When can I max out? I used to think about this all the time, it’s what I lived for. I essentially maxed out every week for longer than I care to admit. And still, as a coach, I have lifters ask me very often when they can max out. Newer lifters want to “know where they’re at” before choosing a program or before getting started with a new phase of programming. Listen up, new lifter: don’t do it.
I am going to cover how to max out in a later post, but right now I’m going to tell you why you should not be in a hurry to be maxing out.
Maxing out increases injury risk for a new lifter because the chances of technique breakdown are higher when you are just starting out regardless of the weight on the bar, and of course the heavier the weight, the more serious an injury can be.
Beyond injury risk, technique development is really the main reason why a newer lifter should not worry about maxing out. Building and perfecting technique is the best way for a lifter to gain strength and prevent injury (which will allow for longevity which is the key to getting REALLY strong). Most lifters will have trouble working on technique issues with higher intensity weights (intensity meaning the % of your max on the bar). Beginners especially will find this difficult. If most of your working sets are higher intensity, your technique won’t improve, and often bad habits will get ingrained in your movement patterns.
In addition to the weight making technique practice difficult, maxing out generally means working up to a max single. This means the number of working reps during the workout is very low, providing less opportunity for technique practice. So we have a bit of a perfect storm: the reps are both too few and too heavy to practice technique, while increasing the risk of injury. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend time maxing out early on.
If maxing out and seeing where you are at is something that you really really want to be doing, consider trying for rep PRs in the 70-80% range. This is light enough that you can still work on technique, but will give you clear feedback that you are getting stronger. PRs in this percentage range are important and in a lot of ways just as meaningful as 1RM PRs!
Nigel, Kizen Coach
If you are looking for a good starting beginner program we now have our, Beginner Program - 4 Week Free Preview.
Who is Nigel?
Nigel is a coach who has been competing in powerlifting since 2012 and started directing meets in 2017. Nigel began working as a personal trainer in 2013, was a part of the Ascendant Athletics team with Omar and Silent Mike from 2015-2016, and has managed the group coaching for Kizen Training since 2017. Through this work and coaching private clients, Nigel has worked with many lifters of all skill levels and from diverse athletic backgrounds. His best lifts in competition are a 661lb/300kg squat in sleeves, a 451lb/205kg bench, and a 639lb/295kg deadlift.