"Sort of Maxes:" The Key to Dominating Competition and Longevity in Training

Just last week I posted a video of SAPT client, Lisa, nailing a 240lb deadlift on her "Test Day." Within a twenty-four hours of posting the video on my YouTube channel, someone commented: "good bar speed. i know your not powerlifiting but theres a few more pounds on the table so to speak. great strength and keep up the good work."

For those of you who haven't seen the video and don't know what he is talking about, here is the deadlift below:

As you can see, the commentator is exactly right. There are a few more pounds on the table. In fact, I'm willing to bet that Lisa could have pulled at least 260-265lbs, had she decided to "grind out" another max attempt. The 240lbs she lifted in the video was certainly not her true max, even though this was a test day for her.

And that is precisely the point.

I heard some advice from Dan John that couldn't have put into words a better description for what we do with our athletes and clients on a daily basis at SAPT, in order to facilitate continued strength and power development, while simultaneously reducing their risk of injury and preparing them for long term success.

In fact, it is something that everyone should do if they desire any hope of continuing to progress in the weight room and dominate the playing field:

Go for a PR, single or rep, when you are feeling exceptionally strong, but stop short of an all-out max. Set a “sort of max.”
— Dan John

This is the type of max you need to drive up. The "sort of max." Not your actual max.

This is the key to safeguarding your body to remain fresh, injury free, and efficiently managing its stressors to continue to do what most of you reading are after: moving onward and upward, both in the gym and on the playing field.

And yet, this is something that many seem to miss once we get all riled up in the weight room.

It's as if we lose all sense and wisdom once we get under the bar, in an effort to satisfy our ego rather than pay  the health of our spine.

In fact, this relates closely to what is one of the defining characteristics setting the wise apart from the fool in this world: the degree of one's capacity to defer immediate satisfaction for the sake of a greater future reward.

This applies to all spheres of life, but, keeping within the context of strength training, the immediate satisfaction would be an extra 5-15lbs on a squat, bench, deadlift, or snatch attempt, while the potential consequence being stalled progress, burning out, injury, or exhaustion on game day. The greater future reward - of resisting urge the throw more weight on the bar - would be a healthy body, high performance levels, and continued PRs in the weight room.

It is telling that the great sprint coach, Charlie Francis, said the following as he was preparing Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson:

If there is any degradation in training, stop. If there is any doubt about one more rep or run, don’t do it. If you are trying to learn with reps, you won’t get it later if you haven’t already. Leave it and come back to it.

This is especially true when training athletes. And yet it's incredibly common for an uneducated high school or college strength coach to believe the false notion of "if my athletes aren't lying on the floor unable to stand after the session, then I didn't push them hard enough."

I conclude with two of Rif's famous corollaries:

  1. The next step off a peak is always down.
  2. One should step down rather than fall off.

Continue to push up your "sort of max" in the weight room. It's the best way to ensure continued growth and longevity in training. You'll thank me (and Dan John) later.


Note: this post originally appeared on SAPTstrength.com