Are you one of those individuals who absolutely loves to give it their all and max out each and every time you enter the gym?
You’re not alone.
We’ve all been in your shoes before.
There’s nothing more satisfying than leaving it all on the mat, knowing that you’ve given everything you had, and maybe just a bit more.
And it’s easy to understand why -- setting constant PRs is incredibly addicting. There’s a rush of dopamine, epinephrine, and other feel good neurochemicals that flood our body when we achieve a new goal.
But, could your quest to max out each and every workout actually be hindering your results?
Is Maxing Out Necessary to See Results?
Simply put, no.
Maxing out is not necessary to see results from your training program, and it certainly isn’t needed to have a successful body transformation.
The reason for this is that maxing out is really more of a demonstration of your abilities than it is a method for building muscle and strength.
In other words, maxing out is a display of your strength, but using submaximal weights is how you improve your technique, increase strength, and build lean muscle.
You see, when you train with lighter weights (70-85% 1RM), you are able to perform more total work, which is how you challenge your muscles and force them to become bigger and stronger. More total work creates a larger stimulus for your muscles fibers than performing a single maximum effort rep.
Additionally, maxing out also places tremendous stress on your central nervous system and takes considerably longer to recover from than lifting submaximal weights for more reps. What this means, is that if you are maxing out all the time, you will not be able to train as frequently or as intensely as you could if you were training with slightly lighter weights and higher reps.
Again, the more work you can do (and the more often you can do it), the more muscle and strength you can build.
Furthermore, it’s incredibly difficult to improve your technique on a given exercise when you’re attempting to lift a maximum weight. When attempting a one-rep max, your muscles will use any means necessary to lift the weight. They don’t care how you look in the process, they’re sole concern is not getting squished by the heavy load you placed on them. Chasing new one-rep maxes each week is placing your body on the fast track to plateaus and significantly increases your risk of pain and injury.
Therefore, if you want to improve your exercise technique, training with lighter weights is a must.
All that being said, maxing out can be done sparingly. It can be used to assess how effective a block of training was in pursuit of your training goals. Maxing out is also needed in weightlifting competitions.
But for the everyday gym rat looking to build muscle, lose body fat, and transform their physiques, maxing out is rarely ever necessary.
Remember, muscle and strength are built over a lifetime of lifting, they are not built by one off attempts at the gym.
Finally, there are other ways to “max out” without having to fry your CNS and muscles with a one-rep max lift each time you enter the gym.
You can try setting new rep maxes at the gym.
For example, how many quality reps can your perform on a given exercise using 75% of your 1RM? How many reps can you perform with 85% of your 1RM?
If you find that you are able to improve on your rep maxes over time, then you can rest assured that you are building muscle and strength and that your training program is working.
Now, when chasing these rep PRs, maintaining perfect form is crucial as it can be very tempting to try and cheat the weight up when looking to set a new rep max. But these “cheat” reps are actually undermining your training and increasing the likelihood of pain and injury again.
Maxing out does have a time and place, but for the vast majority of people looking to get fit and healthy at the gym, it’s not necessary and could lead to stalled progress or serious pain and injury.
Spend more time getting in enough quality reps using weights in the 70-85% range of your one-rep max. You’re less subject to injury, able to train more frequently, and can perform a greater total volume of work, which is the true key to long-term success in the gym.