Train Heroic


Every once in a while, we like to max out lifting on major lifts to get an idea how your training is progressing and to give a relatively accurate number we can use for weight selection in upcoming workouts.

These max out lifting situations are relatively high risk, so we don’t do them too frequently. We also try to minimize the risk and make sure the numbers we are getting out of these tests are useful by following four common sense guidelines.

Max Out Lifting Tip 1: Get Your Body Prepped

1) Get the body ready for peak performance by going through the system prep and CNS activation drills we do regularly. Once you have a sweat going and are feeling fired up, get into your warm-up sets for the movement you are testing.

Max Out Lifting Tip 2: Limit the Reps

Your first warm-up set for an exercise should be with an empty bar for about 10 reps. If you have a good idea of the weight you are shooting for, then progressing in a ladder like this works well:

  • Set 1: 40% x 5
  • Set 2: 50% x 5
  • Set 3: 60% x 3
  • Set 4: 70% x 2
  • Set 5: 75% x 2
  • Set 6: 80% x 1
  • Set 7: 85% x 1
  • Set 8: 90% x 1

Then, start gauging small increments needed to give you a shot at a new record.  So if you know you your best is 315 in the Bench Press, your warm-up sequence might look like this: Bar x 10, 135x 5, 155 x 5, 185 x 3, 220 x 2, 235 x 2, 250 x 1, 265 x 1…If you are feeling good on these sets and the weight is going up fast still, you might finish with 285 x1, 305 x1 and 320 x1, as an example.

If you have no idea what weight you are going to lift, start light, do three reps per set, and when the weight starts to feel heavy, cut back to one rep and make small jumps in weight increase (5-10 lbs).  Regardless, for each set and rep, attack the weight as you will in the heavy or max sets. For earlier warmup sets, rest two minutes or do between sets. As the weight increases, extend that out to three minutes, especially at the top weights. Good technique is paramount! (See rule # 4).

Max Out Lifting Tip 3: Get A Buddy

For safety, have a spotter you trust with you as you do your reps. Now, if the spotter touches the bar or lifter at any time, the rep does not count. But it is good to have a spotter assist you out of a squat or help the bar finish in a bench, even if the rep doesn’t count.  As a lifter, try to never quit on a rep.  Keep pushing if at all possible and have your spotter assist you to the finish position as needed.  Once a rep has been spotted, the testing is done!

Max Out Lifting Tip 4: Nail Your Technique

Proper technique is essential! We coach technique in all our sessions and a max out day is no different. The proper technique is the safest way to load the movements we are testing. Keep the back tight, sit deep, don’t let the elbows flair. Watch Train Heroic video tutorials on specific movements to remind you of the technique we expect. Once that technique begins to falter, IT IS TIME TO END THE TESTING! We are not looking to measure how much weight you can lift in a terrible bench or hideous back squat. That is not safe and it tells us nothing about how your training is going. Consistently good technique is key. We want to know you are getting stronger, not just posting bigger numbers because we are allowing sloppy and highly suspect technique. Numbers resulting from sloppy testing are useless when choosing weights for subsequent programming phases. We definitely want your numbers to improve, but understand that only increases in weights lifted with good technique will transfer to performance improvements in your sport.

So what does a good max out rep look like? Checkout Coach and Athlete Matt Couch hits 418 lbs in the back squat (bodyweight 180 lbs).

For more info on Train Heroic check them out here! Notice that this was a tough rep! He strained for this one. He earned it. Even though he had to push hard with maximal effort, he kept excellent form: his back stayed engaged and did not round out, he sat DEEP, his knees did not buckle in and he attacked the weight. Nice! That is a legit rep! Stop there and live to fight another day.

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About the author
Aaron Sorenson