Understanding Max Effort
The maximal effort method is a weight training method used to increase absolute strength. This is achieved by training at intensity levels above 90%, working up to a top set of 1-3 repetitions. Max effort training is used for main exercises such as the squat, bench, deadlift, snatch, and clean.
At Westside, we perform max-effort variations of the squat, good morning, deadlift, and bench press to increase absolute strength and improve intermuscular and intramuscular coordination. We dedicate two training days per week to max effort work, max effort upper and lower. To avoid accommodation, we perform a different max effort upper and lower exercise each week.
This is done with intent; we do not pick the exercises randomly. Typically, identified weaknesses or technical issues drive the decision-making when choosing the day's exercise. To increase our specialty exercise options, we regularly use specialty barbells to alter the training effect experienced by our athletes.
Why Max Effort?
We hold the use of max-effort training in such high regard because of its impact on all other aspects of strength and athleticism. To put it simply, by raising the level of absolute strength you possess, you increase your ability to display different forms of strength and your overall capacity for these strengths.
This means that you can run faster, jump higher, and be more resilient by becoming brutally strong. For instance, say you were to add 20lbs to the squat of an athlete who is new to weight training.
If you were to measure max vertical jump before max effort training, then measure max vertical after the athlete had added the 20lbs to the lift, you would see an improvement in max vertical without incorporating any plyometric-focused exercises.
Of course, if you couple the gains in absolute strength with dynamic effort training and plyometric work, you could expect even more significant gains in max vertical jump ability.
To sum it up, we use max effort training to increase an athlete's absolute strength and raise their ability and capacity to display and develop other forms of strength and athleticism.
Preparedness Improves Performance
The maximal effort method is a commonly misunderstood and wrongly judged training method. Many believe that the idea of training powerlifters, let alone athletes, at 90%+ regularly can only result in disaster.
This argument is often made by the same individuals who get injured personally or injure one of their athletes when performing a lift above 90%. You may be saying, "well, that proves their assumption about max effort training correct, " but you would be wrong in that conclusion.
The issue is one of preparedness. When max effort training is avoided, a lifter or athlete will ultimately be less prepared to train or compete in their sport.
In the sport of powerlifting, you will inevitably have to develop your absolute strength and durability under max effort weights to achieve success. As an athlete, your sport will require you to call upon your ability to exert max effort strength at some point. You will also benefit significantly from increases in other forms of strength and the durability gained from max effort barbell training.
Max Effort Mentality
When executing a max effort training day, it is vital to have the right mindset and strategy before you get going. With max effort training, perspective is critical because you run the risk of becoming physically and mentally fatigued without having your mental approach correct.
You want to avoid training with extra emotion or energy when executing a max effort training day. First, it makes you look foolish, yelling and acting like you're about to fight a barbell. Second, you will likely be unable to regularly emulate these emotional "highs," which can distort training feedback.
As far as strategy goes, you want to keep your decision-making logical and uncomplicated. Do you feel like crap today? Maybe alter the ROM of the chosen lift, or take a few extra warm-up sets. Feel like you have an easy PR today? Take a few less warm-up sets to conserve energy, and go for an all-time PR lift. Feel like if you go for one more set, you could get hurt? Shut it down and save it for next time.
You don't want to train in fear; you don't want to train recklessly; you want to be level-headed while having the will to push yourself to the next level. It's not rocket science. It is that simple.
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.