Surviving Max Effort Day

Posted by Jason Ferruggia

Originally written for in 2003

I wasn’t feeling that great and should have known better. I didn’t sleep that well the night before and had been stressed out of my mind all day. I had a million things to do and barely had time to eat since breakfast. By the time my workout rolled around shortly after 6pm, I was shot. I thought about just putting my workout off until tomorrow. That would have been the smart thing to do. Unfortunately my training partners arrived and cranked up the music and started to talk some trash. I tried to fight it for a few minutes, “You don’t have it in you today,” I told myself. “Be smart.” Suddenly the sound of my own internal voice was drowned out by Marilyn Manson screaming through the speakers, “You can’t save yourself…”

Ah fuck it, I’m in.

After warming up we got started on three board presses. Although I tried to get psyched and do my best to perform, every rep was looking worse and worse. I knew I wasn’t going to be setting any PR’s that day but I at least wanted to put up a respectable number. Finally, after a long bout of self inflicted verbal abuse, I decided to try and at least tie my old 3 board PR. As I prepped for the attempt I noticed a slight twinge in my shoulder. I examined it closer and poked around a bit. It didn’t feel quite right. But it was too late; I had requested the weight and couldn’t look like a pussy and back out now. I got under the bench and somehow managed to successfully lockout the weight. It wasn’t pretty but I got it. I checked out my shoulder again and luckily it was no worse than it was thirty seconds earlier. I continued to massage it as I watched my partners finish their last attempts.

When everyone had finished I approached the rack to grab a pair of dumbbells for my assistance work. As I glanced around the room, something caught my eye. Someone who didn’t belong had entered the premises. It was the girl from the yoga studio next door. “What the hell is she doing here and what could she possibly want,” I wondered. “Can you please turn down the music,” she yelled. Angrily, I obliged. Then she said it was still too loud and was disturbing them next door. I nodded and she left.

“Motherless fuck-ing bitch!” I screamed to anyone and no one all at once.

“Throw two tens on that fucking bar!”

My training partners looked puzzled.

I couldn’t wait for them to figure it out so I grabbed them myself and got under the bar.

“Someone give me a fucking spot!” I yelled.

I unracked the weight, hit the boards and absolutely smoked it. After that we all had a good laugh and the rest of my workout was amazing.

The next morning the adrenaline had worn off and it felt like my shoulder had fallen off. No worries, I called up my ART specialist and scheduled a treatment. That and a few days of ice should take care of it. After a few days it started to get better and I started to think I was in the clear…

Fast forward to the following max effort day. As I approach 90% I notice that my shoulder is starting to hurt again but I keep going. Finally I grind out what happens to be a new PR. Feeling great, I decide to take one more attempt. My buddy Mark tells me it’s not worth it and that I have absolutely nothing left. “There’s not a shot in hell you’re getting more than that,” he informs me. I think about it for a second and decide that he is right. I pace around for a few minutes and all of the sudden, SNAP! I do my usual Jekyll and Hyde routine and remember what Tom Cruise taught us all who were fortunate enough to grow up in the eighties and watch Risky Business on the big screen, “Sometimes you just to have to say what the fuck.” And that’s what I did. I slapped another ten pounds on the bar and got it; a new PR.

During the next few days my shoulder continued to get worse. The following Monday I couldn’t even bench 185 so I did speed bench off two boards. I skipped max effort day that week and had to move up to three boards for the following speed day. The next week it was four boards. After two weeks off of max effort work I decided to test it. I did a five board press and promised myself that I would stay light. I broke that promise. After hitting 500, I called it a day. “Wow, doesn’t even feel that bad,” I thought.

Of course, we all know how this story ends. I haven’t pressed since and I am now in need of an MRI to see determine if there is a rotator cuff tear. I probably won’t be pressing heavy weights for quite a while.

The sad part about all this is that I always preach not training to failure and never attempting a weight you are not sure you will get on a max effort day. There is no point in doing either as it leads to CNS burnout and injuries. None of my athletes are ever allowed to do this. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t take my own advice. In fact, this wasn’t the first time I have pushed myself too far on max effort days. The truth is that I do it almost on a routine basis. It’s just something about me, it’s in my blood and I can’t control it. I only have two speeds; full blast, balls to the wall, out of control or off. There is no in between with me. That is something that I have yet learned to control.

Last summer I had one thirty minute block in the middle of the day to train. This is usually all I get in the summer because that is my busiest season training athletes. I got a bit behind schedule and before I knew it, thirty minutes had been reduced to twenty. I was determined that I would do rack pulls that day come hell or high water. The problem is I have two herniated disks from a bad skiing accident a few years ago and have to be extremely careful and always be sure to do an extensive warm up regimen. A sane person would have opted for some glute ham raises and hypers but I, on the other hand, decided that I could get my warm up and max effort rack pulls in all in the span of twenty minutes. At right around the eighteen minute mark, I pulled 585 and it felt like my back broke. I rested and stretched a few minutes and actually decided to throw another plate on. I did it again and wasn’t able to squat or dead lift until December.

The moral to the story is this; it doesn’t really make the slightest bit of difference what you do on a close grip fat bar four board press with chains on a random Tuesday night in January. That is not what matters in the end. The goal is for your bench press to go up. Every max effort day does not have to be an all out battle to the death. You want to strain and you want to work with weights over 90% but you have to be smart and be safe. The only way you can continue to break records and up your weights is if you are healthy. If you are constantly on the shelf with an injury you have defeated the purpose. No one gets stronger when they are hurt.

For now, I am trying to take Jim’s advice of staying calm when I train and keeping it on cruise control. Of course, you do want to push yourself. And some days you have to push yourself harder than others. Sometimes we all have to test ourselves and take it all the way to the edge. The key is to avoid falling off.

Train smart.