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Nobody Gives a Shit What You Max

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A friendly reminder that training shouldn't rule your life.

I love lifting heavy weights.

Lace up the Chucks, grab the belt, and douse my hands in chalk — it’s go time. Lifting heavy with an emphasis on strength is a necessity to improve performance, build muscle, improve confidence, and look awesome naked.

Unless you’re a genetic freak born chiseled out of stone, heavy strength training will provide a huge boost to your overall performance and appearance.

Problem is, training for maximum strength has limitations and is not the end-all be-all to training.

If heavy training isn’t respected and carefully planned, tendinitis, ligament injuries, cartilage damage, changes in bony anatomy can occur while simultaneously blinding you to other methodologies of training.

Now, if you’re a competitive power lifter then this isn’t for you. Maximum strength is the name of the game for your sport — to maximize your performance you must “practice” your sport.

This is for the others

The athletes, lifters, trainers, HBO-watchin’, whiskey drinkin’ people who want to look and feel better, which goes beyond improving their squat, deadlift, and bench press.

Your 43 year-old attorney client doesn’t give corn-laced poops what he bench presses — he’d rather be able to throw the football with his son this weekend pain-free and look good naked for his wife then bench 315 or spend five sessions working on his sticking points.

Strength reigns king, but you should also be able to move, run, and play sports. In the words of Coach Boone in Remember the Titans you should be “agile, mobile, and hostile.”

The “Max Strength Phase”

Between the ages of 16-24, young, testosterone charged meatheads chase an obsession for strength above all else. You’ve probably seen them: cut-off t-shirts, seven pairs of shoes for one session on each lift, a shaker of pre-workout purple drank, and a belief that your bench press equals inches on his/her pecker.

“Who cares if you’re athletic, just get strong, that will take care of everything” is the mantra. There’s some credence to this thought as strength improves your ability to get faster, bigger, and more athletic, but you still need a balanced approach to maximize muscular development, athleticism, and have a badass body.

As a coach it amazes me when clients come in with the ability to squat, bench, and deadlift heavy but can’t perform a lunge or stand on one foot without a loss of balance, or jump in a coordinated manner.

More troubling is the young guys (who aren’t competitive lifters) who refuse to play pick-up basketball with friends because it will hinder their squat workout the next day.

Seriously, what the hell are you training for?

To be better at the things you want to do, but then never do them because it interferes with your 95% 1-RM set coming up tomorrow?

As perspective, at 25 I’ve lifted hard 4+ days/week for the over 13 years as a competitive athlete, and trainer.

Coaches, older lifters, and athletes always said you’ll learn that maximum strength isn’t the only thing, and that you’ll need to change if you want to do this for a long time.

I laughed and thought, “Bullshit, you’ve just lost the edge.”

Now, I’m eating crow.

The aches and pains that aren’t as dull as they used to be. Eventually, heavy lifting wasn’t therapeutic anymore and other things become more important. Playing sports and feeling athletic again, going for hikes with my wife or friends (without my knees screaming or worrying for it will hinder my workout), and building my business is more important now than sacrificing time and energy to add 30 pounds to my squat.

Reflect on Your Training

The beauty of being a coach is getting to work with so many different people with different abilities, body types, training preferences, and goals.

Your eyes open up to so many different variables with training that must be accounted for.

 Ask yourself, what am I really getting from my training?

Am I getting hurt doing stupid shit?

Is this really what I want to achieve with my training?

Does adding 50 pounds to an athlete’s bench or squat really mean they’ll be better or more explosive at their sport? Maybe not if we sacrifice developing or improving another training variable.

Did you gain mass and lose relative strength by pursuing maximum strength over all?

If so, does the additional mass and decrease relative strength make it harder for the athlete to decelerate, change direction, and add unnecessary spinal compression and joint stress?

I still value maximum strength in training and make it a priority with clients, but only to a certain extent. 

At some point, strong is strong enough and endlessly pursuing strength is a poor allocation of training resources. Plain and simple, only emphasizing maximum strength as your goal isn’t the best use of your time.

Training Considerations Going Forward

You should be able to do the other things in life. Don’t always let training interfere with your ability to do other things unless you’re actively competing or working towards an aggressive or competitive goal.

Without your health and movement it doesn’t really matter what you lift once you’re in the real world or on the playing field.

And your body handles heavy, heavy work much better when you’re younger.

So drop your training to 90-95% of what you max, limit the heavy days to “every so often,” and train other qualities and find different ways to create tension.

Learn to get more from less and consider max voluntary contractions/ isometrics, accommodating resistance to reduce joint stress like bands and chains, dynamic speed work, and ramp up heavy sets rather than do straight sets because a popular book told you so. 

Have a plan and track your workouts, but learn to auto-regulate.

Feel like garbage? Warm-up and see how things are going. Don’t go as heavy or ditch the gym for another activity altogether.

Feel great? Awesome, turn up Rage Against the Machine and blitz this workout like there’s no tomorrow.

About the Author

Check out Eric's free ebook to build athletic muscle on his blog Eric Bach, CSCS, is a Strength Coach Denver, Colorado where he helps Pros improve their game and Joes look better naked with high performance coaching. He loves Wisconsin Football, #gainz, and mixing his creatine with espresso.

  • You can see some amazing bodies on athletes but they still need to be good at their chosen sport.
    Take AFL for example, some of the players get too big and it affects their speed and mobility, so they have cut back on the weight training.
    Finding the balance is the key, but you have to know your goals as well.

  • MF

    Never understood why everyone kept thinking you need to push those number so god damn high…yea it’s of course nice and needed to break PB’s sometimes, but as basically said all the strength in the world won’t do shit if you can’t move with it…

  • Ben

    I definately believe in being well rounded. I don’t really use the strength for much other than lifting more to challenge myself. My main goal is looking good but I still want to be loose and agile so I do other things like foam rolling and qigong to balance it out.

  • Amaya Barrios

    Great article. Thanks for these tips. I think that the best workouts are those that come with a 360 plan… Thats just what I found in Jan Zand’s 5 key workout plan. You can check it out here http://www.healthyactivelifestylemovement.com/

    Thanks for sharing

  • Anan

    great article.. for me i prefer doing mid weights with 15-12-10 sets with high intense pace to gain agility.

  • BFLY

    Great write up Eric. 5/3/1, training at sub max levels.

  • Helena

    “ditch them gym”

    I spy typos. ;-)