I see a lot of people in the gym performing maximal (or very nearly maximal) lifts on a consistent basis. They’re attempting a new one RM every other week, working to failure and wondering why they’re sore, stagnant or injured.
Testing your one rep max, properly, is bloody exhausting. Anybody who has done it will tell you that even a week later you’re still feeling like somebody let some of the air out of your tyres. Thus, doing a 1RM test on a consistent basis makes progression and our ability to get through subsequent training volume much more difficult.
You don’t get stronger through single, maximal reps.
You especially don’t get stronger when testing your one rep max is making it harder to get through sub-maximal training volume.
There really aren’t a lot of studies that look at training to failure and those that do, don’t really apply as they look at untrained individuals who weren’t performing compound lifts. Luckily, the man and the myth, Alan Aragon (March, 2009) looked at training to failure and came up with the following conclusions based off a research review:
- Keep training to failure to a minimum and if it’s programmed, make sure it’s done for a maximum period of 2-4 weeks before lower intensities are programmed
- Training to failure isn’t actually a bad thing – in fact, when implemented properly it probably takes the cake when it comes to strength and hypertrophy gains – however, most people overuse it to their detriment.
- Train to failure if there is a specific goal in mind. Failure training doesn’t serve most sports. If you have a goal in mind and one rep max testing is serving that goal, then lift away. Though these goals are limited.
Training close to failure is great. The keyword there being “close”. Using a varied rep-range and rep max percentage allows for varied, periodised and far more effective training for both strength and hypertrophy.
Having the vision and long-term planning to periodise your programming rather than banging out a one RM whenever you’re feeling good is going to serve you, your gains and your progress far better.