Train vs Test
From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.
A common mistake that new cooks make is to keep opening the oven to check on their food. Every time you open the oven door, you let heat out and it makes the delicious roast beef take longer to cook. As you become a more experienced cook, you learn to let dinner cook without checking on it. You have a feel for when it will be done and only test when you need to know for sure.
A common mistake that new weightlifters make is to keep testing their maxes. Every time you test a max, you not only burn a training day, you open yourself up for injury (a max is really a max effort - on the edge between making it and not), or tax your body so hard during the max, you'll be lifting poorly for days. As you become a more experienced weightlifter, you get an intuitive feel for where your body is and how hard you should be pushing your lifts.
You do need to know when your food is cooked, and you do need to know what your maxes are. You just don't need to be obsessively checking them. Don't get caught in the trap of checking your max every week, eking out the next 1 pound. We don't often program 1RM test days for this very reason. Be wary of programming that frequently runs you through a series of benchmarks. We feel that it's more important to be consistently making progress than it is to keep checking where you are.
But what about the Bulgarian method? That method of training at 90%+ day-in an day-out worked for two reasons: 1) lots of drugs. The eastern bloc was very good at working with pharmaceuticals to build strong athletes, and 2) survivorship bias.
Survivorship bias is the bias you see when you only see the successes and don't see all the failures. It shows up just about everywhere, and you should always be conscious of it (but it's hard because by definition, you don't see the places where it doesn't show up). Go here to see an excellent short talk about survivorship bias.
In the context of weightlifting, can you say that training at 90% all the time makes strong athletes? Or is it that only the strongest athletes can survive training at 90%, leaving a trail of broken athletes in their wake (that you never see)? Does testing your 1RM every week make you stronger? Or do the biggest advocates of testing their 1RM every week just do so because they're strong and can handle it?
We want to provide great training to everyone, not just the folks who can survive our training. If you follow our programming, you'll make safe and steady progress and build a strong foundation of fitness.
Update: You’ll notice that even since I originally wrote that post years ago, I’ve even reduced the testing days more. We rarely test anymore. I like it that way better. In fact, what I’ve been mostly doing is just keep people lifting in that 75%-85% range all the time. Strength usually sneaks up on them and they suddenly realize that the 85% they’re doing for reps is more than their previous 100%! It doesn’t matter what you’re 100% really is (unless you’re a competitive lifter), so just keep lifting not-too-heavy and do that consistently and strength will sneak up on you.