Conjugate Football: Off-Season Max Effort Lower

Conjugate Football: Off-Season Max Effort Lower

It’s now the off-season for most football programs, and it is the time of year when athletes enter the gym to improve as much as possible for the next season. The off-season is a particularly valuable time of year for an athlete, considering this period presents the best opportunities to improve special strengths significantly. 

Training to improve absolute strength is essential for any athlete, no matter the sport. By improving absolute strength, you become capable of higher levels of force output, improve intramuscular coordination, and increase tissue and bone density. Improvements in absolute strength will make an athlete bigger, stronger, faster, and more resilient. However, these are not the only benefits gained by improving absolute strength.

As you increase your absolute strength, you raise the level to which you can raise all other strengths. This means as an athlete improves their level of absolute strength, they can expect to have the potential to run faster and jump higher, along with a multitude of other movement and coordination-related benefits. With the number of benefits associated with improvements in absolute strength, it’s no wonder why Lou referred to absolute strength as the King of all strengths. 

When it comes to training to prepare for the game of football, the Conjugate Method is the superior strength training method. Not only because all special strengths will be developed but because we refrain from using dedicated training blocks. Instead of 8-12 week training blocks dedicated to one strength or athletic trait, the Conjugate Method features the most beneficial training methodologies each workout, each week. 

For athletes who only have a specific amount of time to dedicate to strength training, the Conjugate Method provides an adequate level of training to prepare the athlete for competition. Additionally, the Conjugate Method offers many programming and scheduling options to ensure the programming always remains optimal. 

The Benefits of Max Effort Lower

Max effort lower training is vital for football players for many reasons. Most importantly, max effort lower training will provide the athlete with a strong and well-balanced athletic base to remain on the feet and exert force to make a play. Additionally, max effort lower training will increase the bone and tissue density of the lower body, creating more stable and injury-resistant hips, knees, and ankles. 

Unfortunately, many coaches either avoid or ineffectively utilize the max effort method. In the United States, high-intensity barbell training has received a bad reputation for being dangerous. The truth is consistently training at elevated intensity levels will provide benefits that cannot be matched by any other training method, provided the coach understands how to program workouts properly. 

Instead of training at higher intensity levels, many coaches keep the barbell training light and focus most of their energy on speed training. These coaches fail to realize that the training intensity provided by speed training is not enough to bring about the types of physiological changes or training adaptations that allow the athlete to develop new abilities or strengths. 

What ends up happening is that athletes make marginal improvements in their physical strength and only become slightly faster and jump a bit higher than before. The focus on light-moderate intensity training fails to bring about new strength adaptations, the physical composition remains about the same, and the athlete is no better prepared for the field or more resistant to injury. But hey, they added 2 inches to their vertical jump, right?

What makes more sense? Training at higher levels of intensity on a more consistent basis to provide the athlete with a full spectrum of athletic traits and abilities or focusing on the velocity end of the force-velocity curve and leaving the most critical strengths untrained?

The truth is strength coaches have focused on speed training and low-moderate intensity barbell training for many years, and the number of bone and tissue injuries experienced at the collegiate and pro level remains relatively the same. Maybe it is time to give high-intensity barbell training a shot. Call us crazy, but we believe dense hamstrings, tendons, and ligaments would likely result in fewer knee injuries. 

Physical evolution has improved the level of performance at the collegiate and pro levels; imagine if these athletes focused on developing all special strengths when training. 

Exercise Variations and Programming

The variations we select are typically chosen based on the joint angles the athlete needs to be strong at and the involved muscle groups. Fortunately, we have created many variations of the power lifts to improve the absolute strength of our athletes, no matter their sport. 

We do not use weight training to mimic sporting maneuvers or motor patterns, aside from the sled push, which mimics a lineman run blocking. 

Barbell training aims to improve special strengths that carry over to on-the-field abilities. This can be accomplished using variations of barbell exercises. Athletes do not need to run around with a weighted football through a speed ladder; they need to load up a barbell with some weight. 

Here are a few of the exercises we recommend football players utilize during their max effort lower training:

  • Squat (any specialty bar)
  • Box Squat (any specialty bar, box at or slightly below 90 degrees)
  • Anderson Squat (any specialty bar, start with knee angle at or slightly less than 90 degrees)
  • Zercher Squat
  • Cambered Bar Good Morning
  • SSB Good Morning
  • Bow Bar Good Morning
  • Anderson Good Morning (any specialty bar, start with knee angle at 90 degrees)
  • Sumo Deadlift (deficit or 2” elevated)
  • Conventional Deadlift (deficit or 2” elevated)
  • Rack Pull (start at mid-shin level)

As you can see, you can create a tremendous amount of exercise variations when designing your programming. We recommend choosing 3-4 variations and sticking with them for an 8-12 week timespan. Remember, when performing max effort main exercises, you will always work up to a top set of 1-3 reps. For absolute strength to be improved most efficiently, max effort training must be performed above 90% intensity. 

No Better Way to Train

When preparing athletes for sports, no method can compare to the Conjugate Method. All athletic training must be Conjugate based for the athlete to be appropriately trained. It is our goal to help as many coaches realize this as possible. Our intent with our educational content is to help introduce coaches to the Conjugate Method so that athletes can be provided with higher-quality training, ultimately raising the bar for human performance. 

Do not fall into the trap of believing that a majority of the strength training work an athlete performs must focus on speed training. Are speed training and plyometric exercises an important aspect of an athlete’s training? Certainly, but solely focusing on speed training is like spending your entire budget upgrading your tires and forgetting to improve the engine of your race car. 

Do not fear loading the barbell. The benefits of high-intensity barbell training cannot be mimicked by any other training method. Even focusing on sub-maximal work fails to bring about the training adaptations that proper max-effort training will provide. As long as you take the time to properly teach the execution of the movement and monitor the athlete to ensure weight increases are correctly selected, there is no more risk involved in max effort training than jumping to high boxes. 

Want to be bigger, stronger, and faster? Improve your level of absolute strength. 


Simmons, L. (2007). Westside Barbell Book of Methods. Westside Barbell.

Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. C. (2009). Supertraining. Verkhoshansky.

Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training. Human Kinetics.

Burley Hawk

Burley Hawk

Burley Hawk is the Digital Content Manager at Westside Barbell and a Conjugate Method strength coach. Training and studying under Louie Simmons over the past decade, Burley has attained the experience, knowledge and understanding necessary to master the Conjugate Method.

Read more articles by Burley

Search The Blog
Like What You're Reading?

Sign up for our newsletter and get new articles sent straight to your inbox weekly.

Search The Blog
Like What You're Reading?

Sign up for our newsletter and get new articles sent straight to your inbox weekly.