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Preparing for Max Effort Attempts

Preparing for Max Effort Attempts

What is Max Effort

It depends on who you are and what you are training for.

If you are a powerlifter, max effort means one all out rep, typically referred to as absolute strength.

If you are a bodybuilder, a max effort attempt could be a repetitive effort set done to failure with miminal rest and with high intensity, i.e. clustering sets, doggcrapp, 5/3/1 last set, drop sets, giants sets, etc.

If you are an athlete, a maximum attempt is typically a 3-5 reps set done with 90% + 1RM (depending on the athlete).  Max efforts of 1 rep are not typically done with athletes due to the risk factor and because athletics lift raw (without gear).

Even though maximal effort can mean different things depending upon who you are and what you’re training for, maximal effort means maximal effort.  All out with no hesitation and no regrets.  Many people aren’t ready for this.  You have to truly be mentally tough.  Because of the damage max efforts take on the body and mind, they take time to recover from and they must be cycled in and out of training correctly.

Regardless of your training, when you are preparing yourself for a max effort workout, it starts long before stepping into the gym.

Max Effort Preparation (Before the Gym)

Hydration – how you been drinking enough water during the last 2-3 days?

Periodization – when was your last workout?  What was the effort?  Have you recovered?

Nutrition – Are you eating regularly?  Every 2-3 hours?  What do the meals consist of?  Good protein (chicken, fish, beef, yogurt, cottage cheese, tuna), carbs (fruit, vegetables, oatmeal, rice, pasta) and good fats (walnuts, peanut butter, almond butter, avocados, fish oil)?

Rest / Recovery – have you been getting enough deep sleep?  Were you hitting the foam roller and light mobility drills on your days off?  Many people don’t realize the exact same exercises you use to warm up for your workout should also be used on your days off to speed up recovery!

Gym Bag – did you bring your ipod?  Is it charged?  Do you have your workout drink and post workout drink?  Do you have your training journal?  Do you have your warm-up, workout and cool down written down?  Do you have your belt?  Do you have your wraps?

Training Partner (this is key) – you’ll need someone there to push you to your potential.  You’ll need someone to spot you!  Sometimes you’re not mentally ready to hit that max effort set and the training partner is the key.  Sometimes the music isn’t enough and for the sake of safety, the partner is essential.

Max Effort Preparation (At the Gym)

You know I am a HUGE proponent of the warm-up and its effects on the rest of the workout (and recovering from the workout).  With a workout that the lifter will be hitting a max effort attempt, it is even more critical.

Here are some AWESOME warm-ups you can do:

3 Insanely Effective Upper Body Warm-up

Get Your Hips Right – Lower Body Warm-up

After the warm-up, the sets leading up to the maximal effort should really focus on form and continuing to prepare the muscles for the upcoming attempt(s).

BUT, they should NOT fatigue.  If the prep sets are too heavy and with too much volume, you have a risk of not being ready for the max effort set(s).  Again, I am saying set(s) and not set because depending upon your workout (i.e. doggcrapp and powerlifting) you might be hitting multiple max effort attempts.

Bad Warm-up Sets for Max Bench (max attempt 315lbs)

Set 1:  bar x 20

Set 2:  135lbs x 10

Set 3:  185lbs x 10

Set 4:  225lbs x 8

Set 5:  275lbs x 6

Set 6:  315lbs x 1 attempt

Set 7:  315lbs x 1 attempt

Set 8:  315lbs x 1 attempt

There’s too much volume at too high of a percentage of the lifter’s max!

A better lead up to the attempts would be this example.

Set 1:  bar x 20

Set 2:  135lbs x 10

Set 3:  185lbs x 8

Set 4:  225lbs x 3-6 (this one is the turning point, if they set feels really good, hit 6 reps, if you still need more prep, only hit for 3 reps, auto-regulation)

Set 5:  275lbs x 3

Set 6:  295lbs x 1

Set 7:  315lbs x 1 attempt

Set 8:  315lbs x 1 attempt

Set 9:  315lbs x 1 attempt

But like everything else, it is an individual thing.  The above is only one example, there are many others.  That is why the training journal is so important.  What did your last max effort for bench look like?  What was your warm-up and prep sets.  You have to keep track so you can use this for your next heavy session.

Alright, so now look at the fun stuff.

The below video is Ryan hitting his last set of squats on the 5/3/1 program.  The last set is done all out without leaving anything left.  This is a maximal effort attempt.

A few things I want you to notice.

Where is the spotter? Right there for every rep!  The spotter jumped in an gave minimal help to keep the weight moving.  He didn’t pull Ryan quickly back up.  He let him fight it out but he (the spotter) controlled that last rep.

Did Ryan go until the weight crushed him? No, he did all reps with good form and did not go to the point where there is no return.  Max effort is max effort done safely. Remember that.

Did Ryan’s form break? No.  Does form break under fatigue? Yes.  That is why is so important to drill form while the weight is light so it becomes second nature.

Did you notice Ryan’s Breathing Pattern? He took a huge breath, held it and isometrically braced his abdominals outward against his belt and engaged his lats.  He repeated this pattern for every rep.



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7 Responses to “Preparing for Max Effort Attempts”

  1. Sunday, 10/10/10 - CrossFit Tribe Says:


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    […] As some of you may know tomorrow is the start of our Westdside Barbell programming cycle. In preperation for Max Effort Days READ THIS!!! […]

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    […] The Diesel Crew gets you ready for Max Effort Attempts. […]

  4. Friday Link Mash-Up! « Coach Kevin Carr Says:

    […] 8). Jim Smith on preparing for max effort lifts […]

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  6. strength training for wrestling Says:

    Great tips on everything that goes into a good Max Effort attempt. There’s so much to account for, but man, when things are clicking there isn’t a place I’d rather be than in a gym setting PRs!

  7. Jedd Johnson Says:

    Thanks man! Keep up the good work.

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