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How Much Can You Lift?
And Why You Shouldn't Know

How much can you lift? This is a question I get asked fairly regularly. And truthfully, I don't know the answer. And here's why. To truly know how much you can lift, you have to do max lifts. And I don't do max lifts. Why? Because while there are few reasons to do max lifts, there are many very good reasons not to. Okay, if you are a competitive lifter, you have to do max lifts. But I'm not talking about competitive lifters here. I'm talking about typical weight trainers in their their first several years of lifting who are still developing their base muscle and joint strength.

Disadvantages of Max Lifts

Disadvantage 1: It takes a long time for you muscles and joints to recover from a max lift - especially your joints.

Doing max lifts will SLOW your progress

How long? You typically need at least a week to recover from doing max lifts - and for the large muscle group lifts like squats and deadlifts, up to two weeks. And the muscles of the lower back may need a full month of recovery after maximum efforts before full force contractions can be achieved again. This means that during this time you MUST do lighter workouts on those muscle groups, or you will become over trained - or worse yet, suffer a joint injury.  Yes, your joints have to rest and recover too! This is especially true for older natural lifters. The lighter workouts mean slower progress. Therefore, doing max lifts at this stage of lifting will at best lead to slower progress - at worst they will lead to over training and/or injury to your joints.

Disadvantage 2: There is high risk of injury during max lifts. This should be obvious. While your muscles may be strong enough to handle the weight, are your joints and ligaments? And what happens in the middle of that max lift attempt when your muscle gives out? Now all of a sudden the pressure of the weight is instantaneously transferred to your joints. This is a recipe for disaster.

Advantages of Max Lifts

Advantage 1: Ego boosts - I think this is self explanatory. Your gym buddies get to see how strong you are - and next week, they get to see how cool you look in an ACE bandage.

Advantage 2: Advanced lifters can use them to help push past plateaus. And when I say "advanced lifter," I mean someone who has been lifting in a structured lifting program for at least two years - not just showing up at the gym and slinging weights around for the last couple of years. If you're and adult male and can't bench 275 for 5 reps, you're not an advanced lifter. And even for advanced lifters, they should be used sparingly. It's better to use 2 or 3 rep max (a weight that you can press in good form 2 to 3 times).

The Long and Short of It

I do not allow my clients to lift any weight unless I think they can do at least eight reps for beginning lifters, and at least five reps for more experienced lifters. I believe anything heavier has too high a risk of joint injury and serves no real purpose. And of course, I won't even consider allowing someone to attempt max lifts - they serve no real purpose (other than ego) and are a recipe for injury and disaster.

So how do you answer the question, "How much can you lift?"

I personally use my 5 rep max. This is the amount of weight that I lift 5 times in good form. It's not as impressive as what my max might be, but I'm more concerned with increasing my 5 rep max over time without suffering injuries than I am in impressing every miscellaneous gym rat that wants to compare himself to me.


doctorAs with any nutrition or exercise program, always review them with your doctor to ensure that they don't interact with or are contraindicated by any medications or medical issues you may have. If you haven't trained for a while, start out slow and go easy. If you are pregnant, have diabetes, blood sugar problems, or any heart issues, you shouldn't do this program as it is very strenuous.
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