There are a few broad categories of programming approaches for weightlifting. For our purposes here, we can create two types: prescribed intensity that follows a predetermined plan of progression, and working to maximum each day. Typically you’ll hear the latter described as Bulgarian training, but that’s only one very specific way to train to daily maxes. You can do any exercise, any type of reps, etc. and use maximal intensity every day, which would be very unlike a Bulgarian approach, which is typically limited to singles in the snatch, clean & jerk and squats.
The question that hangs over the daily max training approach is always whether or not lifters can do it without drugs. The answer is absolutely yes, but like with anything else, the details matter. (Keep in mind: all
training programs work better with drugs. That’s the point of drugs.)
The first thing that needs to be considered is who the athlete is. If you’re a brand new lifter who hasn’t even established technical proficiency, training to maxes every day is not appropriate, just like any other more advanced training protocol. You need to be training in a way suited for your current level of development—trying to train like a more advanced lifter will be counterproductive.
Unrelated to the level of development, athletes simply vary naturally in what they respond best to. This isn’t really a predictable quality—it’s something that emerges over time in a lifter’s career. Some lifters respond better to lower intensity and higher volume, even if they spend a significant period of time trying to condition themselves for higher intensity and lower volume. They may adapt adequately to survive it, but it won’t produce as much progress for them.
Some lifters will also always
get hurt with certain protocols—and it does vary which protocol causes the problem. For some, volume will destroy their bodies even with relatively low intensity, but extremely high intensity with very low volume will keep them feeling great. The problem is that you won’t know without trying.
There are a number of rules to keep in mind if you want to make daily max training work without being juiced to the gills:
Ease Into It:
Don’t give daily max training a shot by jumping right into it with 5 max effort exercises each day after 5 years of more traditional training. Take at least 2-3 weeks to gradually work up to the final protocol by keeping the volume moderate and ramping up the intensity each week until you’re pushing it as hard as you’re going to.
This is a tough one for some people, who seem to have absolutely zero self-awareness and no sense at all of what they can and can’t lift. But failed lifts are extremely taxing on the nervous system (and often also in terms of local muscular fatigue, in particular the small, more vulnerable stabilizing muscles) and regularly failing lifts will grind you down to a powder in short order. It’s going to happen from time to time no matter how diligent you are, so don’t panic, but when you realize you’re going to miss a lift, quit trying to grind through it and bail out (especially squats)—the less grind you put into the effort, the less taxing it will be.
Not True Max:
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous: When I talk about training to maximum daily, it’s not a true, absolute maximal effort. You need to leave a little margin at the top, not just to avoid actual failure, but to maintain the kind of speed and rhythm we want to develop in weightlifting. If every day, you grind through squats that take 20 seconds to recover from, you’re training your body to produce a lot of force, but at the cost of speed. This is fine for powerlifting, but it’s going to cause you problems in weightlifting, where force only matters if you can apply it quickly enough. This doesn’t mean every squat you do needs to be faster than 0.8 m/s, but it means you need to be smart about keeping some decent speed on the bar in every lift you do, and that precludes true maximal efforts.
Limit the Volume:
The number one thing I will tell people about daily max training is that pretty much anyone can handle it as long as the volume is low enough. You can all snatch, clean & jerk and squat to max singles every day if you do the minimum number of reps to get there. If you start adding in a bunch of extra reps in warm-ups, drop sets, accessory exercises and the like, I can’t promise anything. If you’re going to experiment with daily max training, start with very low volume and ratchet it up incrementally to see what you can handle.
While with Bulgarian style training, there is extremely little variation day to day, you make up for it with extremely low volume. With other daily max approaches, it’s important to vary your exercises day to day. This gives you a little break physically and mentally and allows you to manage the work more productively.
Some will tell you that planned back-offs are unnecessary because your body will just tell you when it’s needed by simply failing to lift heavy, but that’s a great way to totally bury yourself. By planning some type of deloading every 3-4 weeks, you can stay ahead of the near-death state and keep moving forward longer. With daily max training, deloading is primarily a reduction in volume while maintaining relatively high intensity. However, that’s also something that varies a bit among athletes, so some experimentation is in order.
Finally, don’t try to train this way forever without some breaks. At the very least, you’re going to need a break mentally. No one can push to max every day indefinitely, no matter how tough you think you are. Everyone burns out eventually. You’ll get better results by alternating daily max training with periods of more conservative planned intensity and volume.
Here are three programs you can try with different approaches to frequent max training:
Double Day Squats & Heavy Weights
Alyssa's Heavy Single Nightmare
Strength by Feel