are more aimed at experienced power athletes whose results often differ from those of less experienced athletes. Even if a calculation is usually not 100% accurate, it is sufficient for an orientation. 

Factors influencing your maximum strength

How high the maximum strength ultimately is at a certain point in time is influenced on the one hand by internal factors and on the other by external factors. Here you can see some of the most important ones: 

External factors:

  • Time of day 
  • Temperature
  • Environment (hectic environment vs. quiet environment) 
  • Situation (competition vs. training)

Interne Faktoren: 

  • Workout experience
  • Training condition
  • Preparation/heating
  • Size of the muscle cross section
  • Intramuscular coordination
  • Muscle fiber type
  • Motivational state
  • Mental abilities (e.g. ability to concentrate) 

Vorteile des Maximalkrafttrainings

As mentioned earlier, there are some advantages to maximum strength training. Three important ones are listed below.  


You' ll get stronger! During maximum strength training you will not only change the structure of your muscles, but you will also be able to activate more of your muscle fibres. An untrained person is initially not able to use the full potential of his muscles. Through appropriate training, your central nervous system learns how to recruit more fibers. The so-called intramuscular coordination improves. Ultimately you are able to use 90% - 95% of your potential strength. The remaining potential of your strength is only activated in life-threatening situations and is called absolute strength. 


The structure of your muscles changes through maximum strength training! Especially the relationship between Fast-Twitch and Slow-Twitch muscle fibers changes. You can read more about this here. By stimulating the muscles, the training also leads to muscle build-up.


Your tendons and joints are getting stronger! They adapt to the high weight during maximum strength training and you gain stability. With regular maximum strength training, you may also be able to reduce your sensitivity to injuries, provided that you do not put too much strain on your joints and not too often. 

How to train maximum strength?

After so much theory we finally come to the question how to train your maximum strength best. As with many other training methods, the experts' opinions on maximum strength training sometimes differ a little when you go deeper into the subject. In general, however, it can be said that with every form of maximum strength training very high weight, i.e. between 80% - 95% of the 1RM is moved and that with correspondingly few repetitions in one set. Typical examples for maximum strength training are 5 sets of 5 repetitions at 85% of the 1RM or 3 x 3 repetitions at 90% of the 1RM. In maximum strength training, it is particularly important to ensure that you recover almost completely between each set. For this reason the breaks between sets are usually between 3 and 6 minutes. If you train your maximum strength, you will most likely lack the burning sensation in your muscles that you may know from other workouts. This should not be taken as a sign that your training is not effective, but that you are always very close to your breaks. Maximum strength training is above all a training of your nervous system and its ability to activate a muscle as well as possible.

Exercises for maximum strength

In general, there are no exercises that you cannot use for maximum strength training. However, there are some exercises that are better suited and easier to perform. In general, even with maximum strength training, you should start with the basic exercises such as squats, deadlifts or bench presses. The advantage of these exercises is the fact that many muscles are activated at the same time. Remember that maximum strength training can take a long time due to the long breaks. Also, your nervous system becomes increasingly tired with each further exercise. For this reason it is advisable to include only the most important exercises in your training.

Maximum strength plays a particularly important role in weight lifting


The maximum strength is one of the elemental types of strength and also significantly determines your speed strength and strength endurance. Maximum strength training not only increases the stability of your joints and tendons, it also improves the ability of your central nervous system to control and contract muscle fibers. Despite the numerous advantages that such a maximum strength training can offer you, you should only start to train your maximum strength with some training experience and in addition always make sure to have a partner at your side.


Marc Neuhoff (CEO)

Marc graduated from the DSHS Cologne and the KIT with a master's degree in sports science. His personal trainer background and more than 14 years of training experience contribute to his expertise.