Max Effort For Athletes

22 Mar Max Effort For Athletes

Max Effort For Athletes



If you talk to me about training for more than five minutes you’ll find out pretty quick that I’m a big fan of the max effort method for lifters trying to get stronger. It’s no doubt one of the most effective ways for an intermediate and advanced lifter to increase maximal strength. If you’re not familiar with the ME (max effort) method, check out this article I wrote for T-Nation — Rotating Your Lifts For New Levels of Strength . Come back after you read that, I’m not done “talking” yet.

The other thing you may gather from talking training with me is that I don’t believe in applying entire lifting methodologies to athletes of different sports without serious thought. Let me explain.. I have a powerlifting background but the methods that I’ve learned and applied totraining say, a football player or a wrestler, are far from “powerlifting style.” In fact, I don’t take many athletes from many sports heavy at all in a training cycle until it is time to max.


That training methodology can be saved for another much more detailed post or article but I’d rather talk about how to properly apply something like the ME method today.  To say that every athlete needs to always do the ME method and that every coach applies the correct use of the ME method for team sport athletes, in my opinion, are false claims.

I have a few important guidelines that I use when I do think that it’s appropriate for athletes to use the ME method.


1.     Assign percentages to max effort days.

Many powerlifters will try to get a new PR on every max effort day possible. It’s a lower body ME (max effort) day and the lifter is going to do goodmornings. Well, he sure as hell better work up to a heavier single than last time, even if the last time he maxed on the lift was 1 year and 20 pounds heavier ago. Although not every powerlifter lifts like this, this is a prominent powerlifting mentality and it’s not a bad one to have.

The idea that team athletes need to keep pushing heavier singles until they fail on max effort day, however, is plain stupid.  Team athletes have a lot more competing demands than powerlifters (whose sport it is to lift heavy weights) and the CNS can only take so much stress and fatigue before it is unable to recover and becomes impaired.

The point of ME work is to get a bunch of quality attempts of a lift at 90% or more of a 1RM. Going for broke every time not only overworks the athlete but may also limit the amount of reps the athlete actually takes because he may take big jumps in his attempts and reach a max too soon. I like the idea of assigning sets and percentages of ME attempts instead.

Let’s say a hockey player is in the late pre-season and spending a lot of time on the ice practicing his sport. I’m not going to have him go up to 95-100% of a true 1RM in a workout when he needs his nervous system fresh for performing on the ice. Instead, if I used the ME method in his program, I would limit the amount of sets and have him do singles at just 90% of 1RM without letting him go any heavier. That way, you can get the benefits of the ME method without overtaxing the nervous system.


2.     Vary The Volume

Just as forgetting to monitor intensity (as expressed as a percent of 1RM) leads to the detriment of the athlete’s progress, neglecting to plan and vary the volume of ME work is a great way to overtrain the athlete. As already mentioned, max effort sets need to be limited and planned out ahead of time to compliment the competing demands of the athlete.

In the offseason, a very simple wave loading protocol can be used for an athlete where the number of singles performed are increased, decreased, and then repeated at a higher intensity (percent of 1RM).

So for example, an offseason plan for an upper body ME day may look like this:

Week 1: 4 sets of 1 @ 90% of 1RM

Week 2: 6 sets of 1 @ 90% of 1RM

Week 3: 8 sets of 1 @ 90% of 1RM

Week  4: (Deload) 3-4 sets of 1 @ 85-90% of 1RM

Week 5: 4 sets of 1@ 94% of 1RM

Week 6: 6 sets of 1 @ 94% of 1RM

Week 7: 8 sets of 1 @ 94% of 1RM

Week  8: (Deload)

You get the idea. The same pattern can be followed again increasing the intensity another 4% up to 98% until you reach week 12 at which point you can try to go for a true max in any given lift or repeat the cycle. This example is a very rough simplified way of doing this and should be understood as such.

Disclaimer aside, volume can also be manipulated with the reps performed in a given set. The max effort method includes doing 1-3 reps at 90% or more of 1RM. So, if you wanted, you could do something like this:

Week 1: 4 sets of 3 @ 90% of 1RM

Week 2: 4 sets of 2 @ 94% of 1RM

Week 3: 4 sets of 1 @ 98% of 1RM

Week 4: Deload 4 sets of 1@ 85-90%

Week 5: Max or start new cycle

The variation can be left up to your imagination but understand that it needs to be planned ahead and when volume of work goes up (through lifting or practice of sport) volume of ME work has to go down and as you increase the percent of 1RM you need to decrease the amount of sets and reps that are performed. Also understand that doing 2 reps at 94% or a 1RM is a higher relative intensity than 94%. I’ll get into relative intensity with much more detail in a future post or article but for now just understand that doing 2 reps at 94% means you’re body is actually lifting at a higher relative percentage of 1RM because you have to do it twice. So, you may want to bump your percentages down when doing sets of 2-3 reps.


3.     Rotate Your Lifts After Progress Halts

Advanced powerlifters figured out long ago that they need to rotate their ME lifts every week to keep increasing maximal strength. A lifter at this level of experience has already mastered the movement patterns of every lift they use and need a very focused and high level of stimuli to induce strength gains.

Team sports athletes are obviously less experienced because they are athletes, not lifters.  As a strength and conditioning coach, often times you pick a couple of primary lifts for a young athlete and make them do them week after week until they have developed a solid motor pattern. An athlete new to weightlifting can set PRs in any given lift every week simply because they are learning and improving the motor pattern. This is because they have no baseline for the given lifts and should not even be setting maxes until they have this baseline level of competency for the lifts.

After the athlete achieves this baseline, and a true or calculated 1RM can be tested he can use the ME method. It needs to be understood, though that he doesn’t need to rotate his lifts every week like the elite powerlifter. He can make progress using the same stimuli week after week up to a certain point because he’s still nowhere near as advanced.

Say you program a lower body ME day for Monday and a ME upper body on Thursday for a football player. You planned for him to do Zercher Squats on Monday and rack pause bench press on Thursday. The next week you have him do the same two lifts and he gets 10 pounds heavier on each lift or you increase the intensity and yet he tells you it feels lighter and moves the bar faster. Should you switch the lifts for week 3? Absolutely, not. He’s still getting something out of it so why change anything up? Instead, you should continue with the same lifts until he stops responding, then change it up.


4.     Remember Total Neurological Fatigue

I’ll keep this one short and simple. Even if your two max effort days have different emphasis (i.e. an upper body and lower body day) the combined work has a total detrimental effect on the nervous system if it is not planned out correctly.  Soo, if you are going really, really heavy on your lower body day don’t got as heavy on your upper body day. Plain and simple, right?

A little planning goes a long way.



Have a question or another way that you program max effort? Leave it in the comments.




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