In part I of Where Have All the Max Days Gone, I discussed several reasons on why we don’t use the traditional “Max Day” in our training format much anymore. Part II began to grow after hearing feedback from colleagues, and former interns. I had forgotten to list one of the primary reasons for eliminating testing days, which is the technical breakdown of the lift due to only a number driven outlook. This along with other reasons all go into what helps create our program today, which is one that isn’t numbers driven.
Focus should be the lift and not the number
Technique gets thrown out the window on max days. Testing days become only number focused and that, not the lift itself, becomes the driving force. When only the result is the concern the process is put on the backburner. An entire semester of quality training can lead to a day where execution doesn’t matter. Is a 315# rounded back/good morning squat max really stronger than a 300# squat with pristine execution? But this is what happens when the outcome not the process becomes the focus. Athletes and coaches alike go forward at all cost to achieve 5 more pounds without concern for technical execution. Get the lift up in any manner and it counts. We want 75% and 95% to look the exact same with the exception of speed of movement. When the execution of a lift changes due to the weight being too heavy, it’s no longer acceptable. During regular training days it becomes easy for athletes to focus on the lift itself. The number then becomes the product of the lift instead of the other way around. All too often athletes get stuck on completely arbitrary numbers and will go at all costs for those regardless of technique. It could be a friend who hit such and such number, or an opponent, or even a school’s “standards.” Regardless, the number takes precedence over all.
It’s easy to shut an athlete down on training days
Max days become an all-out assault on numbers, whereas training days athletes tend to self-monitor themselves much more closely. It’s easy when an athlete works up to a heavy single on a training day to shut them down when the weight starts moving slow. When the weight gets heavy, they know it and move on. It shows them that some days you have it and some days you don’t. There isn’t the attitude of “I have to be my strongest on this one day and I’m going to keep going regardless!” An athlete will push up a single in a quasi-isometric rep that lasts 7 seconds and then immediately believe they’re going up heavier to try another rep. Max days promote way too much failure instead of finishing on a high, and/or listening to the body. Coaches and athletes alike have the notion that you haven’t found a number until you miss half a dozen lifts.
Skewed training weights
One thing we forget in the quest for all out more max numbers is deriving percentages from those numbers for future training. There are two problems here. Number one is that training percentages are a huge reasons we test. An athlete that sloppily did the 315# squat but got it up now has skewed training weights. We begin programming future training off a number that truly shouldn’t be used or counted due to the technical breakdown. His relative intensity will be higher than what it should be if we stuck with the quality 300# squat, and creates greater CNS fatigue than the next training cycle may have been planned to do. Not only this but technique begins to suffer on all reps from too heavy a weight during training. Secondly, lets say an athlete absolutely comes with his best performance and blows the doors off a lift on a certain day. Often, their body isn’t prepared for the stress at that new level yet. Charlie Francis was a huge advocate of this. When the body hit a big new level of performance he would gradually raise the intensity over the course of several cycles to allow the body to adapt to the new level. Let use the example of the kid that can squat 300# for a clean heavy single but on an exceptional day knocks out a 360# squat. We shouldn’t automatically adjust his training, and programming to that new level. Adaptation doesn’t take place overnight and programming for the new level would be way too much too fast. Allow the athlete to adapt to the higher level over time vs forcing it. If we have an athlete hit a higher single than previously done we don’t adjust weights for an entire block of training. Even then, we may only split the difference for 3-4 week block instead of making a large jump in intensities.
Process vs result
Focusing on the process is what creates the result. We’ve all heard it but it’s 100% true in the case of athlete development. That’s why we rely on the realizing our strength through the process of training and not worrying about the result, or testing days. Like I said in part I, strength is just a byproduct of the training. We can tell through various methods whether an athlete’s strength is headed in the right direction without specifically testing for it.
Maximal strength is only one factor in many
Let’s not forget that strength is only one factor in a myriad of others when it comes to athletic development. Speed, skill, energy system development, mobility, reactivity, etc., all factor into a complete athlete. Don’t focus so much on one aspect of development that you create a gap, or hurt others.