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Sweat and Steel - OSHIIT
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.
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
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
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