When training for athletic performance, it should go without saying that the topic of discussion is not how to achieve the most “desirable” physique. Unfortunately, many people have begun to equate a 6-pack with athleticism; needless to say, this is a display of utter ignorance. Not to say that being athletic and having a 6-pack isn’t achievable; rather my point is to make it abundantly clear that training for performance and training for aesthetics are two entirely different goals.
OK enough banter, already! In this article I want to discuss the Maximal Effort Method and the role it plays in an athlete’s training regimen.
The Maximal Effort Method is defined as: Lifting a maximal load against maximal resistance.
Simply put, the Maximal Effort Method is designed for increasing maximal (absolute) strength. But if we’re talking about athletic performance, why is maximal strength of any importance? Wouldn’t time be better spent on the development of speed, power, agility, coordination, strength-endurance, and the many other qualities required of a superior athlete?
While the development of each individual athletic quality is important, the fact of the matter is that maximal strength is the foundation of all other strength gains. In other words, an athlete with an exceptional level of maximal strength will be faster, quicker, and more explosive than his/her weaker counterpart. Doesn’t sound too bad, now does it?
To illustrate my point, the following is an example of how maximal strength carry’s over to all strength components:
The squat is a popular exercise which, when used correctly, can be a great tool within an athlete’s training regimen. Let’s say we have two athletes, Athlete A and Athlete B, and they decide to see who can squat 2x their body weight for the most repetitions, a common test of strength-endurance. Both athletes weighing in at 200lbs, the only differences are:
- Athlete A generally trains with sub-maximal weights and uses repetitions in the 6-10 range. His 1 repetition maximum (1RM) is 450lbs
- Athlete B generally trains with maximal weights and uses repetitions in the 1-3 range. His 1 repetition maximum (1RM) is 600lbs
Seeing as Athlete A has conditioned himself for optimal strength-endurance while Athlete B rarely performs anything above 3 repetitions, Athlete A should be the clear winner. However, if we take a closer look at the percentages of weight being used relative to the individuals 1RM, the advantage Athlete A holds over Athlete B seems to disappear…here is why:
Since both athletes weigh 200lbs, each will need to squat 400lbs for as many repetitions as possible. Now remember, Athlete A has a 1RM of 450lbs and Athlete B has a 1RM of 600lbs. Even though the load on the bars is equal, the intensity of the lift is completely different for each athlete. Below I briefly outline the percentages of each athlete’s 1 repetition maximum of which they will be squatting:
- Athlete A: 400lbs/450lbs = 0.88% 1RM
- Athlete B: 400lbs/600lbs = 0.66% 1RM
This means that while athlete B is only squatting 67% of his 1RM, Athlete A will be squatting 89% 1RM…that’s a massive difference!!! Anyone who has used percentage based training for some period of time is well aware that training with weights of 70% 1RM is a warm-up weight compared to weights nearing the 90% 1RM range.
That being the case, despite the fact that Athlete B rarely trains with higher repetitions, his high level of maximal strength will have a significant carryover to all other strength gains, allowing him to display a superior level of strength-endurance and out-squat Athlete A any day of the week. Which of these athletes do you think would make the football team: The 600lb squatter or the 450lb squatter? Exactly.
Maximal strength is the foundation for all other strength qualities. Louie Simmons once asked me, “How tall is a Pyramid?” I wasn’t really sure what he meant, but before I could respond he answered the question for me: “A pyramid is only as tall as its base.” This was Louie’s way of explaining to me why the development of maximal strength is crucially important for athletic performance. Absolute strength is the base of the pyramid: an increase in absolute strength will yield an increase in explosive power, rate of force development, speed, strength-endurance…the list goes on and on. In fact, “analysis of Hill’s equation shows that speed of movement is dependent on absolute muscular strength: v = Ft/m” (Simmons, 2006). As an athlete, maximal strength is your base and an increase in maximal strength will lead to improvements in all other aspects of sport performance.
As Zatsiorsky states in The Science and Practice of Strength Training, “The method of maximal effort is considered superior for improving both intramuscular and intermuscular coordination; the muscles and CNS adapt only to the load placed on them. This method should be used to bring forth the greatest strength increments…the maximal number of motor units is activated with optimal discharge frequency and the biomechanical parameters of movement and intermuscular coordination are similar to the analogous values in a main sport exercise. A trainee then learns to enhance and memorize these changes in motor coordination.” The benefits of Maximal Effort training are simply too great to be ignored. Incorporating The Maximal Effort Method into an athlete’s training regimen will yield astounding improvements in all aspects of the athletes’ physical preparation.
It is worth noting, however, that depending on the individual and their sport, only a certain level of maximal strength is necessary for optimal performance. In fact, at some point the time spent on the development of maximal strength may be detrimental and would be better off spent developing speed, coordination, skill work, film review, etc. However, most people never reach such an elite status warranting the neglect of maximal effort training. I can say with utmost certainty that for the large majority of athletes be it a sprinter, football player, hockey player, baseball player, thrower, etc… incorporating The Maximal Effort Method into their training will lead to a dramatic improvement in athletic performance.
Lastly I want to bring up an argument which is commonly used as an excuse not to use The Maximal Effort Method. Many coaches believe that handling maximal weights is extraordinarily dangerous and the risks associated with it are not worth the benefits. To be honest, I’ve always been confused by this argument considering the two sports with, percentage wise, the least amount of injuries in practice and in competition is Powerlifting and Olympic Lifting. If these two sports involve lifting maximal loads year round yet have the least number of injuries compared to all other sports, why are so many coaches afraid to use this method? I honestly know football coaches who refuse to use The Maximal Effort Method because “it is too dangerous,” and meanwhile their players are getting injured every time they step on the field. Contrary to popular belief, nothing poses more of a threat to an athlete than the sport itself.
While training with maximal loads is obviously dangerous, it is far less dangerous than the actual sport in which an athlete competes. Additionally, the benefits gained from using The Maximal Effort Method in an intelligent and safe manner are so encompassing that neglecting to incorporate it will keep you from realizing your true genetic potential. If you’re willing to risk your athletes health in practice or in competition, there is no excuse not to use the Maximal Effort Method in training…unless of course you don’t want to improve :/
Incorporating The Maximal Effort Method
How do you incorporate the Maximal Effort Method into your training routine?
As the definition says, The Maximal Effort Method is lifting a maximal load against maximal resistance. Needless to say, this method of training is extremely taxing on the Central Nervous System (CNS) and must be utilized with caution. That being said, during the off-season athletes can be lifting maximal weights 1-2 times/week with optimal recovery time between sessions (about 72 hours).
The safest and most efficient way to incorporate The Maximal Effort Method is to perform it using exercises which allow for the most carryover to your specific sport. Generally speaking, movements and similar variations of the Squat, Deadlift, Clean, Bench Press, and Overhead Press are some of the best options to choose from. Each of these movements recruits an enormous amount of muscle throughout the entire body and, performed correctly, have an incredible carryover to athletic performance. Choosing one day for lower body movements and one day for upper body movements each week and working up to a 1-3RM in any variation of these movements on a consistent basis will yield outstanding improvements in maximal strength and show significant carryover to sport performance.
It’s important to note that the body is extremely good at adapting to any stimulus placed upon it. Therefore it would be wise to consistently train different variations of the above stated movements when using The Maximal Effort Method. Any slight variation will suffice, but continuously varying the movements will allow for constant progress to be made without having to worry about adaptation or a detraining effect. The topic of variety alone could fill an entire library and I plan to write a separate article on it at some point.
Despite its benefits, Maximal Effort Training should not be used during in-season training sessions. There are numerous reasons for this, but most importantly, the effort an athlete displays during competition is maximal effort and therefore training with maximal loads may lead to a detraining effect. For this reason, in-season training should mainly be comprised of work targeting general physical preparedness (GPP), special physical preparedness (SPP), recovery, and film review. The focus of an athlete’s training routine in-season should be to maintain strength and perform optimally, while the off-season should be focused on gaining maximal strength and improving overall sport performance.
If The Maximal Effort Method is used correctly, allowing for adequate recovery time between sessions and executed with proper technique, the benefits are astronomical. Remember, “The method of maximal effort is considered superior for improving both intramuscular and intermuscular coordination;” incorporate training with maximal weight into your regimen and you will become faster, stronger, quicker, and more explosive than you ever could have imagined. Simply put… you will leave your opponents in the dust.