The Max Effort Method - Mat Woods @redbeard49

The Max Effort Method - Mat Woods @redbeard49

Popularized by Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell, the Max Effort Method is one of three pillars to a complete conjugate program.  Typically, you’ll find this same method in other styles of programming but it may not be as pronounced or labeled as such. To understand the Max Effort Method, we must first look at this basic physics equation:


F will equal Force

m will equal mass

a will equal acceleration

In the equation above, the variable “a” will equal acceleration which is found during the Dynamic Effort method.  The max bar speed is targeted during the Dynamic Effort method, where the weights are sub-maximal and speed is maximal.  However, in order to complete the equation, the variable “m” must be found using the Max Effort Method to determine the maximum amount of mass that can be used.

Unlike the Dynamic Effort Method, bar speed is not as relevant for Max Effort movements.  It’s common knowledge that as the weight on the bar gets heavier, the bar speed slows down.  Both phases of the lift are typically slowed down due to the body having to adjust to the heavier weights.  The eccentric phase will not be as rapid as the Dynamic Effort, but not slowed down to the point of not being able to take advantage of the stretch reflex.

Where the Dynamic Effort focuses a lot on percentages and accommodating resistance amounts, the Max Effort is focused on two things:  learning to strain and how to think under pressure. PRs are great and always making weight increases is certainly morale boosting, but if all the focus is put on achieving PRs you’ll miss one too many lifts and mentally burn out.  The ability to strain and think under pressure is what separates lifters who want average results and those who want to achieve maximal results. Sometimes the point at which the lift is missed is not where the body gave up, but where the mind stopped.

From a more practical approach, how long can you push a certain lift until failure?  3 seconds? 5 seconds? For example, if your max lift time for a squat is 3 seconds and the lift goes past that time what happens?  You miss! Max Effort teaches the lifter how to strain and how to prolong the max lift time. Along with the straining aspect of Max Effort, the other taught skill is the ability to think under pressure.  A squat with 50% of 1RM is real easy to do and easy to adjust if anything should go awry during setup or performing the lift. If the weight is increased to 95%-100+% of 1RM and something should not go as planned, the lifter must react and readjust under much more pressure than with the lighter load.  For instance, a lifter is working towards a new 1RM on straight bar squat and at the bottom of the lift the weight tends to fall too far forward causing the lifter’s chest to fall down and lose upper back tightness. What does the lifter do? Bail and miss? No, the experienced lifter (given that the weight has not went so far forward that it would be a higher risk than reward to finish) would use the hamstrings/hips to good morning the weight to a certain position and finish the lift out to achieve a new 1RM.

In a typical conjugate program, there are two Max Effort days a week (one upper body and one lower body).  Some will argue that the Max Effort movement can be anywhere between 1-5 reps or even some say 10-15 reps. In my opinion and the opinions of other conjugate practitioners, the Max Effort movement should be 1 rep.  If the lifter feels sluggish or not 100%, a double or triple can be used instead of the 1 rep. It should only be 1 movement, as well. Anything following the main movement is considered supplemental and accessory work.  Any Max Effort movement should be a variation of the squat, bench, or deadlift. The classic lifts should NOT be used for Max Effort work frequently, but rather a few times a year. This keeps the lifter from a mental burn out and keeps the body from adaptation.

Now let’s jump into the movement selection and possible variations.

Examples of Upper Body movements:

1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 board flat bench press

Floor Press

Close Grip flat bench press or Floor Press

Incline Bench Press

Decline Bench Press

Seated Shoulder Press

Close Grip Shoulder Press

Reverse Band Flat Bench Press

Examples of Lower Body movements:

Wide, Normal, or Close stance box squats (low, parallel, or high)

Wide, Normal, Close Stance Good mornings

Good Morning Box Squat

Zercher Squat

Seated Good Morning

Anderson Squat

Block or Pin pulls (off a variety of heights)

Deficit Pulls (off a variety of heights)

Along with these examples, various bars can be substituted and bands or chains can be added for even more variations.  Now we have went over the basics of max effort and examples of variations, let’s go over the setup and program design regarding max effort.  Two days a week should be dedicated to max effort with a recovery day between the lower max and upper max sessions. Whatever your warmup protocol is, still follow it and do max effort movement as the first movement.

When starting the max effort movement of the session, start as low as possible and work up slowly.  This adds volume to the workout and helps with GPP, as well as increased work capacity.

Example of a 405lb box squat, but shooting for a 5lb PR:

Empty Bar – 1x10

135lbs – 2x5

185lbs – 1x5

225lbs – 1x5

275lbs – 1x5

315lbs – 1x3

335lbs – 1x2

365lbs – 1x1

395lbs – 1x1

410lbs – 1x1

As you can see, the weights are incremented up slowly and a 5lb PR is achieved.  Don’t move up in weight on the preceding sets until you feel dialed in, jumping up too soon can be disastrous!  This is simply an example above, depending on the lifter more increments may be needed. Complete the final lift, get the PR, and stop with the movement!  It’s hard not to get greedy and try another increase, but a missed lift will do more damage mentally than the PR did for the positive morale.  

Once the max effort variation is completed, move on to supplemental and accessory work.  Depending on the lifter’s attributes, the max effort movement should be rotated every week for upper and lower days.  Keep track of the movements and weights used. Retest the movements every 12-16 weeks or longer depending on how many variations you choose to rotate throughout the weeks.  

Now that the learning is over…

Set up a max effort variation, break some PRs, and get stronger!


Muscle & Mirth / Garage Gym Powerlifting strongly recommends that you consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.

You should be in good physical condition and be able to participate in the exercise.

Muscle & Mirth / Garage Gym Powerlifting is not a licensed medical care provider and represents that it has no expertise in diagnosing, examining, or treating medical conditions of any kind, or in determining the effect of any specific exercise on a medical condition.

You should understand that when participating in any exercise or exercise program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in this exercise or exercise program, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself, and agree to release and discharge Muscle & Mirth / Garage Gym Powerlifting and its affiliates from any and all claims or causes of action, known or unknown.

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