What does 'max reps' actually mean (episode 211 Dr. Rønnestad)

Hi all, long time listener but new member here. I really enjoyed episode 211 with Dr. Rønnestad “Does Strength Training Hurt or Help Endurance Sports Performance?”. I’ve been lifting during the off-season for many years and lifting year-round over the last two years. My anecdotal evidence as a middle-aged athlete is, I am stronger, faster on the bike, and also more resistant to cycling injuries. This has been true only if I lift year round. If I just lift in the off-season I seem to lose the gains pretty fast during the summer – those gains don’t last unless I lift year-round.

One question though – I’m wondering what “four to ten max reps” really means? Does it mean absolute all-out gonna die if I try to do another rep, or something slightly less dramatic. I ask because my experience is, I was a lot more prone to injuries when going all-out on the last rep when lifting heavy with low reps, which I used to do. Now I leave maybe one or two more reps in the tank and also somewhat lower weights, for 7-10 reps. The last couple of reps are still really hard but I seem to be much less prone to injury. Thoughts?

@northk, welcome to the forum! Thank you for your question on the podcast. To your question, I want to clarify what I heard on the podcast with regard to the 4-10 rep maximum. What I’m hearing there is the recommendation for athletes to do a range of between 4-rep max to 10-rep max.

“Rep Maximum” is the maximum amount you can lift for that number of reps, so 4-rep max is the maximum weight you can lift without rest for 4 repetitions. It’s important to clarify this because this could also be interpreted as taking a specific weight and doing somewhere in the 4-10 rep range, which could lead to more potential for injury risk, as you said.

What is important is that we have an understanding of what your individual “4-rep max” and “10-rep max” are. Generally this rep max range would put you somewhere between about 75% of 1-rep max (or 1RM in usual strength training lingo) and almost 90% of 1RM. As you increase weight (or % of 1RM), you will decrease your rep range (e.g., 75% of 1RM might get you 10 repetitions, while 88% of 1RM only gets you 4 repetitions).

So the important distinction here is about what you are aiming to improve. Starting at your 10RM weight (~88% of 1RM), you can expect improvements across the board (power, strength, hypertrophy), but a 10RM (due to the weight) would prioritize gains in hypertrophy and strength due to the relatively heavy weight, but also the higher volume of weight lifted. on the other hand, if we consider a 4RM load, that would also likely give some improvement in all of those abilities, but would be more specific to strength improvements since you’re lifting a heavier weight (nearly 90% 1RM) fewer times, which would reduce your total volume lifted per exercise (and reduce the stimulus for hypertrophy).

In that context, I would agree with your point that you don’t want to lift to complete exhaustion. Let’s say we’re doing 3-5 sets of back squats at 4RM. My general guideline is always to use a weight that allows you to finish the intended set with some difficulty, but still with good form. This is where I always remain open to extending the number of sets to achieve an overload, without risking more reps with potentially poor form.


Ryan, thanks for your reply. I think it’s easy for competitive cyclists to overdo weights in the gym, lift too heavy, and get injured. Even with good form. Reducing the poundage just a little seems to greatly reduce chance of injury. I would add that for many people, some traditional exercises like back squat don’t work well for them given their flexibility or in my case hip architecture. For those people other exercises such as sumo deadlifts and single leg squats with dumbbells can work better and more safely. I think these things are a really important piece of an effective strength training plan and I would love to hear further discussion on a FastTalk podcast.