This morning is the start of a new academic year and I am preparing to teach my first lecture of the semester on resistance training program design at the Royal Military College of Canada. As I sit here reading over my slides one particular point I have decided to showcase sticks out to me as something most people do not take into consideration when working with or programming for athletes of various sports. The point I am speaking to is the fact to long term aerobic work modifies how we prescribe intensities along the 1RM continuum. Or to put it in another way, the relationship between the number of reps an athlete can perform at given percentage of their 1RM is vastly different in endurance and strength trained athletes.
I don’t think anyone will argue that there is an inverse relationship between the weight an athlete is lifting and the number of repetitions they will be able to perform at the given load. This relationship is an important one for me as a coach when I prescribe weights in the gym. A coach must know the appropriate number of reps an athlete should be capable of completing with a given load in order to ensure the session provides the desired training stimulus.
In most modern day practise this relationship is accounted for by prescribing weights based on an individual’s 1RM (the most weight they could lift for a single repetition). The percentages are then based off of repetition maximum tables that are scattered amongst the literature. The problem arises when we dig further into these tables and find out many are non-peer reviewed and lack the scientific rigour to be applied across all groups. This notion gets even more complicated when you consider that many studies have shown a large variance in the number of repetitions completed at a given % of 1RM for participants of various training modalities and sports.
In one study by Desgorces et al. when powerlifters and handball players were compared to rowers and swimmers, the endurance athletes performed more repititions for every intensity tested (20,40,60,75 and 85% of 1RM).
The figue shows a typical relationship found in the literature with the blue line being endurance athletes and orange being strength athletes. The x-axis represents % of 1RM and the y-axis is the number is repititions completed at a given intensity.
While I don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole with this research, I think it does offer some practical applications we must all consider. Firstly, if you are an endurance athlete you are likely underestimating your training load when using traditional methods of rep selection (we see this all the time in the gym). And secondly, there may be times when using a rep max method (building to the most weight you can do for say 5 reps) vs. a % of 1RM method (ie. 5×5 @ 85%) for selecting training intensities is more appropriate.
That is all for my nerdy science rant. If you are an endurance athlete and would like to learn more about how this relationship can influence your training, come see us here at Stone City Strength & Wellness.