For the first few months, the initial gains will come fast. This phenomenon is known as “newbie gains.” Enjoy it while it lasts. For a novice and advanced lifter, progress will come at a slower pace, and other variables come into play. Most notably is body weight. People who train consistently over many months and years with a barbell, performing the effective compound movements, (known as the squat, deadlift, and bench press, etc.) will get stronger, and also experience changes in body composition.
In addition to training, novice and advanced lifters will usually be actively manipulating their diet by restricting calories to cut weight, reverse dieting to rebuild metabolic capacity, or my favorite, consuming excess calories to help build muscle mass. (For all of these dietary interventions I recommend a flexible dieting approach and using www.avatarnutrition.com, to set your macros.) Changes in diet and body composition will have an effect on performance in the gym. So how do we know we are making progress over extended periods of time?
One test would be to perform a one rep max for the squat, bench, and deadlift. For a competitive powerlifter, this makes sense because that’s the test on meet day. But “maxing out” in the gym might not always fit into your plan. With Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP) rising in popularity, many lifters are performing AMRAP sets regularly in their training cycles. AMPRAP is an acronym for As Many Reps As Possible. You load the bar with a programmed weight and do as many reps as possible.
So how do we compare one set to another, all with different weight, a different number of reps, and account for changes in body weight? Here’s how I do it, and it’s pretty simple. First I calculate an estimated one rep max based on an AMRAP set. For example, I recently did an AMRAP set of squats with 365lbs and was able to do five reps. Here is the formula I used to calculate the estimated one rep max of that set.
1RM = Weight * Reps * 33% + Weight
Using real numbers the math looks like this:
1RM = 365 * 5 * 0.3333 + 365
1RM = 425.83lbs
Essentially you are adding 33% of the total volume to the weight on the bar. There are a bunch of 1 rep max formulas out on the internet. Choose anyone you like and stick with it. You must consistently use the same method to compare the data points accurately over long periods of time.
I have found an estimated one rep max calculation is a good way to compare sets of different weights and reps, but it does not account for changes in body weight. To go one step further, I use the WILKS coefficient to compare my estimated one rep max results at different bodyweights. If you’re a powerlifter, you already know about the WILKS coefficient. It’s a complicated formula used to score performances in powerlifting competitions. The overall winner of the meet, across all the weight classes, is the lifter with the highest WILKS score. How do we calculate the WILKS coefficient? Easy, use this formula:
Okay, I was just kidding, it’s not easy. There are quite a few websites where you can plug in your numbers, and the website will calculate the WILKS value. I set up an Excel document to automatically calculate the 1RM and WILKS, based on three input numbers; weight, reps, and bodyweight. I keep this file in my Dropbox, and I can access it anytime, on all my devices. After finishing a workout, I plug in numbers from my AMRAP set and see how that day compared to my history. Here’s a snapshot of my deadlift history.
You can see on March 9th I deadlifted 440lbs for seven reps. (See the video here.) Looking back at my history, I can quickly see this set was an all-time personal best for both estimated 1RM and WILKS score. I really wouldn’t be able to make that conclusion if I had not collected this data and used the estimated 1RM and WILKS calculations to compare each set.
The results do appear to favor higher reps sets, which makes sense considering the total volume lifted. To account for this, I added an intensity percentage calculation, which is simply the weight divided by the total volume. A true one rep max has an intensity of 100%, and a five rep AMRAP set has an intensity of 20%. Intensity is just another quick calculation to consider when comparing sets.
If you would like a copy of my 1RM and WILKS Calculator, you’re in luck. Click here for a free download!
Thanks for reading and happy lifting!