I meet a lot of lifters who want to go to max all the time.
I understand the temptation. You are on a roll, on the steep part of the strength curve, and you want to see how far you can push it.
PBs are exciting, they are something to celebrate!
But going to max all the time is not the path to big weights.
Going to max is ‘performing’ not ‘training’. If you are always performing, when is the training getting done?
Or, as weightlifter Sergey Bondarenko recently put it (and he’s not the first to say this):
“Maximum weights demonstrate your technique and strength, and moderate weights build your technique and strength.”
If you want to know more about why going to failure isn’t necessary to get stronger, read this post.
You should be doing plenty of volume in the 75%-90% range. Running up to max should be saved for a testing day after a period of several weeks’ training, or a competition day.
“But how will I know whether I am making progress?”
You have to trust the process you are in. Getting stronger takes time and involves plugging away at your program doing sub-maximal work for a while.
Why does lifting less than your max make you stronger in the end?
- Stimulates muscles fibres to get bigger and thereby stronger
- Lower weights (50-75% of max) are needed to develop maximum power
- Always lifting at your max can overload the central nervous system, messing up your recovery from the session and reducing the effectiveness of subsequent training sessions
- It’s very difficult to improve your technique when working at your max. Technique work needs to be practised at sub-maximal weights, and then can be performed at max.
Other ways to go to max
If you want the excitement and motivation of going for a max, do more rep maxes. A rep max is getting more reps at a particular weight. For example, how many (good) reps can you do at 80%? How many reps at 85%?
When doing this, keep a sharp eye on your form, as form can deteriorate from rep to rep.
Another good game is to pick a lift you don’t normally max out on, and max out on that. For example, when was the last time you tried a max strict overhead press? Or a max bicep curl?
Again, keep your form good, but maxing out on different lifts can be fun and feed your desire for a sense of progress, without maxing out your squat, deadlift or bench press every week.