1 repetition maximum (1RM) refers to the maximum amount of weight a person can possibly lift for 1 repetition.

If the daily tasks that someone performs (such as doing laundry or going up and down stairs) are equivalent (or close) to their 1 repetition maximum, then they are living life at their 1RM.

This is commonly seen in the elderly population, and is a big reason for the increased incidence of falls and decreased functional independence that is often experienced.

For example, if going up 10 stairs or carrying your filled laundry basket is forcing you to work at your maximum effort, then it’s likely that these daily activities are contributing to fatigue and body aches/pain.

The good news? If you are someone who is currently living life at 1RM, then this is something that you can absolutely change.

The better news? If you’re an adult who is not quite there yet, but starting to feel like you are on your way, then this 1RM lifestyle is completely avoidable.

The following graph illustrates the typical day of someone living life at their 1RM.

As you can see, this individual’s maximal capacity is not much higher than the demands of his/her day. After carrying laundry or washing dishes, this particular individual is not only exhausted, but also feels body aches and pains due to working at such a high level of effort.

So what’s the answer to this dilemma? One option would be to decrease the demands of this person’s activities. This would mean no more carrying laundry, going up stairs, or any other physical activity that comes close to their maximal capacity.

If this route is taken, this individual is on the fast track to further deconditioning and loss of independence.

May I offer a different solution? The following graph illustrates what happens if this same individual’s functional capacity is increased.

Now, tasks such as laundry or dishes aren’t near this person’s maximal capacity. This equals more energy, less pain, and overall greater independence.

This is what healthy aging should look like.

This is what you or your loved one who is heading towards 1RM living should strive to accomplish.

How to increase your physical capacity? Lift heavy (relative) weights in a functional manner.

Stronger people get injured less frequently and have lower all-cause mortality.

Many reading this might have an aversion to lifting weights. Below are a few common statements I’ve heard when implementing strength training with past patients.

“I’ve never done that before.”

– Just like learning how to ride a bike can be scary or awkward at first, so can learning how to perform the movements required for effective strength training. However, as you continue to practice, you will get better at it.

“Isn’t that dangerous?”

– What has greater risk?

  • Declining functionally which increases your chances of falls and other accidents, or
  • Learning how to safely and effectively gain strength with the help of a licensed or certified professional.

As Brett Contreras, PhD, CSCS once said, “If you think lifting [weights] is dangerous, try being weak. Being weak is dangerous.”

“My doctor told me I can’t squat ever again.”

– One of my favorites. When’s the last time you sat down and stood up from your toilet? You successfully performed a squat.

 

The movements and exercises that one can perform to effectively increase their physical capacity have a direct translation into daily life. Squatting translates to getting up and down from a chair. Deadlifting translates to picking something up off of the floor. Our lives and activities are filled with a series of functional movements that can be trained in the clinic or gym.

If you’re interested in getting stronger, building resilience, and regaining or maintaining functional independence, then it’s imperative you start your journey by consulting with a qualified physical therapist or trainer.

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