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The Ultimate Maximal Strength Booster

May 9, 2007 10:30 AM

In all my years of training, consulting, and lecturing around the country I’ve yet to encounter one person who felt his strength was too great. Guys like me never hear, “CW, I’m just too damn strong, what can I do to lose some of this strength?” I guess that should be no surprise since it’s difficult to really boost your strength with the same old methods. And high levels of strength will enhance almost any other fitness quality: endurance strength, explosive strength, hypertrophy, etc.

So I’m here to outline the method that produces the most outstanding results for my clients. If you incorporate the following method into your training cycle, I guarantee you that your maximal strength will explode.

Here goes!

The Supramaximal Hold

We owe a lot to some of the old-time strongmen. Many of them were definitely strength pioneers, even with rudimentary equipment and poor nutritional practices. Indeed, Paul Anderson would give any modern powerlifter a run for his money.

I mention Paul because he was known for holding a massive load, isometrically, near lockout on lifts such as the squat, overhead press, and bench press in order to boost his strength. The idea was intuitively simple: expose the muscles, tendons, and ligaments to a load that’s much greater than it’s accustomed to and the body will respond by building more strength. Those strength dudes often referred to this method as “heavy supports.” I, however, like to use the more modern and technical term, supramaximal holds.

The biomechanics of this method is simple: you’re strongest near lock-out because of the advantageous joint and muscle positions that occur near the last few inches of extension-based movements. What I’m primarily referring to are the squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bench press.

So it makes sense to take advantage of this fact and really load up the lifts near lockout. This is exactly what Paul Anderson figured out way back in the day. And in some of the top strength-training circles, this method is being used with incredible results. But before I outline how to use this method for optimal strength-boosting results, let me give you a little science.

Thanks to the outstanding research of scientists such as Jacques Duchateau, we have a good understanding of what mechanisms lead to the strength enhancement that occurs with supramaximal holds. Without getting into too much science talk I’ll sum up the explanation by saying the supramaximal hold, when performed correctly, increases the sensitivity of the contractile proteins to calcium. Importantly, this is known as post-activation potentiation.

I’m sure you’re aware that your muscles can take up more protein and carbohydrates immediately after a training session, right? The reason is because the resistance-training session made the muscles more sensitive to amino acids and glucose. Well, a similar analogy can be made for the supramaximal hold: it enhances the muscle’s ability to produce maximal contractions since it was “primed” from the supramaximal hold. Due to the post-activation potentiation phenomenon, the heightened sensitivity of the muscles allows for immediate increases in strength. How much is your strength enhanced with a supramaximal hold? A boost in strength of at least 5% is common (I’ve seen immediate gains up to 10% with my clients).

Enough of the build-up, it’s time for me to tell you how to use the supramaximal hold for incredible results!

Supramaximal Hold for Squat

Description: once you are properly warmed up by doing a few sets of 2-3 reps, load up a barbell in the power-rack with120% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM). As an additional safety measure I advise that you set the pins on the power-rack at chest height. With a spotter or two close by, unrack the load and step back as if you’re preparing to squat. From there, push your hips back and unlock your knees, slightly. You should only drop down 4-6 inches — any farther than that and you won’t reap the benefits because you’ll be in a less advantageous joint position. Hold the load near lock-out, isometrically, for 8 seconds before re-racking the barbell. Wait 45-60s and perform one set of powerlifting squats with 90% of your 1RM for as many reps as possible. Rest 3-5 minutes and repeat the sequence once more. That’s it for your squat training.

Supramaximal Hold for Bench Press

Description: once you’re properly warmed up by doing a few sets of 2-3 reps, load up a barbell in the power-rack with120% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM). As an additional safety measure I advise that you set the pins on the power-rack at 6 inches above your chest. With a spotter or two, have them help you unrack the load to avoid unnecessary stress on your shoulder joint. Once the barbell is in place over your chest, unlock your elbows so the load lowers 2-3 inches — any farther than that and you won’t reap the benefits because you’ll be in a less advantageous joint position. Hold the load near lockout, isometrically, for 8 seconds before your spotters re-rack the barbell. Wait 45-60s and perform one set of the bench press with 90% of your 1RM for as many reps as possible. Rest 3-5 minutes and repeat the sequence once more. That’s it for your bench press training.

Supramaximal Hold for Seated Military Press

Description: once you’re properly warmed up by doing a few sets of 2-3 reps, load up a barbell in the power-rack with120% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM). As an additional safety measure I advise that you set the pins on the power-rack at 6 inches above your head. While seated on a bench with back support, have a spotter or two help you unrack the load to avoid unnecessary stress on your shoulder joint. Unlock your elbows so the load lowers 2-3 inches — any farther than that and you won’t reap the benefits because you’ll be in a less advantageous joint position. Hold the load near lock-out, isometrically, for 8 seconds before your spotters re-rack the barbell. Wait 45-60s and perform one set of the seated military press with 90% of your 1RM for as many reps as possible. Rest 3-5 minutes and repeat the sequence once more. That’s it for your shoulder press training.

Additional Points

1. The supramaximal hold should be limited to twice each week with at least 96 hours of rest between each session. You can, and should, train muscle groups more often than once every 96 hours, though, so feel free to do other traditional strength training 48 hours after your supramaximal hold workout for the assistance lifts, but it’s not necessary.

2. Limit the supramaximal hold to the squat, bench press, and seated military press. Now, I must mention that it can be used for the deadlift with great success, and it can be used with other flexion-based movements such as chins, pull-ups, and one-arm rows but I’ll save that for another article.

3. Perform the supramaximal hold method at the beginning of your workouts. Once the supramaximal hold method is finished you’re free to train any other muscle groups or movements that aren’t dominated by the muscles you trained with the supramaximal hold.

4. Don’t perform the supramaximal hold for more than two movements in the same workout.

5. After the first week, for two more weeks, increase the load of the supramaximal hold by 5%. So by week 3 you’ll be using 130% of your 1RM. Retest your full range of motion 1RM on the fourth week, after 5 days of rest, and relish in your newfound maximal strength!

The supramaximal hold is a key component of my latest, most effective strength-building plan the Total Strength Program. This outstanding program can be found in my book, Muscle Revolution. You can purchase a copy of Muscle Revolution on www.t-nation.com



Chad Waterbury is one of the world’s leading experts on developing muscle for the goal of enhancing performance, his novel training methods are used by athletes, bodybuilders, figure models, and fitness enthusiasts of all ages and from all walks of life. He has an M.S. in Physiology from the University of Arizona, and he specializes in the neurophysiology of human movement and performance. He currently trains, consults and lectures around the country, and also contributes to numerous newsstand and online publications. www.chadwaterbury.com
 

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