Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Max Effort Method

Chris Marang, part of the coaching staff here at Hammerhead, continues his discussion of strength development in what some may see as unconventional.  But as Chris reminds us - the enemy of progress is having a routine.  His approach to Maximum Effort Training Days is a compelling read and will force you to think outside the box when training for strength.

Max Effort Method
Chris Marang

The max effort method is the fundamental method for developing absolute strength. It involves overcoming maximal resistance in lifting a max load. This method increases strength without significantly increasing muscular size. A big misconception in the strength world is that muscular mass is a direct correlation to muscular strength. This could not be further from the truth. Absolute strength is measured by the greatest force that can be produced during a maximal muscular contraction. The more your body becomes adjusted to lifting maximal weights the greater muscular contractile potential you will possess leading to larger lifts.
When implementing this method you need 72 hours rest between a maximal lift for adequate rest. Sure you could max out every day but that would get you nowhere. We are looking for quality not quantity. Let’s say you try to squat a max load every day and you can get 405. That’s a good lift but if you rested appropriately, along with applying some variance and science to your lifting, you could squat 455 possibly at that point in time. Rest is very important between your max effort days because this is a powerful and effective physiological irritant you are inflicting upon yourself.
Now that we have discussed the basics we are going to discuss how to structure these days. The posterior chain is the strongest part of the body so that is what we are focusing on primarily for these days. Rotating every three weeks between a squat max the first week, deadlift the second and a good morning max the third week is an excellent way of placing maximal loads on the posterior chain, working similar groups, but with a change each week promoting athletic growth. The following statements is where many of you will struggle applying. If I am trying to increase my back squat max the last thing I am going to do is max out my regular back squat because that lift is clearly stuck where it is at. If anything that lift will not move unless I change how I am testing it. Rather than doing a traditional back squat max this is how you should approach your maxes for that lift. I will list off several ways. Establish a one rep max, on a max effort day, with 100 pounds of band tension over the barbell, establish a one rep max to a 12” box (or just below parallel) with a wide stance, a one rep max with the barbell set on pins at a height right at your sticking point in the squat (eliminates all kinetic energy you have in the squat and requires raw strength to lift), a one rep max to a box with band tension, a one rep max with a 5 second pause at the bottom with no bounce allowed coming out of the pause, one rep max with an axle bar and so forth. Establishing all these different records for just that one squat will dramatically boost your traditional back squat. I personally change up how I max out weekly and make the lifts as difficult and strange as possible. Putting myself into incredibly challenging positions that I would never lift from makes it that much easier when I go back to lifting in my convention setup. We have to make exercises hard! If we constantly do something that is easy how will you ever be strong when the weights get hard?  You won’t be. Stepping outside of your comfort zone is the best thing you can do for yourself. Crossfitters are constantly improving on their Met-cons because they are constantly varied. They rarely do the same workout twice a year and you should approach your max effort days with that same mentality, constantly varied. The first time I went to Westside I did some of the most bizarre and brutality challenging maxes I had done to date. Here is a list of maxes I established while I was there:
-max front squat to a 14” box with a camber bar
-max straight leg sumo DL using hook grip
-max banded power clean
-max clean and press
-max clean and push jerk
-max banded snatch
-max clean using the lightening method(reverse bands)
-max front squat off of pins from sticking point
None of you will be establishing that many maxes in one week. I did all of these throughout the week because I had limited time to train at Westside during that time of the year and Louie needed to see where I was at. You will have one max effort day a week, possibly two. It is ok for many of you to do 2 possibly 3 maxes in a day because many of us do not lift that much respectively. If you can deadlift 800 pounds though then you probably won’t be wanting to do anything after you pull that kind of weight. You will be surprised by how quickly your lifts will begin to change. Three months ago my 5 rep max deadlift was 405. Just this past week I retested a 5 rep max deadlift. I pulled 395 for 5 reps with 140 pounds of band tension over the barbell. This was also the first time I had done a regular deadlift in 8 weeks. One of the athletes I coach has severe upper back weakness so that is my primary focus to strengthen that area. I put him into positions/lifts that stress that part of his body. I never have him do anything besides squat or deadlift maxes, and he hit a 25 pound PR on his one rep max split jerk this week. Case in point is that doing these maxes does not just improve the lifts you are working on, but instead all of your lifts. Push press is my absolute favorite exercise, but I rarely ever do them. I went a six week period without doing a single push press and just by implementing this max effort method my push press went from 205 to 245, and that is testing it by cleaning it off the ground. Like I stated earlier, make exercises hard! For pressing you should be applying the same thought pattern. The last press max I performed was as follows; 1 power snatch + 1 behind the neck snatch grip press + 1 front rack snatch grip press. Will I ever test my shoulder press from a snatch grip position? No.  But by doing that I know I am strengthening my weaknesses. Doing complexes involving the Olympic lifts is also a good idea to throw in on your max effort days. Shying away from the traditional Olympic lifts is something you should do regularly. I have done both a stiff leg snatch max and stiff leg clean and jerk max and both of my traditional setup clean and jerk plus snatch have increased. Doing the same thing over and over and over will get you little results! N.P. Laputin stressed to his world class Olympic weightlifters to implement stiff leg snatch and clean into their training. Even for his squat snatch lifters he would have them perform split snatches to change up the training stimulus and test the organism’s trainability. R.A. Roman regularly made his lifters do wide stance squatting and lunging because it placed greater demand on the squatting muscles along with changed the athlete’s traditional squat stance promoting absolute strength development. 
The enemy of progress is having a routine. Do not perform the same stances and lifts repeatedly. There is no right or wrong way to perform your max effort day, but every time you go into the gym - set a new record. This day will physically and emotionally prepare you to always set a record whenever you are testing a lift. You will no longer have the little voices in the back of your head whispering “I don’t know if I can do that” or “I can’t beat that record”. Rather you will be going into your training sessions with the mentality, “I am going to crush this lift” and you will. Perform your first two sets of warm-ups with sets of 3 repetitions, but after that switch to doing one repetition until you’ve established your record. Doing multiple reps all the way up until you are just about to hit your max is a waste of energy, but most importantly you are now working on strength endurance instead of absolute strength! Do not be afraid to make large jumps in weight either. Your body will learn more about its potential if you make larger jumps in weight up to submaximal loads. Once you have gotten close to your max then you may increase by small increments. There is a positive correlation between how quickly an athlete’s gets to working loads and the athlete’s maximal results. The quicker an athlete reaches submaximal/maximal weights, meaning reducing the number of warm-up sets, the greater results they produce. Attached will be a following max effort post with a sample list of lifts for you to establish. Stay strong and train smart.

See Chris' other posts on Strength Development here:

One of the strength training tools that we've designed with Chris is the Adjustable Tension Lifting Platform.  
This platform is lightweight, affordable, easy to install and will bring about dramatic strength gains.  Get it here.

Not only is the platform essential for adding accommodating resistance to lifts, the multiple band tensions that can be added will keep your max effort lifts constantly varied.  The enemy of progress is routine.  Changing your grip, stance, bar type, adding deficits and band tension are all acceptable methods to keeping your program varied.

Max Effort Sample List
Chris Marang
Below is a list of different max lifts for you to establish on your max effort day. These are not the only limits to what you can do on your maximal effort day however. Do overhead presses as well along with anything else, but the point I am trying to get across is that you need to constantly be changing up how you are maxing out. The more records you establish the more weaknesses you are killing. You cannot perform the same max over and over. Here is an example why not: let’s say you squat 500, but your knees cave in every single time you go near that number. It doesn’t matter that you can squat that much weight because you still have the same weakness you had when could only squat 200. Changing up your stance and style of lift will eliminate all weaknesses you have in your movement allowing you to reach your true potential. The enemy of progress is having a routine so mix it up and challenge yourself! Set a new record every time on max effort day, until you want to retest a preexisting lift, and you will be physically and emotionally ready to set a record anywhere and anytime.

Back squat, Front squat
*Without being as specific as I could have been with counting there is a minimum of 172 squat records here that you can establish, 86 each, that’s variety.
Wide stance
Wide stance or close stance for any of the following 
Regular bar
Axle bar
Axle bar with bands such as purple, reds, blues, greens
Axle bar to a box
Axle bar pause squat for a 2sec pause, 5sec or 10 sec
Purple band, red band, blue band, green band for regular barbell or any type of barbell
Squat to 10” box, 12”, 14”, 16”, 18”
Box squat with either purple, red, blue, green, or a combination
Squat with 50# of chain, 80#, 100#, 120#, 150#, 200#
Box squat with any type of weight in chains
Reverse band squat with any type of band
Pause squats
Negatives with a pause
Camber bar 
Squat from pins at various heights such as bottomed out, sticking point, half squats
Overhead Squat
Regular bar
Axle bar
Box squat to various heights
Box squat with any type of weight in chains
Pause squats
Negatives with a pause
*There is a minimum of 60 deadlift records here to be established.
Convential with axle bar
Sumo stance
Sumo stance with axle bar
Straight leg sumo
Clean grip
Snatch grip
Mixed grip
Straight leg convential, straight leg sumo
Straight leg deficit for clean grip or snatch grip
Straight leg from floor for clean grip or snatch grip
Pulls off of blocks such as 2”, 3”, 4”, 6”, 8”
Pulls off blocks with axle bar
Pulls off blocks with straight leg setup
Purple bands, red bands, blue bands, green bands
Pulls off of blocks with any type of band
Doubled up purple or red bands
Lightening method/reverse band with any type of band in any stance
Use chain weights such as 50#, 100#, 150#, 200#, 300#
Chair deadlift
Complex pulls such as straight leg, bent leg with any type of grip
Good Mornings
*Be careful with going to a true single max, Recommended to do a 3-5 rep max
Regular good morning
Seated good morning
Bands pulling from in front for a regular good morning or seated
Good morning to a box squat
Lunging good morning
Power, Full
Single band max power clean
Single band max clean
Double band max power clean
Double band max clean
Straight leg power clean or clean
Wide stance power clean or clean
Straight leg wide stance
Bent leg wide stance
Max with chains in various weights of chain
*same as clean

Roman, R.A. The Training of the Weightlifter.

Laputin, N.P., Oleshko, V.G. Managing the Training of Weightlifters.