Starting Conjugate: Max Effort Myths

Starting Conjugate: Max Effort Myths

The maximal effort method is one of the two primary training methods used every week when executing a Conjugate Method training program. The intent of max effort is to improve absolute strength, which we refer to as the King of all strengths. When absolute strength improves, so does the capacity for all other special strengths. 

Contrary to what some believe, improving absolute strength is vital for all athletes. Unfortunately, some coaches believe that a conventional sports athlete has little use for max effort training because their sport is not focused on max force output. While conventional sports may not test who is the strongest, the strongest athletes are typically some of the most dominant in their sport. 

By training max effort, an athlete can improve their squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press strength, as well as their ability to run faster, jump higher, and generate significant amounts of force rapidly. Aside from these benefits, max effort training also helps to enhance intra- and intermuscular coordination and increase bone and tissue density. This leads to improvements in sports skill execution, along with higher levels of durability and resilience. 

However, some things need to be clarified regarding max effort training. Below, we will discuss some common misunderstandings coaches and athletes have about it. 

Myth 1: You Must PR Every Week

The first max effort myth we will discuss is one that causes many to believe their training is ineffective or totally off the rails: the idea that you must PR on a variation every week. Are there times when athletes will PR on a weekly basis? Of course, usually when training is totally dialed in, with rest and recovery being on point on a daily basis. 

Unfortunately, it is unreasonable to think that everything will go perfectly all the time when it comes to an athlete's life. Whether it is an increase in sports practice or competition demands, job schedules, or life responsibilities in general, there will be times when fatigue accumulates, or an athlete's schedule negatively impacts performance in the gym. When this occurs, the amount of PR lifts an athlete can achieve can become limited. 

When training max effort, our primary goal is to lift the heaviest weight we can for that specific training day. We want to surpass 90% training intensity, allowing for meaningful gains in absolute strength. During this time, we typically expect an athlete to make 6-8 PR lifts every 10-12 weeks. 

If an athlete's PR frequency fails to meet the 6-8 PRs in the 10-12 weeks, we would evaluate their fatigue and decide whether lifestyle or programming changes must be made. If it is a lifestyle issue, we will suggest improving their sleep, nutrient intake, hydration, and recovery methods. If we know their lifestyle is on point, we can then assume the issue is training-related and begin making edits to their programming. 

When the issue limiting max effort performance is training-related, we often find the problem lies within the athlete's dynamic effort training. Athletes frequently train too heavily during dynamic effort training, leading to accumulated fatigue and limited performance. The fix for this is simple: We will decrease dynamic effort training percentages by 5%.

If decreasing the dynamic effort training percentages by 5% fails, we will reduce the training percentage by another 5% while limiting accessory exercises to some degree. This strategy almost always leads to improved performance, no matter how much fatigue has been accumulated. 

Myth 2: You Must Use a Variety of Variations

The next max effort myth we will discuss is the belief that you must use many exercise variations when planning your max effort training days. This is not the case. Most often, for strength athletes, we recommend choosing two competition-relevant variations along with two variations that target a known weak point holding back the competition movements. 

This allows a coach or athlete to reliably track improvements within the competition lifts, considering the limited amount of exercise selections. When judging whether or not an athlete is improving, we want to keep the training data as "clean" as possible. If we were to throw too many variations into the mix, it would be challenging to interpret what would be helping or hindering progress. 

Another benefit of constantly keeping at least two competition-relevant movements in the mix is the amount of competition movement practice at competition-relevant intensity levels it provides the athlete. While submaximal work can benefit technical execution, the most meaningful technical execution improvements will be made when training is above 90%, which is the level of intensity experienced during competition. 

Conventional sports athletes can get away with using a wider variety of variations. However, like strength athletes, we want to avoid using so many variations that tracking progress and knowing what is and isn't working becomes difficult. Increased exercise variations can be helpful to limit accumulated fatigue caused by max effort training when working with conventional sports athletes, using limited ROM variations such as rack pulls, Anderson squats, or pin presses. 

Limited range of motion exercises are a great way to expose a conventional sports athlete to higher levels of training intensity while training at joint angles that are more relevant to their sport. Ultimately, max effort variations should be selected to fit the athlete and the sport they are preparing for, leading to improved absolute strength and athletic performance. 

Myth 3: Do or Die

The final max effort myth we will discuss is the misconception that max effort training is do or die, pushing to the breaking point every max effort training day. If you have followed Westside Barbell for a while, you have likely heard stories of gym members pushing things to the breaking point to find out who has what it takes and who doesn't. While this certainly has happened in the gym, this is not something that is recommended for anyone to try. 

I have been a part of quite a few of these challenges, and it almost always causes someone to experience a minor injury and everyone to accumulate more fatigue than necessary. By Friday, we are all trying to just get through dynamic effort lower because we decided to kick our asses on Monday or Wednesday. Nothing aggravated Lou more than when his lifters would do things like this, because he understood the price that can be paid when approaching max effort training recklessly. 

Something he said to me that has always stuck with me is what does the years he and the guys who have trained at the gym matter if our dumb asses won't learn from it and listen. Did Lou want us to push ourselves to achieve more? Yes. Did Lou want us to crash out during max effort training? Absolutely not. Any time this occurred, we would be under Lou's microscope for the rest of the week as he waited for us to burn out due to the accrued max effort fatigue. 

Once he knew you were feeling the effects of the mistakes made during max effort work, he would be sure to remind you that you're a dumb ass and to learn to train smarter. The goal for max effort is to lift the heaviest weight you can manage that day with acceptable technique. We do not want to risk missing a lift or pushing ourselves so far that our technique breaks down and increases the risk of injury. 

If a Westsider can't get away with pushing the limits during max effort training, it is doubtful the average athlete can. Be smart and keep your max effort training reasonable and under control. We want to be aggressive, not stupid and reckless. 

Be Smart

The maximal effort method provides an athlete with a multitude of benefits that will help improve sports performance. However, the effectiveness of this training method relies on the coach or athlete's ability to integrate it smartly into a training plan. By avoiding the myths discussed above, training outcomes will be improved, and athletes will benefit significantly. 

As mentioned earlier, absolute strength improvements help break the glass ceilings that limit the improvement of other special strengths. When athletes get stronger, their capacity to become faster and more explosive improves. Additionally, athletes become tougher, as training at high intensities helps to enhance durability and resilience. 

A complete athlete is built when the max, dynamic, and repeated effort methods are correctly programmed and executed. Athletes using the Conjugate Method properly will be bigger, stronger, and faster than athletes using lesser strength training methods. If you want your athletes' sports performance to improve, be smart; choose the Conjugate Method


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

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


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.