Every serious athlete who’s gone through a dedicated strength program one time or another can remember max days. We’ve all done them at one time or another. One day dedicated to testing your lifts to see how strong you’ve become from the previous training. Max days have their positives and negatives. For myself, as I’ve gained more experience, I often see more negatives to dedicated max testing days than benefits and rarely, if ever use them anymore.
Issues with Max Days
Not every athlete’s readiness levels are the same on the same day
We can’t expect every athlete to be at their best on an exact day. That may be the goal but there are any number of uncontrollable factors that coaches can’t account for. Stress from things like home life, school, relationships, etc. can all weigh into readiness and subsequently performance. Not only does stress take its toll but each individual adapts to training at a different pace. It’s very difficult to get every athlete on the same page for a new PR on the same day. Any number could fail reaching a new PR at no fault to the strength coach, or the program that’s been implemented.
Loss of training days
Losing a full training session to “test” is something that has always annoyed me a day during our training. Our time is already very limited when it comes to working with our athletes. I don’t like using 2, 3, even 4 days during a semester to test lifts. As of this year with the new NCAA rules on time management, performance coaches have even less time. We have to be as efficient as possible with the time we do have.
Athletes and coaches alike see max days as THE END
Max days, and testing days always come about at the end. To truly be at your best for a testing day, athletes usually need some sort of a deload prior. Think about a common scenario in football with a team that has 2-a-days in 3 weeks. Three weeks out they begin a big deload week to restore athletes for a big test week. Two weeks out is a max out week where big lifts, and maybe some jumps, or a run is tested. The last week is commonly off to give athletes time to rest up before camp starts. My issue is that we’ve gone almost three weeks without our full training model and are about to embark on the most stressful time of the year. This is a huge jump in workload coming off what really amounts to three easy weeks. Virtually every program I’ve seen uses maxes as an end at which point they start something different and athletes have to build back up to those previous maxes again. Training should be a continuous process without end. Programming appropriately cures this process but I hate coaches, and athletes viewing a program as an end. We want to blend into the next, not end.
This can go both ways. It’s not always bad to miss a lift. It can actually be very good in many cases. However, on a max day it can be a huge confidence killer. As I said in the above paragraph, many times max days are the end. An athlete that misses his last lift for the period can kill confidence in what might’ve been an amazing training block. I was one of those athletes that missed what my PR should’ve been the last testing day I ever had in college. I knew I was much stronger than what my lift showed but on that day when I got under the bar it felt like a ton of bricks. My maxes were well shy of what they should’ve been and I hated that my numbers would never show what I really built. I knew I was stronger but would never have the shot to prove it again. Every coach feels for that athlete that misses lifts on a testing day and fails to hit new numbers even though we know they’re stronger. The huge look of disappointment on a kids face after they failed to set new PR’s is crushing to any coach.
Benefits of Max Days
Max days aren’t all bad. They can definitely have their benefits, and many coaches swear by them as not only a part of their program but part of their culture.
Game days environment
Max days result in a “game day” like environment for the kids. It turns ordinary training into a competitive environment where everybody knows they will be expected to perform. This in itself can be a huge positive for having those testing days. Coaches love to create that excited environment in the weight room and it can often give sport coaches a look at the hard work put in by their athletes.
Nothing gets a kid more excited than to see the results of months of hard work pay off with a new PR. On the flip side of missing PR’s on a max days are the athletes that crush new PR’s. The confidence boosts can be huge.
Max days are great ways to get the results of previous training. They’re put in simply to see what works and doesn’t.
Working around max days
We truly don’t set a max day, or a testing day and haven’t for years. Within our program we allow athletes to hit those money sets if it feels right for the day. Say we have a set workout up to 85% for the week. An athlete may crush their sets at that given percentage and ask to go up in weight for their last few sets. Athletes know when it’s right and when it’s not. They all have that day when their body is greased up and they feel invincible. You can’t always predict when that day is going to happen but when it does we let our athletes use it to their advantage by working up to heavier percentages. If this results in a new PR then great, if not no big deal. We don’t force PR’s, we let them happen.
Our program allows for some freedom in weights. We stick the general weights prescribed but we do allow for some freedom as we work up in those lifts. Our lifts adjust and move throughout the entire semester and even yearly plan without having to set true max/testing days.