Beginner Mistakes - Part I: Max Effort Progression

TAGS: westside, tate, mistakes, max effort, beginner, wendler, strength, training

When I first started training using the Westside methods, I would often end my max effort exercise and feel like I didn’t do anything. Sure, I maxed out and strained, but I never felt like I did that much. Now that I am stronger, max effort days are extremely hard and painful. I hadn’t thought about this phenomenon until recently when Dave Tate and I talked one night after a seminar. We were talking about our training logs and how they would influence people. I had mentioned that many times on a max effort day, I would perform the core exercise, one other exercise and leave. I was unsure if this was the correct message to send the younger lifter. He quickly pointed out that because of my present strength level I had done a quite a bit of work on the core exercise. Even though I worked up to a 1RM, the total amount of weight lifted was large and what was needed to bring up my strength. He had me grab a piece of paper and told me to write down what I did for my max effort bench day. 

3 Board Press (straight weight)

2 sets of 5 repetitions @ 45lbs
2x5 @ 95
2x5 @ 135
1x5 @ 185
1x3 @ 225
1x3 @ 275
1x3 @ 315
1x3 @ 365
1x1 @ 405
1x1 @ 455
1x1 @ 495
1x1 @ 525
1x1 @ 550

Dave then told me to add up the total weight that I lifted that day. This amounted to 9645lbs. Three lifts were done over 90% of my max.

He then mentioned that too many times a younger, weaker lifter will make huge jumps between attempts and thus the total amount of weight lifted is significantly reduced. Here is a sample workout of what I would use to do.

3 Board Press (straight weight, previous personal record was 355lbs)


The total amount of weight lifted is 2140lbs with only one lift over 90%. This is a far cry from what I am doing now. Of course my current strength level will dictate that I will lift more weight during a session. But how could I have increased my volume on the max effort day without sacrificing strength? Here is what I should have done.

2x5 @ 45
2x5 @ 95
1x3 @ 135
1x3 @ 175
1x3 @ 205
1x3 @ 235
1x1 @ 265
1x1 @ 295
1x1 @ 325
1x1 @ 345
1x1 @ 365

This now equals 5955lbs with three lifts in the 90+% range. This is over 2 ½ times the weight lifted from the previous example. This is a great way for a beginner to increase his strength and work capacity. These smaller jumps were less than 10% of my 1RM. In the first example, I would jump 40 or 50lbs between sets. This represents a 15% jump. If I were to do that now it would be over 80lbs between attempts. There is no way I could do that, so why should I expect a beginner to handle that? I made this mistake and I suspect that many other young lifters are doing it now. Take smaller jumps and make bigger gains.

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