There’s one at every box- You know them when you see them or maybe it’s even you. They are athletes who want to be competitors, following their own programming during open gym hours or on the side during class, maxing out every damn day.
Now to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a competitor or with following individualized programming (so long as the box owner is fine with that). In fact, for anyone who wants to reach it to a certain level athletically, this is a necessity. Whether you are a competitive powerlifter, Olympic lifer, or CrossFitter, at some point, you’ll need programming tailored specifically to you to enhance your strengths and address your weaknesses. Classes are great- they make athletes stronger, fitter, faster, etc. but they are created for the general member and once an athlete crosses over into becoming a competitor, they will probably need to approach their training from an individual perspective.
Where this formula goes wrong is when that competitive athlete forgets that they are not competing every day, no matter how cliche and catchy that idea might be. Competing every day is both unrealistic and counterproductive, so please stop attempting PRs every single time you step foot in the gym!
The first issue with attempting to PR every day is that there is an inherent breakdown in technique that occurs whenever an athlete is truly maxing out on a lift. That means that an athlete who attempts PRs on the daily is also training their body to remember sub-maximal technique. “Muscle memory” actually exists. It’s called motor learning and when you train with poor technique regularly, you are teaching your body to adopt poor motor patterns. So by attempting PRs daily or even weekly, you actually stunt your progress over time.
Another issue with attempting to PR every day is that this means an athlete is continuously working with the same load. Training should include an undulating pattern alternating load (weight) and volume (amount of lifts). When an athlete works with maximal loads, volume, by default, decreases as it’s impossible to lift (or run, or wod, etc) at 90-100% of your best multiple times within a session.
According to Antonio Urso, President of European and Italian Weightlifting Federation and author of Weightlifting: Sport for All Sports (available only on itunes), “Receiving the same amount of stimuli does not help adaptation… A constant load results in an initial improvement but then provides no further stimuli. For this reason, it is necessary to increase the volume during sessions” (Ch 9). Thus, maxing out every day means athletes are unable to increase the volume within their training sessions and adaptation ceases.
A third concern regarding maxing out regularly is that it’s highly likely that an athlete will fail many lifts during their training session. Sure, an athlete might pull off a new PR, but does that really matter when they missed the weight five times before finally making it? Misses train misses, especially in neurologically taxing lifts like the snatch and the clean and jerk. When you miss multiple lifts in a training session, you are sabotaging your training.
Just ask Russian lifter Tatiana Kashirina who has won four world championships and an Olympic silver medal. In an interview with YashaThoughts, a website run by weightlifting coach Yasha Kahn, Tatiana responded to a question about the how often she misses lifts in training with, “I don’t miss.” And this was no exaggeration. When pushed further, neither she nor her coach could recall the last time she had missed a lift. This is not just because she is an elite level athlete. Her coach, Vladimir Krasnov, closely monitors her speed and how she feels in each training session so that every lift she takes reinforces proper technique. They definitely do not max out every single day.
And finally, truly maxing out every single day isn’t really possible in the first place. Daniel Camargo, U.S. Senior International Coach (USA-W L3) and author of Olympic Weightlifting: Cues and Corrections, told The Barbell Press in an interview this week that “The human body cannot stay at max, peak performance for too long. In fact, for a specialized weightlifter it may be only 10-14 days at peak before overall performance reduces. So maxing out almost every day or every week just doesn’t make sense. I prefer my athletes spend more time building and preparing for the peak window, and spread out how often they’re tested.”
This method works. Camargo coaches Mattie Rogers who just set a new American record in the 69kg class with a 106kg/233lbs snatch during the Olympic Trials. Her training was planned so that she peaked at the Olympic Trials, and thus, earned herself the new American record. That didn’t happen because she attempted a new PR in the gym every training session. And any athlete who just qualified for The CrossFit Games certainly will attest to this fact as well.
So, for the love of lifting, please stop attempting max outs day in and day out!