How to calculate your 1RM with velocity based training

Using velocity based training to calculate a daily 1RM

What if you could test an athletes 1 rep max (1RM) every single session?

And know exactly how strong they are in real time, allowing you to adjust weights, sets and reps in the moment, delivering the perfect training stress for that individual at that moment in time.

With velocity based training this becomes a reality, without interrupting your ⁠⁠planned sessions programming. No extra reps or sets, all as part of your standard workout.

What is a 1RM?

A one repetition maximum, or 1RM, is a test of your lift specific capacity and strength. It tests you ability to lift the heaviest weight possible for one rep on a given exercise.

This number can then be applied to our training decisions, programming or as a test to measure progress.

Tracking progress over time

In powerlifting and Olympic Weightlifting, a 1RM is the whole point of training, it's the endgame for the gym.

For the rest of the strength training world, a 1RM can be a yardstick of your progress in the gym.

Percentage based programs

I'm not the biggest fan of percentage based programs, but if you do like to prescribe with percentages, or find it effective in your context, then velocity based training measurements can further calibrate the process

As one of the staples of traditional strength programs, percentage based programming work by collecting 1RM data on an athlete, then planning a block of training using percentages of this 1RM to prescribe loads sets and reps for each workout.

It might be something like:

Week 1: 4x6 @82.5%⁠⁠
Week 2 4x5 @85%⁠⁠
Week 3 3x4 @90%⁠⁠ ...

And so on for the fixed training block until the next testing day and a new block starts with a new 1RM, ideally heavier than the one before.⁠⁠ ⁠⁠

Limitations of 1RM

Typically, a 1RM can only be precisely measured by performing, well, an actual 1RM. Progressively adding more and more weight to the bar until you cannot complete the rep.

Not only is this time consuming, there is a growing opinion in the S&C community that 1RM testing is a potentially dangerous and impractical way to track progress (1, 2). Instead opting for force plate tests such as an IMPT, given its time efficiency and strong correlation to athletic performance (3, 4).

This is where velocity based training can come in, by collecting velocity data during our normal training  it is possible to create a load velocity profile and extrapolate out to an estimated 1RM.

Without ever performing an actual 1RM.⁠⁠

Load velocity profile

How to test 1RM with VBT

The ability to predict an accurate 1RM hangs on a key number: The minimum velocity threshold, or MVT.⁠⁠ ⁠⁠

Minimum velocity threshold (MVT)

MVT is the slowest speed an individual can perform a given exercise at and not fail.

Minimum velocity thrsehold: The slowest speed at which you can still complete the concentric portion of a lift.
Table of minimum velocity threshold values
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It varies by exercise, it varies by individual and it can even vary with lifting experience too.

Typically the shorter, the stronger and the lower the range of motion the lower the MVT will be.⁠⁠ REF

Once you know your MVT, all you need to estimate your 1RM is to extend the linear load velocity profile and find the intersection between that line and the point of the MVT.

Calculating 1RM with velocity based training
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MVT is the speed of your 1RM. And it actually tends to correlate with the speed of your final rep on any other set taken to its repitition maximum (RM).

Test protocols

To get an accurate calculation of your 1RM you will need to collect velocity data for at least three sets performed across three different loads for the target exercise. As an athlete gets closer to their actual 1RM the more accurate the prediction becomes, so for better consistency in the 1RM estimate at least one of the sets should be performed at or above approximately 75% of 1RM.

The beauty of this process is you can collect this data during the normal training process using any ascending warm up sets and recording the mean velocity on the best rep of each set.

This short video from @VBTcoach on instagram, highlights the protocol in action:

Working out your 1RM

Once you have the velocity data for enough sets you can punch the data into our 1RM calculation spreadsheet along with your chosen minimum velocity threshold.

1RM VBT calculator
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Then you can log these results on a daily, weekly or monthly basis to chart progress and trends in strength over time.

Chart of 1RM progress using VBT
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Is it a perfect science? Definitely not.

But it is a significant step up in autoregulation and dynamic programming from trying to prescribe accurate training loads from a 1RM test done six weeks ago.

This approach can be a great tool for ball parking your strength levels on a daily basis (and making programming decisions). Simply plug the velocities into the calculation as you train and you are away.

TIP: For this to work and help you track progress/readiness I recommend sticking with a consistent MVT, if you aren’t a powerlifter - who needs a high precision 1RM for their sport - then the actual MVT doesn't matter as much as being consistent. If you want to know your exact minimum velocity threshold as it stands, then you can simply perform an actual 1RM testing session and record the velocity on your last successful 1RM.

You can get a copy of our free 1RM calculator at this link.

Don't want to use 1RM?

Some coaches prefer to avoid talking in terms of 1RM, as they might use other quantifications of strength. For these coaches there are also some alternative scores that you can use to track training progress with.


Curve Score

*Blogs coming soon for these.

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