7 Lessons From Ditching 1 Rep Maxes

In September of 2017, I was on fire. Coming off injuries, burnout, and severe lack of motivation from my last CrossFit Games, I was finally on the upswing again.

I had been doing a ton of Functional Bodybuilding, even though as a company we were in the infant stage. But the methods worked. Even after 8 months of no heavy cleans, I hit a PR (plus two front squats).

A heavy PR is magic. I ripped off my belt and yelled in triumph. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe how much has changed. And how some things stayed the same, but with a new angle.

The last eight months, things have looked much different than 2017:

  • Zero PRs
  • Zero metcons
  • Same Functional Bodybuilding approach

Many of us head to the gym to get strong. But we also want to build visible muscle and shed body fat. This is the difference between lifting for strength vs. hypertrophy.

Recently, my shoulder has been on the fritz. And since 2017, I’ve added a lot of work and family responsibilities. When I listened to my body, it told me it just wasn’t up for chasing maximal weights.

So I made a full switch.

For the past 8 months, I’ve used the same principles of Functional Bodybuilding as always. Thoughtful warmups and movement selection. Progressive overload with plenty of control. Full range of motion and training the whole body every way it moves.

But instead of using FBB for max performance, I’ve been using it for bodybuilding only.

So here are the 7 biggest lessons and benefits I gained from leaving 1, 2, and 3 rep maxes behind.

1. Load Only Matters to Your Ego

It feels weird to say this as someone who used to chase every single pound and point. But unless you’re competing, it’s true. You get stronger and bigger muscles through mechanical tension. And how much load you need to create this tension varies dramatically.

A 300lb squat will absolutely stimulate growth for a lot of people.

But it will also cause a lot of fatigue if you don’t squat perfectly. It can make your back tired and your hips creak like the Tin Man.

Now cut the weight by a third and perform a 200lb squat with heels elevated and a deep range of motion. Take a slower temp or even a pause. Add a few more reps to each set. Boom – the quads grow without the same level of fatigue.

5 day workout split

2. Failing can be safer

Maxing out in your training isn’t a problem in and of itself. But you invite disaster when you push to failure repeatedly with:

  • Poor technique
  • Lower reps and very heavy weights relative to your 1RM
  • Lots of fatigue

Bodybuilding changes the game by maxing only to the point where muscle contraction quality goes down. In other words, if you start to compensate on a lift by using muscles that aren’t the target, there’s no point in continuing on. So you stop well before the disaster zone.

It is also safer to work to failure with an isolation lift – pinpointing a small area. As opposed to a big compound lift like a front squat, which uses multiple areas of your body at once.

3. “Good technique” is broader than I thought

Earnest CrossFit coaches – like me when I was in my twenties – really want to help with that form. And there tends to be one way to do things. A “perfect squat” should have heels down, knees out, back straight, and hips below the knee…right?

Training for muscle has shown me there’s more than one way to move and get a big result. It all depends on the quality of the muscle contraction, and what you’re trying to hit. You can elevate your heels to grow your quads more. You can place your feet higher on the leg press to target more of your glutes. Or you can change the torso angle of your split squat for more quads or glutes.

Our bodies are capable of moving so many ways – and using more creativity in position can unlock new gains.

4. Time is short - bodybuilding is efficient

Maybe Arnold spent all day in the gym – but you don’t have to for a killer result. Bodybuilding style lifting has helped me speed up my workouts more. Which is great for these days when I have a lot on my plate with work and kids. With a hypertrophy focus, you’ll experience:

    • Less time building up to your MAX weights
    • Shorter rest periods between sets – since your nervous system won’t be as fried
    • Less prep work and mobility needed – a leg press doesn’t need an extensive warmup like a big Snatch session does
    • Less drilling for technique on complex movements. Just get in and get after it.

Strength Intensity:

Barbell or Smith Machine Strict Press (Back Supported) @30X1; rest 1:30-2:30 minutes between sets

Set 1: 6 reps RPE 7/10
Set 2: -5-10% Weight of Set 1 for AMRAP
Set 3: -5-10% Weight of Set 2 for AMRAP
Set 4: -5-10% Weight of Set 3 for AMRAP

*Perform all AMRAP sets at 30X1 Tempo
*On each AMRAP try for at least 6 reps and likely no more than 12

5. You can handle more REPS and VOLUME with Bodybuilding

Ask me to do 50 back squats are a high percentage of my 1RM in a single session and my body will be wrecked.

Ask me to do 50 hard reps of a back squat a lower percentages of my 1RM in a single session and I’ll definitely be able to knock them out.

Both are going to feel hard, but the latter isn’t going to break me in half and will require half the time.

With bodybuilding methods, you get more meaningful work done in a given session. More volume means you are asking your muscle to do more total work.

And if you’re looking for body composition change, energy in vs. energy out is important. Doing more work helps you look good and feel good too.

Say goodbye to the days of doing just 5 sets of 5 and calling it a day with your lifting. You can now handle considerably more work that has great muscle building, strength, and body composition benefits.

6. “Machines aren’t functional” is a myth

The science is in – machines and free weights show no difference in resulting functionality. Machines and more stable variations of movements are great for targeting muscles. And building muscle is functional, no matter what tool you use. So long as you have a base of good movement patterns and motor control, and you train full ROM with your movements, you’ll see carryover to life tasks and skills.

7. Nothing satisfies like a finishing PUMP

Do you miss the feeling of walking out of the gym with a shit-eating grin on your face? I did too. But I’ve got that bodybuilding glow-up back now that I’m doing more bodybuilding finishers.

When a 1 rep max is your focus, you’ve got a limit to how much you can do each session. That type of lifting fatigues the body and nervous system fast.

Switching to a hypertrophy style of lifting suddenly unlocks formats that deliver satisfying pumps and don’t beat up your body. Compare a heavy set of 5 in the back squat vs 2-3 sets of a bicep superset at the end of training, in the 15-20reps range. You can do those bicep sets hard and to failure and walk out without feeling like someone just punched you in the face.

I love finishing my sessions with more lifting volume, a super satisfying pump, and a pep in my step for the rest of the day.

No Method is Objectively Better

I’m not here to try to convince you to stop training for top end strength. I know firsthand the kind of joy and reward that can bring.

I also know that life has seasons. Will I get the itch to max out again? Possibly. Have I hung up peak performance for good? Likely not.

But we’re in this fitness game, together, for the rest of our lives. So it’s good to expand the menu of options for keeping us engaged and feeling good. And when one path isn’t working, maybe it’s time to switch.

That’s why I include 5 different tracks in my Persist training program. Train for performance in PERFORM. Train for hypertrophy in PUMP. It’s all there to help keep you falling in love with training over and over again.

Get PUMP 40 as a bonus, simply for trying the program. 8 weeks of 40-minute PUMPS!

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