When we talk about effort in the weight room, it means many different things. Effort involves resistance, speed, power, endurance, strength, and so on. However, the effort that I am talking about here is the type of effort that you apply to your training programs. There are four main types of effort that I apply when training my athletes and each one of them prepares my athletes for their specific sport. I believe all four efforts are required of an athlete, although some sports may need more training in one particular effort than another.
In this industry, it is very popular to title a way of training as sports specific. I have not seen many types of training that would not benefit an athlete. However, that’s not to say that certain training parameters should not be used for certain athletes. For a basic example, I would not have an offensive lineman running a 5K to get ready for the season. Similarly, I don’t feel it is necessary for a tri-athlete to train with the same parameters as an offensive lineman.
When I think of sports specific training I think of four variables: maximal effort, sub-maximal effort, repetition effort, and dynamic effort. It is from these four types of training that a solid sport specific program is built. Here are the four methods by definition and how they can apply to your athletes.
Maximal Effort Method
Zatsiorsky defines maximal effort as “lifting a maximal load” and “exercising against maximal resistance.” You might think that the definition would be more detailed but it’s not. It is simply taking a maximal amount of weight and lifting it for no more than three reps while keeping the weight at or about 90 percent of your 1RM. For safety and functional purposes, this method is only for compound lifts such as the squat and deadlift.
The pros to using the max effort method are that you get really, really strong. Another pro is that you get really, really strong. Need I say more? Max lifting requires the athlete to tap into not only their muscle but their central nervous system (CNS). By doing this, the CNS adapts to the load and teaches the body to handle that amount of resistance. The max effort method will train an athlete’s body to recruit to the greatest number of motor units he or she can for that lift. This method has the greatest benefit to sports that have a weight class (not necessarily bodybuilding although they would benefit as well.) The most obvious sport that benefits from this method is powerlifting, however athletes from the Olympics, figure skating, and track and field would also benefit tremendously.
Where there are performance advantages, the max effort method, if misused, can negatively affect how an athlete performs. For example, too much max effort training will lead to CNS fatigue. If you notice that an athlete has symptoms like decreased energy, increased depression or anxiety, morning fatigue, or high blood pressure in a resting state, then he/she could be overtrained.
Another caution with the max method is increased risk of injury. This training is not for the newbie. If the athlete has never trained before, I would avoid using this method until they mature in their training. Some of the guys I train with can use this method physically but have the maturity level of a five-year-old. In addition, if an athlete is in need of some muscle hypertrophy, than this method would not be optimal for them. That brings me to my next method.
Repeated Effort Method and Sub-Maximal Effort Method
The repeated effort method is defined as lifting a sub-maximal load to failure. This method trains the muscles to develop the maximum force in a state of fatigue at the end of the set. It will also stimulate some great muscle hypertrophy. Arnold use to talk about the “pump” you get working out. If you want to experience what Arnold was talking about or if you have an athlete that has never experienced it, have them do a set with 40–50 percent of their 1RM until they cannot do any more reps.
This method helps young athletes develop muscle growth. If you have an athlete that needs to pack on some quality muscle, try using this method with them on a weekly basis. Besides stimulating hypertrophy, it will also teach an athlete to recruit and will increase the amount of motor units being trained. While this method is efficient for growth, it is not as effective in producing muscular strength. The only way this method is effective is if the athlete trains the lift to complete failure to recruit a maximum number of motor units. The expression “no pain, no gain” holds true in this case.
The sub-maximal effort method is very similar to the repeated effort. The only difference in the two is the desired number of repetitions. Unlike the repeated effort in which the reps are brought to complete failure, this method is used with a specific number of reps in mind. You do not train to failure but rather “leave a few in the hole,” as the expression goes. The benefit of the sub-maximal effort is that it will add slabs of muscle onto an athlete’s frame if need be. Though efficient in assisting hypertrophy, this method does not seem to be as effective at improving muscular strength or improving muscle coordination as the other methods.
Regarding strength and coordination, there are exceptions to this method, as is the case with the Greasing the Grove (GTG) and Smolov/sheiko programs. They will be discussed in detail in a later article in this series.
Dynamic Effort Method
The dynamic effort method is designed to lift a sub-maximal weight with the greatest force possible. We are looking for SPEED with this method. The weight being used is usually between 40–70 percent of an athlete’s 1RM, and it should be lifted as fast as possible. This type of training is used to improve explosive strength.
The dynamic effort method can also be considered plyometric training. In this type of training, an athlete is using his power to jump, run, or throw as strong and fast as possible. This is very similar to the dynamic effort. Performing box squats for speed, squat jumps, depth jumps, and the various Olympic lifts (cleans, snatches, etc.) are examples of the dynamic effort. The use of the dynamic effort is not limited to these lifts. You can take almost any exercise and make it dynamic by making the concentric portion of the lift as fast as possible.
I feel that athletes in general will benefit from all four types of training. However, I believe that certain types of athletes will benefit more if certain methods are used more often. There is a time and place for everything, and changing the program frequently is optimal.
The maximal effort method is best for athletes who require short bursts of energy. Powerlifters and football, baseball, hockey, and softball players require this type of strength. The plays in these types of sport only last a few seconds. Therefore, the ability to use the greatest amount of strength in a short period would be optimal. Athletes that must keep a certain body weight would also benefit from the maximal effort since it would not increase muscle size. They would still get extremely strong though.
The repeated effort method would best be applied to athletes in need of putting on some extra muscle. Football, baseball, hockey, and lacrosse players would all fall into this category. Endurance athletes would benefit since they would recruit the motor units with the most amount of endurance, thus making their general condition much better. Athletes involved in swimming, biking, or running for distance would benefit greatly as well. I like using the repeated effort method most with young athletes who need to grow. Their muscles are able to handle this type of training, and it is safer than something along the lines of max effort training.
The dynamic effort method is a very important method for all athletes simply because in all sports speed is essential. In this method, we work on explosiveness and speed using many different exercises. This method is most useful for athletes who are required to jump, run, hit, throw, and catch while possibly being defended. In sports, timing can be crucial. Therefore, this method applies to athletes of all sports.
The benefits of combining the four efforts are tremendous. When training the proper sport specific variables, your athlete can become any combination of bigger, faster, stronger, and more explosive using the conjugate training method. So how much effort do you use?
Mike Hanley, RKC, is a strength and performance coach at Fit for Life Personal Training Studio in Marlboro, New Jersey. He uses a wide variety of training styles including powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and kettlebell training as well as numerous other forms of performance enhancement methods. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.fitforlifemarlboro.com. For more articles and interviews from one of the most innovative coaches and athletes, visit www.UndergroundStrengthCoach.com.