max out

Training is feeling pretty good. You are probably blowing through the build up weeks and hitting your rep ranges. Maybe your AMRAP sets are predicting you at a pretty good 1RM in the future. Sure would be a shame if something…came up…and ruined it.

But hey: that would never happen to you. If you are remotely serious about your training, you have probably dumped your significant other, sold all your belonging and resolved all your debt, quit school, and have taken to Uber driving for your income.  You have probably even moved into a solid two bedroom apartment next to the gym with three of your other friends. You are an iron sport athlete, by god, and nothing will get in your way of some big three digit deadlift.

Here comes the bad news: the reality is that almost never are the above outlined steps actually as beneficial to lifting as you might think. In fact, the number one cause of derailment comes out of pure ego: the random max out.  If you are feeling a little targeted, its likely because you have randomly decided to max out off program. ITS OKAY. I’m not screaming at you or trying to boss you around, but I do want to outline why this isn’t in your best interest over the long term.

From the coaches corner: Every single individual athlete I have worked with has had some goal in mind that they have hired me for. From the very beginning, I draft out what I think their training should be comprised of based on their current abilities and what I need their future abilities to be in order to deem our joint efforts as a success. From there, I pull from a number of factors. The MAIN principles I take into consideration are recovery times, adaptation times, and deterioration times of skills and fitness capabilities. My absolute main objective is to ensure you are training the right way at the right time.

One very foundational principle that we work from is the supercompensation model.  New levels of strength, endurance, or general fitness are not obtained in the act of completely smashing yourself into the ground, but rather from applying an appropriate stimulus and then recovering, supercompensating, and adapting.  Then we repeat the cycle. Adaptation times can vary: a 1RM deadlift may take 2 weeks to recover from whereas rep work may take 5-6 days. Unweighted dynamic work may be safe to do daily and some skill development is never done to full fatigue, so can be practiced with some frequency.  A lot of the specific time frames are impacted by external factors such as age, training age, nutrition, PEDs, cumulative stress, sleep, etc etc. However, generally, we have a few guidelines to go by. I believe most coaches err on the side of caution when it comes to programming recovery.

In a perfect world, the supercompensation curve looks like this:I scribbled this on the white board about 3 minutes ago, so let me explain what is going on here. At the far left side of the diagram, you have your base fitness level, which is what you might consider your starting point. Once a stimulus is applied (lets use a heavy deadlift day as our stimulus example), you see a depression in your fitness level as the recovery process takes place. As mentioned earlier, a heavy deadlift day may take up to two weeks to recover from. When you are on the upswing, you will likely undergo the supercompensation phenomenon, which results in a higher fitness level than prior to the stimulus assuming adequate recovery.

When you jump the gun and decide you need to ad-lib your training to include more frequent max effort lifts, your compensation model may look something like this:So…the same processes take place here, you are just bumping the time frame in which they occur. You have your base level of fitness and the natural depression in abilities that occurs when the recovery process takes place  after your heavy deadlifts. However, lets assume this time, you are hitting some dynamic or rep deadlifts, and you are feeling great so you take yet another heavy single. Now, the trench of accumulating fitness continues its downward spiral and the supercompensation we are looking for never has time to take place. You may be able to amp yourself into a PR this time, and maybe the next time, but eventually you will detrain. Additionally, the recovery time frames become completely skewed as the cumulative stress of all this willy-nilly deadlifting never allows you to give from a full cup.  Now, a common scenario that I have seen play out is that the athlete will hit these PRs in the gym a few weeks out from their meet and be in a total slump for the actual event their were targeting. There is nothing worse than jumping into a meet and hitting a total that is far less than what you would have been capable of by training intelligently.

OH WAIT, THERE IS SOMETHING WORSE: injury. When you are so far outside the norm of your normal recovery times, its easy to underestimate the impact lifting can do to your body. This breeds a beautiful environment for overexertion, compensating, and breaking down. Now, the odds are that you are a humble and perceptive lifter. I believe you are if you say you are. But I will also tell you that many are not and the ability to walk away from a barbell that is inside your realm of strength generally is a hard pill to swallow.

So what is the answer? Well, it would seem to me that the safest way to prepare for a big lift is to just stick to the plan, and troubleshoot afterwards. This allows at least a solid perch to evaluate from. If you are going to commit to dumping your girlfriend, quitting your job, and ubering around the city in pursuit of the gym goals, apply the same commitment to your program.