Attacking Rep Maxes by Coach Matt Shiver

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Attacking Rep Maxes

By Coach Matt Shiver

If you have ever followed any Mash Elite programming, you know we LOVE working off of daily rep maxes (RM) using a given rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Progressively you can push your daily max to higher and higher levels. We do this for 2-4 weeks, then switch up the rep scheme to avoid hitting any plateaus.

It is extremely important to plan your warm-up and daily rep max sets to avoid doing too many sets. If you have 5 exercises on your plan for the day, you want to hit all 5 with a high intensity. You don’t want to be burnt out from the first exercise. This even more important when doing workouts that include heavy squatting, pushing, and pulling. Weightlifting movements are different because they are done using submaximal loads at faster speeds (compared to your max pull and squat). There is so much more timing and position work that goes into weightlifting movements compared to strength movements. Even then, you don’t want to spend too much time and focus on one weightlifting movement in a given session. It is important to treat the accessory work just as important as the main lifts since the accessory work should be aimed at improving your weaknesses.

Naturally when we see “RM” on the sheet for the workout, we get pumped up! We look back to our best lifts to see if we can beat them in that training session. In order to do that, we need to make sure that we have enough energy for that set. If you plan the workout accordingly you can save your energy to just do 1 set at a new RM. It is common to see athletes taking more than 3 attempts for a new RM set. The problem with this, is that by the third or fourth set you have used a ton of energy that you could have used on the first set at a heavier weight than what was used for the third set. If you pair this with programmed drop sets you have done way more volume than the program originally intended for. This takes up so much time!! So, in a workout that was designed to have 1-2 RM set and 2 drop sets (a total of 3-4 sets), athletes are doing a workout of 5-8 sets on just this one exercise. It makes it very difficult to focus on the other exercises that you have the rest of the day.

If you can limit your warm up and working sets, you will lift more weights and be able to give the accessory work the intensity that it deserves.

Let’s go over a warm up for a 5RM back squat. If you are going to do a 5RM it is crucial that you limit your attempts. Everyone who has done a 5RM knows the after feeling of a 5RM. You are exhausted! If you start too light, it is going to be hard to hit what you are capable because they take so much out of you to complete. So, this is how I would recommend starting going for a 5RM at 120kg (assuming you are already warm-up).

1 set of empty bar for 5-10 reps
1 set of 60kg for 5 reps (50% of attempt weight x5)
1 set of 80kg for 3 (66% x3)
1 set of 100kg for 1 (80% x 1)
1 set of 110kg for 1 (90% x 1)
1 set of 115-120kg for 1 (95-100% x1)(optional)
5RM at 120kg
(Drop sets if programmed)

You can notice that I am not doing sets of 5 reps all the way to the RM set. I start out with higher reps with lighter loads and then do singles from 80% of the 5RM onward. I do this so that I can save my legs for the set that matters most, the RM set. Some people may need a little more warm-up sets included if they squat very heavy. Sometimes jumping to 50% for the first set is going to be too high. Take your time! Make bigger jumps in the first few sets and then as you get closer to your RM weight, take small jumps. Take a good 2 minutes between the last few sets working up to your weight. Sometimes adding a pause in the bottom of the squat during the first few singles can be a nice warm-up as well.

Once you have established a set routine to get to your RM set, stick to it for the next few weeks. You want to keep your warm-up as consistent as possible. It is just another variable to control. If you do 5 warm up sets one day and 10 another, your lifts will feel extremely different based on that alone.

For weightlifting exercises this will be different. As I said above, since the movements are done with a submaximal load they should not going to beat you up as bad. Everyone warms up differently and makes different amounts of jumps based off their skill level and comfort. Rather than limiting the number of warm-up sets, I find it easier to set a clock and have a goal to warm up in a certain amount of time. Starting with an empty barbell you can set the clock to 10-20 minutes for you to get to your first working set. Based on how much weight you are going to load on the bar will determine your clock setting. If you are a heavier or more experienced athlete, you may need a full 20 minutes. If you are relatively newer and smaller lifter, you may be able to get to your working sets much sooner.

Once you get to your working sets for the weightlifting movements I find it extremely helpful to limit the number of misses. Based on your training season you can limit the amount of misses accordingly. If you are months out from a meet you should try to limit your misses to as few as possible. Even if the program calls for a RM, it should be done at an intensity that allows you to beat what you did the week prior without failing. For the first few weeks I will typically write “No misses” next to the Daily Rep Max. You are really just building up to a heavy set, then backing off or going to the next exercise.

The closer you get to competition or entering a peaking phase, you may have more misses because you are pushing yourself hard. You want to know your capabilities before stepping on stage. Typically, even though you are pushing yourself you want to limit your misses to 2-3 in a given session. If you miss 5 heavy sets and then have to do your accessory work after that, it is not going to be good. First of all, you will be tired from taking so many attempts. Secondly, you will be upset because you perceived your session to not go the way you wanted it. It is best to save yourself the physical and mental stress by limiting your misses and knowing when to move on to the next exercise for the day.

If you finish the exercise with a new PR, save the next attempt for the next week! It is much better to constantly build from week to week instead of having huge PRs and then weeks where training is not so rewarding. Training should be fun, let’s try to PR every workout. If we leave a little bit in the tank and plan accordingly, we can make it happen. Small progress leads to huge returns overtime. The athlete development in the sport of weightlifting is a marathon, not a sprint!

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