An excerpt from Conjugate U, coming soon to

“Maximal strength is the mother of all special strengths." — Dr. Mel C. Siff

I’m not going to list all of the special strengths here, but if you read Supertraining you will see many of the special strengths listed are direct precursors to our most desired sporting traits, such as change of direction, first step ability, speed, etc. On our force velocity curve, it may look like max effort work and top velocity are very distant, but in reality, they are very closely related.

If they aren’t, why do elite sprinters use steroids?

It sure as hell isn’t because being strong makes you slower. Athletes have been running and jumping their whole lives. You are only going to get so much improvement by doing more of this. For the most profound results we need to train the area of the force velocity curve (max effort) they have spent the least amount of time on.

case for max effort_force velo

When we first discussed why to use the conjugate method, we talked about shifting the force velocity curve to the right and upward. The final piece to the puzzle to do this is the max effort method — or in our system, heavy days. The most effective way to gain strength is to train at 90% and above. While this is very true, you need to know how to manipulate this method to avoid overtraining and get optimal results.

Athletes need to be strong. Most great athletes are really strong. They may not squat 800 pounds, but they are physically very strong. There are many examples of ex-football players coming into powerlifting and doing very well with very little experience. This happens because they are strong to start; they just had to learn the skill of lifting correctly to surpass people who had been lifting their entire lives.

If this is the case then why are so many people afraid to train their athletes to get strong?

Many times coaches say, “Sure he can squat X weight, but how would that help my athlete in Y sport?” Once again I’ll refer to middle school physics: force = mass x acceleration. Another reason we must get athletes strong is that a strong athlete is a durable athlete. You are not going to reach an athlete’s true strength potential without tapping into the 90% and above range on a regular basis. Another argument I hear against this method is, "Meh, I don’t need my athletes to be that strong.” Okay, so you don’t want your athletes to have every tool available at their disposal?

RECENT: Four-Week Block of Baseball Fall Training from Conjugate U for Position Guys and Pitchers

Being strong is never a detriment to athletic performance. You will never hear an athlete say, “I was just too strong today. It really held my performance back.” What sealed the deal for me was athlete feedback. Most of the athletes we worked with over the years loved this style of training, attributed many of their results to the training, and were not happy with the results they got from other methods when they were forced to use them.

How to Prep Novices to the System for Max Effort Work

When we have athletes who haven't trained in this system before, we DO NOT put them in max effort training from the start. Our progression usually looks like this:

  • Week 1: Teach squat, bench, and pulls on respective days. Then get some sets in with a weight we feel they can move with acceptable speed and form. We may even spend 30-40 minutes on techniques of the main lift, teach a couple simple accessory movements, then get them out. We do whatever it takes to get a solid understanding of their main lift.
  • Week 2: Speed sets on both max and speed days. The weight is slightly increased from Week 1. Form and bar speed are priorities.
  • Week 3: Same as Week 2.
  • Week 4: This is the week we typically introduce some sort of max effort work. It is usually the same protocol as the returners, but we are more cautious working them up and shut them down when form breaks. Remember, we can get strength gains by moving light weight as fast as possible. With the above model, you can start making strength gains in the first week while teaching proper form, because the majority of kids will pick the form up by the end of the first day.

If you are having trouble getting the majority (at least 80%) of your athletes ready for max effort work after this progression then seek help. This is the main focus of my clinics, learning how to coach effectively and how to fix technical aspects of the lifts. There are also many very good lifters around the country who are willing to help.

In my book (coming soon to, I'll talk about variations of the max effort method used in the collegiate setting and how to implement them for optimal results with your athletes.