You’re really strong, that's impressive. But how well do you move? Can you bear a heavy load without causing people around you to cringe and run the other way? Too often people push themselves to their strength max without any concern for their technical max.
Technique and form are paramount when exercising. Lifting heavy is cool, and can be very beneficial, but you must first make sure that you have the ability to do so safely. For example, if you suffer from severe knee valgus when squatting, chances are that eventually something is going to give in the knee support structure and you’re going to be very upset with the results. It would be very disappointing for an athlete to get injured while training in the weight room to prepare for competition on the field. Personally, it would be hard for me to justify an injury that occurs off the playing field.
Another reason technique is so important is because of the ease of effort. You all have felt it, you go to squat heavy one day and everything clicks and somehow 90% feels like 65%... Then a week later you go to squat 85% and your knees cave in, your back rounds, and you struggle so hard you could’ve sworn someone added 60 lbs to the bar when you weren’t looking. A veteran lifter will know to call it there, and either figure out what is going on physiologically, or just drop the weight and accept that the day will not be as heavy as anticipated. Donny Shankle once told me (I’m paraphrasing), “You can squat heavy and clean heavy every single day. But when your form breaks down during the lifts, that is what causes you to feel beat up the next day.” That just makes sense. When you hit the proper positions during a lift, no matter what the percentage, rarely do you feel beat up the next day. But when you battle the weight and the positioning together, you can barely drag yourself out of bed in the morning.
When not at the sacrifice of a technical max, pushing to a strength max does have its benefits. The most obvious example, is that it will lead to an increase in strength adaptation in the muscles being trained. And who doesn’t want to get stronger? Increases in strength also have positive effects on bone density, body weight and composition, athletic performance, and many other physiological processes. The danger with ignoring a technical max to push to a true strength max is causing injury. Longevity of performance usually isn’t taken into account in this situation.
Consider the following scenarios: would you rather train heavy all the time with poor technique to see rapid increases in strength, only to get injured and then have to take 6-12 months off to rehab the injury? Or would you prefer to train to technical failure every day, see slower but still steady strength increases, and never have to deal with injury? In the first example you may take your back squat from 100kg to 150kg in 4 months, but then your injury puts you out of lifting for another 8 months. The second scenario may take your back squat from 100kg to 150kg after 12 months. At the end of that year, you can either be squatting 150kg and ready to increase it more, or you can brag about how you used to squat 150kg before you got hurt. Which would you prefer?
Coaches that push their athletes well past their technical max usually do so in order to brag about the numbers. Somewhere along the line having high testing numbers was determined as what makes someone a good strength coach (still doesn’t make sense to me). In reality, if they focused on perfecting technique, the technique would not only improve, but so would the testing numbers. Those coaches should be taking into account their athletes’ safety and looking at long term goals vs. short term goals.
Here is my message to those strength coaches and also their athletes. Consider the best athletes in the world. They all train hard and spend countless hours in the gym. How much does LeBron James squat? What does Sidney Crosby clean? How much does Bryce Harper bench press? The general public has no idea. But they all understand that those are arguably the best athletes in their respective sports. Their numbers in the weight room don’t matter as much as their production on the field, and pushing past their limits in the weight room will keep them off the field.
So now that you want to focus on differentiating between your technical and strength maxes, how do you do it? You can have a coach or training buddy watch your lift and let you know when technique begins to break down. Or, if you are a lone wolf, you can video yourself performing the lifts and critique yourself. A technical max is something that is subjective, and depending on different variables, may vary day to day. Ideally, you will get to the point where your technical max and your strength max are identical. Then, padawan, you have achieved true harmony with max effort lifting.