A Guide To Maximal Strength Development

Dave Tate is an all-around guru when it comes to strength training, General Physical Preparedness (GPP, and increasing the limits of human potential.

On his website, www.elitefts.com, there is constantly an update of great information relating to strength training and powerlifting, nutrition concerning strength athletes, and various topics to help those running their own fitness facility. I routinely read his articles to learn new ways to increase my lifts and all around strength. I pulled the following information from an article written by Dave Tate titled “The eight keys, a complete guide to maximal strength development”” (you can view the original article here).


A coach is a mentor, training partner, motivator, and leader. There are many other functions the coach will fill but the most important is this: The coach should strive to make you better than he is. A great strength coach will be one who’s lived in the trenches and has paid his dues with blood, sweat, and iron. If you want to squat 800 pounds, why would you ever listen to someone who’s never squatted 455? Ask yourself this question and you’ll see my point. How much do you bench press? The answer doesn’t matter that much, but let’s say it’s 400 pounds. Now ask yourself, how much more did you have to learn about training to bench 400 as compared to when you pressed 200? Would you also agree that there’s much more to learn to take your bench from 400 to 500? I think so. Now, how much more training did you have to do to go from 200 to 400? Did it come overnight? Or did you have to work hard and work smart to get there? Nobody will ever be able to convince me that no knowledge was gained in the 200 pound process! The next question would be, could this same under-the-bar-knowledge be learned from a book? In other words, is there another way to gain this same knowledge? I don’t think so. I feel the best coaches are the ones who’ve attained both under-the-bar knowledge and book knowledge. If you had to only choose one, it would have to be the under-the-bar coach. He knows how to get you where you’re going because he’s been there. After all, how do you know what really works if you never put it to the test? I see tons of new programs on how to get strong and the first thing I ask the author is, “Have you done it? What did it do for you?” I could go on and on about coaches as it’s one of those topics that drives me nuts, but it would become a huge rant article. I’ll leave you instead with this short story. Years ago I came to train with Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell. He was semi-retired at the time. We had a big group of lifters but only two or three were elite and most were below average. I believe there was only one 900 pound squat. When Louie decided to make a comeback and begin training hard again, the entire gym changed and a few years later, we were all elites and had over six 900 pound squats. The rest was history. Tell me a coach who trains isn’t a better coach! If you’re a coach, get your ass in the gym and get strong again. You owe it to yourself and your team.


If you train alone you’re putting limits on yourself. Training partners are critical for many reasons, including group energy, subgroup coaching, and competing. Have you ever noticed when you go into a gym all the strong guys train in their own little clique? Do you think they were always strong, or could a couple of strong guys have taken another guy under their wings to bring him up? That’s usually what happens with a team. In fact, they’re all stronger because of the team. The energy a team can provide is enormous. We all need relationships in our lives to take things to the next level. Think back to your football or other team sport days. Remember the locker room talk before the big game? You find yourself sitting on one knee listening to the coach. As the coach speaks and the game gets closer, your energy meter is getting jacked up. Your blood is moving fast in your body and you can feel the adrenaline flowing. You’re jacked up and ready to go. You’re at maximum level! Now what if I was to tell you there’s a way to take it one level higher, but this can’t happen when you’re alone? You’ll need others to make this work. Go back to the game. What happens after the coach finishes his speech and you stand up? You find everyone in the room is jacked up. There’s fire in everyone’s eyes and you’re taking in more energy from them. It’s almost unreal! There are high-fives, head butts, screams, rage, and extreme motivation. This happens because everyone in the room has his own level ten, but when it’s combined for one purpose and one goal the energy goes off the chart! You find yourself at a level you never thought possible. This can’t be achieved alone. I use this as an example of group energy. I’m not telling you to go nuts with your training partners each session. I’m saying there’s energy there that can’t be found any other way! If you want to take it to the next level, find some training partners who share the same goals. You’ll be amazed. Training partners are also a great subgroup of coaches when you’re training. When you’re bench pressing, are you pressing the bar on the right path? Are your elbows tucked? Are you sure? A training partner can do two things: point out the mistakes and provide the proper verbal queuing during the movement to make sure you don’t screw up the next one. You’ll also notice one key thing in all lifter interviews. They always thank their training partners. Why do you think they do this? They know that without them they wouldn’t be where they are today. If you train alone, stop messing around and get a partner!


If you think you can excel in any sport without a base level of conditioning you’re out of your mind. The days of over-fat, bloated, can’t breathe, can’t sleep powerlifters are over! Let me describe what I define as a powerlifter so everyone is on the same page. A powerlifter is one who competes in the squat, bench, and deadlift to arrive at the highest total. A full meet can last up to nine hours and nine max lifts will be attempted. To be able to do this, a lifter must be in great condition or he’ll pay the price come the deadlift. Here’s where one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen over the past few years will come into focus. You can get conditioned by adding extra workouts and GPP (General Physical Preparation) training, but I’ve seen lifters go from three workouts per week to fourteen and wonder why they can’t recover. There are many ways to get conditioned (increase work capacity and GPP), but what I suggest doing is taking a slow build-up process to condition the body to the extra work.


To be strong you must have strength. Pretty simple concept, don’t you think? So did I, but then I started getting a lot of e-mails telling me strength isn’t important for sports. So I had to go back to the drawing board and rethink this one. After many hours of deep thought I still have to say: strength is very important! A quick football example and I’ll move on to how to develop strength. I’ve been told there’s no need for a lineman to be able to squat over 350 pounds as he’ll never have to move more than that on the field. This may be true if he had to move the 250 pound guy one time and it didn’t matter how fast he moved him. We know in the game of football that the rate of force development is very important. You don’t want people being moved slowly. We know from Mel Siff’s writings that max force in the barbell squat can be measured at around 60%. At Westside we’ve found close to the same percentage to be true. The other thing we know is the average play will last under ten seconds and there’ll be between three and ten plays per drive. Our lineman who squats the “recommended” 350 will now be able to create max force at 210 pounds and may or may not be conditioned to do this more than one time. Too bad the guy across from him weighs 350! Who will wear who down? Now, if the lineman could squat 600 pounds he’d create max force at 360. Does he have to actually squat 600 pounds? No! But he better be able to create max force with 350 pounds for eight to ten sets of two to three reps (around ten seconds set length) with 45 to 60 seconds rest. If not, he’s at a disadvantage.

So how do you get strong?

We use a method called the max effort method. This is lifting heavy weight for one to three reps. There are two max effort training days per week, one for the lower body (squat) and one for the upper body (bench). One max effort movement will be completed for each day. The best movements for beginners to use are listed below:

Max Effort Squat Movements

  1. Deadlifts standing on 3 inches of mats or boards for 1 rep max.

  2. Good Mornings for 3 to 5-rep max sets. When you become used to the movement, then singles should be performed.

  3. Close Stance Low Box Squats for 1 rep max . Set the box so your hip at the crease of the leg joint is three inches lower than parallel.

  4. Safety Squat Bar Squats — If you have one of these bars then start using it. It’s one of the best ways to build the muscles that squat and deadlift. The reason for this is the bar is trying to toss you forward and you have to fight to keep it in a good path. It also takes the weight off your shoulders as you don’t have to hold the bar as you would a regular squat bar. You’ll hold this bar by the front yokes. Don’t hold onto the rack and pull yourself up, either. If you don’t have one of these bars, then try to do anything you can to change the center of gravity of the movement. This can be done a number of different ways. You can use what’s called a Manta Ray that snaps onto the bar; you can do high bar squats; or you can wrap a thick towel around the bar so it’ll sit higher on the back. Each of these will all work the body differently.

  5. Pin Pulls for 1 rep max. I like to have lifters use pins below the knee at various positions for this movement. Only pick one position per day.

Max Effort Bench Movements

  1. Various Board Presses — Same as bench press except you’ll bring the bar down to a select number of 2 x 6 boards on your chest. The two board press would be two 2 x 6’s (one on top of the other). The board is usually around 12 to 16 inches in length to make it easy for a spotter to hold it in front of you. If you don’t have a spotter to hold the board, you can tuck it under your shirt, use a band, or use one of those rubber waist trimmer things to go around both you and the board.

  2. Floor Presses — Lay on the floor and perform a bench press with a one second pause at the bottom. This exercise is designed to strengthen the midpoint of the bench press. It’s also very effective in increasing triceps strength.

  3. Close-Grip Incline Presses — Use a low to steep incline with one finger on the smooth part of the bar.

  4. Pin Presses — Place a bench in a power rack and a bar on the pins. Adjust the pins (safety supports) to change the range of motion. Do these from various positions, from just off the chest to two inches below lockout.

  5. Reverse Band Press — This movement is the same as a bench press except you’ll use two large flex bands to hang the bar from the top of the power rack.

Note: Bands and/or chains can be added to any of these movements for variety and training effect. So how many sets and reps should I do for this max effort movement? Make sure to only do one max effort movement per session. The sets are dependent on how strong you are and how you work up. If you only bench 185 pounds, it wouldn’t be wise to start with 135, then jump to 155 for a set and then finish with 185. There’s very little volume completed this way. It’s better to use a set rep scheme as follows:

  1. 2 Board Press (Max 185)

  2. 45 pounds for 3 sets of 5 reps

  3. 70 for 3 reps

  4. 95 for 3 reps

  5. 115 for 1 rep

  6. 135 for 1 rep

  7. 155 for 1 rep

  8. 175 for 1 rep

  9. 190 for 1 rep

The last one should be an all-out effort. If not, keep working up. There’s nothing wrong with missing a weight on the movement. As you can see, the volume is much higher and the work load more productive to strength gains.

Do you do the max effort movement every week?

This answer depends on what you’re doing on all the other days as well as the individual. If you’re hitting it very hard with bands on the dynamic day, then you may find you can’t hit the max effort movement every week and may have to take it easy one workout of the month. If you find you’re not recovering, then you’ll want to take it easy one of the workouts each month. When you “take it easy” (not a day off) you’ll replace the movement with higher rep work using a movement intended to train the same muscles.

How do you know if you went heavy enough?

If you have to ask this question, then you’re totally missing the boat. This movement is about straining as hard as you can. If you make the weight and have something left then you need to add more weight and go again. When using the max effort method you must strain to gain!


The speed day (dynamic effort day) is designed to make the lifter faster. If you were to do a vertical jump, would you try to jump slowly? If so, how high would you go? What would happen if you were to try and jump fast and apply more force? You’d go much higher, of course! Training for maximal strength has to have a speed element to it or you won’t be training to the fullest potential. There are some lifters who are stronger than they are fast and others who are faster than they are strong. You have to train both elements regardless of where you fall. This way you can harness your strength and bring up your weakness. There are two days of the week devoted to training for speed. The first is for the bench press and the second is for the squat and deadlift. There are a few different movements that can be rotated for the speed work. These include:

Speed Squats

1) Parallel Box Squats — The benefits of this exercise are numerous. It develops eccentric and concentric power by breaking the eccentric-concentric chain. Box squats are a form of overload and isolation. The box squat is the best way to teach proper form on the squat because it’s easy to sit way back while pushing your knees out. To take the barbell out of the rack, the hands must first be evenly placed on the bar. Secure the bar on the back where it feels the most comfortable. To lift the bar out of the rack, one must push evenly with the legs, arch the back, push your abs out against the belt, and lift the chest up while driving the head back. A high chest will ensure the bar rests as far back as possible. Slide one foot back, then the other, to assume a position to squat. Set your feet up in a wide stance position. Point your toes straight ahead or slightly outward. Also, keep your elbows pulled under the bar. When you’re ready for the descent, make sure to keep the same arched back position. Pull your shoulders together and push your abs out. To begin the descent, push your hips back first. As you sit back, push your knees out to the sides to ensure maximum hip involvement. Once you reach the box, you need to sit on it and release the hip flexors. Keep the back arched and abs pushed out while driving your knees out to the side. To begin the ascent, push out on the belt, arch the back as much as possible, and drive the head, chest, and shoulders to the rear. If you push with the legs first, your buttocks will rise first, forcing the bar over the knees (as in a good morning) which causes stress to the lower back and knees and diminishes the power of the squat.


As I’ve mentioned in this series already, GPP or General Physical Preparation is very important, especially for recovery. According to Yuri Verkhoshansky in The Fundamentals of Special Strength Training in Sport and as outlined in Supertraining by the late Mel Siff, there are several functions of GPP: • To form, strengthen or restore motor skills, which play an auxiliary, facilatory role in perfecting sports ability. • To teach abilities developed insufficiently by the given sport and to increase the general work capacity or preserve it. • To provide active rest, promote restoration after strenuous loading, and counteract the monotony of training. One solution to GPP is sled dragging. The use of a sled has many benefits: • The sled is easy to use and doesn’t require a special trip to the gym. • The sled is specific to the development of the special skills necessary for maximal strength. (And by the way, we never run with the sled.) • Virtually every muscle can be trained with a sled. There are movements for the abdominals, shoulders, hamstrings, etc. • The sled is a great way to induce active restoration. In many of the upper body dragging movements, the eccentric (negative) is eliminated because of the nature of the sled. This is great for recovery because the tearing down of the muscle is much less in concentric-only movements. Instead of making this article even longer than it already is, I’ll just direct you to my