It’s clear from the multitude of success stories on both sides of this debate, that BOTH more traditional submaximal linear styles of training as well as max Effort training can be very effective.
However here’s just one justification for personally preferring a conjugate system where max Effort work is incorporated, rather than programmes dominated by submaximal work on the competition lifts alone.
I could write probably dozens of reasons why I feel it works better for me and my athletes but this is just part of the argument which sometimes gets missed.
I’d hope that everyone would agree that technique is NOT something you simply learn with light weights and it just remains the same as the weights get heavier and heavier. It’s not that all the same principles don’t apply but the cues and importance of muscular tension becomes the difference between either lifting a weight or not lifting it as the weight gets heavier.
With lighter sub-maximal weights, there is a greater margin for error because the body is not in a ‘do or die’ situation. In other words, you can get away with murder with lighter loads, however many lifters look highly confused why a lift fell to pieces when they tested their max.
The caveat here is that in the last 1-2 reps of a higher volume set you may experience a similar effect of having to strain harder etc, however this will be happening with much lighter load and subsequently isn’t as specific for powerlifting because it is being caused by partial fatigue and not simply down to the load being heavy.
Yes it is true that technique can and should be worked on with submaximal weights (speed work often a very good method of doing this because it then trains two valuable qualities required for powerlifting at once, rate of force development and mastering the technical elements of a lift) but how can a lifter be sure whether this will carry over to their 1RM unless they test themselves under maximal loads.
I would also hope that most people would agree that straining under maximal loads and learning how to complete a rep which isn’t ‘easy’, is a SKILL in itself.
To me, it stands to reason that you should practice this skill just like many others. Frequently! Leaving it until 3 weeks out from comp before you put yourself under anything like a maximal load seems to be to be leaving a lot up to chance.
ALL the qualities required for powerlifting need to be practiced, not just some of them.
One vital quality is being able to strain under heavy loads. Overcoming that bar. Not when it’s easy and on weights with which you are confident, but overcoming weights which test you mentally and physically. Max Effort training teaches you to be mentally strong and prepared for what it’s like to test yourself for a maximal repetition against a load which, if you don’t do it right, will not go budge.
Now we can definitely all agree that it would not work to simply go in and max out your competition lift every time you trained. Whilst a beginner may make a few weeks progress with this, as you mature in training age this method does not yield positive results. However with subtle changes to the competition lift, causing the loads used to be altered slightly, you are able to handle maxing out every week. I will not go into describing the max effort method and will just say read any of Louie Simmons articles on the subject.
Every time you train a max Effort variation you are teaching yourself to overcome a maximal load on the body and each variation will test you slightly differently. Some variations throw you forward and you have to work hard to counter that. Some lifts add extra time under tension. Some lifts add extra load at the top causing you to have to accelerate the bar and keep pushing harder and harder to complete the rep, stopping you from becoming complacent. The list of variations and subsequent altered stimulus is almost endless. Choosing variations well is almost an art form and takes time to develop the ability but it’s something that improves everyone as a lifter when they learn how to.
Yes, conjugate training can get a bad name by people who pick totally random variations which are lacking in much relevance to their comp lifts and this is why you should always consult with others for ideas, but remember that relevance and carryover is an individual thing and not everyone will find the same variations do the same thing.
So the take away point here is that one vital skill in powerlifting is getting better at performing 1 repetition under the most weight possible for that day. Learning to strain, learning to fight through sticking points, and having the mental fortitude to keep pushing even though you are testing yourself to the limit. If you don’t do this, whilst it’s clear you can still make progress to a point (as submaximal programmes do work from their track record) but you are missing out on developing a mental and physical skill set which is extremely important and some would say imperative to being able to produce your best results on the platform.
To conclude, let me just say that this is my attempt at being diplomatic and I am not trying to bash submaximal linear style plans or people who use them, simply pointing out one reason why I personally prefer to include max effort work in my programme. I hope it offers a different perspective that some people may have not considered.