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Do It Right: Maxing Out

The smarter process to uncovering your true strength.

Every guy wants to reach his optimal level of output at the gym. However, to really get to the point where you’re maxing out on your deadlifts, squats, overhead press or the bench press, you’ll need to figure out a strategy that’s a little more in-depth than just going for the heaviest weights you can lift from the start. There’s always a method to the madness, and training to one rep of an insane amount of weight is a little different from more general strength training. For some tips, we confided in one of the best in New York City, Dan Trink, owner of TrinkFitness and the Director of Training Operations at Peak Performance.

Take Your Time

Shifting your concentration to achieving your one-rep maximum weight will probably require a shift in your training regimen, and may necessitate a total overhaul. Trink says to keep in mind that anyone can max out at any time, the results might just be “pathetic,” or still not that close to your potential.

“It's a good idea to have at least a year of general training with higher volume before really digging into training protocols like maxing out, that highly tax your central nervous system and joints,” he says.

Going off that note, you’ll need the training to stay healthy as well. Maxing out on any given exercise will essentially require you to compromise form, so having a good base of strength and stability will be a huge help.

“Lifting at or near your max heightens your potential injury risk as form never truly stays perfect during a max attempt,” he says.

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One Exercise At a Time

Trink says that the strategy and mindset involved in getting to your one-rep max level is similar for most exercises. He does, however, recommend shooting for a three-rep max for squats, since he finds it to be the riskiest one if form isn’t perfect. Picking one at a time to work on should increase your chances for success.

“It's difficult to push max strength on squats, deads and presses at the same time,” he says. “Most lifters would be best served focusing on driving up one of these lifts in any given training block.”

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Choose a System

“There are plenty of systems out there, designed mainly with powerlifters in mind, that are geared towards driving up maximal loads,” Trink says. “Westside Barbell with their combination of maximal effort and speed work, Sheiko and Smolov which both have very specific progressions immediately come to mind and following any of these programs would benefit most lifters who are interested in gaining max strength."

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Finding Your Max - The Process

Trink: Once you've followed a good strength protocol and are looking to test your rep max you need to find a balance between performing enough warm-up sets to mitigate injury and prepare your body for max loads without overdoing the volume and burning yourself out before you ever get to your true max. If you've been performing a max strength training block you probably have a notion of what your max might be.

> Start with that number and back out your warm-up plan from there. For example, let's say that you feel your max on the bench press is 315lbs. You may want to warm-up with a scheme such as:

Warm up set 1: 135 lbs. - 5 reps

Warm up set 2: 185 lbs. - 3 reps

Warm up set 3: 225 lbs. - 3 reps

Warm up set 4: 265 lbs. - 2 reps

Warm up set 5: 285 lbs. - 1 rep

Max attempt: 315 lbs.

Recover Right

“Recovery is also critical in a maximal strength phase even though total training volume tends to be fairly low,” Trink says.

“So even though you aren't performing a ton of reps and aren't getting sore, lifting up to your one rep max can be very demanding on your joints and Central Nervous System, both of which take longer to recover than your muscular system.”

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