How Improving Your "Technical Max" Makes Your Stronger

When it comes to strength training, it’s pretty common to measure your progress by comparing the heaviest lifts you can do with exercises like the squat, bench press, deadlift, snatch and clean & jerk. The heaviest lifts you can do are commonly known as your “maxes”. 

(FYI: Your maxes also look cool on Instagram.)

There are three types of maxes you should know about:

  • The Competition or Absolute Max

  • The Training Max

  • The Technical Max

The Competition or Absolute Max

The competition max is the maximum weight you can lift for a single rep that has been witnessed and recorded by judges or technical officials. Unless you are a powerlifter, weightlifter or other strength athlete you won’t have a competition max. 

An absolute max is similar to a competitive max, but it’s the heaviest weight you can lift in the gym after training specifically to maximise your strength over a period of time.

Unless you’ve been training long enough to be classed as an advanced strength athlete your absolute max and your training max are going to be pretty similar because an advanced athlete needs to train for weeks, if not months, to see progress whereas a beginner and intermediate can see progress weekly.

The Training Max

The training max is just the heaviest weight you’ve lifted in training without any major deviations in technique. Unlike competition maxes that are usually heaviest single rep you can do training maxes exist in a variety of rep ranges. It’s common to see 1 rep maxes (1RM), three rep maxes (3RM), five rep maxes (5RM), 8 rep maxes (8RM), 10 rep maxes (10RM) and even 20 rep maxes (20RM).

Monitoring and constantly progressing in multiple rep ranges is a great way to consistently increase both strength and size if you’re interested in building some lean muscle.

The training max is also the most abused type of max lift in the gym.

It’s pretty common knowledge that exercises like squatting, deadlifting and bench pressing require a certain amount of technique to get good at them. Many people, in their effort to look cooler on Instagram, sacrifice their lifting technique to lift more weight. (I did mention that max lifts look cooler on the gram, right?) 

Their short term gains in likes, followers and ego result in long term inefficiency which will cause them too plateau sooner rather than later because efficient weightlifting technique spreads the load across the working muscles more favourably and makes overcoming gravity easier.

This brings us to…. 

The Technical Max

The technical max is the maximum amount of weight you can lift in any given rep range with the most efficient technique you can currently pull off across every rep.

The idea is that while training to improve your technical max, you also work on improving your technique through mobility drills, learning more about the exercise, and or being coached by fitness professional knowledgeable in the exercises you’re trying to improve.

The more you focus on your technical max, the closer your technical max and your training max will become.

Does this render the training max obsolete? Not at all. There are situations where you’ll want to maximise strength by using the “Max Effort Method” where some deviation in technique is tolerated to accelerate strength gains. Or, you might want to occasionally overload a muscle using a technically simple exercise like a bicep curl to encourage more muscle growth. However both of these are advanced methods that aren’t required and are, more often than not, detrimental to the long term progress of a beginner strength trainee.

To conclude…

If you want to see maximum progress then focus on developing your technical max to it’s fullest potential.