WSBB Blog: How to Program Max Effort Upper
No matter what sport you participate in, having a strong upper body is essential for overall sports performance and injury avoidance. To develop a strong upper body, athletes must train the bench press and the overhead press in specific volume and intensity ranges to improve their upper body's absolute strength. This is where max effort upper training comes into play when using the Conjugate Method.
Max effort upper is the training day where we focus solely on the muscle groups of the upper body, using a combination of adequately selected main exercises and accessory exercises to address weakness and hit new PR lifts. When programmed correctly, max-effort upper training days will lead to increases in upper body strength and size.
The Main Exercise
Max effort upper training days will include two types of presses: The bench press and the overhead press. These two presses are crucial in the proper development of upper body strength and muscle size. At Westside, we will perform a bench press variation three weeks out of the month, with the fourth week focusing on an overhead press variation.
This means that we will perform a bench press week one, a close grip bench press week two, an overhead press variation in week three, and a bench press variation in week four. Similar to max effort lower, we will use these basic exercises to create main exercise variations to address the weaknesses that we begin to find as we train max effort upper. These variations will include specialty bar rotations, along with the addition of accommodating resistance.
Also, similar to max effort lower, we do not want to create too many max effort upper exercise variations for our exercise selections. We recommend one or two variations of the bench press and one or two overhead press variations that focus on targeting identified weaknesses. This will allow you to have relevant data to compare to your past training to track progress accurately. Same as max effort lower, if you have too many exercise variations, you will lose the ability to compare progress accurately.
Choosing the correct accessory exercises is essential when developing upper body muscle size and strength. Based on the training feedback you receive from your main exercises, you will begin to select accessory exercises that specifically target the weaknesses you have identified. If your weakness is in the arms, you will start focusing on extra arm work. If your weakness is in your back, you will begin to focus on extra back work.
This does not mean that you abandon back training if your arms are weak or abandon arm training if your back is weak. This means that you will do extra work for the weak muscle group while maintaining your work for the other muscle groups. Failure to appropriately train strong muscle groups consistently will ultimately turn them into weak muscle groups, and you will waste time trading one weakness for another. Place extra focus on weak muscle groups, and constantly train and maintain your strong muscle groups.
Upper body GPP is a bit different from lower body GPP but just as simple. Instead of a sled, we will typically use bands to perform high rep sets of tricep extensions, bicep curls, or face pulls to increase upper bodywork capacity. Additionally, the increased amounts of blood flow provided by these exercises is a great way to finish your training day and flood the upper body muscle groups.
This is a basic overview to give you an idea of what an appropriately designed max effort upper training day should include. For more programming information visit the Westside Barbell blog, or visit the Conjugate Club to sign up for our monthly programming service.
Supertraining; by Dr. Mel Siff
Science and Practice of Strength Training; by Dr. Vladimir Zatsiorsky and Dr. William Kraemer
Westside Barbell Book of Methods; by Louie Simmons
Westside Barbell Bench Manual; by Louie Simmons