Its that time of the year again... 20RM season! This for most of you will be wretched, some may even have PTSD from the last time, and some of you may even enjoy it. Regardless of how you feel about it, I can promise you, you will be stronger by the end of it. It is just so bad in process, that its deserving of explanation.
We spend a great deal of the year, upwards of 70% probably in the pursuit of absolute strength. This can be more commonly identified as your PR's or 1RM's. While these numbers are telling or suggestive of your fitness, they don't often have a direct correlation to your work capacity. What I mean is, life will certainly ask you to pick up something heavy, its a lot more common to need to pick it up or do it repeatedly though. Think yard work, helping a friend move, stacking wood etc. As fun as that analog is, its only part of the story. In your development, were absolutely trying to make you stronger, and subsequently fitter. To simply increase your max output, without also increasing your repeatability would be simply foolish, and unfortunately common. This is why you you saw a heavy squat cycle lead to a heavy maintenance cycle, and now to a volume density cycle.
The 20rm despite being terrible has some unique benefits. The first of which is breathing. The reason these are often called "Breathing Squats". Being at a low percentage of your max, one of the big limitations here is simply your breathing. Not only your breathing, but the prolonged time under tension with limited breathing leads to a severe degradation of midline stability. This is often felt on rep 15 and your low back wants to simply separate itself. The next unique attribute builds off the last in that it demands form. Spending that much time under tension, with a large load, and such a compound multi joint movement, requires that each rep be as fundamentally sound as possible. Have a squat asymmetry or fault? Rep 11-20 will be a great learning experience for you. The last attribute of value is in increased work capacity. By spending the majority of the year building up your raw strength, the most important number in your measurement of fitness is how high a percentage of that raw strength you can move more than once, and frankly more than a handful. CrossFit athletes will be unique to most strength athletes in that their absolute strength will be respectably high, but even more notably, their ability to move 90% for large sets rather efficiently. This cycle is how we build that efficacy.
Assuming this is your first exploration into the cave of 20RM, let me translate some of the cave drawings you will see. First of all the difference in you from day 1-week 1, to day 2-week 4, will look something more like Tom Hanks in Castaway, please don't bring your own Wilson. Its ok to keep up your hygiene, although I assure you, you will be feeling very barbaric. The voices in your head become a cast of characters from reps 1-20, and none of them after rep 7 have anything nice to say. After reps 15 they likely are even insulting your mother for your creation. Rep 1 you will feel like anything is possible, the world is now your oyster. Rep 5, you should find some comfort in your strengths, "Im strong like Bull". Rep 7, Ive now reverted to my pre-pubescent strength levels, "Anyone seen my hammies??" Rep 10, "Ive made a bad choice" Rep 15, "God is that you?" Rep 17, "Quick someone prepend 911". Rep 18, "Hey Jesus, nice sandals, I can't bare to look you in the eyes because failure is imminent" Rep 19, "please no... Who put more weight on my bar" Rep 20, "Yes its ove..... [guttural yell], I am all that is... Fuck this get this thing off me"
This in all of its enjoyable traits is by far one of the most productive squat cycles you can partake in. If your fitness goals are increased work capacity across broad times and modal domains. I promise this has nothing to do with trying to kill you. The last most important part is its simple, not easy. Its 20 Reps and its over. Next time you add a little bit of weight and do it again. Simple as that.