“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain
The most effective training method to optimize lifting mechanics for compound movements (deadlift, squat, press, etc.) is Maximal Effort (ME) Method. There is an inaccurate thought process that lifting maximal weights is unsafe. This thought process is normally that of the physical therapist who weighs 100lbs and spends his time posting videos on Instagram practicing movements or the out of shape strength coach who is unable to deadlift his own body weight. In theory one can argue (incorrectly) that ME method is “unsafe”; however, the fact of the matter is in practice ME method is the best method to optimize the efficiency for compound movements.
“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” – Yogi Berra
The most efficient way to optimize lifting mechanics is to SUBTRACT the ways in which the lift can be accomplished. Since lifting light weights is easy, the body can formulate almost an infinite number of movement solutions that will accomplish the task. For example, if you squat down and pick up a 10lb kettlebell there are literally thousands of different movement solutions, with endless combination of options that would accomplish the task. You could be on one leg, or you could be on your tiptoes, etc. If you performed this light lift repeatedly, you would use your joints in combinations that you may possibly never use again.
Simply, lifting light weights enables the body to formulate more movement solutions, which increases the complexity; thus, decreasing the odds of improving mechanics or using optimal mechanics. Experienced lifters who train compound movements with heavy weights understand this concept; that is why their heavier sets “feel” and generally look better. Their non working warm up sets will not be as mechanically efficient as their heavier working sets, as they can get away with not being 100% on point. Once the weight gets heavier, the body narrows down movement solutions; thus, optimizing lifting mechanics.
The body is an adaptable biological complex system, which in this scenario gains knowledge by subtraction, NOT addition. By examining ME method through a systems perspective, we can see the load acts as a resistance to the musculoskeletal component part of the system. As the load increases, resistance increases which decreases the amount of movement solutions that will accomplish the lift. Thus, as the load increases it acts to assist the central nervous system component part of the biological complex system by narrowing the range of options (movement solutions).
Training compound lifts using ME method narrows the movement solutions down to very fundamental and powerful mechanics. For instance the mechanics of picking up a 10lb kettlebell is going to look very different from the mechanics of deadlifting 315lbs of weight with 200lbs of band tension. Therefore, if the aim of training is enhance lifting mechanics (which it should be), Maximum Effort Method must be applied.
“The method of maximal effort is considered superior for improving both intramuscular and intermuscular coordinations; the muscles and central nervous system (CNS) apart only to the load placed on them. This should be used to bring forth the greatest strength increments.” – Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky, Science and Practice of of Strength Training
In both Science and Practice, the ME method is superior for improving both intramuscular and intermuscular coordination. Simply put, muscles are composed of muscle fibers which are under the control of motor neurons. This relationship when viewed from a systems perspective is referred to as the neuromuscular system. Lifting maximal weights enhances the performance of the neuromuscular system by removing movement solutions for which the system can formulate, thus optimizing lifting mechanics and enhancing long-term potentiation**.
I was exposed to the method of maximal effort by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell. I am beyond grateful for all I have learned from Lou, Tom Barry and all the individuals at Westside Barbell.
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John Quint NMT, FR, FRCms, ART, CAFS
**In neuroscience, long-term potentiation (LTP) is a persistent strengthening of synapses based on recent patterns of activity. There are patterns of synaptic activity that produce a long-lasting increase in signal transmission between two neurons. > “Cells that fire together, wire together.”