Tip: Should You Max Out Today?

Use this handy guide before you go all-out with your next PR attempt.

Lead Photo Credit: Alora Griffiths

The Magic of Maxes

There's nothing better than hitting a new max in the gym. All the abs in the world don't compare to lifting more than you did yesterday. It's a perfect example of how you became more of a man (or a woman).

But thinking you can lift a 1RM all the time is foolish. If you're past the intermediate stage, it's not going to happen every training session. Unless you're following a Bulgarian-style program, setting a new PR all the time can be a recipe for injury, stagnated strength, and giant levels of frustration.

Your success in your 1RM tests can be greatly improved by asking yourself a series of questions. Whether you've been training for 5 years or 5 months, these questions can help you determine whether or not you're ready to test your max.

Answer these questions and use them as your guide...

The Questions

  • Am I a beginner? If so, then you don't have any right messing around with 1-rep max tests. You need to spend more time developing the neuromuscular connections, overall strength, and get a lot of volume in. Plus, even on high volume, you'll set new rep PRs in the gym anyway.
  • Am I technically proficient in this lift? Can you do these without looking like a baby giraffe, where limbs go all over the place? If so, carry on.
  • Have I slept well this week? Your nervous system is highly responsive to sleep. So if the answer is no, and you're not getting 7-9 hours consistently, proceed with caution and don't beat yourself up if you don't hit a new PR.
  • Have I eaten enough this week? You need energy to lift big weights. If you don't have enough food, good luck setting a new PR. Your efforts may not be worth it. Just put in some work with higher reps.
  • Have I done all the workouts my program called for? Your workouts prepare you for max-out day. Think of them as practice sessions. If you've consistently missed practice in the last few weeks, don't expect your "game time" to go well. And instead of maxing out, maybe get to work on what you missed.
  • Does my sport require it? If not, there's a good chance that doing a 3RM or 5RM will be better for your orthopedic health than an all-out max. If you want to do this for fun, carry on.
  • Have I attempted a new 1RM recently? This doesn't have to be in the lift you're wanting to improve. Maybe you had a squat PR a couple days ago and you want to hit a deadlift PR today. Rethink it unless you have superhuman recovery ability.
  • How do my first sets feel? It's possible that even if you don't feel 100% on the day of your PR attempt, your body could be ready regardless. Definitely pay attention to warning signs and skip the PR if you think it could lead to injury. If the first few sets (up to 65-70%) feel faster than normal, you're in for a good session.

The body is funny and can do weird things, but most of the time if you aren't confident in answering these questions, you're going to be disappointed when you go and try a new max.