Four Week Max Effort PR Plan

Four Week Max Effort PR Plan

The maximal effort method is responsible for improving absolute strength and dictating dynamic effort training weights. When programming a Conjugate Method-based training plan, the training must be planned to allow for PR lifts to occur regularly. This means that overall training intensity and volume are controlled in a manner that allows for adequate recovery on a consistent basis. 

However, no matter how well-programmed a training plan may be, there will always be times when life interrupts the expected rate of recovery. Whether it be a sudden burden that causes fatigue-related issues to noticeably occur, or gradual wear and tear leading to decreased performance over a period of time, we must have options to go to so we can get training back on track. One option is what I refer to as the 3/speed/5/1 max effort plan.

When training max effort, we will most often work up to a top set single rep, lifting the heaviest weight we can for that day. If all is going well, we can expect PR lifts to occur regularly and have the training data necessary to plan future waves of dynamic effort training. If training begins to go off the rails a bit, max effort performance will suffer, and a PR dry spell can occur. 

Not only will this decrease the number of PR lifts within a 4-8 week period of time, but it will also begin to cause noticeable issues with barbell velocity during dynamic effort training. When fatigue begins to affect max effort performance, it is only a matter of time before it affects dynamic effort training as well. This is when it becomes necessary to use the 3/speed/5/1 approach to program max effort lifts. 

This approach is a form of deloading while still accomplishing worthwhile training within meaningful ranges of training intensity. Instead of drastically lowering training intensity or taking time off from training, we adjust the max effort training intensity and rep scheme a bit. Typically, this approach will help athletes rebound from fatigue-related issues and get back to hitting PR lifts following a standard max effort training plan. 

Below, we will discuss implementing the 3/speed/5/1 approach to solve fatigue-related issues and get max effort training back on track. 

Week 1: 3-Rep Max

The first week of the four-week max effort PR plan will be a 3-rep max performed around 85-90% intensity. As far as exercise selection goes, we will typically go with a variation of a competition lift. For instance, if we are using the 3/speed/5/1 scheme to solve issues related to lower body max effort performance, we will go with a movement such as an SSB box squat or 2” mat deadlift.  

The main goal of this week is to hit a 3-rep max using 85-90% of a previously attained PR in the selected exercise variation. Once this has been achieved, we will end the exercise and move on to accessory training. Considering the goal of this four-week plan is to recover from excess fatigue, we want to get the necessary work done and get on to recovering. 

Here is what the workup scheme would look like for an athlete performing a three-rep SSB box squat at 85-90% with a current max squat of 800lbs:

Set 1 - 135lbs x 8-10

Set 2 - 225lbs x 5-8 

Set 3 - 315lbs x  3-5

Set 4 - 405lbs x 1

Set 5 - 495lbs x 1

Set 6 - 585lbs x 1

Set 7 - 650lbs x 1 (optional)

Set 8 - 680-720lbs x 3 

As we warm up and work towards the top set, we want to use the lighter weights to get the blood flowing and perform single reps as more weight is added. The goal is to waste as little energy as possible to ensure the top-set goal of the day is achievable. 

Week 2: Speed Week

In the second week, we will replace our traditional max effort training day with what would be considered a dynamic effort training day. The goal of this day is to train at lower intensities than what would typically be used during a max effort day while focusing on increased barbell velocity. 

If you are familiar with a basic dynamic effort training day, it will be easy to understand how to execute this training day. First, we will warm up, then we will train between 70% and 80%, with 25% of the training weight accommodating resistance. We will begin training at 70%, gradually increasing training intensity as sets progress.

Exercise selection will depend on the one-rep max goal at the end of the four-week plan. We will perform speed deadlifts if we aim to max out in a deadlift variation. If we plan on executing a squat variation, we will go with speed squats. If the goal is a max single on the bench, we will go with speed bench. 

Here is what the workup scheme would look like for an athlete planning on hitting a squat PR at the end of the four-week training scheme:

Set 1 - 45% bar weight, 25% band or chain x 2 

Set 2 - 45% bar weight, 25% band or chain x 2 

Set 3 - 45% bar weight, 25% band or chain x 2 

Set 4 - 50% bar weight, 25% band or chain x 2 

Set 5 - 50% bar weight, 25% band or chain x 2 

Set 6 - 50% bar weight, 25% band or chain x 2 

Set 7 - 55% bar weight, 25% band or chain x 1 

Set 8 - 55% bar weight, 25% band or chain x 1 

At the start of the exercise, we will perform three sets of two reps using 45% bar weight and 25% accommodating resistance. Then, we will move on to three sets of two reps using 50% bar weight and 25% accommodating resistance. Ultimately, we will hit the 80% intensity mark, with the final two sets performing at 55% bar weight and 25% accommodating resistance for one rep each. 

This week helps to further mitigate accrued fatigue while still training at worthwhile levels of intensity. However, considering training intensity is considerably lower than usual, athletes can also use this week to refine technique and develop improved movement skills before the week four max effort single. 

Week 3: 5-Rep Max

The 5-rep max week is the week when we get back in the swing of things as far as training intensity is concerned. This training week aims to work up to a 5-rep max using a variation that contributes to strength or skill in the competition lift we are preparing to max out in week four. This article focuses on maxing out the squat, so we will continue down that path. 

A good morning variation for a top set of five reps is an excellent choice when using this max effort training scheme to attain a PR in a lower body lift. What I like most about the good morning variation is the ability to tax the muscle groups involved in the squat and deadlift without accruing much fatigue. As much as folks may believe good morning variations are challenging, they are surprisingly easy to recover from. 

Considering the goal in week four is to hit a new PR in the squat, choosing a useful lower body variation that is easy to recover from only makes sense. However, the good morning must be performed correctly. To execute a correct good morning, an athlete must lower the torso to a level similar to their conventional deadlift starting position in a controlled manner. 

Regarding the good morning variation, the giant cambered bar good morning is the best choice in this scenario. The giant cambered bar is easy on the shoulders and effectively targets the posterior chain. Of all the specialty bars, the giant cambered bar will cause the least residual fatigue during the fourth week of training. 

Here is what the workup scheme would look like for someone with a 700lb max good morning when performing a 5-rep top set with training intensity regulated to 80-85%:

Set 1 - 135lbs x 8-10

Set 2 - 225lbs x 5-8

Set 3 - 315lbs x 3-5

Set 4 - 405lbs x 1-3

Set 5 - 470lbs x 1

Set 6 - 525lbs x 1

Set 7 - 560-595lbs x 5 

The workup strategy is simple: We want to get enough reps in to feel prepared for the top set while keeping as much energy available as possible. This helps ensure the athlete exhibits proper form on all five reps during the top set. 

Week 4: PR Week 

Now that the three atypical max effort training sessions have been accomplished, it is time to shoot for a new PR in the barbell competition squat. Over the last four weeks, we have performed a squat variation that includes anterior emphasis (SSB box squat), followed by a dynamic effort squat week. We finished with a good morning variation to focus on the posterior chain

It is time to move on to our attempt at setting a new PR lift in the barbell competition squat. Like the warm-up strategy we have employed over the last three weeks, we want to ensure our warm-up prepares us for the top set without wasting energy. We want to roll into the top set with as much energy available as possible. 

Here is what the workup scheme would look like for someone with an 800lb max squat shooting for a new PR lift:

Set 1 - 135lbs x 8-10

Set 2 - 225lbs x 5-8 

Set 3 - 315lbs x 3-5

Set 4 - 405lbs x 1

Set 5 - 495lbs x 1

Set 6 - 585lbs x 1

Set 7 - 675lbs x 1 

Set 8 - 765lbs x 1

Set 9 - 805-815lbs x 1 

The goal is simple: get warmed up, hit a 5-15lb PR, and then end the exercise. 

Moving Forward

This plan will help get max effort training rolling again whenever PR lifts happen less frequently. While this approach is not a full-on deload, it has similar effects on recovery while still keeping an athlete in a training groove. If you are feeling slightly fatigued, and begin noticing max effort performance is suffering, this plan will surely help get training back on track. 

Once this four-week approach is completed, most athletes can revert to the typical week-to-week max effort single rep top sets. If fatigue continues to be an issue, an athlete can rerun the scheme. Unless you run ultra-marathons weekly, it would be next to impossible to still have problems with fatigue after completing eight weeks of the 3/speed/5/1 max effort scheme. 

This scheme is not a replacement for conventional max effort training; it is a replacement for a traditional deload. Instead of significantly lowering training intensity and volume or taking a complete break from training, this plan allows athletes to accomplish meaningful training while lessening the effects accrued fatigue has on max effort training. 


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

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.

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