- 10 minutes read
- Learn why training at lower percentages is beneficial
- Beneficial for beginners all the way to advanced lifters
- Submaximal training is working with intensities well below your 1 rep maximum
- Bar speed and technique are two of the most important components to getting stronger
- It enables a lifter to produce better reps overall
- Better reps equals better technique and potential for faster strength gains
- It allows technique to be refined and for reps to be consistent
- There is more room for error with submaximal training
- Regular high intensity training has its place such as near to competition or max testing
What is submaximal training?
Submaximal training is performing movements using intensities that are well below your 1 repetition maximum. This allows for faster, better quality reps with the intent being increasing bar speed, refining technique and becoming overall more proficient at the given movement. It can and should be used in any training programme, especially high volume and/or frequency programmes.
How should I implement submaximal training?
Chances are if you are on a half-decent training programme, you already have loads of submaximal reps within your training, as physically it isn’t possible to lift maximally all the time however these are three common, basic and effective ways to implement submaximal training.
- Phases (hypertrophy, strength etc) – different phases of training allow for a switch of focus and some leeway in the form of training variables. For example, within a hypertrophy phase there is no need to be lifting above 90% therefore the vast majority of the movements are being performed submaximally in that time, with the aim being building muscle and getting better at the lifts. Leading on from this, transitioning into a strength phase will see a reduction in training volume and an increase in intensity however this will not sacrifice the quality of reps performed too dramatically, as the percentages are still submaximal. Obviously, some movements will be more challenging and not everything will move beautifully all the time but the idea is the focus is switched between phases of training and allows lots of quality submaximal lifting.
- Backdown sets/load drops – this method of implementing submaximal reps is very effective and also adaptable. After hitting a top set of a movement, it is good to drop the load significantly in order to get in some smooth volume work. This is because fatigue will be present after the heavier sets but also it is far more effective to perform reps with intent to improve technique, bar speed and other variables instead of testing what you can do. Load drops are more of an auto-regulatory tool, with the approach of seeing how the weight feels after, for example, a top triple. Either way, backdown sets and load drops are useful tools to get in more training volume at a submaximal percentage.
- Separate “speed/technique day” – this is a less common method to implement submaximal training but it may be of use for people who fatigue easily after main sets and want to improve speed and/or technique in a separate workout. On this day a much lighter percentage is usually used, in order to move the weight with the best technique possible, and maximal bar speed. This may also be an opportunity to play with some variations, utilising mechanically disadvantageous positions or adding accommodating resistance like bands or chains. Either way, this session should be solely focused on moving submaximal weights as if they were maximal.
The main benefits of submaximal training
- Better reps – rep quality will be increased due to lighter load
- Technique – it is far more likely technique will be improved at a submaximal load (and technique is king for improving strength)
- Bar speed – a lighter load will move faster and smoother than a heavier load, simple as that
- Consistency – rep consistency is very important for improving proficiency at a lift, and submaximal training will allow this to develop optimally
- Adaptable – training submaximally leaves room for change; if weights are absolutely flying the weight can be increased and if it is feeling slow then rep and set scheme can be changed or weight can be reduced
- Increased rate of recovery both physically and CNS – training at high intensities consistently is physically draining and will tax the CNS (central nervous system) hugely
- Potential for more volume and frequency – at lower percentage the fact is you can do more volume, it is more manageable and can be scaled up instead of hitting a wall. In addition, there is more potential for higher frequency due to increased rate of recovery and the use of submaximal load
- More room for error – at submaximal loads, if you misload by 5kg/11lbs it may not throw your set off whereas at a high intensity this could result in a missed lift. Also, at the lighter loads a technique error may not cost you as much as it would at a heavier weight
- Less injury risk – lifting lighter loads with better technique will always lower risk of injury as there will always be some sort of technique breakdown at high intensities. Furthermore, consistently lifting submaximally will improve skill at a movement and may reduce injury risk when it comes to lifting heavier more frequently
Overall, submaximal training offers a lot of benefits to those wanting to get bigger and stronger. This article is not arguing against lifting heavier loads, it is simply outlining the importance and the benefits of lifting submaximally within a training programme. Heavier loads are part of the process and are a part of getting stronger, particularly approaching a competition or testing day however the majority of work should be done with submaximal loads
“When it comes to getting bigger and stronger, the aim to improve and build on things instead of testing them becomes a far bigger priority. Quality submaximal lifting will produce far better results than consistently lifting at near maximal loads”
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