The Theory of Developing Maximal Strength
What is Maximal Strength?
The maximal strength of a muscle or a group of muscles in a given movement equals the highest external resistance an athlete can overcome or hold with full voluntary mobilization of his or her neuromuscular system according to Platonov (1997) and Tidow (1990). This definition also is found in Science of Sports Training by Thomas Kurz (2016).
There are four methods to test maximal strength: eccentric, concentric, isometric and electro stimulation. When testing your maximal strength, it is described as the Maximal Effort Method, which is the most effective method for increasing both intramuscular and inter muscular coordination.
The M-E Method is also recommended when you are attempting to become as strong as possible. This means lifting a one rep max (1RM).
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There are four methods to test maximal strength: eccentric, concentric, isometric and electro stimulation. When testing your maximal strength, it is described as the Maximal Effort Method, which is the most effective method for increasing both intramuscular and inter muscular coordination. The M-E Method is also recommended when you are attempting to become as strong as possible. This means lifting a one rep max (1RM).
Doing two or three reps builds strength endurance or submaximal resistance. Siff and Verkhoshansky (1999) and Zatsiorsky (1995) in their respective studies said doing four to seven reps builds heavy resistance; moderately heavy permits eight to 12 reps; moderate resistance permits 13 to 18 reps; light resistance allows 19 to 25 reps, and very light permits more than 25 reps.
As you become stronger, explosive strength that is displayed in fast velocity and speed strength in intermediate velocity will be improved when combined with the Dynamic Method—training 72 hours later for both upper and lower body exercises.
Many coaches are fearful of M-E training. If you are familiar with the actions of the Golgi tendon receptors, then you will know that they are very sensitive to the forces developed in the muscle. If the tension in the muscle rises too fast, the Golgi tendon reflex evokes the inhibition of muscle action. This simply means a body will stop producing higher muscular forces to protect itself. The same type of protective action does not happen during football when two athletes are tackling one another. This means M-E Method is far safer than contact football. Most injuries happen when the muscles around the joint are not strong due to insufficient weight training.
How to Use the M-E Method
If you are not sure of yourself to practice M-E training with both eccentric and concentric actions combined or singular, simply use isometric training. Isometric training can be employed by pulling, pressing or squatting against a bar loaded to a weight the athlete cannot overcome and exert force from 80 percent to maximal for two to four seconds for a few sets at three or four positions. The maximal strength gain is the position where the force is exerted, but it can radiate up and down 15 degrees as well.
Isometrics are broken into two types: concentric ad eccentric actions. A concentric isometric action happens when you push or pull on an immovable object. To perform an eccentric isometric action, the athlete must hold a heavy weight in a fixed position.
Other M-E Methods:
In studies by the Russians using electro stimulation to a given muscle or muscle group, they found it can deliver effective training stimulus due to the fact that the electro stimulation can produce a stronger contraction than the athlete can produce on his or her own. This is sometimes referred to as Russian Stim. This method of strength training has been implemented in many sports including weight lifting, track and field, boxing and even rowing.
The effects of electro stimulation depend on the types and frequency of use as well as the type of muscle fibers—fast or slow—you are imposing on. Westside has used electro stimulation since the 1990s. Westside used the same method that Dr. Siff used on the Belgian SHW weight lifter Surge Reding. After weight training, he used 0.5 to two seconds with very high-intensity contractions with 10- to 15-second rest intervals. This was done for five minutes for each muscle group. More on this subject can be found in Supertraining (2009).
M-E Method with Resistance
There have been several studies done while lowering or eccentric over loading. It is done by lowering a barbell with from 10 percent to 60 percent more weight than the lifter can overcome concentrically in a slow as possible motion to build eccentric strength. Westside has never seen a study that contributed to concentric strength by doing maximal eccentric loading.
In the real world, eccentrics does two things: 1) It makes the athlete sore as eccentrics tear down muscle fiber, and 2) Body builders will lower their weight slowly as it increases muscle size.
(Special note: Westside has made superior strength gains by implementing over speed eccentrics by attaching strong rubber bands over the bar.)
M-E Concentric Method
The deadlift can be an M-E with maximal loads due to lifting the barbell off the floor first.
Special Concentric Methods
From a low position squat, press or pull from a power rack off pins. Goodmorning, squat or press-off suspended chains at several heights. Lifting weights from the bottom without an eccentric phase eliminates reversible muscle action. Three out of the five classical lifts start concentrically—clean, snatch, and deadlift—while the squat and bench press start with an eccentric action.
M-E Method and Planning
Westside’s system calls for an M-E day for benching on Wednesday and squat and deadlift on Monday. Westside makes new records more than 90 percent of the time for the entire workout. At each workout a different M-E lift is switched each week. The reason for this is that if you lift at 90 percent of a 1RM for a three-week wave, you would have diminishing returns. This is proven by science. It’s called the Law of Accommodation.
Pick a series of M-E lifts and switch each Wednesday. According to the force velocity curve, strength is measured in the time it takes to complete the lift, not in the amount of weight or the resistance on the bar. For an M-E system, Westside recommends that you drastically change the amount of weight on the M-E barbell exercise.
Here are two examples for the squat or deadlift: 1) One week you should squat off a very low bar, close stance with no gear or belt. The author made a 535 and a 555 on a low box (12-inch) with a modified safety squat bar for two all-time records. At the meet it allowed a 900-pound and a 920-pound squat, the second best on the Top 10 list. 2) By pulling a box deadlift of 570-pounds with a five chambered bar that has the bar four inches below floor level the author pulled 716 at 220-pounds eight months after breaking his L-5 vertebrate.
How is this possible you might ask? Both the low-box squat and the four-inch deficit deadlift required a longer time period than the contest lifts, and because the extra range of motion is greater than the contest lifts, motion velocity decreases due to the fact that the force-posture relationship is much more difficult because of the greater range of motion. For the competitive lifts, you have one all-time best. But if you only max out on the competitive lifts, you will find it impossible to break your record due to the Law of Accommodation. To solve the dilemma you must devise special exercises to solve the problem of accommodation. Westside has 26 men over 800 pounds and four 900-pound deadlifts, yet we do not do regular deadlifts, meaning deadlifts off the floor.
The contest lift is the ultimate test; the special exercises are the builders. Westside will use three positions in the power rack to work up to and break a new record. Westside also uses three different band tensions: mini, monster and light-band-quaded. Thee rates are 170, 250 and 350 at lock. This gives the lifter nine records to break. The deadlifts on the floor are always with accommodating resistance with tensions of 220 with minis and 280 with monsters. The plates sit on the floor, or on two-inch mats or four-inch mats. A second method is to stand on two-inch or four-inch mats using either or both sumo or conventional style for an all-time record. Other methods are ultra-wide sumo and ultra-wide sumo with straight legs and an arched back with a slow start.
For overloading the low back and to build technique, you should deadlift while sitting on a box with the starting angle at the same level of the hips you start the deadlift from. Westside breaks records on the special barbell exercise at over a 90 percent rate. All the pulls must take at least the same amount of time to complete as a contest lift. The top lift should be from about the seventh attempt. This would be optional according to Prilepin's data (1974).
The M-E squatting is also on Monday. But, remember, max out on only one barbell exercise. It can be a box squat with one of many specialty bars, 14-inch chamber, bow bar, safety squat bar, or front squat. Choose a different bar each week. Most bars will yield approximately the same weight. By using 80 pounds to 300 pounds of chain, work up to a new all-time record on a pre-determined height. For more eccentric over speed, use bands. Seventy to 700 pounds are used at Westside plus bar weight.
Here’s an example: AJ made a strength speed squat with 700 pounds of band tension plus 510 pounds of barbell weight. His record was 1,210 pounds at lockout off box. AJ also made 740-pound bar weight and 440-pound band tension, which equated to 1,180 pounds at top. At contest time AJ made a 1,205-pound meet squat. The special squat off a box took as long as or longer than the contest squat. This was much like the training experience the author had with the low-box squat to achieve his contest best by constantly rotating special exercises or combinations of resistance.
Westside suggests you choose a special exercise like the low box close stance with no gear where total weight is 555 pounds. Or you might try a rack pull on pins in the Westside Power where the record is 765 pounds. This is a large contrast—over 200 pounds—and switches from a special squat to a special deadlift. This is a very different exercise and completely vanquishes the possibility of accommodation.
Remember, strength is measured in velocity or the time it takes to complete the movement. This is very important as you must expect great force for at least the same time as it takes to make a contest lift.
After experimenting with several special exercises, simply eliminate the exercises that do not contribute to raising your contest lifts and rotate five or six special exercises each week while constantly breaking your all-time record on a weekly pace. This is how Westside breaks new records each and every week throughout the yearly plan, while others will maybe break a record or two close to their contest.
It is very important to make some changes with the exercises, range of motion, or change the band or chain resistance. Normally for each movement there are angular positions at which the maximal values of the Fmm can be reached. But by attaching chain and/or bands, this angular position can be altered to change the sticking points of the lift. You can do it by using bands, which will provide greater reversible muscular actions and provide a great concentric action to overcome a sticking point.
Remember, the heaviest weight that is lifted through a full range of joint motion cannot be greater than the strength at the weakest point. But adding more acceleration can break that so-called sticking point.
Think about this: Why can the athlete bench 300 to 400 pounds, but cannot complete the lift with 425 pounds? The barbell moved too slowly to make it past the mini-max or sticking point. By attaching a large number of bands it will also build a very strong start. The Central Nervous System (CNS) will comprehend the need to exert more force on the bar to complete the lockout as it recognizes the entire load comprising of barbell weight and accommodating resistance is much heavier at lockout.
To summarize, max out on special exercises that are more difficult than the classical lifts. If you miss a classical lift in training it can be very damaging to the athlete psychologically. But if you fail to complete a special barbell exercises, it is just a lift.
To finalize, the M-E workout must be 72 hours from the high barbell volume Dynamic workout. The barbell exercise should be rotated each week. After experimenting for six to eight months you will find the mostly less than 10 special barbell exercises that work best for you. Eighty percent of the total volume should be made up of small special exercise.
The List of Exercises
Box squats Add bands
Rack pulls Add chains
Box pulls Change stance
Goodmornings Change bar
Isometrics Concentric max
Bench Press Exercises
Pin Presses Standing press
Board Press Concentric max
Floor Press Bands
There are countless combinations to choose from. Remember, do the ones that work, not just the ones you like.
If someone asks where your sticking point is in the bench, squat or deadlift, everyone has an answer. But sticking points should change from time to time by correcting or changing your mini max. A mini max occurs where external resistance is maximal at the point where muscular strength is minimal.
This can be altered by accommodation and limiting the time the barbell is at the mini max. This is why lighter weight is not affected at mini max due to greater bar velocity.
Kurtz, Thomas, Science of Sports Training, 2001
Siff, Dr. Mel, Supertraining, 2003
Simmons, Louie, Special Strength Development for All Sports, 2015
Zatsiorsky, V. M., Science and Practice of Strength Training, 2006
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Louie Simmons is a world renowned Strength/Special Strengths coach and the founder of Westside Barbell.
(Photo credit @kaylatrainsandshoots)