How We Use the Maximum Effort Method

Written by: Kevin Cann

Zatsiorsky states in The Science and Practice of Strength Training That the maximal effort method is the act of lifting a maximal load against maximal resistance.  This method, according to Zatsiorsky, is best for improving the intramuscular and intermuscular coordination to improve maximal strength.

He is basically saying that lifting heavy is best to lift heavy due to the adaptations of the muscles and the central nervous system.  Any lift taken between 90% and 100% of one rep max will fall into this category.

The problem with frequently hitting repetitions above 90% in training is that it can lead to psychological burnout and the risk of injury becomes higher.  However, training at 90% and greater has a number of positive benefits as well.

One way in which heavier weights can improve strength is through rate coding and muscle fiber recruitment.  Rate coding is basically how fast your body can recruit muscle fibers.  The faster it can fire or the more “twitches” the fibers can perform in a given time period, the more force you will produce.

These are neurological adaptations that occur between 90% and 100% of 1RM, according to Zatsiorsky.  With that said, you do not need to work up to 100% in the gym to get these adaptations.  We need to keep in mind that the majority of this research is based off of elite Russian weightlifters, not powerlifters of various abilities.

We have been very successful touching these weights very rarely.  We improve squats better than any of the three lifts as a group by taking heavy doubles and triples between 80% and 88% of one rep max.  Also, you get no more of a training stimulus in terms of rate coding at 90% compared to 100% and due to exertion load the 2nd or 3rd repetition at 85% will be more difficult than a single at 90%.  However, I do believe there are still benefits to lifting heavier weights more frequently, which I will get to.

The inter and intramuscular coordination gets improved when we practice the lifts with lighter weights and higher repetitions.  We want a combination of these 2 elements to put us in the best position possible to lift the most weight.

Most programs try to utilize these principles in their methods.  However, this tends to be where methods begin to differ.  Westside maxes out 2 days per week in the gym while other programs very rarely ever touch weights above 90%.

My program with Boris Sheiko lies somewhere in the middle.  I touch 90% or greater on the deadlift and bench press, but these are usually off blocks or using a board or Slingshot.  I very rarely touch these weights in the competition lifts themselves.

The longer I spend coaching this sport, the more my philosophy on certain things changes.  I believe a coaching philosophy is something that is always being adapted based upon self-reflection and analysis of lifters.

Upon the analysis of our club’s performances, and looking over their programs, I determined that we needed to lift heavier more often.  Even though, as I stated before, I am not sure there is more to gain physiologically from lifting 90% compared to 85% to 88%.  I think the biggest gains will be psychological.

Oftentimes when my lifters do not touch weights at 90% or above they begin to lose confidence when they approach a test day before competition.  The thoughts of “I haven’t touched more than 85% in my lifts, how will I hit a new PR?” begins to creep in.  This can lead to a poor performance.

To counter act those negative thoughts we will take 90% to 92% more often in the peaking blocks as competition draws near.  However, in the prep blocks we will go about our training a bit differently.

Instead of taking the competition lifts at 90% or higher, we will take heavy singles between 80% and 88% of one rep max of the chosen variation for that lifter.  We use variations to bring up weak positions of the lift.  We very rarely do these variations above 75%.  Variations make the lift more difficult, so the overall stress is heavier than 75% so there is carryover to strength improvements here.

We will begin to stress these variations between 80% and 85% more frequently.  A pause squat with this weight will be very difficult and the stress will be similar to 90% or greater being on the bar.  As the meet draws near we will take the heavy singles in the competition lifts themselves.

Currently this may look like the following:

2 sec Pause Squat 50%x3, 60%x3, 70%x3, 75% 5×2

Moving forward it will look like the following:

2 sec Pause Squat 50%x3, 60%x3, 70%x3, 75% 2×2, 80% 2×1, 75% 2×2-This may get up to 80% 2×2 or 85% for singles in the same variation.

The number of lifts will not change much, but some will just get a bit heavier.  These variations progress through the program for 3 to 6 weeks typically.  The repetition work will come in the second squat session of the same day and/or the following squat training day.

I have been using these changes for a few weeks now and I really like what I am seeing.  80% for pauses looks difficult for a week or 2, but then we start to see some really good progress.  The “getting after” the weights have some carryover to the main lifts as well and overall training mentality.  I see far less “grooving” of the weights and more aggressive lifting, which I like.

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About Kevin Cann 33 Articles
Precision Powerlifting Systems is based out of Boston, Mass. Head Coach Kevin Cann leads the raw and single ply powerlifting team through individualized programming leading up to local, regional, national, and international level USA Powerlifting meets. Coach Kevin has worked as a nutritionist and strength coach for several facilities in the greater Boston area including Harvard University and Total Performance Sports. He holds a master’s degree in kinesiology from A.T. Still University and a bachelor’s degree in health and wellness from Kaplan University. Currently, Coach Kevin competes in the 105kg class in USA Powerlifting as both a raw and equipped open lifter and was under the tutelage of former team Russia powerlifting coach and coaching legend, Boris Sheiko, from 2015-2018. Kevin utilizes many of Sheiko’s legendary methods in his programs. This includes the belief that technique is the most important aspect of training. Not only has Kevin been a long term student of Sheiko’s, he also possesses his Master’s Degree in Kinesiology, the science of human movement. The combination of his Master’s degree and time spent working with the legendary coach has awarded him with the skills to thoroughly analyze your lifts and utilize the right variations, weights, and repetitions to improve your technique and continue to steadily progress over time. Through Kevin’s experiences coaching, he has made many adjustments to the program to allow for the success of his lifters. PPS has had an Arnold qualifier every year in its existence, a top 5 national total, 2 top 10 totals, and many top 20 totals nationally. Kevin combined what he learned from Sheiko with a conjugate trining style. He learned that nothing builds 1RM strength like practicing singles. He uses a constraints-led approach with the singles. The variation allows for the athlete to continually take max singles without seeing a decrease in performance. Kevin will use variations that punish technical inefficiency and only leaves room to complete the task with a more technically efficient strategy. Heavy singles also works the psychological components of the sport. Oftentimes this goes untrained and is the largest weakness in a lifter. Along with the max effort work, PPS lifters perform sub maximal work to continue to increase technical proficiency within the lifts. Some of this technique work utilizes special exercises that Kevin learned from Boris Sheiko himself. PPS supports raw, drug free powerlifting. Kevin has coached numerous athletes that have qualified for USAPL Nationals as well as the USAPL competitions at the Arnold Sports Festival. Cost for coaching is tiered and ranges from $125 to $200 per month depending on the services required. This includes an individualized program based around your needs as an athlete as well as feedback on your lifts from videos. Text support as you are training, weekly voice memos explaining details about the upcoming week, and bi-weekly training meetings with the team to discuss training concepts is part of the tier 1 service. For more information email Kevin directly at