Maximal vs Sub-Maximal Training


I having been observing the way people train in my time working at a fitness center and in working out and I have come to the conclusion that most, not all but most people train with maximal effort, which is training up to your one rep max in a given lift.

Sub-Maximal Effort training then would be defined as using less than about 90% of your 1RM (one rep max).  However even training up to 90% isn’t very “sub”maximal.

So which method is better for increasing strength?  Lifting the heaviest weight all the time or lifting less weight progressing to heavier weight?

Sub-Maximal Training

Say your goal is to add 50 pounds to your bench.  Lifting sub-maximally is the way to go.  You are not going to bench 50 more pounds over night or in the next week for that matter so why not progress into it?

By starting out lifting lighter weight at around 55% of your 1RM and progressing to heavier weight you always stay mentally fresh and injuries are less of a worry because your aren’t putting heavy stress on the muscles and joints.  Lifting sub-maximally always allows you to leave a few extra reps in the tank so you are that much more ready to come back the next time you lift and get after it.

The only disadvantage to sub-maximal lifting is that the gains are slow but if you can wait a year for your birthday or Christmas, you can wait and work toward getting that bench up 50-100 pounds.

Look no further than Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 method of training to prove that sub-maximal training is the way to go.  This is a four week cycle with a deload phase on the forth week:

Week 1: 3×5 65%, 75%, 85%  (Percentages of 1RM)

Week 2: 3×3 70%, 80%, 90%

Week 3: 3×5,3,1 75%, 85%, 95%

Week 4 (Deload): 3×5 40%, 50%, 60%

Why a deload phase?

After lifting heavy weights for 4-8 weeks it is crucial to deload.  Deload is basically defined as taking time off to recovery from intense exercise.  You can deload in different ways.  Some actively stretch and just hit up cardio for a week as a deload mechanism.  While some prefer to lift lighter weight at less intensity.  Either way is fine and should last around a week.

Patience Is the Key

Now remember you wanted that 50 pound increase in your bench right?  Well Wendler’s 5-3-1 allows you to put on at least 5 pounds every month to your 1RM.  If you take 5 for the amount of weight you gain each month and multiply it by 12 for the months in a year you get a 60 pound increase over the course of a year.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is your fitness.  People today often lift for today.  They think that if they work hard they will see instant results.  Sorry I’m not going to sugar coat it for you, that’s not the case.  Just because your muscles are pumped doesn’t mean they are going to grow after one workout.

Maximal Effort Training

People think throwing on the most possible weight and doing it as many times as they can is the best way to gain strength.  This may work for a little while but will lead to over training and serious muscle and joint damage.  If you train maximally you will find yourself getting stuck at around the same weight in all your lifts year after year without any major progress.

Maximal Effort training puts such a high stress demand on your body the only people who are able to see sufficient gains are those who use banned pharmaceutical drugs or those who have been doing it for a very long time and know the in’s and out’s of training.

Closing Thoughts

For those who train with maximum effort this is the time to stop.  A fresh new year is upon us and you have a whole year to set new lifting goals and accomplishing them through a different type of training.  A training method that may not be accepted by the jocks but when you prove to be stronger and bigger than them let them know while they are curling that you didn’t get big by curling heavy ass weight but by lifting with sub-maximal effort!

Jordan Anderson

Co-Founder Adande’s Gym


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