A training max is a percentage of an athlete’s true one rep max, usually between 80% and 90%, that is used for calculating training loads for 5/3/1 training cycles.
The goal of using a training max is to keep progress sustainable by allowing the athlete to accumulate significant volume at slightly lower intensities before adding more weight.
Using a training max also reduces the likelihood of accidentally programming loads that are too heavy through ego, causing rep quality and bar speed to decline.
5/3/1 is based on the principles of starting light and progressing slowly, but steadily. This is accomplished in part through the training max. Ignoring the principle of the training max effectively ignores the training philosophy of the 5/3/1 training system itself.
Training Max Calculation Example
Let’s say an athlete’s true one rep max in the squat is 400 pounds.
Their training max for the squat would be somewhere between 75% (300 pounds) and 90% (360 pounds). Exactly which training max percentage they use depends on how they’re structuring their training (e.g. using a leader or anchor cycle).
Figuring out which training max to use is discussed more in 5/3/1 Forever, but generally speaking it’s usually a good idea to start lower vs. higher. 80% to 85% is usually a good rule of thumb.
For our example, we’ll use a training max of 85%. This equates to 340 pounds.
Therefore, the first week of a vanilla 5/3/1 training cycle would look like this:
- Set 1: (340 x 65%) x 5 reps
- Set 2: (340 x 75%) x 5 reps
- Set 3: (340 x 85%) x 5+ reps
The load for set 1 would be 220 pounds, set 2 would be 255 pounds, and set 3 would be 290 pounds.
Training Max vs. One Rep Max (1RM)
The difference between a training max and a one rep max is that a training max is a percentage, usually 80% to 90% of a lifter’s true one rep max.
This means that a training max can be lifted for multiple reps and a one rep max can only be lifted for one rep.
Increasing the Training Max
After the successful completion of a standard 5/3/1 cycle, the training max is increased by 10 pounds (5 kg) for lower body lifts and 5 pounds (2.5 kg) for upper body lifts.
Of course, by now you’ve probably recognized that there are many different variations of 5/3/1, and how you manipulate your training max depends on the particular 5/3/1 cycle you’re running.
More Reading on the Training Max
I’d be remiss to not direct you to this post on the training max on Jim Wendler’s blog.
You can learn more about various 5/3/1 terms in our 5/3/1 glossary.
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