#187 – Are You Strong Enough? The Myth of “Maintenance”
It’s the million dollar question, right? When is strong… strong enough? For those who have been in the game for a while, it’s not really a question at all. There is no strong enough, at least not for 99% of us. Life and other priorities get in the way of training enough that most of us never achieve a level of strength which is “strong enough.” Those little, sometimes large, life deloads put us back into strength gaining mode as we fight to recover what was lost. Thus, from a practical standpoint, there’s no point questioning whether one is strong enough.
But there’s a philosophical argument against the notion of being strong enough, too. The acquisition of strength — that is, training for it — depends on goals: small goals, like adding 5lbs each workout, to larger and more long-term goals, like setting a new 1RM in each lift. These goals allow us to organize training systematically so that we can achieve them; they make training logical, systematic, and progressive. Without a distinct goal, training often becomes random, erratic, and unfocused. The notion of training to maintain strength, though seemingly logical on the surface, is not a concrete goal. How does one train to maintain, exactly?
We know from the SRA model that a stress must occur to continue driving adaptation. Without stress, there is no adaptation. More importantly, without stress there is regression, a loss of adaptation. So lifting with the intention of maintenance — essentially lifting to preserve homeostasis — is a sketchy proposition. On a practical level, if you try to continue squatting, say, 315 for 3×5 once a week, you’ll likely notice that after a couple weeks it becomes rather difficult, and ultimately you being missing reps. Add the inevitably fluctuation in stressors from outside life events, and it’s clear that maintenance is a flawed idea.
In reality, training typically looks like a wave, with periods of great progress followed by deloads, intentional or not. While it’s possible to maintain your strength for a short period of time — the crest of the wave, to extend the metaphor — eventually we must either continue to adapt by getting stronger or begin to detrain.
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