Why We Don’t Do 1 Rep Max Squats or Deadlifts

Why We Don’t Max Squats and Deadlifts

-by Clark Hibbs


I was asked this question the other day by a member whenever we were chatting about the programming at Yellow Rose after a 7AM class. 

“Just curious, why don’t we ever do 1 rep max deadlifts or back squats? We do other max lifts, but not those…”

Then I took a nice big step onto my soap box, took a deep breath, and went into a super sciency explanation… 

“It’s too risky, and there’s no true need for it.”

*steps off soap box*

Now, I obviously didn’t just leave it at that. There’s some more reasoning behind it, but that really is the main reasoning behind a lack of 1 rep max deadlifts and back squats. 

When we are programming workouts at Yellow Rose, we always look at risk vs reward with movements, as well as what we’re trying to accomplish with the intention of the workout. 

…and if I’m being very honest with y’all (which I always try to be), the only reason we would ever do a 1 rep max deadlift or back squat is just to see what that number is. That’s fine and dandy, but if we are training for health and longevity, a 1 rep max deadlift or back squat doesn’t need to be in our programming. 

Risk Vs Reward

The risk is inherently high in these movements. For both of these movements (and many others), it’s very easy to lift beyond what your technique and mechanics will allow. After all, when you go into one of these lifts, you inherently have a “PR AT ALL COST” mindset. It’s just the nature of the beast. Rounded backs on the deadlifts, knees caving on the squats, barbell getting out of position on the pull, spines becoming crushed under hyper-extension… all of these can be a result of that mindset.

While a breakdown in technique doesn’t guarantee injury, you certainly are putting yourself at great risk for one. 

What exactly is the reward for this risk? A new PR and some new confidence, for sure, but there are safer ways we can empower you and build confidence without putting you at great risk. 

A better alternative to a 1RM back squat or deadlift would be 3 or 5 rep maxes (something you see quite a bit of here). Reason being: we know you can perform the first few reps of these with proper technique which can lead you to an informed decision on the final few reps. If you step up for a new 5RM, but you get stuck on rep 3, you can drop or rack the bar and not put yourself in any danger of lifting beyond your technique.

Not only that, you’ve just performed a few quality reps rather than one crappy failed attempt. You’re already building better strength and movement patterns. 

BONUS: a 3 or 5RM is, in my opinion, way more empowering than a 1RM. I mean, you just squatted or pulled that weight for more than just one rep… it wasn’t a fluke! 

We can get just as much reward with far less risk if we simply stay away from those 1 rep max lifts. After all, we aren’t in the business of hurting you guys. We’re here to help you stay self while achieving new levels of strength and vitality.

See you at the gym.

-Coach Clark


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