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Maximum Strength F.A.Q.

Written on November 23, 2008 at 3:40 pm, by Eric Cressey

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I’m unsure about pre-testing some of these lifts heavily when I haven’t been performing them for an extended period of time to learn the technique. What do you recommend?

A: I’m not married to the idea of having everyone pre-test.  In the grand scheme of things, this program is based on the premise that you have some resistance training experience – but are looking to take it to the next level. That said, I realize that a lot of beginners are going to be buying this book, too – so we need to take that into account, particularly with pre-testing. If you’re in this situation, you have four options:

1. Spend 3-4 weeks practicing technique – following the descriptions in Maximum Strength – and then pre-test with conservative weights.

2. Skip pre-testing altogether – and just go directly into the program with conservative weights.

3. Test as recommended in the text – but only do those exercises on which you know you’ll be okay (broad jump, bench press, and 3-rep max chin-up). Then, do your squat and deadlift with conservative weights – stopping if you feel any sort of technique breakdown (although you should always stop your attempts if technique breaks down).

If you are at all uncomfortable doing one of the pre-tests, skip it.

Q: Do you have any recommendations of good online sites where I can download videos of various exercises?

A: Absolutely!

Robertson Training Systems

Exrx.net

UW-LAX

UI Strength Lab

Weight Trainers United

Q: I noticed that you recommend wearing shoes on some lower-body exercises, but not others. Can you put some general guidelines in place?

Category 1: No Shoes, or shoe that has little heel-lift (e.g., Nike Frees, Reebok Travel Trainers, Chuck Taylors/Converse All-Stars):

Mobility/Activation warm-up drills, all box squat variations, all deadlift variations, 1-leg squat-to-box

Category 2: Any shoes (that said, I like Nike Frees as a shoe you can use for both categories)

All single-leg movements (excluding 1-leg squat to box), all non-box squats

Q: I lack the flexibility to deadlift from the floor; what do you recommend I do to a) modify the program and b) work on my flexibility?

A: First off, you can elevate the bar until you get to the point where you can pull in good form. In other words, instead of all the pulling from the floor, do rack pulls.

As far as flexibility goes, you’ll need to do more of the various ankle mobilizations, overhead lunge walks, and thoracic extensions on the foam roller. I’d also highly recommend that you check out my three-part series, Mastering the Deadlift (you can find links to all three in the T-Nation section HERE).

Q: I tend to round over when I front squat. Any suggestions?

A: It could be several things: poor ankle, hip, or thoracic spine mobility; poor core stability; poor bar position; or faulty breathing patterns.

For the mobility issues, you can follow the suggestions for the deadlift flexibility issue above.

For core stability, keep plugging away at the core stability progressions in the book – and keep practicing your squat technique. That will come in a matter of time.

For your bar position, make sure that you’ve got it up on your shoulder girdle – and not just on your upper arms. It should be touching your Adam’s apple (or equivalent spot, ladies).

For your breathing patterns, make sure that you’re getting your air into your belly, not your upper torso. “Chest breathers” lack core stability, in my experience. Your goal is to make yourself a bit fatter by activating the core musculature and increasing intra-abdominal pressure with air in the right place; this mechanically makes the support for the load on your shoulders even bigger. A good trick is to imagine that you’re wearing a loose belt around your belly, and you want to tighten it up.

Q: The Maximum Strength program is a 4x/week program and you recommended lifting on MoWeFrSa; is it okay to deviate from this?

A: Sure.  My favorite is to lift on Days 1, 2, 4, and 6 – with rest days on Days 3, 5, and 7 (these might be energy workouts for you instead of lifts).  As long as the days are held constant, it doesn’t really matter whether Day 1 is Monday or Friday.  Some people can’t train on the weekends, too, so it’s cool to go MoTuThFr, if you want.

Q: For my foam rolling, how long should I spend on each spot?

A: Generally, you should be at about 10-15s per spot – and make sure you spend a little extra time on any of the “hot spots” you find. That said, if a region isn’t at all uncomfortable, you can skip right over it eventually.  For a little more background, give this article a read.

Q: Also on the topic of foam rolling, I noticed that there are several different kinds of rollers. Which do you recommend?

A: At Cressey Performance, almost everyone is okay starting with the Foam Roller Plus.  Some people who are really balled up might need to start with a basic (soft) white roller.

Q: I lift weights with my upper body, but just run to take care of lower body strength.  Is this okay?

A: Not if you are hoping to build strength and an impressive physique!  How many marathoners do you know with impressive legs?  Not many.  And, to be honest, just because they run doesn’t mean that they don’t need lower-body weight-training.  I actually wrote an in-depth article on the subject HERE.  That said, do your lower body lifting sessions.

Q: You recommend board presses, but I don’t have boards – or someone to hold them. What should I do?

A: First off, I’m a big believer in always making sure that you have a spotter handy when you bench press.  Hopefully, that’s something that you can make happen.

A few options for board-substitutions include using a rolled-up magazine or a foam roller cut-in-half.  If you can’t do these – and don’t have someone to hold them in place, you can just do pin presses (as outlined in the text) instead.

Q: What should I do if I miss a day?

A: Call it water under the bridge and pick it up as soon as possible thereafter wherever you left off.  Often, you can make up a session within the week just by going back-to-back on days when you otherwise wouldn’t.  For instance, if you were planning to train MoWeFrSa and couldn’t make the Saturday session, you just push it back to Sunday.  I outlined some strategies for flexible training splits in my article, 4 Ways to Stay on Track.

Q: If I’m really pressed for time, can I skip the warm-up?

A: No.  I’d rather see you warm up thoroughly and knock a few sets off the end of your training session than I would have you skip a warm-up and get hurt lifting when your body wasn’t ready for loading.

Q: I’m used to lifting 6x/week; is it okay to add a few sessions to the Maximum Strength program?

A: It’s not a good idea.  You build muscle and develop strength while you’re resting, not while you’re training.  To that end, what you do aside from the sessions should be aimed at optimizing recovery, not pushing you further into “training debt.”  Try doing some of the low-intensity resistance training circuits and light cardiovascular work I recommend; you’ll be very pleased with how it helps to improve recovery – and makes gaining strength and muscle mass easier in the process.

Q: Can I substitute exercises I don’t like?

A: Well, then you wouldn’t be doing the Maximum Strength program, would you?

Kidding aside, if you have an injury or equipment limitation you have to work around, by all means, substitute.  However, if you’re just taking a movement out because you don’t like it, you’re shortchanging yourself.  99.99% of the time, the exercises we dislike are the ones we need to do the most to succeed.  Suck it up.

Q: Can I repeat the strength tests in the middle of the program to check my progress?

A: You’ll actually find that there are strength tests built in to the program.  They aren’t identical to your pre-tests, but will definitely give you regular indicators of whether you’re improving.  With that in mind, if you want to test a broad jump here and there, feel free.  And, if you’re feeling particularly “fast” with your speed deadlifts or squats, work up to a moderately heavy single to see how you progressed.  DO NOT do this every training session; “pushing it” once a month is okay, but nothing more frequent than that.

Q: I work with a personal trainer; can he help guide me through the Maximum Strength program?

A: I don’t see why not.  Then again, the personal training industry leaves a bit to be desired at this point – and you are paying them for their knowledge – so don’t be surprised if they aren’t amenable to supervising someone else’s program.

Q: How soon will I begin to see results?

A: Individual results vary, but they almost always come in this order: mobility, strength, physique changes.  You’ll notice that you’re moving better in a matter of days, and the strength gains will be readily apparent by the time you come back to repeat exercises in Week 2 of Phase 1.  Increases in muscle mass and decreases in body fat will be dependent on your diet, too, so if you’re diligent with your training and nutrition, you should see some noteworthy changes within the first 2-3 weeks.

Have a question for Eric to be featured in the FAQ or Maximum Strength Blog?  Email ec@ericcressey.com with the subject line “Maximum Strength Inquiry.”

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  • Joe Bowers

    My gym doesn’t have any cardio equipment at all. We do have tractor tires, famer walk implements, lots of sleds for dragging and pushing, sledge hammers and kegs. The warm up turf is too short for sprints and considering it’s winter in southern Ontario the ice and snow make any outdoor sprints a challenge. What could I substitute for my energy workouts?
    Thanks.

  • Jason D

    Joe Bower’s question is a great one that I’d like to see answered. I’ve seen Eric suggest the methods on his Cardio Confusion article found on T-Nation. That might help in the meantime until your question is answered by Eric.

  • Hannu Hyvärinen

    Im starting maximum strength and im wondering should i use belt with deadlift and squat variations? what about on packing/moving day?

  • O. Esquibel

    I hope I don’t start a riot in here, but do you recommend a smith machine for bench presses if a spotter is not available?

  • No; I’d recommend using dumbbells instead.

  • Dave

    I was just wondering about the pushups in the program. Should we do 3×10 on the first workout of the first phase even if we can do like 100 straight pushups?

  • Bobby

    Eric,

    I was interested in performing about 30 min of plyometrics and sprints on top of tequnique practice on two of my energy days to improve my speed and vertical leap. Intuitively it seems like it would also help improve my lifts, but since its similar in nature to HIT cardio, I understand that it might hinder it. I do not want to do this at the expense of my strength. From your expert opinion will this hinder or improve my strength gains assuming I’m doing everything else correctly? Thanks for your time.

    – Bobby S

  • Eric

    Eric!

    I’ve done the Maximum Strength program twice now, and every time with absolutely INCREDIBLE results!

    I’ve now felt the urge to incorportate some Olympic lifts or OL variations to the programming, but was wondering how best to achieve this; any assistance would be appreciated!

    P.S. I’ve trained with qualified OL coaches, so technique is certainly not an issue, nor is mobility in any of the lifts. I just like to do OL (they help me tremendously for basketball) but also love your Maximums Strength program, so am hoping to marry the two!

    Cheers!


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