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Is The Maximal Effort Method Killing Our Athletes?

By June 8, 2012January 10th, 2014Guest Blogs, Sport Specific Training

Today’s article is a guest blog by Anthony Mychal. Personally, I’m a “maximal strength” guy to the bone, but I enjoy hearing various arguments from other coaches. A while back I posted an article from Rob Panariello HERE. I agree that at times, especially for certain athletes, there is merit in avoiding max strength work and progressive overload. I think you can build tremendous athletes by targeting qualities other than max strength and/or simply focusing on bar speed with submaximal loads. But my take is that max strength lays the foundation for many other qualities and should be the cornerstone of a proper S&C program. However, Anthony makes some very good points below. What do you think?

America is obsessed with strength, and for our athletes this obsession might be doing more harm than good. After all it’s the “strength” and conditioning industry. But thanks to some forward thinking coaches, the question of “how strong is strong enough?” floats about.

Most performance coaches come from a strength background. We love lifting heavy things and questing for strength, so it’s only natural we want our athletes to do the same. But a player such as Kevin Durant makes money we can only fathom by being a good basketball player, not by being a good weightlifter.

Yet debates rage about whether athletes should train like powerlifters or Olympic weightlifters. Realistically, the answer is neither. Now, that’s not to say that they shouldn’t bench or squat. But both powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting are sports in themselves. How silly would it be for an Olympic weightlifter to play football to become explosive? As Buddy Morris once said, “If Olympic weightlifting made you a better football player, playing football would make you a better Olympic weightlifter.” Wouldn’t it?


Health is the primary concern for an athlete, in both the short and long term. Is taking Kobe Bryant’s squat to 600 pounds going make him a better basketball player? Probably not. To boot, the loading it requires would likely shed a few years from his playing days. That’s millions of dollars we’re talking about.

We often associate maximum muscular contraction with strength. Westside popularized the three ways to get the former with the dynamic effort method (DE)—lifting a light(er) weight fast—the repeated effort method (RE)—lifting a light(er) weight to failure—and the maximal effort method (ME)—lifting a maximal weight.

But achieving a maximum muscular contraction is different than getting stronger. And for most athletes, a maximum muscular contraction akin to a 1RM never happens during their sport because that kind of effort isn’t repeatable. Football players can’t gas themselves on one play.


For athletes, the maximal effort method has been glorified for the wrong reasons. The following quote is taken from Westside Barbell’s Website:

The majority of the Soviet training was centered around 75-85% of a one-rep max for about 50% of all lifts, and 20% are done at 90-100%. The Bulgarians trained mostly at 90-100% max. Circa-max weights are 90-97%. The Bulgarian system produced the highest results in weightlifting. Why? They handled the highest average weights most often. It’s that simple. Yes, they had used a very select group of lifters, but that system was the best.

Glancing at that quote, it’s quite convincing that the Bulgarian system was superior. So we should go maximal or go home, right? But here’s what gets lost: you can still get strong training primarily in the 75-85% range, and this is something Dr. Yessis confirms.

“About 70% of strength work should be in the 70-85% range, which actually allows you to develop greater strength than when you lift only in the 90-100% zone.”

And considering most Soviets were only a few pounds behind the Bulgarians in the Olympics, you can get pretty darn strong.

Zatsiorsky, in Science and Practice of Strength Training, deems this as the sub-maximal effort method, which he describes as lifting a load lighter than a maximum for sub-maximal number of repetitions.

Most athlete’s need to be strong, we get it. Do they need to be Powerlifting strong? No. The more physical sports positions will need more strength comparatively, but athletes won’t be challenging world records.

For athletes, the Soviet’s method is better because you can get strong without being exposed to higher intensity stressors, which does three things. First, it lessens the chance for injury. Kobe can only be Kobe on the court. Second, it allows more energy and nervous system reserves for sport-specific training. Third, it allows speed, power, and reactivity to be better trained. Maximal effort strength training impairs the development of speed to an extent. You’ll never be as strong and as fast as you can be at the same time, which is why speed athletes taper strength work closer to competition.


Some coaches have qualms with athletes bench pressing and squatting, citing shoulder and knee issues that can arise. But are the movements causing the problems? Or are the methods? It’s much easier to keep form during a sub-maximal set, after all.

And here’s an observational anecdote taken from baseball. (Keep in mind this is nothing but a thought.) At the highest level, pitchers are first in line for shoulder and elbow problems, even though catchers throw the ball just as much (if not more).

The difference?

Pitchers, throughout their career, are concerned with lighting up the radar gun. So there is a chance that it’s less about the movement and more about the intensity.

Now, I’m sure curveballs and sliders don’t help the situation. But, regardless, recovery is paramount. And it’s easier to recover from lower intensity training.


Of course, the sub-maximal effort method isn’t likely to proliferate anytime soon because working until exhaustion is ever appealing. People don’t want to hear that training with less intensity and less effort can still produce gains in strength.

But Prilepin’s Table has the general formula for us; it’s just a matter of believing.

So what do you say? Can you believe?

Anthony Mychal exists at the crossroad between fitness and athleticism. As a professional, he’s a writer appearing on the likes of T-Nation,, STACK, and Greatist. As a dude, he’s a self-proclaimed performance junkie that practices martial arts tricking. He splatters his ideas about building a body that matters on a weekly basis at his blog.


  • Bret, I should note that maximal strength is never NOT the goal. It’s just the way you go about building it.


    • Bret says:

      Sure Anthony. I suppose my intro didn’t do your post justice. You’re not proposing that we avoid maximal strength work; just that we stick to submaximal lifts most of the time? And do you believe that the submaximal lifts should be taken close to failure?

      • I don’t think they need to be taken close to failure, no. But this is just from my experience and witnessing the possibilities under the direction of another coach.

  • Anthony, I love the last point regarding pitchers. I did the “stop and think” on that one.
    A refreshing outlook and some great points.
    Well done!

  • Sol says:

    Woo someone talking about strength training and the NBA. There is Cressey for MLB, anyone know of similar in the NBA?

    While I agree with Anthony (really, for sports, it seems work capacity at a high level is far more important than peak strength), I found it interesting he used KD as an example. One of KD’s biggest knocks is that he is too weak. Use physical strength and you can push him to the edge of the perimeter.

    Chris Bosh had his best season after he put on some mass. MJ, Kobe, and LeBron are notable for spending a lot of time getting stronger. Dwight’s dominance is partly from his ridiculous strength.

    I guess really I’m just agreeing with Anthony – while 1RM is not that important, work capacity at a high level of strength is of paramount importance. And thus it makes sense that the Russian system would be the better solution in this case.

    • Sol, no matter how much you want to knock KD, he throws down some points. And using him is a prime example. He’s frail, with no strength, and yet he’s still boss hah.

      Not saying mass wouldn’t help to a point. But these athletes were already ace at their sport before that became a problem. Wonder where KD and Bosh would have been if they spent most of their time in the weight room instead of the court?

      • Brock says:

        To be fair, Anthony, I don’t think anyone is suggesting they spend ALL their time in the weight room – just more (or perhaps make better use of it?). I think the OKC loss to Dallas last year was the perfect example – Jason Kidd, a guy 8 inches shorter than Durant, shut him down for stretches of the game. Part of it was certainly using his smarts, but he also pushed him around quite a bit. All that said, I agree with pretty much everything you said in regards to the ME method.

  • Brandon Medina says:

    Did the Soviets use greater volume?

    • Prilepin’s Table was constructed based on the volume Soviets used. But you have to remember that this was also taken from Olympic Weightlifters. So when you consider a 1RM Clean, it’s submaximal to a 1RM deadlift.

  • Elliott Richardson says:

    Was thinking about solutions different ways to train maximum strength as well how to express it in programming. Had it on the tip of my tongue and this brought it out. Ah ha moment. Great article!

  • Eric says:

    This is a great article. Especially when getting to elite levels the main concern is, and should be maintaining health and preventing injury.
    Regarding NBA strength training can be beneficial but must be done extremely carefully with the amount of pounding these guys take(plus their large statures).

    • I agree. The NBA season is long and grueling. Strength work has to be mostly restorative.

      • Bret says:

        Personally I think that any decent strength coach could considerably increase a typical NBA team’s maximal strength without even coming close to “overdoing it.” I once watched the Phoenix Suns train and was blown away. They trained like pansies.

        I completely agree that NBA players have no business ever busting out max deadlifts to the point where backs round, or strenuous 4-second squats, etc.

        However, there are many methods, such as higher volume submaximal training, or low-volume training in medium rep ranges, or using bands/chains, that make things safer while still allowing for the development of increased strength.

        So I don’t feel that squats, deads, bench, etc. should be avoided with these players. I feel that box squats for NBA guys are huge, as are RDLs.

        And I don’t feel that strength work should be though of as being “restorative” for NBA players simply because most are so darn weak to begin with. Most of us could easily put 50 lbs on their box squat, RDL, close grip bench, without injuring any single player.

        But if you had a good off-season, then I suppose you could just try to maintain in the in-season (though some players could easily continue to build).

        However, I’m probably just arguing semantics right now and we’re probably on the same page.

        • Eric says:

          This is an interesting dilemma with NBA players, especially after such a grueling season. Programming must be done intelligently and specifically. The issue i’ve seen with NBA players is the amount of skill specific work they must put in to maintain their craft. With their long limbs and huge body structures the biomechanics of each atlete must be analyzed in depth as well as the toll the high volume of activity takes on the body.

          • Bret says:

            Eric – I was looking into The Square Cube Law the other day and I even found an article on the topic applying to intervertebral disk mechanics. They’re definitely at more risk of herniations, etc., however due to lever arm lengths you don’t need much loading with certain exercises to create large joint torques and muscle tension. Good point! – BC

          • Eric says:

            Awesome discussion below Bret and Anthony keep up the awesome posts. If you guys need an inside look at NBA training inbox me, I have some awesome ins.

          • sumoman says:

            For those who wish to have a simple biomechanical explanation of tallness and bigness I have written a very scientific article here;

  • “About 70% of strength work should be in the 70-85% range, which actually allows you to develop greater strength than when you lift only in the 90-100% zone.”

    – The majority of the volume in the Westside system comes from Dynamic Effort and Repeated Effort. Dynamic work is close to these percentages (with accommodated resistance), and Repeated Effort is generally in this area as well.

    Like stated in the article, most athletes will never get close to powerlifting loads. I think this in itself makes it easy to say max effort should be pushed until the athlete reach a decent level, IF strength is important for that athlete in his/her respective sport. In my opinion.

    But I like the article and understand the message. 😉

    • I agree Eirik… many athletes won’t come close to powerlifting loads making much of this moot. My basketball players play soooo much basketball (open gyms, tourneys, AAU, etc etc) that sometimes just getting them a little stronger can be a challenge.

      But for those athletes think it’s ALL ABOUT max squat/bench and all their focus goes towards that, Anthony’s point is very valid.

      Depends on the situation/individual (the athlete’s situation) I guess.


      • It’s not moot, Danny. It’s about HOW that strength is developed. Take two athletes.

        One maxes out in the gym. The other one doesn’t.

        Who’s going to be fresher for their practice?

        Who’s going to then be a better player?

        • Yeah, I agree with that point, Anthony. I guess my point was more, with so many players playing their sports year-round these days, we’re lucky to just get some of them in the weight room period.

          But yes, once we get them in there, HOW they develop the strength is important …. agreed.

        • Bret says:

          For me this was a great take-home point. I’ve been thinking a ton about “how much” and the mathematics behind certain decisions.

          If you can get 85% of the strength development without ever maxing out or going to failure, would this be worth it? Especially if it allowed you to push other qualities or allowed them to be fresher during scrimmage, skill-work, and competition.

          Definitely something to consider. And some folks thrive off of submaximal training (my powerlifting buddies in Auckland loved Sheiko…I prefer the Westside approach), so this is a great article to help coaches explore other considerations.

        • I think it depends. What if you worked up to a set of 1-3RM in a squat/front squat compared to 3 sets of 5 rep sub-max sets (say 8RM). Would the volume or the intensity interfere most with the subsequent performance?

          Did not Charlie Francis experience great success with heavy lifting before sprint practice?

          • He used it, yea. The point here isn’t to completely avoid training 90% and above though. Check the Yessis quote.

          • Bret says:

            That’s another great point. For example, Broz has his lifters max squat every day but they rarely max deadlift. Some lifts beat you up more than others. Of course training athletes (especially NBA players is much different), but the take-home point is to push the envelope further with inherently-safer lifts but stay further away from failure and maxing on riskier lifts. This is why cleans/snatches are inherently safer…they’re akin to explosive submaximal deadlifts (I know the kinematics are different but you get the point).

            And the Charlie Francis thing was false. He never had Ben Johnson squat prior to his race. The story was fabricated by someone and CF cleared up the misconception.

          • Bret says:

            Sorry Anthony, I’ve completely butchered what you intended to mean. Either way it’s led to great discussion.

          • Mike Delano says:

            No. CF always advocated lifting after sprint practice. Read his work. It was one of the cornerstones of his philosophy.

    • Well, I’m not really knocking Westside or powerlifters. I’m bringing up the issue of the max effort method for athletes. So there’s a bit of confusion about connecting the dots.

      • I know, but you referred to work within certain percentages. Most powerlifters do concentrate on this area. Max Effort work is really a small piece of the total pie, even for powerlifters.

        For team sports I agree more about being conservative with max effort, but a lot of individual sports depend on it.

        I think “for athletes” is too broad to talk generally about max effort. I would like to see how the removal of max work would effect throws, sprints, etc in track and field though. If it`s still possible to achieve those results without, it means it`s hope for all of us…

        • Bret says:

          Good point Eirik, the inter-related nature of max strength, strength-speed, speed, RFD, etc. is complex and one needs to consider how increasing force affects the entire force-velocity curve, etc. I imagine this would be different as per the individual, and this is an area I’d like to see more research on and more coaches experimenting with over time.

          • Very interesting stuff. I would love to see more good research on this area. Maybe we don`t need to get as strong to succeed as we believe, but then again.. that`s mostly what`s been the main factor to set new world records.

  • Great article.
    I think that athletes need to be strong to development your sport specific skills and we (S&C coaches) have to find the better way to build their strength.

    • Excellent point, Diego. Strength is “enough” when it’s “enough” for the development of the sport specific skills, truly.

      • Bret says:

        Well…this is oversimplistic IMO. If we increased a player’s 5RM squat and hip thrust by 30 lbs and this led to a 1 inch increase in their VJ, then we improve upon their capacity to dunk, rebound, block shots, etc. The difficulty is knowing when increased force is no longer the limiting factor…

        • Sure, Bret! I agree with you, but this is the line between a expert coach and a trainee.

          Best wishes, my friend! Your blog is very interesting and I’m a daily reader!

  • Lee Jephson says:

    I have to agree with Anthony, and I am a huge fan of having athletes lift in the 70-85%, although I also see merit in lifting above 90%.

    The balance between MS, RS and ES is paramount and although strength is the foundation (you are always building that foundation) athletes need to spend time developing the biomotor qualities of the sport that they play. That is different for different sports and varies among position. The question of how strong is strong enough also depends on the individual athlete and if they are RATE dominant or DURation dominant (fast vs slow twitch).

    Although we can make these concepts as complex as we want, I think at the end of the day athletes need to be as strong as possible, as fast as possible, as be as skilled in their sport as possible. You do that by lifting heavy weights, sprinting/jumping, and working on your skill.

    Great article.

    • Thanks Lee. I agree.

      • Bret says:

        Of course! But it’s the manner at which you go about maximizing skill, force, and velocity development simultaneously, and that’s why I loved this article so much.

        I could make a great argument for maxing out to allow for increased force which would improve all other factors, but I could also make a great argument for not maxing out as it can lead to injuries, overtraining, and prevent the development of other qualities. This is why we need more research with different methodology and why S&C is still very much of an “art.”

  • Michael says:

    Not claiming that all Bulgarians use steroids, but I think it can be assumed that they could handle their particular program better than anyone else in the world because of the performance enhancers that they were using. Their team withdrew from the 2008 Olympics because of steroids. So yeah I agree with a different approach than the Bulgarians too. Good article

  • Kashka says:

    I would like to see some research data on injury rates in training in 70-85% range vs. in 90-100%. I think ppl tend to lose concentration on higher rep sets hence causing injury. I do about 5 sets of singles around 95% max, I can better focus on my technique this way. I don’t train athletes, but I was under the impression that most profession athletes don’t max out regularly other than testing their strength.

    • Kashka, I’m not claiming immediate injury, I’m claiming all around toils of stress on the body.

      Anytime you “ramp” yourself up to do something, it takes a toll. So athletes ramp up for practice, games, etc. Then they go in the weight room and ramp it up again. And sooner or later, the cumulative effect takes hold.

      IF there’s a better way, it should be implemented.

    • Rob Panariello says:


      A few thoughts:

      1. To be clear my article was written in regard to the athlete establishing the necessary strength base for their particular sport/activity and thus, is training for “excessive” amounts of strength for the non-weightlifting competition athletes, additional time that is utilized to develop “additional” strength increases perhaps could be better spent focusing on training other physical qualities that are also necessary to enhance athletic performance. Make no qualms about it; strength is the cornerstone from which other physical qualities are developed. A strength reserve is necessary for the athlete to perform optimally throughout the season, and certainly necessary for the aging athlete to sustain their career.

      2. To my knowledge the is no research to substantiate that anything we do in the weight room is “Sports Specific” yet the “Sports Specific” term keeps being thrown around. What we do in the weight room is enhance the physical qualities (strength, power, elastic/reactive strength, etc…) and these enhanced qualities are “transferred” so to speak to the skills of the athlete by the athlete practicing the same skill over and over again. This “phenomena” occurs because the athlete utilizes the same nervous system when performing the lifts in training and when performing their particular skill repetitively over time in practice/competition. There is a distinct difference between “athleticism” and “skill”. If we improve a basketball player’s vertical jump (athleticism) it doesn’t mean he/she will make more of their 15 foot jump shots. That’s the skill that is improved with “shooting” practice. If we improve a baseball player’s bat speed, did we also improve their ability to hit a baseball, one of the hardest things to do in sport? The fact is they become more proficient in hitting baseball by practicing hitting baseballs. Once they become more proficient in hitting the baseball the increased bat speed may attribute to a higher velocity and greater distance of the hit baseball.

      3. On the same premise stated in #3 above, Olympic lifts are utilized to enhance power/rate of force production, etc.. There is certainly enough established research to justify this statement. Arguably the 2 most powerful athletes in the world are the Olympic weightlifter and the track and the field throwing athlete both who overwhelmingly utilize the OL’s. Charlie Francis used to have his sprinters OL extensively in the winter months. Due to the fact he was in Canada, he used the OL’s to keep his sprinters nervous system “active” since they did not run outside as much during the cold Canadian winter months. Once again, the same nervous system for adaptation from “athleticism” to “skill”. There is a study that documents that 85% of all NFL teams utilize the OL’s, there must be a reason why they are utilized by the majority teams. OL‘s enhance a football player’s power,RFD, etc., practicing and playing football makes one a better football player.

      4. We as coaches need to be careful when comparing weightlifters to other athletes. Weightlifters are exactly that, weightlifters. Other athletes are utilizing weight lifting to enhance athletic performance, not to become weightlifters. There is a difference, so we need to be careful when trying to adapt weightlifting programs to the “general” athlete. As far as Bulgaria’s program, myself and other USA strength coaches were present with Head Coach Ivan Abadjiev and the Bulgarian National team in the spring of 1988. The Bulgarians at the time lifted no less than 20 kilos from their max for singles and doubles. One certainly wouldn’t train an athlete this way as the athlete would never survive such a program. The Bulgarian lifters did not have as long a career as the Russian’s perhaps due to the stress of this type of program.

      5. Pitchers have more shoulder and elbow injuries for 2 reasons. (1) The volume of throws performed but more importantly (2) they throw downhill. Throwing isn’t bad for the shoulder/elbow, pitching is because of the pitching mound. Throwing downhill allows for a greater stride length and greater force production (stress) at the shoulder and elbow vs. throwing hard on level ground. So it’s not just the intensity of the effort, it’s the unique environment (pitching mound) that causes this higher stress. Even with the same volume of equal efforts, throwing and pitching is not the same thing.

      I do agree with Anthony that unless the athlete is an Olympic lifter or powerlifter they probable do not have to lift high intensities (90%+) as a “substantial portion” of the training program. However, I am of the opinion that there are times when it is necessary for the athlete (when appropriate) to lift in the 90% – 90%+ range or even “go off the gird” (on a good day) so to speak, to recruit the difficult to recruit type IIx/IIb motor units/muscle fibers. The “talent” of the coach is to determine how often it is both safe and necessary to go to this “high intensity well”.

      • Bret says:

        Great input Rob! My only point of contention is in #2. I’m wondering if my beef with folks who say that there is “no such thing as sports-specific training” is just semantics.

        If this were true, then we’d train all athletes the exact same way.

        The way I see it, we train athletes from sports differently and we train athletes of different positions within the same sport differently because they have different needs. Differences in terms of energy system development, skill/technique, emphasis on force, velocity, elasticity, directions of strength and power (vectors), regions of increased torque/force development according to joint angles and positions, etc.

        So therefore the training needs to be tailored to the individual’s sport and position. Am I missing something here?

        Aside from that, I agree with everything you wrote.

        • Rob Panariello says:


          To be clear we are not speaking of the sport “skill” we are speaking with regard to the posted article we are speaking in regard to the weightroom and the enhancement of physical qualities.

          What I am stating is that we as coaches enhance physical qualities and physiologic systems that are necessary for the sport of participation. We can enhance these physical qualities and physiological systems of the body with (a) different exercises and (b) different training programs/systems as not all coaches utilize the same exercises and program design and yet still achieve positive results. Once these physical qualities and physiological systems are enhanced, they are adapted to the skill/sport by the repetitive practice and participation of competition in that specific sport. If something is “sports specific” then why may such a variety of exercises and programs enhance athletic performance?

          This is especially true in the weightroom. For example let’s say we need to enhance glute strength (since you’re the glute guy 🙂 ) for starting enhancement in a sprint. You and I both utilize different specific exercises to enhance glute strength and through the repetitive practice of “starting drills” this strength increase is transferred to the task and resulted in lower sprint starting times. If we both accomplished this task then, which exercise was “sports specific”, yours or mine? They were both different but they both enhanced glute strength which was necessary for decreasing the starting sprint time. Neither exercise is sports specific, the strength quality is what was necessary to enhance lowering the sprint time and this strength quality enhancement was achieve by both of us. We both utilized different exercises, that carried over via the nervous system through repetitive practice of “starting drills” ” to lower starting sprint times.

          Return to the baseball player. If we enhance swing velocity through work in the weightroom does that mean the player will raise their batting average or make contact with the ball (skill) more frequently? The basketball player whom due to work in the weightroom increases their vertical jump, do they make more shots (skill) because they lifted more weight and now jump higher?

          In my opinion, especially with regard to the weightroom, we as strength coaches enhance physical qualities and these enhanced qualities carry over to sport peformance via the nervous system with repetitive practice. If this were not true they (a) why isn’t everyone using the a limited selection of exercise(s) and programs that are “sports specific” vs. the vast variety of exercises/programs available? Do not a variety of exercises and program designs achieve “results”? So which ones are “Sports Specific”? If all achieve athletic enhancement then where does the word “specific” come into play? and (b) I am not aware of any research that states a specific exercise has a specific carry over to specific sport. For example one “myth” is that single leg training carries over to running better than bi-lateral leg training since the stance phase occurs on one leg. This is logical, however it is also just opinion as to my knowledge, this theory has never been proven.

          • Bret says:

            Very good points Rob, and I can certainly see where you’re coming from. I agree with most of what you’re saying, I agree that much of this is theoretical and requires more research, I agree that the single leg vs. double leg training argument is speculative and requires more research (I don’t think you’d see meaningful differences between functional performance outcomes if you stuck to a single leg vs. double leg program with equated volume on matching movement patterns).

            However, I am of the belief that we can look at certain things in order to better enable us to make better training decisions. (How’s that for a vague statement?).

            Now, I’m all for “general strength training.” In other words, all athletes can benefit from getting stronger at squats, deads, bench, chins, military, rows, etc. Any coach who has trained athletes has witnessed this.

            However, let’s say that future research determined that sprinters achieve higher max speeds through increased vertical force production as opposed to horizontal force production. Then we learned that certain exercises are better suited at increasing vertical force production compared to others. Then we may learn that increasing the attention we devote to these exercises leads to better sprint times. I’m open-minded to learning more about this over time. But it’s just theoretical at this point and needs to be researched.

            There have been studies showing that swinging weighted bats don’t increase subsequent bat velocity, but a recent study showed that an isometric cable rotational hold did increase subsequent bat velocity. This knowledge can be used by baseball coaches to improve the “sports specific training” for the sport. The problem is that we don’t have much research in these areas and most coaches who simply know a lot about Oly lifting and powerlifting can do a hell of a lot better job of training athletes to get stronger and powerful compared to biomechanics geeks. However, the optimal coach, in my opinion, is well-versed in Oly lifting and powerlifting, knows the sport, knows the research, and blends it all together to formulate the best programs.

            I don’t agree that it’s just a matter of using particular exercises to get the muscle strong and then the nervous system coordinates all of it together; research has shown that training at long muscle lengths vs. short muscle lengths can influence the optimal length of the muscle and change the ROM in which it delivers the most torque. This isn’t nervous-system related; it’s a function of the number of sarcomeres in series and perhaps structural adaptations in titin, meromysin, the ECM, etc. But this requires much more research too.

            However, I agree with you that many roads can lead to Rome. But I suspect that some roads get you there quicker than others. I’m sure we’re on the same page in this regard…

      • Awesome insights Rob. I have a question though, in response to this:

        “2. To my knowledge the is no research to substantiate that anything we do in the weight room is “Sports Specific” yet the “Sports Specific” term keeps being thrown around. What we do in the weight room is enhance the physical qualities (strength, power, elastic/reactive strength, etc…) and these enhanced qualities are “transferred” so to speak to the skills of the athlete by the athlete practicing the same skill over and over again.”

        I know there was a bit of a discussion, but are you saying you don’t believe in sport specific practice — ie: long toss for baseball pitchers, throwing weighted implements of different weights for discus throwers, and things of that nature?

        I understand the general barbell work is general and all, but do you not believe in sport specific “practice” outside of non-competition movements and skills?

    • Bret says:

      This is a great point. Pushing a 3-5RM to failure is just as inherently dangerous as maxing, and I imagine that this “danger” depends on the individual as well.

  • Aaron says:


    I think it is an excellent point regarding the potential breakdown of form with maximal lifts. If a person is focused on athletics, rather than exclusively Olympic lifting or power lifting, why risk injury with maximal loads if you can get sufficiently strong with sub maximal loads? Further, wouldn’t it be more beneficial for an athlete to perform more frequent sessions with sub maximal loads rather than be forced to train less due to neural fatigue created by maximal training?

    For athletics such as BJJ/MMA isn’t maximal strength relatively over-rated without developing strength/endurance qualities?

    • Overrated … IMO it is impossible to say if max strength is over/underrated – it depends on the individual situation. If the person has great endurance but is very weak and he/she continues to focus on endurance, then that person is underrating max strength. If the person is more than strong enough for their sport (BJJ/MMA/B-ball/Football, etc), and he/she continues to focus on max strength, then that person is overrating max strength.

      Those are my thoughts anyway.

      • Bret says:

        Sure, and I’ve never seen a very good diagnosis for determining individual strengths and weaknesses and therefore steering a coach in the proper direction. Much of this is due to the difficulties in standardizing an approach on account of differences in anthropometry, as well as technology needs that are too expensive for the vast majority of coaches.

  • Rob Panariello says:

    In my experience it’s usually the excessive exercise volume vs. the lifting of maximum weight that injuries the athlete. It’s not that I ignore exercise intensity, but inappropriate programming re: volume, is what causes fatigue which will have a negative effect upon exercise technique (biomechanics) resulting in injury. Very rarely will someone lift a heavy weight and injure themself; they either make the lift or miss the lift. Most injuries are strains, sprains, tendonitis, etc., overuse type injuries as a result of excessive exercise poor programmed volume. If an athlete injuries themselves lifting a heavy weight it usually at the price of the heavy weight lifted with an inappropriate programmed volume.

    For example if an athlete performs 3 sets of 5 in the bench press at 405 pounds and ruptures their pec performing the 2nd rep (rep #17) in the 4th set of 5, was it the 405 pounds that caused the injury or the excessive exercise volume during bench pressing, i.e. the athlete could perform 16 reps at 405 but not prepared for 17 reps at 405?

    If a pitcher can throw a “high intensity” 92 MPH fastball, and eventually injures themself, do they blow their shoulder out the first game of the season or does the injury usually occur as the season progresses, when they have thrown a high volume of pitches over time? Doesn’t the injury usually occur when fatigued has reached a point where recovery time is not appropriate/sufficient (poor program volume/pitch count design)?

    Lastly if the work of Hammil is reviewed, one will see that for the injuries that occur per 100 hours of athletic participation, Olympic lifting and Powerlifting have much lower injury rates (safer) when compared to sports such as Football, Rugby, Basketball, Soccer and even UK cross-country (i.e. high volume running). This is probably due to the appropriate programmed exercise volumes associated with each specific high exercise intensity.

    Incidence of injury per 100 hours of participation – Football 0.10, Rugby 1.92, Basketball 0.03, Soccer 0.014, UK cross-country 0.37, Olympic Weightlifting 0.0017, Powerlifting 0.0027.

    Just because an athlete lifts lighter weights doesn’t mean that they are not at the same risk of injury as an athlete who lifts heavier weights. Excessive exercise performance volume for the specific weight programmed, light or heavy, will place the athlete at increased risk of injury.

    Just my opinion.

    • I love this stuff. Great point-counterpoints are being made but some smart minds. I’ve especially liked your contribution, Rob!

    • Bret says:

      Good stuff Rob!

    • Deep says:

      That’s a great counter-argument Rob!

    • Good stuff, Rob. I agree with your take on volume, but from what I experienced, athletes don’t really have to be “straining” all that much, especially if they have a 405 bench for 5+ reps. I know yours was just an example, but I get what you’re saying on the volume front. Should have been a bit clearer on that. Point taken.

      I agree that injuries are low for weight training. But you also have to consider that combining weight training and a competitive sport has to add some extra stress in that equation.

      • Rob Panariello says:


        First let me state that I very much appreciate and like your article. In reviewing all of conversation that has ensued from it, it certainly was a worthwhile topic to post on both yours and Bret’s part. I agree 100% that the stress of combining weight training and competitive sport (in-season training) is a different animal than training during the off-season. One problem with internet “conversations” is the message interpretation of the reader may not be the same message prescribed by the writer. My posts have been in regard to the off-season training. However, regarding the in-season, there is much that may be discussed, especially the length of the season, how many competitions occur during the season and especially how may occur during the week as well as numerous other factors. In a sport such as football it is much easier to program the weekly workouts as the schedule remains the same, one game day per week and the game day is usually the same day of the week. As I stated, I do agree that the stress to the athlete does increase during the in-season with the combination of practice+training+game day participation. However the application of high intensity is still necessary during the in-season as I am of the opinion the “talent” of a coach is not the ability to keep the team “fresh” , it’s to keep the team strong. If they are strong the will be fresh. Strength, power, speed, etc. “adaptation” occurs with exercise intensity. The key again is how much (volume) applied high intensity and once again that is both the programmed volume and talent of the coach.

        I have stated previously in other internet posts/articles, my experiences that occurred when I worked a number a years with my good friend Johnny Parker while he was the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach with the NFL NY Giants. I witnessed and did partake in the years of work that contributed to 2 Super Bowl victories. I know what occurred during the in-season workouts and I assure you that the application of high intensity and low volume work were a factor in his team’s success. Johnny had 4 teams that went to the Super Bowl, with 3 teams winning it. Although all of those Super Bowl teams had players produce PR’s in at least one lift during the playoffs, one particular team had 35 players produce at least 1 PR lift in the playoffs. It’s certainly an advantage to have a team “peak” with their strength and power outputs at the time of the playoffs. In fact with all of the various off-season strength and conditioning programs and techniques utilized today, one of the last advantages a team may have over another is the in-season training program. I can tell you from experience that the application of high intensity in season training, at least for the game of football is appropriate. The KEY is the programmed volume as not to fatigue/injure the player.

        During my time as the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at St. John’s University, a University noted at the time for their basketball program, we also had only one Division III team. This team was a football team which eventually moved to Division IAA. We certainly didn’t play Notre Dame or USC but we did win our conference a number of times. In 1993 we had a senior running back by the name of Anthony Russo who broke the NCAA rushing record at the Division III level. In 1993 Anthony Russo, who was 5’7” and weighed 195 pounds rushed for a season total of 1,413 yards bringing his 4 year career total to 5,689 yards. This is highest rushing yardage total for any Division III running back and the third highest rushing yardage than anyone else in college football history.

        Now many may say, well it’s only (at the time) Division III football. This is what 2 time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin stated at the time of Anthony’s record. “People might say that Anthony gained all of those yards at St. Johns, which is considered a Division III school (Griffin rushed for a career 5,177 yards). “But I don’t care what league you’re in. I don’t care if its high school, college, or the pros. Rushing is rushing. It’s plain and simple”. Anthony Russo, like the rest of our players lifted (appropriately programmed) high intensity, during the off-season as well as during the in-season.

        I certainly agree with you that there are dangerous “absolute” (max) weight intensities that should be avoided, however, I personally do not want S&C Professional to read this or any article, leaving them with the impression (again a readers own interpretation to an “internet” writers words) that an athlete should not lift heavy (i.e. Soviet Zones 4 and 5) during either the off-season or in-season. If we avoid the appropriate application of high intensity exercise, I am of the opinion that we place our athletes at greater risk of injury on game day, the day of the week where the highest “uncontrolled” stresses are applied to our athletes. The day of the week where most injuries occur.

  • *BY* some smart minds. 🙂

  • Noel says:

    @Rob- so you are saying that athletes should lift with high intensity/low volume?

    I need help since I’m a basketball player. I want to get stronger by doing less work. So if Anthony said the Prilepin’s chart was a good guide, should I do 5×3/3×5 @ 80-90%? Wouldn’t that be stressful?

  • Rob Panariello says:


    No I’m not saying that at all. What I would recommend is that you have a qualified person evaluate you to determine your strength and weaknesses in re: the qualities of strength that you need to develop. After the evaluation you need to develop a work capacity performed with lighter weights, which would also include mobility, exercise technique, etc.… You then need to develop the physical of qualities of strength i.e. absolute, power, elastic, etc.…. starting with absolute strength levels as absolute strength is the basis from where the other physical strength qualities develop.

    The reason your question cannot be specifically answered is because your work capacity and physical strength quality “needs” are not known. You certainly can utilize Prilepin’s chart as a guide as Anthony suggests, which is a good suggestion, however, do we really know how many specific reps (a) in total you should perform i.e. exercise, workout, workout week, workout month, etc. and (b) how many reps at each “zone of intensity” you should perform? No we do not as we’re not coaching you.

    I agree that you don’t need to squat 600 pounds and to do so the risk would outweigh the rewards, however you do need to be very strong to play the game of basketball. As an example Stan Baily a two time weightlifting Olympian and USAW weightlifting coach who coach’s at our Performance Center here in New York told me a story about Kobe Bryant. Stan knew Kobe’s first strength coach when Kobe first entered the NBA. I don’t recall the coach’s name but he was an Olympic lifting coach and Stan told me that Kobe could lift 100 kilos from the floor.

    Al Vermeil, during his time with the Bulls had Horace Grant lifting (clean) 125 Kilos from the floor. Another friend of mine Brendan Zeigler who was at Oregon State University and now is at Cal State Davis had his 7 footers at Oregon State cleaning 100+ Kilos from the floor. During my time as the Head Strength coach at St. John’s University in New York, one of my most powerful lifters was a Power Forward named Jayson Williams who could clean 125 kilos from the floor at 6 feet 10 inches.

    As a basketball player you certainly don’t need to squat 600 pounds, and I also would advise against that. However, if you would like to play the game at a high level, you need to be strong. You need to improve the various strength qualities of the body. My recommendation to you is to find a qualified strength and conditioning coach that could at least start you on the right path.

    Good luck Noel.


  • Noel says:

    @Rob- Thanks for the input! That certainly makes sense!

    Right now, my maxes are-
    Squat- 353lb/160.5kilos
    CleanandJerk- 220lbs/100kilos
    Deadlift- 374lb/170kilos @175lbs/79.5 kilos.

    I think those are the most important exercises that should be done in the weight room.

    Is my strength enough though?

    Thanks Rob

    • Rob Panariello says:


      “Internet training” is not the optimal way to train, however,I’ll provide you with an opinion. What is your height and weight and what position do you play?

  • Eric says:

    Great post Anthony, and lots of great comments by many, namely Bret and Rob 🙂

    In fact, I have to say, I agree with much of what you propose Rob.

    And, some pretty good points have been presented that make me want further elaborate about some of the other “myths” I’ve been trying to expose for quite some time, namely the ones regarding “sport specificity” and “speed specificity”. I am certainly not the first to do so, but here follows some of my thoughts (loosely combined to other’s thoughts/ideas/comments following discussions) on the topic.

    I’ve been of the opinion for quite some time now that probably no trainee/athlete other than Olympic lifters should train the Olympic lifts and their variants, most notably the often-used “power clean”. The reason being that we, as trainers and therapists, should first and foremost be concerned with getting people stronger and healthier, while keeping in mind this very important principle: First, DO NO HARM. The inherent risk of Olympic lifts are too many (as is, most likely, too frequent maximal effort training, as alluded to in Anthony’s original post).

    Once we realize that the history of the use of the O-Lifts in the training of athletes has its roots in the influence of Olympic weightlifters on the early days of the strength and conditioning field, most notably in football, and then once we can acknowledge that, at the time, there were very few people who had any expertise or knowledge in the field, we can come to understand that the principles espoused by the first “strength coaches” who knew about training athletes had everything to do with performing two very specific lifts (depending on the era and geographical situation you are talking about, maybe the triathlon) and nothing to do with the actual demands of the sport of the athletes they were training.

    Following that, I think it’s important to understand the notion that in order to justify the high injury rate and difficulty in learning these exercises, many myths and superstitions arose around these lifts… One being that moving a weight quickly will make “fast” muscles, and another being that the power clean is specific to the skills of the offensive lineman and transfers “explosiveness” to the skills of the sport. Moving a weight quickly will not develop fast muscles. According to the size principle of muscle fiber recruitment in fact, it is really the “intent” to move a weight quickly that allows you to recruit the strongest, most powerful muscles fibers, NOT that the weight actually moves fast. In other words, it is the attempted maximum effort against a weight that has momentarily become virtually impossible to move that allows the nervous system to recruit and
    fire the most explosive muscle fibers. Up to a certain point in fact, you will always be able to recruit more muscle fibers at a slower speed.

    This is not my opinion only, but it is one I have come to form over years of research and experience, and I have thus come to believe that there is no such thing as “almost ” specific. Any movement performed with added resistance will obviously be slower than the same movement performed on the field without resistance, therefore violating the principle of specificity of speed of movement. The added resistance will also change the “pattern” of the movement, violating what the motor learning
    experts call the encoding principle of learning. Athletes and coaches sometime take the transfer of learning for granted. And this is why it has continuously been shown that it can be a costly mistake to train with heavy apparatus (weighted bats, heavy baseballs or basketballs, weighted vests for jumping drills, etc.) in the hopes of “getting stronger” in a “functional or sport-specific way”; costly, both in terms of performance outcome AND also in terms of potential for injury…

    The central nervous system learns and stores only essential information. The ability of the body to retain high levels of skill, strength and conditioning is very poor. The only way to retain and transfer skills to the playing field is to practice literally thousands of specific repetitions exactly as performed in competition. Just ask a basketball player what happens to his shot if he does not shoot for a few days. He has lost a certain amount of what the nervous system now perceives as “nonessential information”.

    Yet the power clean has been described as being specific for everything from tackling to rowing a boat to swinging a golf club. How can one exercise be “specific” for so many tasks? It can’t. The myth of weight room transfer of skills is just that, a myth. The way to get more explosive on the field is to first practice in a game specific fashion as much as possible. Combined to this, we must then ensure that we strengthen the muscles (safely and accordingly) so that we can apply as much force as possible in a skillful fashion.

    Interestingly, many the best Olympic weightlifting coaches and teams do not do many power cleans and the Olympic lift mutations anymore. Arguably, one the most successful coach in the history of Olympic weightlifting is a fellow we probably all know here by the name of Ivan Abadjiev. He coached the Bulgarian weightlifting team for over twenty years, taking his lifters to the absolute top of international dominance. Abadjiev had observed over time that the Olympic lift variations did not transfer to the competitive lifting platform like once believed. Abadjiev and his fellow coaches were opposed to most anything but the specific lifts performed in competition. They trained
    almost exclusively the clean and jerk, the snatch, and the squat at near competition weights (as was also alluded to above).

    Now, if the power clean does not transfer to the clean
    and jerk, why would it transfer to an offensive lineman performing the complexities of a zone block, or a point guard shooting a jumper?

    Olympic weightlifting is a very demanding sport. So are football, basketball, swimming and tennis. I have a lot of
    respect for competitive Olympic weightlifters and I am one of a few people who actually enjoys watching it as a spectator sport. But just because Olympic weightlifting is a tough sport does not mean it is the best way to prepare athletes for other sports. Olympic weightlifters do not practice explosive blocking, tackling or rebounding in order to better explode into the bar. Does that seem silly? That’s because IT IS. An Olympic weightlifter would not accept the risk of injury and waste his time blocking, tackling or rebounding when he could be putting that time and risk into his chosen sport. And he certainly wouldn’t even do it in his “off-season.” Why take the risk and considerable time to perform the Olympic lifts and the various
    mutations when you could put that exact same time into practicing your sport? Lest we forget as well, Olympic lifters train very skill-dependent movements on a daily basis, sometimes through multiple sessions a day, and the elite are often blessed with perfect/optimal joint mobility and morphology for their chosen sport, on top of benefiting from expert guidance from their sport-specific coach, an actual Olympic lifting coach… Not just “some strength trainer”…

    One last thing… Much of the fascination with the Olympic lifts is related to the speed of movement. Olympic weight lifting coaches frequently admonish their athletes to “think speed.” When lifts are missed the athlete is coached to increase the speed of bar. As we know, movement speed is measured in terms of degrees per second. And the standard repetition speed in a
    weight room would probably measure about 60 degrees per second. In a 140-degree barbell curl done at that speed, it would take a little over two seconds to complete the concentric portion of the rep. The speed many people consider “fast” or “explosive” in
    the weight room would measure approximately 180 degrees per seconds. The same barbell curl, for example, performed at this speed, would take about three-fourths of a second. In competition however, a fast athlete can rotate some joints well in excess of 1000 degrees per second. This is a factor five
    to ten times greater than the speed considered “fast” in the weight room. “Explosive” lifting is only “fast” relative to a controlled rep. Relative to the athletic field it is, in reality, quite slow. So slow, in fact, that if you moved at that speed in competition you would lose… EVERY TIME.

    There is no skill that will transfer from the weight room to the field. Strength training develops the raw material of the body, and is done in the gym. We should probably do that in as safe and efficient a way as possible.

    Skills, on the other hand, are learned in practice and repetition, on the field or court.

    Injuries occur when peak accelerative forces (in contrast to average forces) surpass the tissues’ ability to take that force. Why mess around with it in the weight room?!?!? I agree with Rob that there are far more injuries in field sports and, my guess is, peak acceleration/impact forces are at their highest in those. BUT, I also am of the opinion that it is categorically unacceptable to compare weight room injuries with sports-related injuries and to subsequently state that there are fewer injuries in the weight room. Strength training for athletes should NOT be viewed as sport, nor is it an activity where injuries should be commonplace. Then we need to ask ourselves a few questions:

    How many of the injuries incurred were a result of ballistic training?

    What about cumulative trauma which was aggravated on the field and not attributed to the weight room?

    Is any injury in the weight room acceptable?

    The underlying tone of explosive lifting proponents, when discussing injuries, is that they are a “part of athletics”, therefore the fact that certain lifts may carry inherent risks must be accepted. But again, I believe this thinking represents a negligent haphazard approach in the training of athletes who are not competitive weightlifters.

    So, rather than attempt to maximize peak force by accelerating rapidly (which also increases risk of injury) and have less tension over the rest of the range of motion, shouldn’t we maybe aim to maximize the tension the muscle encounters over the full range of the exercise, which is safer and also more easily quantified?

    We need to realize that to account for the fact that the inclusion of these movements in strength programs could in fact be the genesis of injuries incurred later in practise and games. We can never underestimate the fact that continuous exposure to the acceleration/deceleration forces present when doing cleans, snatches, jerks, etc can produce tissue damage which literally is an accident waiting to happen.

    • Bret says:

      Eric – my thoughts:

      1) I agree that Oly lifts aren’t necessary especially with new research showing equal power outputs from submaximal, explosive deadlifts and squats (and jumping hex bar deadlifts).

      2) Sure the only thing truly specific is the action itself, but I believe there are many subtypes of specificity – movement pattern, load, force, velocity, vector, etc.

      3) I do agree about the intent to move weight fast, but to play devil’s advocate there is actually some good research showing superior gains in power from training with the optimal load for power development (it’s different for each lift…bw for vertical jump, >85% for power cleans, etc.).

      4) I definitely agree with the tension comment. This is where bands/chains and lifts that ramp up in torque requirement come into play. Great point there.

      5) If I were head strength coach of a pro team I don’t think I’d Oly lift year round. I think there are safer alternatives. But I would do ballistic work.

    • Wow. This was a huge and insightful reply. Good stuff, Eric. Bret does make some points below, but for athletes, there are always other tools to get the job done that, well, get the job done.

  • Mike Reese says:

    I have to disagree with only his last point. There ARE people who want to hear that training with less effort and less intensity will produce gains in strength. Sometimes, in using a tool (weight training), it’s easy to forget what the tool was for, when you take you eye off the original goal. The phone was invented for distant communication. The cell phone made that a certain practicality that went beyond wired phones. Now the phone is the thing, not necessarily the communication. It’s just as important to remember what you’re lifting FOR as it is how MUCH you are lifting. That being said, I lift heavy because I have a job that requires it, and I like the sense of accomplishment lifting heavy weights gives me ..

  • arnoud says:

    I won’t discuss because you people are way better at that, but I’ve also seen strength coaches/athletes actually recommend going even below the recommended percentages, ie between 60-70%. Added note is that they focused on exploding the concentric part. I’m considering this way of training, because training with the percentages mentioned in the article always give some level of soreness. Anyway, these links go into more depth: (the shaun pickering one) (thread post by the natural: “pause squat routine”).

    What do you think, training for maximal power output with lower percentages?

  • Dave says:

    Great article and discussion, has challenged me in a number of ways about how I work. This argument ties in so well with what the athlete often tries to tell us, maybe we should listen to them more? This would also help to change the general consensus that S&C is about being a meat head and lifting massive heavy weights. Our industry has some poor stereotypes.

    Anthony / Brett a question… If we start to look at training history how does this stagger the argument for the inclusion of less focus on max training? A novice can push relative max but bounce back pretty quick via lots of soreness ( due to technical limitations and poor MU engagement / fibre recruitment etc). An intermediate or advance strength trainer will be fried following max work but with less soreness. Just interested in your thoughts. Especially as a lot of non elite athletes instinctively back of heavy work late in the season or are unable to reach advanced levels as the sport prevents the training time and adaptation.

  • Carlo Buzzichelli says:

    What Zatsiorsky describes as “sub-maximal method” is a medium rep sets not to failure method for hypertrophy (pgg.82-85, Science and Practice of Strength Training), almost à la Weider. It has nothing to do with weightlifting/powerlifting training.
    Such view is further confirmed by the table at page 86 of said book.

    I stressed, in my interview on this blog, how important is the soviet’s Zone 3 of intensity (70-80%) for maximum strength development.

    Such submaximal method uses low reps, high buffer, explosive concentrics and perfect technique, and can utilize the Prilepin table as a set/workout volume guideline.

    But we also have to consider what follows:

    a) That the majority of the intramuscular coordination gains happen with loads over 80%.
    b) That the majority of the intermuscular coordination gains happen with loads under 80%.
    c) That we need to use the full spectrum of intensities to maximize the neuromuscular adaptations, and consequently the maximum strength.

    Methodologically speaking:

    – In a preparation phase with limited time to dedicate to the development of maximum strength, the intensities utilized in the MxS macrocycles will be high (80% and up). This is usually what happens with team sports after a few weeks of Anatomical Adaptation training.

    – In the preparation phase of an individual sport with a lot of time to dedicate to the development of maximum strength, and especially in a multi-year perspective that
    foresee a continous progression in the mid and long term, most of the attention in the periodized plan will be placed on the intermuscular coordination factor.

    – Nevertheless, for the development of maximum strength, in every periodized plan, we will start from lower intensities, higher times under tension per set (that favour the anatomical adaptations) and a focus on technique, to get to higher intensities in order to elicit a high muscular tension, later on.

    Carlo Buzzichelli, TBI-MPS
    Technical Director of the Tudor Bompa Institute – International

    • Rob Panariello says:


      “But we also have to consider what follows:
      a) That the majority of the intramuscular coordination gains happen with loads over 80%.
      b) That the majority of the intermuscular coordination gains happen with loads under 80%.
      c) That we need to use the full spectrum of intensities to maximize the neuromuscular adaptations, and consequently the maximum strength.”

      I certainly agree. As you state in “a” and “c” there certainly are times when appropriate, the PREPARED athlete must train a precise percentage of their total exercise intensity volume in zones 4 and 5 with SPECIFIC programmed exercise volumes for each Zone of Intensity prescribed. This is why, in my opinion, it is not the maximum weight intensity that is the usual cause of weightroom injury; it is the inappropriate excessive exercise volume prescribed and performed at the specific Zone of Intensity(s) that is the cause of the majority of most weightroom injuries. With inappropriately prescribed exercise volumes, injury may also occur at Zone 3, or any other Zone of intensity. When the unfortunate injury occurs, either the high (absolute)weight intensity or the exercise itself is usually (publicly) blamed.

      I certainly agree that there are exercise intensity (absolute) loads that are inappropriate and unnecessary for specific individual athletes (the my reason for my writing “How Much Strength Do Our Athletes Need?”) but when appropriately prepared and prescribed, all athletes require a specific and appropriate percentage of their exercise volume to be performed in Zones 4 and 5.

      Just my opinion

      • Carlo Buzzichelli says:

        Hello Rob,

        I very much agree with everything you wrote.

        As a matter of fact, I would work mostly in (the soviet) Zone 4 for team sports, yet using “buffer”.

        When time is an issue, Zone 4 intensities deliver faster and more ” to the field transferable” (intramuscular coordintaion) results.
        Zone 5 has to be managed with care.

        As we agreed at the time of my interview, the volume of strength exercises plays a major role in sport injuries (be it in the weightroom or on the field).

        I am glad that we agree on such matter.

    • Thanks for the reply. Insightful, indeed. As for your “A,” I agree. Again, I’m not saying ALL work should be shunned.

      But from what I learned, it doesn’t take that “long” to develop — or at the least “remember” — the intramuscular coordination. What’s your opinion on this?

      • Carlo Buzzichelli says:

        Hi Anthony,

        As you can see from the reply to Rob, I state that intramuscular coordination adapations are faster to achieve, so we agree.

        Thank you for the appreciation.

  • Carl says:

    Power without application is no different than praying that the hammer strength circuit will keep NFL lineman prepared for the Super Bowl.

    First Rob, Brendan has guys nearly 7 feet pulling 130+ kilos from the floor with great technique and catching deep. It can be done if the athlete is not babied. Great anecdote is right.

    Second the nonsense about olympic lifting being a sport is a lame excuse for a bad situation. If you don’t have the ability to coach the lifts because of time, environment, athlete injuries, then ok. Don’t say because it’s a different sport. Don’t sprint because we are not sprinters. Don’t do plyos because we are not jumpers. Don’t get hypertrophy since we are not bodybuilders. The lifts is pulling from below to above the head or racking on the shoulders. Nothing more. Not easy to master but power snatches from boxes isn’t a big deal.

    I can speak for both college or HS team and private sector. Unless you are trying people for 8-12 weeks a year only for one season, then it can be done. If you train someone 2 x a week for a few months than you are babysitting as not much can be done with that time period.

    Regarding transfer. It’s hard to see what works with power development but jump testing is a great tool. Are people expressing power or just getting wattage up on a tendo or force plate? Even sloppy olympic lifts with the bar coming in front doesn’t transfer even if the weight becomes higher because the weight needs to to be close to the center of mass.

    Wattage is great but without real data it’s just a borderline lab experiment.

    • Rob Panariello says:


      Thanks for the correction on Brendan’s athlete’s weight intensities. Although I do speak with Brendan, it was over a year ago when we were with each other reviewing video of his athletes. I obviously did not recall the exact intensity that some of his 7 footers successfully lifted. However, you do reinforce my point about the athlete needing to be strong and explosive to play at that level of competition.

      I also agree on your points that exercise technique is critical and that testing the vertical jump has been proven as a very good predictor of “athleticism”. I personally think it is one of the best tests a coach can utilize with their athletes

    • Carl, the argument about Olympic Weightlifting comes from the philosophy of this: weightlifters are strong and powerful, therefore, I must train as a weightlifter trains.

      You’re correct. We aren’t sprinters therefore we don’t MIMIC THE SAME PROGRAM as sprinters. We aren’t jumpers so we don’t MIMIC THE SAME PROGRAM.

      Principles can be taken. But my comment was more towards those that adopt every crumb of an Olympic Weightlifting philosophy and apply it to a different athlete.

  • Domenic says:

    Anthony I agree with you 100%.

    Something we need to think about beyond the percentages of 1RM we train at is the firing patterns we are using to get the weight up.

    The arguement is often made for ME deadlifts and such, but you are lifting so heavy that you are pushing past failure certain things you do not want to push past failure.

    Hips rise when deadlifting, spinal flexion occurs and on and on. Those patterns are completely WORTHLESS to someone who is trying to improve their athleticism.

    I could feel the difference in my jumping when I had just done ME deads, the muscles were all out of whack… I dont know how else to describe it. Some may say my nervous system was shot, but it felt like I was trying to jump, using that ME pattern, which was a disaster.

    ME O-Lifts and ME deadlifts are two very different things, the deadlifts falls completely to pieces, while a O-Lift can only get so bad.

  • Nate Rogers says:

    At the moment i see people backing an option and sticking with it. Opting to go for what they believe is a the “right way” of doing things rather than being open minded and saying you can use both rep ranges and % of 1rms at different times of the sports season/year or the sport for which it is being programmed for, thus leading to these adaptations. I make use of both rep ranges when programming for my sprinters.

    When it comes to the subject of sport specificity I personally believe that different exercises and movements benefit a sport dependant on the requirements within that sport. i.e. if i have a sprinter who runs in a straight line for 100m I don’t see why i would make him/her do loads of agility drills. Also the idea that OL weight lifting doesn’t transfer to other sports in my opinion does not makes sense. If you improve an athletes triple extension patterns, muscle stiffness, speed of movement and strength then it will carry over to an athletes sport. Yes it wont improve a players technique of passing a ball in rugby for example but it sure has hell will allow that player to pass the ball further due to increase in strength and power.

    I don’t believe either method of training increases risk of injury. If the movements are taught correctly and progression is is done sensibly then you can train in either range safely and see required benefits of training.

    SnC student at St Marys University College
    Nate Rogers

  • Francis says:

    Great article and well timed. After just finishing and reviewing my first ‘real’ season S&C coaching for a Pro team in the UK, I have been asking the question ‘Was I asking too much too often from the players?’. As a result next season I will ask them to maximal load only in specific times when appropriate. This article supports my thoughts and puts some actual reasoning and support behind it.

  • Zeeshan Parvez says:

    I agree with the author. Steve Justa, author of the book Rock, Iron, Steel, also advices to stay in the 70%-80% range for strength. The man is a beast when it comes to strength. According to him by keeping in that range you can focus on speed and prevent burnout both of which will lead to great strength. I AGREE!

  • Dominique says:

    I experimented training at around 75-80% for about two months on the squat. I moved this lift from 425 to 465 lbs! My sessions were three times a week for 5-8 sets of 3. Just once, toward the end of the two-month period, I did 5 triples at 375 (88% of former max) and I couldn’t help but notice how easy the weight now felt (I had plateaued at this 4RM). On test day, I squatted 445 no problem and missed 465 by a hair; I tried and nailed 465 a few days later. I felt great the whole time; I still train this way, sometimes doing doubles at 85% or singles at 90%. Testing a max on a lift like squat or deadlift can be very taxing, but it’s important to learn how to negotiate a big weight at some point in strongman training (this is my sport). If I feel there may be a risk for injury if I work to 100%, then I just test myself for a single at 95% or 98% of my former max; at that intensity level, I am able to gauge my probable max, but this takes some experience. You can do so much more volume at 70-80.

  • John says:

    Thanks for the article. Some of the comments need clarification though.

    Some of the best jumping coaches of all time Verkhoshansky (USSR), and Starinsky (Poland), to my knowledge did not mention olympic lifts in their books.
    The key is not bar speed but bar acceleration (Force = mass * acceleration). The power clean is not the most efficient way to build jumping as the acceleration on the second pull is quite low (as it has carryover momentum form the first pull). Thus the only truly explosive (max tension in minimal time) part of these are the lifts from the hang position from above the knee (or off blocks) or the jerk with its quick reversal phase. Hence some coaches could use the clean pull from blocks from the power position to build this quality.

    So the power clean may not be best for developing jumping, but the is one of the most effective ways to build the clean and Jerk. Bulgarian coach Abadjiev used it extensively in the training of his lifters, as did the Soviets (see Managing the Training of the Weightlifters by Laputin and Oleshko, and A Programme Of Multi Year Training in Weightlifting by Medvedyev).

    Olympic lifting may by default build some jumping ability, but in elite athletic circles the point isn’t what builds jumping ability, but what buidls jumping ability most effectively.

    Hope this helps.


  • Brandon Green says:


    Love the article but i have a difference of opinion with the logic of the
    Buddy Morris statement about OLy lifting making you a better football player
    only if the reverse is true. Strength training in general can make one a better soccer
    player but the reverse is rarely if ever true.

  • Brandon Green says:


    Max effort method is adapted to faster than other methods and
    is more stressful to the body both anatomically and neurologically.
    According to Christian Thibaudeau by the time your joints begin to hurt the damage
    has already been done. According to him the Max Effort method really was best
    for demonstrating strength and peaking for competition as opposed to developing
    strength.Each zone of intensity in % of 1RM (Soviet system) has unique characteristics.
    This is why i appreciate Bondarchuk and his theories.

  • Darren says:

    Surely much depends on the definition of max effort? If you are talking of working to your true 1rm, then I would agree that it is very taxing and takes time to recover from. But then working to an increased volume of 80%-85% (eg 5 x 5r x 80%-85%) of your true 1rm, it is also just as taxing and takes just as long to recover from.

    This is why I prefer to work to within 50% – 95% of my relative strength, comparable to body weight, using a low volume method aiming to work at differing velocities.

    I weigh 93kg and therefore for my squat I chose a perceived theoretical relative 1rm as being 2 x body weight (186kg), and work within 30%-95% of this, for say variations of the squat (eg heavy squat, speed squat, paused squat and squat jump variations). My true 1rm is way above this level at 270kg(1/2 squat), but it takes me at least 7 days to recover from a true 1rm session, which obviously isn’t conducive for doing other things such as track. I therefore choose to work in a range using varying velocities coupled with a range of plyometric exercises, working to varying points along the force velocity curve and amortization coupling times.

    I tend to use the theoretical max as a PAP inducing exercise and perform complex sets.

    For example: squat x 1r/1/4 squat jump x 3r (1/3/1/3/1/3)

    1 x 120
    3 x 60
    1 x 140
    3 x 70
    1 x 160
    3 x 80

    You get the idea.

    Sometimes I will perform a triple complex with a squat, 1/4 squat jump, depth jump x 3r (BW only).

    Even though the loading of the squat isn’t any where near my true 1rm, it is more than enough to do the job for which it is intended, which is to induce a PAP effect for the following exercises. I find the triple complex particularly effective when coupled with sprint training.

    So, max strength does have it’s place, as it improves all points along the the force velocity continuum, but I feel that relative strength is enough for inducing the desired training effect when used in conjunction with complex sets and doing other sporting activities.

    Therefore I use a PAP effect to induce a faster amortization phase of the subsequent exercises, but also ensure that all exercises in the complex set utilise the SSC, and are of similar movement patterns.

    For another example I might use a Hang power clean/KB or DB swing with a continuous broad jump series, eg 2/5/5 series x 3 sets

    I personally find these combinations very effective and time efficient, with the low total volume taking less time to recover from.

    In those particular examples shown above, I would choose to train just twice per week, alotting each complex set to one session only with 2-3days between sessions.


    session 1

    Hang power clean/KB or DB swing/continuous broad jumps series

    Session 2

    Squat/1/4 squat jump/depth jump series

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