Why You Shouldn't Max Out Each Week

It’s all about PRs, or gains, or gaaiinnzz. I can’t really remember at this point. I just know that all anyone cares about is getting big enough numbers to post on Instagram. It’s literally about getting 15 seconds of fame. Programs like “Squat Everyday” or “Bulgarian Method” or “Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP)” are growing more and more popular. Why wouldn’t they though? The most fun part about being a powerlifter is getting to lift heavy weight and then tell the world about it. I’m a bit guilty of this myself.

There are programs that have swam their way back from the 50s, 60s, and 70s that people are falling in love with. We see freaks of nature getting extremely strong at squatting, benching, and even deadlifting with these programs. Squat Everyday is a variant program that encourages some form of barbell squat with each workout, and some form of maxout during the week. The Bulgarian method is a program that encourages athletes to lift multiple times a day, working up to some form of max at nearly each workout. DUP programming is simply a variant of reps, sets, and intensities that allows for maxouts or volume PRs on most days with the same lift. Do you see what these program have in common? Participants have to ability to focus on a particular lift and work up to self-gratifying maxes each week. I don’t know about you, but it sounds like a real fun time to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love snagging a new PR every now and again. There is a euphoric feeling with being able to see progress carved out in number format. Like a grade on a test we always shoot to have the highest. But then there is the inevitable plateau. Lately, I’ve seen a lot of novices/non-experienced lifters imitating popular programs they’ve seen on social media. Doing things like maxing out squat on Monday, then maxing out slow-decent-pause squat on Tuesday, then maxing out high-bar squat on Wednesday, and so on and so on. This novel approach is great for a while, but then a few factors begin to sink in.

For starters, we all have this thing called soft tissue. Soft tissue includes organs like muscle, tendon, and ligaments. This tissue is sensitive and is supposed to remain soft. Unfortunately, we can make our soft tissue not so soft. According to several researchers (1, 2, 3, 4) Trigger points are the result of damaged collagen due to repeated eccentric movements, ischemic tissue environment, prolonged or unaccustomed exercise, or acute and chronic mechanical impairment. This damage results in the buildup of scar tissue which can eventually cause Tissue extensibility dysfunction, or tight and short muscles. Every single time someone works up to a max they are going to stress their system into forming trigger points, scar tissue, and shortened tissue. Repeated max outs of the same lift multiple times a week, or even every week, can cause these problems to flare up. Eventually mechanical breakdown will occur, and then severe tissue damage can happen. If the tissue damage doesn’t impair your muscles ability to function then the upcoming joint damage and misalignment will.

Performing one rep maxes taxes more than just the skeletal muscle system. When powerlifters perform legitimate single maxes their central nervous system is taxed beyond normal limits. Each rep forces their nerves to enter a state of “survival.” Hormones called catecholamines are used to excite the central nervous system into allowing for enhanced voluntary contractions. There is a gap between voluntary maximal contraction (what you can do with your mind) of the muscles, and actual maximal contraction (what the muscle can do when stimulated by a machine). The greater the central nervous system is excited the closer the gap becomes between the forms of contraction. Unfortunately, taxing the system like this over and over again can cause a type of “fatigue.” This will result in elevated levels of stress hormones, chronic inflammation, lethargy, and worst of all an inability to excite the system like before. That’s right. Eventually it will be harder and harder to get pumped up for a maxout.

The human body is an amazing system that adapts to many things. The crazy thing about adaptation is that it means you become ADAPTED to something. If you do the same thing each week it’s no longer an unfamiliar stimulus and therefore doesn’t lead to a change. No change means no new PRs. Working up to a new 1RM every single week is not a change in stress, but rather a repeated stress over and over again. At some point you will no longer adapt to become stronger, but you will plateau. That’s why there needs to be some variety applied to workouts. Sets, reps, and forms of lifts should all vary at some point. Instead of low bar squatting you should switch to high bar. Instead of working up to a new 1RM try and perform a 3RM. Rather than working up to a 100% for one set of one, try performing 95 % for 3 sets of 1. There needs to be a change in stress to produce a change in adaptation. That’s the point of periodization. Your coach (if you’re lucky enough to have one) should plan progressive loads that lead you up to some new max.
Squat, bench, and deadlift are all lifts that allow for maximal stress to be applied to the system. Unlike the more technical snatch or Clean and Jerk, the powerlifts allow for more weight to be lifted. If a person’s system is taxed or fatigued while performing the Olympic lifts then he or she won’t be able to master the movement. On the other hand, squatting and deadlifting heavy can be done without using technical mastery. This allows for continued reps with a compromised system.

Chasing the next PR like it’s a cryptozoic creature can be fun, but then it becomes dangerous. Everyone wants to capture big foot, but then when it happens and he rips your arms off it’s not as fun as you wished. Now you’re lying there, injured and wondering was this even worth it? Probably not.

Not everyone can handle the squat everyday, Bulgarian, or DUP method. It’s a fairy tale system that allows people to get real strong real fast. Do you know who can do these things without suffering consequences? Genetic freaks of nature and dudes on top of the line steroids. If you’re neither of these then you might want to reconsider doing these programs. Granted, using these kinds of programs for short periods could allow for massive gains in strength with only minimal damage done - It’s when these programs are repeated for months. Maxing out your lift every week will land you in one of two places: Hurt or halted. Either you’ll get hurt or your progress will halt. It’s as simple as that.

1) Hong-You G., Fernandez-de-las-Penas C., & Shou-Wei Y. (2011) Myofascial trigger points: spontaneous electrical activity and its consequences for pain induction and propagation. Chin Med. Vol 6 p 13.

2) Baker R., Nasypany A., Seegmiller J., & Baker J. (2013) Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization treatment for tissue extensibility dysfunction. International Journal of Athletic Therapy & Training. Vol 18 p 16-21.

3) Kawakita K., Itoh K., & Okada K. (2008) Experimental Model of Trigger Points Using Eccentric Exercise. Journal of Musculoskeletal Pain. Vol 16 p 1

4) McPartland J., & Simmons D. (2006) Myofascial Trigger points: translating molecular theory into manual therapy. The journal of manual & manipulative therapy. Vol. 14 p 232-239

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BS, MS - exercise Physiology
EPC - Board Certified Exercise Physiologist

Published Thesis
The impact of three different forms of warm up on performance

The Effects of Glucose Supplementation on Barbell Velocity and Fatiguability in Weightlifting - A pilot study"

The Accute Effects Of Different Squat Intensities on Vertical Jump Performances
The Accute Effects of Different Squat Intensities On Jump Performance

Graduate from Midwestern State University, founder of Endunamoo Barbell Club, and Endunamoo Strength and Conditioning. Working to help athletes physically reach their goals and achieve scholarships while spiritually pouring into as many people as possible on all platforms.