Maximal Effort Training—Once More, with Feeling!

If you want to get stronger and faster you might want to fit maximal effort (ME) style training into your strength building program.  This is when you try to regularly increase the maximum amount of weight you can do for one repetition in lifts such as the Deadlift, the Squat and the Bench press.  If you have never done ME training before, it would be best that you work on getting real strong with conventional weight training and/or high intensity training (H.I.T.).  ME training makes great demands on your muscular and nervous system.  The main power lifts put an extreme stress on your body so you have to be well conditioned and somewhat familiar with basic knowledge of the lifts, concepts such as the differences between an advanced lifters and beginners, using equipment such as chains and bands and of course the proper way to attempt maximal lifts.

The Basic Lifts Used in Maximal Effort Training

The bench press has you lying supine on a flat bench.  If you think you are using only the deltoids, pectorals and triceps, you would be wrong.  If done correctly, this is a full body exercise in which your whole body is coiled up in dynamic tension with legs hooked back, balls of your feet under you and your back is arched.  Ask a veteran lifter to show you.  The deadlift and back squat use similar muscles but the main difference is that with the squat, the barbell rests on the back of your shoulders whereas with deadlifts, you pull from the floor.  A few of the best max effort exercises for developing a strong squat and deadlift are Deadlifts themselves, Low Box Squats, and Good Mornings.

The Difference between an Advanced Lifter and a Beginner

Advanced lifter has a nervous system that has mastered the basic movements whereas the nervous system of the novice has no such learned motor skills.  The advanced strength athlete has trained his motor units to recruit faster twitch muscle fibers than the weaker, beginning lifter.  As for recovery after a heavy workout, you would think that the advanced man would recover faster than the beginner but this is not so:  The novice lifter uses about 55% of muscle whereas the more advanced lifter can use up to 85%.  Because the advanced lifter uses more fast twitch muscle fibers, he places a greater demand on his central nervous system.

Another critical point of difference between advanced and novice is the stress adaptation factor.  The advanced lifter’s body has learned to handle more stress.  You would be wrong if, when seeing an elite lifter perform a 700 lbs. deadlift, you assume that after years of training, 700 lbs. feels the same to him now as when he started lifting years earlier with 300 lbs.  No, seven hundred pounds actually feels like seven hundred pounds!  His body feels the extra (insane) stress of 400 more pounds—it’s just that his body has been conditioned to handle it.

Using Chains and Bands

Chains are many times used in maximal effort training.  Sometimes, to train in the deadlift, a bar is loaded with weight and suspended in a power rack below chest level.  The lifter gets under the bar with it at the back of his shoulders and hoists it up with a movement called a “good morning.”  The reason why the good morning is done this way (instead of taking the bar off the top of the rack like a squat) is to replicate the same movement using the same muscle systems as the deadlift.  Another way chains are used in maximal training is to attach long lengths of heavy chains so that they hang down on both sides of a bar when doing either squats or benches.  The chains on each side are bunched together on their own in such a way that the bulk of the chain weight is on the floor at the bottom of the lift but is off the floor at the top of the lift.  The effect is to help in the lockout because the bar weight will be less at the bottom than at the top.  Sometimes, instead of using chains, the bar is suspended from the top of a power rack with strong elastic bands on each side.  This achieves the same result as the hanging chains:  the bar is lighter at the bottom of a lift than at the top.

Strongman Training

Strongman training is very much similar to maximal training in powerlifting.  Strongman lifts require the strength athlete to lift all sorts of things such as stones or logs overhead so Strongman contenders train in the squat, deadlift and overhead (not bench) press.  Another difference is that Strongman training emphasizes training more in lifts pulling from the floor such as variations of deadlifts than squatting.

Doing a Maximal Lift

There is obviously less safety in lifting maximal loads which start at around 90% of your one rep maximum.  The possibility of injury is a risk one takes in ME style training.

“No guts, no glory,” as they say.

To perform a maximal lift of one rep max an minimize the possibility of injury, you should warm up properly.  Start with a lighter weight and do some reps.  Rest a few minutes and add some weight.  The weight to be added depends on if it is an upper body lift or a lower body lift:  For an upper body lift add 10 to 20 pounds; for a lower body lift add 20 to 40 pounds.   This process of should not be repeated more than three or four times before you are “there” at or around your one rep maximum.  You should be able to perform between only 1 and 3 repetitions.  It is okay to do rest-paused singles but if one repetition is too easy then you need to add some more weight to the bar.  If performing even one rep is difficult or impossible, then you need to drop some weight.


Because of the nature of lifting heavy, there will be more of a neurological improvement of strength than of muscle size so don’t expect to get huge with this type of training.  Also,  the same maximal lifts can’t be done all the time because they wear out your central nervous system.  Different lifts have to be substituted now and then:  Maximum Close grip bench, incline and decline bench and floor press for the max bench, Max Good Mornings and different heights of max box squats for the max squat—that sort of thing.

There is a type of training called dynamic or speed training which works in conjunction with maximal training but first you should work on those ME lifts and prepare your body by getting into hard shape doing a lot of conventional weight training.  And then go to it and give maximal effort training a try!

For a more in-depth study of this topic you may be interested in The Westside eBook of Methods. The Westside Barbell group has gone to a lot of effort to jam pack a whole lot of info about strength training and powerlifting into this one book. If you’ve heard or read about Westside’s methods, you’ll be getting most of them in one place with this eBook.

Westside Book Of Methods

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