Maximal strength (MxS) is defined as the maximum amount of force one can produce irrespective of time or bodyweight.
The qualifiers “time” and “bodyweight” distinguish MxS from power and relative strength, respectively.
MxS is perhaps the core quality that all individuals should be concerned with, because it’s acquisition is the fastest route to all other motor qualities, including relative-strength, speed-strength, strength-endurance, speed, and speed-endurance.
To a lesser degree, MxS improvements also lead to higher levels of aerobic fitness, agility, and dynamic mobility. And to point out a sadly-overlooked fact, MxS development is a precursor to lean-mass gains, since fast-twitch motor units have much greater capacity for hypertrophy than do Type I MU’s. And needless to say, all MU’s must be recruited before they can be trained.
Traditional MxS training involves the use of maximal or near-maximal loads, typically 90% of 1RM and above. The maximal-load method has validity and a proven track record for results. However, load is only one-half of the equation, since it is tension- not load- that provokes anatomical adaptations leading to MxS improvements. These adaptations include improved inter- and intra-muscular coordination, as well as more efficient rate-coding.
Tension of course, is the offspring of load and speed. High loads, performed at (unavoidably) low speeds produce high tensions- that’s a given. Less appreciated however, is the fact that moderate loads, moved at high speeds, also lead to high tensions. So as it turns out, there are two distinctively different methods that can be employed in your quest for MxS. Given what we know about the importance of variety for the sake of preventing physical and psychological stagnation, why not employ both methods?
Here’s how you can do just that:
Set up two training sessions per week for a compound lift you’d like to improve. Any of the three power lifts are good candidates, as are the Olympic lifts.
The “A Session”
The first session (which we’ll call the “A Session”) features the performance of (up to) 14 sets of 2 reps, using a 4RM load, resting exactly one minute between sets. As an illustration, if your 4RM on a deadlift is 352 pounds, that’s your working weight. First perform your warm-up sets, and then set your stopwatch for 15 minutes. Every 60 seconds, perform a set of 2 reps, moving as explosively as possible during the concentric phase.
During this first A Session, one of two things will happen- either you’ll hit your 14 sets, or you won’t. If you fail to complete 14 doubles (let’s say you got 11 doubles and a single), the next time out, you try to get 12 or more doubles. Continue this procedure until you manage to complete 14 sets of 2.
If you (or once you) do manage to complete 14 sets, the next time out, add 5 pounds or 5% (whichever is less) to the bar, wipe the slate clean, and start over.
The “B Session”
The second session (which we’ll call the “B Session”)
Involves heavier loads- 2RM to be specific. You’ll perform (up to) 7 sets of 1, using a 2RM weight, resting 3 minutes between sets. As an illustration, if your 2RM on a deadlift is 374 pounds, that’s your working weight. First perform your warm-up sets, and then set your stopwatch for 15 minutes. Every 3 minutes, perform one rep, moving as explosively as possible during the concentric phase.
During this first “B Session,” one of two things will happen- either you’ll hit your 7 sets, or you won’t. If you fail to complete 7 singles (let’s say you got 5 singles and a missed attempt), the next time out, you try to get 6 or (hopefully) 7 singles. Continue this procedure until you manage to complete 7 sets of 1.
If you (or once you) do manage to complete 7 sets, the next time out, add 5 pounds or 5% (whichever is less) to the bar, wipe the slate clean, and start over.
- If you’re not sure what your 2RM or 4RM weights are, err on the side of conservatism- the system will self-adjust
- If you performance decreases for any reason, use the 5/5 rule in reverse: next time out, reduce the load by 5 pounds or 5% (whichever is greater), wipe the slate clean, and start over.
- Pain is bad. Respect your body.
Speed And Load- The Fastest Way To Huge Gains in Maximal Strength!
In addition to the simple fact that you’ve now introduced more variety into your training, you’re also attacking the MxS equation from both angles. The improved speed you acquire on your “A Sessions” will contribute to strength expression during your “B Sessions.” In turn, your newly-acquired strength will improve your rate of force production on your “A Sessions.”
MxS training is a drain on all of your recuperative mechanisms, but fortunately, this two-sided approach provides the perfect amount of contrast to facilitate recovery.
Try this approach on your favorite lift for 6 weeks and tell me how it went. I know you’ll be pleasantly surprised.