Methods Of Strength Training – Max Effort Method

Three things before I dive into this post:

  1. I am breaking the “Methods of Strength Training” posts into 3 content rich posts. I think that will be easier for everyone to read since they will be packed.
  2. Don’t forget to get on the newsletter in the sidebar or here. Huge bonus coming out soon (webdesigners working on it right now). I want to include everyone but I can’t if you don’t get on board!
  3. DOMINATE 2010


Strength Training Methods

It is helpful to trainers and trainees if strength training is classified according to methods of attaining maximal muscular tension (ref 1). There are three primary ways to achieve muscular tension:

1. Lifting a Maximal Load – Max effort method (this post)

2. Lifting a Non Maximal Load Until Failure – Repetition Effort

3. Lifting A Non Maximal Load at The Fastest Speed Popular – Dynamic Effort

Keep in mind this is a discussion of “Strength Training Methods.”  You can certainly lift submaximal weights for warm up or recovery, but we aren’t going to classify those as strength training.  Also the submax effort method is a supplement to the primary categories above.

Max Effort Method

The central nervous system (CNS) adapts to the load placed on it.  Max Effort method uses heavy loads to yield the largest adaptations in strength.

To perform the max effort method progress to heavy weights for 1 to 3 repititions per set.

The heavy load (near max weight) recruits the most motor units. The lifter will learn to fire these motor units in a more efficient and improve motor coordination (your body’s “wiring” for using muscle).

During max effort we are primarily training muscles rather than movement. I will clarify. The purpose of an agility ladder is training a movement. Heavy squat is for training muscles.

If you want to review what is a strength exercise and which lifts are sport specific refer to Functional Training Part I and Continuum Of Exercise Selection

Limitations of Max Effort

Despite what I’ve seen on some funny YouTube videos – heavy squats won’t cure cancer, poverty, or anything else like this.

Also, more seriously, the max effort method is not for beginners.  Instead, they should start with General Physical Preparedness. (<== explained here).

Beginners will not have the technique, required muscle strength, or the muscle coordination to perform the lifts.  The side effect of using the max effort method too early will be a high risk of injury.

So, for all the young lifters here, make sure you complete your GPP and basic training BEFORE you even attempt max effort lifts.  Not only is there a high risk of injury, but you will not see the gains since the lifts will not be performed efficiently.

I see people looking for “beginners weight training programs” all the time in forums, and other new people recommending heavy deadlifts and so forth.  Dangerous and inefficient…but I digress.

For more advanced lifters, the Max Effort method is very fatiguing both mentally and physically which may lead to burn out.  This is common when Max Effort is used too much (daily).

This also depends on which Max Effort lifts are used – a power clean or snatch is more fatiguing than the bench press.  Take this into account when creating your program.

Sample Max Effort Workout

Try this workout on for size your next lower body day!  The primary lift represents the max effort movement, while the rest is repetition and GPP.

1.  Deep Squat 4 x 3, 2 x 2
2. Romanian Deadlifts 4 x 6
3. Split Squat to RDL 3 x 12 (Video)
4. Core Bridge Series (30 sec middle, 30 left, 30 right x 3 sets w/ no rest)

Only 3 leg exercises?  Yes, Max effort workouts are especially taxing during the primary lift.  Notice that is 6 sets so do not just look at the number of lifts, but at the volume of sets and reps.

Try that one out next workout and post up how it went!


I find Max Effort essential for strength development in both athletes and for real world strength development.  This method must be used properly to see continuous results as fatigue or form issues could become limiting factors.


Before I sign off I wanted to share some feedback on Bull Strength that I received way back in Sept from Jerry C. and I haven’t posted it.  This program will set up your entire program, including Max Effort into a PROVEN WORKOUT!

“I am a Chief Warrant Officer in the MS Army National Guard. One of my NCO’s and I stumbled across Bull Strengthon the internet. We LOVE your book and program. The exercises are Damn Amazing!!!!!”

Thanks Jerry, I’m always humbled to receive feedback on how many people love this program.


Max effort success often does with mind set and concentration.  You have to get UP to lift big weights!

What’s Your Favorite Max Effort Lift?

==>Post them up in the comments!!!<===

J. Hashey, CSCS

PS.  If you liked this post please share it with your friends!  Also, when you see people asking about Max effort send them over!

Double PS.  Bull Strength.


  1. Zatisiorsky, V. and Kraemer, W. Science and Practice of Strength Training. 2nd Edition. Human Kinetics 2006.

Synergy Facebook Comments


  • My favorite max effort comes and goes in cycles.

    In college it was the hang clean…sometimes…when I was in the right frame of mind.

    A few months back it was the deadlift, and now it is the squat.

    Dont get me wrong, we do a lot more than that, but those are the lifts I have a little “extra” mentally for.


  • gene pires

    Reply Reply January 3, 2010

    Trap bar dealift is my fave for max effort. Something about being trapped between big plates and trying to get it all off the ground is so satisfying. Just once a month to see how I am going though. I have tweeked joints on max efforts.

  • Gene, yes max effort seems to be the most injury prone even if done correctly.

    I went through a trap bar dl phase a few years back, you are right, you are stuck in there until you get it up!


  • Brian

    Reply Reply January 3, 2010

    Gotta go with the deadlift. It’s hands-down the best max effort movement for any impromptu ‘who’s the strongest’ throwdown! You can argue squat depth, bench press T&G or butt down, but deadlift is the most honest lift on the platform or for said unplanned show of dominance in the local gym, as mentioned earlier :). Stand it up or die!

  • Brian

    Reply Reply January 3, 2010


    For someone training purely with the goal of improving strength, what are thoughts on the frequency of performing at 1-3RM intensity for each of the big 3 lifts (1x/wk, every 10 days, 1x/month)? I know it varies with recovery, training age and level, individual factors, etc.. Just looking for your personal thoughts on the subject.

  • Nic

    Reply Reply January 3, 2010

    Dead lifts or overhead press are my favorites.

  • Hahah Brian great point about a who’s the strongest throw downs! We’ve certainly had our fair share.

  • Nic – interesting about OH Ive just started to go a little heavier with those and Im liking it so far.

  • Brian – great question and like you mentioned there are a ton of factors that would effect this answer other than just lifting 1-3RM or not.

    But of course Ill answer! I have seen people have success with cycling 1, 2, 3, rep weeks. As in one week they will do the big three up to a 1 rm, then in 1-2 weeks switch to a 2, then a then 3 and cycle like that.

    However that usually refers to someone who competes in weight lifting – power lifting or oly lifting (obviously oly lifting wouldn’t be bench squat dl, but their lifts).

    So for strength its possible and effective if there is deloading, cycling, and sufficient active recovery in place.

    What’s your thoughts?


  • yogi

    Reply Reply January 3, 2010

    So no one is going to pick the benchpress which is my favorite max effort excercise done with bands
    Which squats,Deadlifts and Benchpress are the only excercises i max out on these days with bands or chains about once a month the rest of my workouts never go below 5reps

  • I like benching with chains Yogi. That clink, clink, clink is an awesome noise when lifting is great! Although I like that with every lift.


  • Brian

    Reply Reply January 3, 2010

    Interesting, thx Joe. Regarding the 1-3RM work, my thoughts are that you should max at every opportunity where your are recovered both physically and CNS-wise. That said, I’m guessing for most people, this doesn’t fit nicely into 7 day blocks. It takes some extra planning, but seems more true to the fact that recovery will vary between movements. Doing some experimentation, I find 90+% 1RM DL’s need about 10 days apart, squats can be done once a week and bench started moving up again with heavy sessions 2x/week. Just some outside the 7-day box thinking.

  • Brian, good thinking about moving outside the confines of “7 days.” It will be slightly different for everyone but it does make sense that squat and DL are more taxing (more muscles involved) than bench.


  • Keith Fine

    Reply Reply January 3, 2010

    Depending on my mood or energy levels DL or Cleans.

  • JR

    Reply Reply January 3, 2010

    deads, squats, pull ups…

  • Nicodojo

    Reply Reply January 5, 2010

    I love suspended band bench press for ME. Allows you to lift crazy weights.;-)

  • April

    Reply Reply January 5, 2010

    It doesn’t matter which lift, a new PR is my favorite thing.

    Joe is right about needing the rest if you do Max effort. Mixing max effort lifting with lots of sports practice can fry you – so be careful.

    • April – thanks for the response and you are right on about new PR being the best thing! Awesome.


  • Jamie Sulc

    Reply Reply October 4, 2010

    I love max effort days. Deads are my favorite by far! There’s just something about ripping the heavy stuff off the floor that gets me fired up like none of the other lifts.

  • rudy

    Reply Reply May 1, 2012

    late to the party but here goes….dead – 500 bench- – 510 squat-500

  • Warren

    Reply Reply January 20, 2013

    weighted chin ups. I have done one rep at age 64 with 347.5 pounds (164.5 lb on chinning belt plus 183.0 lb body weight.)

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