Max Effort Memories...

When people first ask, "What is the Max Effort Method?" I find it easier to explain with an example to better illustrate the idea. The Max Effort Method (ME) was a staple of my training for well over a decade and has been a part of my training in one way or another since the first day I maxed out on the bench press in my bedroom.

One of the better memories (and there are many from ME day) is when we were performing the suspended good morning with a giant cambered bar. This is an excellent movement for your deadlift because of the starting position you are in and because it can be a concentric-only movement. This is how we were doing it that day. The bar is set so if you dropped your arms to the floor, your hands would be at the same level as where the deadlift bar would be off the floor. From there, it really doesn't matter how you get the weight up - as long as you do. When the weight gets over 80 percent, the spotters help lower the bar back down to the suspension straps (taking the eccentric away).

This movement was not one I liked doing at all. I was not good at it and it hurt. For me, it was really more of a test of strength than a movement that would build my strength (this is for another article) but one of the goals of any ME work is to strain and this was a movement that always made my head feel like it was going to pop off.

Our group that day was six to seven deep and we worked up the way we normally do by using plates and quarters. The smaller plates could be used to break a record (PR) for the last sets, but usually never consisted of less than a dime per side. My best on this movement was 495 pounds and that was a GOOD day. I have no idea how that happened because it never happened again and I did this movement for years after that. In between sets I sat next to Rob Fusner, who was two out from me in the order. I wasn't having a good day.

This is where you will see how ME work should be done.

After 365 pounds, I sat down and Rob looked to me and said, "Wow, that really looked like shit." I knew it was true, so there was no reply. Then he goes and makes 365 look like 135 pounds, making me even more pissed. Not that he was strong, but that I sucked so bad at this lift. I called for 405 pounds on my next attempt and after trying to find the best start position I could, started arching and pulling my chest up until 405 pounds was completed. It wasn't easy at all and I was seeing stars before I was done.

"Damn, dude that looked really hard," Rob said.

Once again, he goes and has no problem doing the weight. I should note that nobody else in the group that day had a problem doing that weight either. I just wanted to make sure I didn't finish last for the day (they all would go up over 700 pounds and as noted my best was around 500).

The next weight jump was 455 pounds. After four unsuccessful tries getting it started, it finally moved...and after what seemed like an hour later, I finally locked it out. In the process, my ribs felt like they were breaking, my lower back was killing me and my right eyeball felt like it exploded.

"You okay? That was better man, I think you got another 20 pounds in you."

So, now I'm sitting there thinking to myself that there is NO WAY I have another 20 pounds in me. That last lift destroyed my back and I can't see out of one eye. So, I just sat there trying to figure out if there was any way I could make this happen.

Once again, they all took 495 pounds and killed it for 3-5 reps, as if they were still warming up.

The next thing I knew was that they had 475 pounds loaded for me on the bar. So, I figured since it's already loaded, I really don't have much choice in the matter. If the last set I did was hard, this was twice as slow and once I got the weight to the top...the gym turned dark. After the bar hit the straps at the bottom, I pretty much limped and crawled back to the bench where Rob told me, "Dude, that was REALLY stupid (not in a good way)."

Now I was done and made sure the rest of them ended the same way.

So to recap.

One max effort lift should be, "WOW that was hard!" Another should be "You Okay?" and the last one should be "Dude that was really stupid."

There you go.

What is the Max Effort Method?

To keep things simple, it means you will be working up in the 90 range for 4-8 total reps. These reps are not in one set, but instead they are put in sets that are spread out. The more advanced, the less reps you will need (4). The best way I have found to use this is to have the lifters warm-up using triples, as the weight gets into the 60-70 percent-range, make a decision based on how they feel if they want to go for a new one-rep max or shoot for a triple-rep max.

For more information on the max effort method, use our site search feature and type in ME Method or Max Effort Method.

Here's some of the information you will find.

How do I cycle the max effort movement?

You have to always remember that with this style of training, every movement has its own life cycle associated to it. In other words, each movement cycles independent of the other. Also, each day cycles independent of the other days.

For the max effort day, the first movement (max effort movement) will rotate in a one to three week cycle. There are several ways to accomplish this. The more advanced the lifter, the faster the movement has to change. An advanced lifter will need to change this movement every week. An intermediate lifter will change every two weeks while, a beginner will change every three.

How do I know if I’m a beginner, intermediate or advanced lifter? If you have to ask this question, then you’re a beginner. Everyone new to this style of training should treat himself as a beginner. There are checks and balances (C & B’s) throughout the program, so you’ll know when to change. The C & B’s for the max effort movement are if you’re breaking records or not. If you choose 2-board presses and hit 315 pounds on week one, 320 on week two, and 335 on week three, then you should use a three-week rotation.

Now, if you hit 315 on week one, 320 on week two, then can’t do 315 on week three, then you should switch every two weeks. The longer you use the method, the sooner you’ll be switching every week. There are a few alternative approaches worth looking into:

  1. Many coaches have found it best to use a two week cycle with their athletes where week one would be an intro week to the movement. Here, they may use a percentage based scheme for a week (such as 70% of their best with the same movement for 2 sets of 5 reps, or 80% for 3 sets of 3 reps). These coaches have found the athletes do much better on week two (when they hit the one rep) when they use an intro week to the movement.
  2. Another approach similar to the first one is a three week cycle based on 70% for 5 reps on week one followed by 80% for 3 on week two and then 100 plus on week three. I personally don’t like this as I feel the chance of injury is too high with the higher reps when compared to the singles.
  3. One approach told to me by a very successful lifter over seas, was to cycle the down sets of the max effort movement. This lifter would work up to a one rep max and then hit a down set of a prescribed percentage. He’d use 70% for 2 sets of 5 reps on week one, 72% for 2 sets 5 reps on week two, 76% for one set of 5 reps on week three and 80% for 5 reps on week four. The max effort movement would change every week, but the down sets percentage went up for the fourth week, then the cycle would start again.

Do you do the max effort movement every week?

This answer depends on the individual as well as what you’re doing on all the other days. If you’re hitting it very hard with bands on the dynamic day, then you may find that you can’t hit the max effort movement every week and may have to take it easy one workout of the month. If you find you’re not recovering, then you’ll want to take it easy one of the workouts each month. When you “take it easy” (not a day off) you’ll replace the movement with higher rep work using a movement intended to train the same muscles.

How do you know if you went heavy enough?

If you have to ask this question, then you’re totally missing the boat. This movement is about straining as hard as you can. If you make the weight and have something left then you need to add more weight and go again. When using the max effort method you must strain to gain!

Here are three of my ALL-TIME recommended ME Movement and the reason why I like them so much.

Suspended Goodmorning

As outlined above, this can be done as a concentric-only movement. While it's still brutal, it takes the eccentric out and becomes a great movement to stick in between some of the more demanding ME movements such as low box squats with yoke bar, band pulls, etc.

What I also like about this is that the starting position can be very close to that of the deadlift and if you use the right bar, you'll have to fight to keep your head and chest up the entire time. So, it not only pounds the muscles that work the pull, but it teaches you exactly what to do when the pull gets hard (head up and drive hips).

Finally, this movement will teach you how to stain and you'll get used to what it feels like when your head feels like it's going to pop off. Many lifters will fail on max attempts when this feeling comes on because it scares them (they will never admit that) and are not used to it. As a competitive lifter, you need to get used to this and know it is part of the game. While it is uncomfortable, it should become normal for you.

Suspended Arch Back Good Morning
Suspended Good Morning

Reverse Band Deadlift

With this movement, set the bands up so they'll help when you pull. What usually works best is adding enough tension so that it takes 225 pounds to keep the bar on the floor. It is also good if the bar comes out of the bands when you pass your knees. This forces more work on the lockout.

What I like about this is that it's not as hard to recover from as many of the other pulls (pins pulls, standing on blocks, etc) and is great for teaching acceleration once the bar leaves the floor.

Reverse Band Deadlift

2-Board Press

Raw or geared, the 2-board press is one of the best ME movements you will ever find for the bench. There's no need to go into much detail on this, as I have an entire article on the Board Press.

Board Press Article
Close Grip 2-Board Press

Let me know what you feel your top three ME movements are and why you like them, or how they helped you out. The information you share could very well help someone else break a PR in the next couple months.