Category Archives: Training

Reverse Engineering a 1RM Formula to find your training weight

In personal training you can use max-effort reps on an exercise with any weight to estimate a trainee’s one rep maximum (1RM, the most weight you could possibly lift one single time at full strength) for an exercise without the risk of having them actually go and try to lift the maximum weight they possibly can.

A CPT has a trainee lift as much weight as they can for 4-6 reps, working up until they reach a failure point, then use that max weight and the number of reps performed in a mathematic formula that can estimate a 1RM, which you then use to program workouts for that exercise.

This is similar to runners using conversion charts to figure out from a previous 5K or 10K time how fast you could run a mile, or how fast you could run a marathon, without you actually going out and try to do either. Weightlifting and endurance running of course come with different goals, but both use formulas and estimates to determine how to train.

There are a lot of 1RM formulas, and each certifying organization seems to recommend a different one. NFPT for example uses the Brzycki Formula. Meanwhile, NASM just gives you a chart, and that may have been calculated from just about anywhere.

To digress a moment, I personally use the Epley Formula. For what I’m about to describe, I have found it from experience more accurate for training purposes, as well as accurately gauging my actual one rep max. Various studies also indicate that it’s among the most accurate of the formulas.

I tell you all this because I actually used the weights I used during swolework not just to determine my 1RM for those weights, but also reverse engineered the formula to get a more specific answer for weight to use in exercises.

For example, at one point I was doing four 6 rep sets of lat pulldowns at 85 lbs, for me pretty heavy. I was giving close to max effort on these 6 reps each set, and I wanted to focus more on endurance with more reps, 12 reps to be exact. But I didn’t want to take the weight so far down that my strength wasn’t being challenged.

So first, I would use the Epley formula to estimate my 1RM, presuming that 85 lbs was the most weight I could lift in one 6 rep sitting.

Weight: w = 85
Reps: r = 6

1RM = w(1 + (r/30))
1 + (6/30) = 1.2

1RM = w * 1.2
1RM = 85 * 1.2 = 102 lbs

I can use this formula backwards by applying some algebra, understanding that any equation divided by itself equals 1.

If I divide both sides by (1 + (r/30)), I can isolate the weight w to one side, and basically create a reverse engineered formula where I can use my known 1RM and a selected number of repetitions to determine how much weight I need to use for that number of repetitions to get the maximum benefit from the workout.

1RM / (1 + (r/30)) = w

So, knowing I want to do 12 reps (r = 12), and knowing my 1RM = 102, I can determine the amount of lifting weight to use:

102 / (1 + (12/30)) = w

(12/30) = 0.40

102 / 1.40 = w

w = 72.9

I can’t get a lat pulldown machine to give me exactly 72.9 pounds of resistance (unless maybe I have one of those expensive Tonal machines), but I can get a multiple of 5, so I round down to 70 lbs. Sure, I could try rounding up to 75 lbs and see how that goes. But it’s probably safer to round down and get through a whole workout with relative ease before deciding to add that 5 lbs.

So then I do my 12 rep sets of lat pulldowns at 70 lbs weight, exercise from there, and get the max value out of that 4 sets. And in my experience, this weight ended up giving me exactly the right challenge for that portion of the workout.

Note: Sure, that’s in line with NASM’s 50-70% max recommendation for stabilization and endurance. But rather than using their wide range (51-72 lbs) and just randomly picking a weight within that, I get a firm answer that’s in line with the specific number of reps (12) I’m using. Let’s say I do 15 reps instead, r = 15.

102 / (1 + (15/30)) = w

(15/30) = 0.50

102 / 1.50 = w

w = 68

At 15 reps, it would be more appropriate for me to use 65 lbs. If I were to use the same weight, it might be too much, unless I rounded up to the nearest 5 lb increment from 68 for, say, the last 1-2 sets, e.g. I did the first 3 sets at 65 lbs, and the last set at 70 lbs, or maybe the first 2 sets at 70 lbs and then the last 2 sets at 65 lbs, etc.

In fact, a logical progression for me from sets of 12 endurance-themed reps at 70 lbs, instead of increasing the weight, would be to increase the number of reps to 15 at the same weight, and see if I can handle that. If I can, it might work out to bring the number of reps back to 12 while increasing the weight to 75 lbs.

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Enough of that training plan already

So a week before Saturday, with a 10 miler looming on the schedule, 12 weeks into an automated Garmin half marathon training plan… I decided to pull the plug on the plan.

I wasn’t struggling. Save for one or two runs where I couldn’t nail pace (one was a nightmare session where I was running uphill into a 30 mph headwind), and a couple of workouts here and there that I circumstantially had to delete, I had done every workout and had hit the prescribed training paces on all of the other runs. This was 5 runs a week, four in a row with a long run buffered by days off. I had started with a lot of cross training and then backed the cross training off as the volume and demands at work went up. I was doing okay and I noticed I had decent general energy at work.

However, the scheduled runs completely took away my flexibility with workout scheduling. I had to do X workout on X day, X miles, X pace. Often I had to plan my day around the workouts rather than vice versa. With a tough work assignment, a cross town commute, and a resulting long work day with few gaps… at this point I need to be able to decide how long midweek workouts need to be, and have the luxury of scheduling them either before or after work. At this point I was doing all my workouts after work because they required about an hour. If I could knock it out in 30-40 minutes, I could do it in the morning, but few of them were that short at this point.

It turns out there was another external complicating factor to go with it. Rising Coronavirus concerns at the time were likely to wipe out the planned half marathon in January, and I had no real personal need to independently run 13.1 miles outside of an organized race. Now we know a 2nd wave of restrictions are taking hold, not to mention a looming risk of increasing cases for the winter, and in all likelihood everything’s going to be cancelled for a while once again.

Plus, and yes I realized I had accepted this up front, but 18 weeks is fairly long for a sub-marathon training plan. The 12 weeks I had trained is a more typical training plan length for a half marathon anyway. That seemed like a good time to call it off, if I was going to call it off early. At least I spent the time doing focused, quality training.

So I nuked the plan, and after taking a couple days off, plus some very busy subsequent days at work, I ended up taking the whole week+ off, my only subsequent exercise being some 20-30 minute walks during the day. Again, I’m a big proponent of extended training breaks during the year to let the body recharge, and this for me is a good chance to take one.

Even if I take the rest of this week off and let two weeks pass before running again, I still have built up a suitable amount of fitness to run long 12+ miles and run 3-6 times per week for up to 30-35 total miles. I also have substantially improved the pace and work in my regular easy runs, which is a boost going forward.

If I want to roll the dice on a May marathon happening, I can begin serious training for that at the end of December. At this point, needless to say, the chances of gyms being open are pretty small, and I shouldn’t count on being able to lift weights or cross train on cardio machines. It’s running and calisthenics, or bust.

But this time around I’ll go back to building my own training plan, and giving myself the option to run shorter on most weekdays so I can get those runs in during the morning. The if I need a quality or longer workout outside of the weekend I can get one in during a weeknight as needed.

Meanwhile, Happy Thanksgiving.

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Block Scheduling: Aiding Recovery By Batching Runs

This scheduling trick was a so-called happy accident. I partially did it out of necessity, and then discovered it was a sound approach with my current schedule.

My current training plan requires 5 days of running per week. Once I added in 8-10 hour workdays, the required commutes, and all the outside logistics required in-between… getting these five workouts in became rather difficult.

Add in the limited time before work to run, and a 45-60 minute morning workout that requires you be awake and ready to run by 5:00 am most days, and I realized keeping my daily morning run schedule would too often be impractical, if not a sleep-deprivation and burnout risk.

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How A Busy Schedule Improved My Nutrition

I’m currently working in a fairly isolated location across town, and some weeks I’m working longer than 8 hours. My schedule many workdays is wall to wall booked:

  • Wake up
  • Perhaps run as time allows
  • Prep for work
  • Go to work and work 8-10 hours
  • Commute home
  • Work out if I didn’t get to in the morning
  • Eat dinner
  • Prep food and clothes for tomorrow
  • Go to bed.

On many workdays I can’t leave the client facility because I only have 30 minutes for lunch, plus even when I can the best food options are halfway across town. In this location there’s no supermarkets or viable restaurant options nearby. I won’t eat garbage fast food or something off a vending machine or convenience store counter. Even if any of it was satisfying (hint: doubtful), the near total lack of useful nutrients will crash my energy levels in the afternoon, in a job where I need to stay engaged and proactive.

And, of course, I’m now endurance training. I need to stay fueled for those morning and/or afternoon runs. I can’t just eat a minimal diet or whatever happens to be available and expect to perform as needed in these workouts. Plus, I have to maintain my overall health and not make choices that will contribute to illness or burnout. The food I eat has to support not just my general day to day health but what I am doing in training.

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Two Common Strength Training Mistakes

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

I spend a lot of time in the gym with a lot of people who work out. Social media shows me countless others who also work out, train others, etc. I don’t have a Kinesiology degree but I know what I’m talking about. I preface with this because some of you are not going to like what I’m going to say next.

The two most common mistakes I see people make with strength training are:

  1. People train like a powerlifter, with powerlifter goals, even though that’s not or should not be their goal.
  2. People train continuously without taking any proactive, conscious training breaks.

Why are these problems?

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Back To Work (And Its Training Challenges)

After about 7 weeks since the end of my last job, I went back to work full time this past week, a project/assignment based salary administrative and accounting position. There’s a lot to do and a lot to learn.

While this quickly solves the problem of once again securing regular compensation, the tradeoff is that after 7 weeks of having all the time I desired to train when I wanted, I now need to fit training around a work schedule again while still being able to decompress, rest and recover properly.

One good bit of news is that almost every project situation will require a traditional 8 to 5 Monday through Friday schedule again. Having trained around that for years, I know I can do it.

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October 2020 Marathon Status Report

As for my next marathon… the ongoing Coronavirus situation and the looming work situation has led me to reconsider how 2021 will go.

At this point, I don’t think Vancouver will happen in 2021. Even if Coronavirus fades out and Canada re-opens the currently-closed border, I will be so new to my job that I doubt I can command and receive a week off from work. And I don’t want to rush to a destination marathon on a Friday night or Saturday morning, run it Sunday, and have to hurriedly fly back for work on Monday. That’s not worth the trouble and will probably lead to a bad marathon.

Plus, the way the schedule lays out… I would only have 16 weeks after the Lake Mead Half to train for Vancouver, so instead of recovering from a strong Lake Mead effort I’d have to immediately begin training for Vancouver the next week.

And that never minds that, if Coronavirus is still a thing, Vancouver organizers may just go ahead and cancel the race for the 2nd year in a row, or make it purely Canadians-only.

The writing’s on the wall to forget about Vancouver for 2021, run a different marathon instead, and think about doing Vancouver in 2022.

I still want to train for and run a marathon in late spring after Lake Mead, so I spent the previous few weeks looking over the 2021 race calendar. Local or nearby marathons are my best options, where I can drive a few hours each way to get there. Even if sore and beaten after a marathon, I can handle a 6-8 hour drive home and work on Monday if I at least get a good night’s sleep after the race… which means unless there’s a holiday on Monday I probably need to pick a Saturday race.

But alas! A few weeks after the projected Vancouver 2021 date is Memorial Day weekend. And though that’s a shitshow travel weekend, there happens to be a Sunday marathon in Southern California: The Mountains 2 Beach Marathon between Ojai and Ventura, only about 5-6 hours away from home (and that’s if traffic is expectedly bad through the Mojave Desert).

Since Memorial Day is the following Monday, I would have a full day to recover and drive home after that race. They also have a fairly generous refund policy if their race is cancelled.

Plus, Memorial Day weekend allows for a week off after the Lake Mead Half, and then 19 weeks of training… making the Running On Air plan a perfect fit. After the relatively strict pacing demands of this current Half training cycle, the looser workout requirements of the Coates plan would be easier to follow.

So that will probably be the marathon plan for at least the front half of 2021. Again, the Vegas summers make marathon training very difficult, so I don’t know if a 2nd 2021 marathon could work right now.

If I repeated the Coates plan for a late 2021 marathon, and I still have no trouble waking at 4-5am, plus work schedules don’t ask me to come in before 8am… training could be do-able in manageable morning heat.

There’s also the somewhat conveniently timed St George Marathon on October 2, 2021. The timing would allow for 2 weeks off after Mountains 2 Beach in May, and then 16 weeks of training, which fits several plans. St George is only 2 hours from Vegas, so getting to the city for an overnight or weekend stay would be very easy, as would getting home.

Otherwise, I’ll pivot to training for shorter races, or to once again focus on strength training. Or maybe I just train to maintenance and focus more on helping clients as a coach/trainer. We’ll see: It’s a ways away.

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