The complete guide to Dynamic Effort Method

The Dynamic Effort Method, created by Coach Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell, aims to boost athletes’ rate of force development using submaximal loads of 50-85%. It’s an essential part of many strength and conditioning programs and introduced bands and chains to the strength world.

By Coach Travis Mash

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What is Dynamic Training?

What is the Dynamic Effort method?

If you comb through all the writings regarding the dynamic effort, it can be quite confusing. Luckily, I had a solid relationship with Louie and have an insider’s perspective.

Louie took up an interest in both the Russian Weightlifting System as well as the Bulgarian System. Both countries ruled the world of Olympic weightlifting from the 1970’s all the way until the 1990’s, followed by which the trend changed. Luckily drug testing shed some light on what was really driving their Gold medals. Nevertheless, there was a lot of research happening during those eras. Louie was able to get his hands on some of the Russian manuals that Bud Charniga had translated, and that got the old man’s mind turning. 

He was also reading some of the literature from the likes of Zatsiorsky, Verkhoshansky, and Mel Siff. He decided that he would combine the Russian and Bulgarian systems based on Sir Isaac Newton’s second law of motion that states the acceleration of an object depends on the mass of the object and the force applied. It’s this law that we derive the equation for force:

Force= Mass x Acceleration

Louie believed to truly maximize the amount of force that an athlete can exert upon a barbell that he or she needed to spend equal amounts of time devoted to moving the maximum amount of mass and submaximal amounts of mass as quickly as possible. The Bulgarians were experts on moving maximum amounts of mass, which is where the Maximum Effort Method was derived. The Russian’s were all about moving weight quickly, and they were all about using different derivatives of an exercise and special exercises to overcome weaknesses. It was from the Russian System that Louie created the Conjugate System and the Dynamic Effort Method.

Simply put, the Dynamic Effort Method is all about moving submaximal loads as quickly as possible. We’re going to discuss the traditional uses of the Dynamic Effort Method, which is used to improve the strength speed, and sometimes accelerative strength qualities of strength as defined by Dr. Bryan Mann.  Louie was specific in his intent for his athletes during the performance of the dynamic effort method. They were to exert as much force as possible throughout the entire range of motion with a focus on the rate of force development. If you had the chance to visit Westside Barbell, then you got to witness the real intent. Louie intended for his athletes to move the barbell eccentrically and concentrically as fast as possible while under control. That’s the part that most people miss, or the part that they are incapable of performing.

I remember watching George Halbert perform his dynamic effort bench press with an eccentric speed and control that I had never seen before. That changed my entire career. When I started focusing on maximizing the speed of my eccentric contraction, my elasticity and SSC increased along with my bench press. My personal bench press went from 405lb to 535lb in about 18 months while maintaining my bodyweight of 220lb. I recommend checking out my article on “Adaptations from Eccentric Contractions” to get a better understanding.

It was using this method that accommodating resistance was born, which you probably know as bands and chains. Bands and chains allowed the Westside athletes to move the barbell at a high rate both eccentrically and concentrically without injuring the athlete. This was due to the load being less during the extreme joint range of motion. The bands added to the eccentric rate due to the added resistance on top of the typical pull of gravity. You can dive deeper into the advantages of different forms of external resistance in my article: Bands and Chains.

Dynamic Effort (DE) Percentages

Most of the time, you will read that the submaximal percentages being utilized with the dynamic effort method are between 50-85%, which is a wide range. If you look closely at the writings from Westside Barbell regarding their typical waves, you will see that a typical wave utilizes between 75-85%. However, the confusion comes from the combination of bar weight and accommodating resistance. For example, the first week of DE squats will utilize only 50% bar weight but will add 25% extra with bands or chains equalling 75%.

Here’s where I will add some clarification that most folks don’t understand. The information that Louie predominantly shared regarding the DE method was in reference to his base template. For his advanced athletes, there was a lot more to the method. There were blocks dedicated to speed strength, strength speed, accelerative strength, and even circa max phases all incorporated on their typical DE day. Each velocity zone is related to specific qualities of strength stimulating specific adaptations in the athlete.

Louie, just like most great strength coaches, applied the DE in a way specific to the needs of the individual athlete. If an athlete was incredibly fast like Chuck Vogulpohl, there wasn’t a big need to spend time with speed strength. Chuck spent most of DE days between strength speed and circa max. Louie had coached long enough to know if someone needed more velocity or more strength. 

I prefer to be a bit more specific by utilizing Force Velocity Profiles and the Dynamic Strength Index to find out exactly where an athlete should focus. Ongoing testing with either a GymAware RS or FLEX unit will also alert me if the training protocol is working or not.

Dynamic Effort at Work: Sets, Reps, & Percentages

For Lower Body and Upper Body Dynamic Effort:

Week 1: 12 x 2 or 5 x 5 at 75% (50% Bar Weight and 25% Bands or Chains)

Week 2: 10 x 2 or 4 x 5 at 80% (55% Bar Weight and 25% Bands or Chains)

Week 3: 8 x 2 or 3 x 5 at 85% (60% Bar Weight and 25% Bands or Chains)

The only caveats that I will add are that minibands are normally used for the bench press, and make sure that the band tension doesn’t fully deload in the bottom of either movement to maximize eccentric speed. 

If you look closely at the sets and reps, you will see that Louie was closely following Prilepin’s Chart:

Prilepins-chart-Dynamic-effort-method.

I explained Prilepin’s Chart in my article “VBT for High Schools” article. 

The Aspect of the Dynamic Effort Method that Coaches need to Understand

Yes, Louie split up lower body and upper body training sessions with a DE day for each and a Max Effort (ME) day for each. The max effort day was designed to find a daily maximum and beyond just like the Bulgarian weightlifters performed. The DE day was designed to work on whatever quality of strength that the individual athlete needed to improve. Yes, that could be at total loads of 50% at velocities of 1.0m/s or higher, but you might find a Chuck V. squatting with 600 pounds of weight on the barbell along with 400 pounds of chains for a massive 1,000 pound total load. 

I have been wanting to write this article for a long time. There has been a veil over the eyes of most coaches simply because they have tried to piece the information together. Unless you were there with Louie and friends with champions at Westside, it could be confusing to decipher all of the writings and podcasts. It comes down to one key principle:

The Adaptation is in the Speed of the Barbell

On my last visit with Louie Simmons, we had the best talk about all of these topics. He explained to me that he wanted the folks that had learned from him to take his work and push on. I pray that’s exactly what I am doing. Velocity based training has been the biggest breakthrough for me to really define a lot of what Louie Simmons was trying to do. Here’s the last podcast I filmed with Coach Louie Simmons: Louie Simmons and Travis Mash talk Weightlifting.

Dynamic Effort vs Max Effort

We have already defined the DE method, so now it’s time to learn a little more about the max effort method to understand the differences. Louie loved the Bulgarian weightlifters. They were tenacious competitors because that’s the way they practiced. The infamous Bulgarian Coach Ivan Abadzhiev took the principle of specificity to a whole new level. His athletes trained up to 15 sessions per week working up to daily maximums in the snatch, clean and jerk, and squat. It’s amazing what some athletes can adapt to, but this system also broke a lot of people. Yes, the sports of weightlifting and powerlifting are maximum effort competitions with whoever lifts the most weight for one repetition in each contested lift wins. 

Louie realized that the max effort method would teach athletes a specific skill required to master all strength sports, and that is the mental ability to consistently break personal records. As a three-time world champion and having held multiple all-time world records, I can say with certainty that my best attribute as a strength athlete was having the ability to never set any limit. I never looked at a certain weight as something untouchable, and I gained that skill utilizing the max effort method. 

Louie of course altered the Bulgarian’s application of the ME method by only incorporating the method once per week for both upper body and lower body. This day was all about absolute strength, high intensity, and low volume. A typical ME day for either a bench press (or one of the many derivatives) or a squat/deadlift (or a derivative) would look like this:

  • Repetitions between 1-3 work to a max (1RM, 2RM, or 3RM)
  • No more than three work sets
  • Typical sets, reps and percentages to find a 2RM Box Squat:
    – Set 1 93-95% of best ever 2RM for 2
    – Set 2 New PR Attempt 5-10lb above previous PR for 2
    – Set 3 if a new 2RM PR was achieved easily, the athlete could take one more attempt to push their PR ever higher.

Adaptations from Max Effort Days

The athlete can expect to maximize motor unit recruitment of high threshold motor units. They learn to push through ceilings that most athletes struggle to overcome. Overcoming new one-repetition maximums is a skill just like anything else. One weakness I sometimes see in the weightlifting world is overly focusing on technique and steadily increasing volume while avoiding maximum effort until the competition. Then when an athlete is asked to push past a barrier, they struggle to overcome the anxiety that’s flooding into their brain. Lastly, Louie paired most maximum effort days with what he called the repetition method. The repetition method is a code word for good old fashioned bodybuilding specifically prescribed to overcome the weaknesses of the individual athlete. Pairing the repetition method with the ME method was a solid recipe for some major hypertrophy, which a lot of powerlifters love, but won’t admit the love of being jacked. 

The biggest physiological adaptation stimulated more by the max effort method versus the dynamic effort method is maximum myosin and actin cross bridges. I’m not going to take you back to exercise physiology class, but I will quickly explain. A sarcomere is the basic contractile unit of a muscle fiber consisting primarily of two protein filaments myosin and actin. The myosin head is like a cocked spring that binds to the active site on the actin filament, and then uncoils performing what is known as the power stroke. Voilà; movement in the body. The amount of crossbridges is proportional to the amount of force an athlete can produce. A maximum effort along with a slow enough velocity to maximize cross bridges is required for maximum force. You can read about this adaptation in my article “The Size Principle”.

Adaptations from the Dynamic Effort Day

The submaximal nature of the DE method makes this a great day for improving the skill of each movement. If performed with the correct intent, the athlete’s rate of force development will improve within any of the qualities of strength. The key is the application of velocity based training. Compensatory acceleration training (CAT) is a phrase that Louie used quite frequently, which is the process of deliberately accelerating the barbell throughout the entire concentric phase. If you can squat 600lb, you can squat 405lb with relative ease. However, if you squat that 405lb as fast as possible, it’s an entirely different lift maximizing the rate coding of the signal traveling down the alpha motor neuron into all the individual muscle fibers that the neuron innervates. A faster rate coding equals an improvement in the rate of force development at that particular intensity. 

The dynamic effort method will also improve neuromuscular coordination, synchronization, and overall efficiency due to the repeated method or higher volume of the DE method. Regardless of the quality of strength being targeted, a maximum effort exerted on the barbell throughout the entire phase recruited the same maximum amount of high threshold motor units as on ME method day. However, unless the barbell slows down enough due to a high enough load, cross bridges won’t be maximized. Therefore, the DE method won’t maximize force production like the ME. However, a lot of the adaptations stimulated during the DE method will come in handy on ME day. 

Dynamic Effort for Non-Strength Sport Athletes

For most athletes, power is the desired outcome of the weight room. Power is force x velocity, so power can be improved to some degree working on both sides of the equation. I believe that power would have been a better description for Louie’s Conjugate Method versus Force equals mass x acceleration. 

The Dynamic Effort Method is the day to focus on the specific velocity zone that is most pertinent to the sport and to the individual. If I improve my power by focusing too much on the accelerative quality of strength, the rate at which I maximize power will be too slow to be utilized in sport. That’s why I want sport coaches and athletic performance coaches to understand that on Dynamic Effort Day, they should focus on the velocity zone specific to the sport and individual as opposed to some random recommendation from a Westside Barbell article floating around the Internet. 

To maximize the Dynamic Effort Method for athletes, check out a few of these articles

Summary of Adaptations from the Dynamic Effort vs Max Effort Methods

Dynamic Effort Adaptations
Maximum Effort Adaptation
  • Maximum High Threshold Motor Unit Recruitment.
  • Maximum Actin-Myosin Cross Bridges ensuring maximum Force Production.
  • Principle of Specificity: if you want to improve an athlete’s ability to lift a heavier load for one repetition, you need to spend time practicing that skill. 
  • Improved mental capacity to push through new personal records.
  • Hypertrophy is maximized when paired with the Repetition Method.

What About the Repetition Method?

The Repetition Method is complimentary of both the Max Effort and Dynamic Effort Methods. Repetition Method is simply taking low to medium loads to near failure or failure for multiple sets targeting the joint musculature directly related to the competition lifts. This method is also used to target weak muscle groups, and for muscular endurance. I will definitely break this method down in a more elaborate way in the near future. 

If you have read my article “Muscle Hypertrophy”, then you will understand the benefits of using various intensities to near failure. The main point I want to get across is that the Repetition Method is complementary to the DE Method. Louie had his athletes use loads anywhere from 30% to 75% working to a max load for a designated amount of time ranging from 40 seconds to as high as 10 minutes. His Repetition Method article is referenced at the end of this article.

(How) does the Dynamic Effort Method Work?

The moment of truth is upon us. Does the DE method actually work? As always, the degree to which the DE method produces results will depend upon the application. I was an athlete that naturally had the ability to move at a high rate, so applying the DE Method in a traditional sense didn’t seem to work for me. I used the DE day in a similar way that I was watching Chuck Vogulpuhl utilize it. The majority of my competition prep was spent in the accelerative and into the absolute strength velocity zones. I would spend some training blocks in the off-season in the speed strength and strength speed zones to maintain my speed and to deload my joints. 

For the DE method to yield maximum results, apply these principles:

If you follow these principles, the Dynamic Effort will work magic for your athletes. I utilize the same principles for my sport athletes, weightlifters, powerlifters, and strongman. The specific application is the added ingredient needed to maximize results.

Program and Workout Examples

In this section, we are going to bring together all the principles into a program. I have designed three different programs to show you the different uses of the Dynamic Effort Method. This is the section that I wish I had at my disposal when I was an athlete and early in my coaching career. 

The conjugate method has always intrigued me which led me to read everything I could get my hands on. However, if you read three articles, you might get three different suggestions. I would read articles about speed strength cycles, strength speed cycles, and circa max cycles leaving me scratching my head as to the application. 

At the end of the day, the reason that most Westside Barbell athletes will tell you that you don’t really understand the Conjugate Method unless you were there. Over the years, I have finally come to an understanding that the aspect outsiders are missing in the trial and error leading to individualization. 

Dave Tate will tell you that training with Chuck could be disastrous unless the athlete had some amazing work capacity and tenacity built in. I know Jason Coker got in trouble all the time for turning DE day into another max effort day. If you read two of my articles, “Repetition Velocity” and “External Resistance”, you will learn all about the application and adaptations of bar speed and accommodating resistance. 

Here are a few templates I created. I will first lay them out, and then I will explain:

Dynamic Effort Method for Powerlifting

Dynamic Effort Method for Powerlifting

I used Westside Barbell’s latest article from Burley Hawk, ‘Dynamic Effort‘, as the base model. Additionally, I used Prilepin’s Chart and Dr. Bryan Mann’s work on the Velocity Zones to add a bit more specificity. 

The advantages of assigning velocity markers is that athletes have something to shoot for and even exceed creating true compensatory acceleration. In this video, you will see three of the best benchers ever actually training on DE day at Westside, ‘Dynamic Bench Press‘, and you will see varying bench velocities’ let’s see how varied.

It appears that Kenny decelerates a bit at the top, which would negate compensatory acceleration. However, regardless if they didn’t accelerate with max intent, they were all incredible. Without being critical, I’m just saying that the availability of velocity instruments like the GymAware FLEX and RS units takes the guesswork out of the equation while maximizing intent.

I have explained the thought process behind the programs along with a deeper dive into the topics of Prilepin’s Chart, the Velocity Zones, and ways to Individualize in our latest video, “A Deeper Dive into the Dynamic Effort”.

Dynamic Effort Method for Advanced Athletic Performance

Dynamic Effort Method for Advanced Athletic Performance

Once again, I have gone into a deeper dive in our latest video, but as you can see there’s one major difference. The end goal is to maximize force production at a higher rate. I explained the velocity range for the final testing day in the video as well

Dynamic Effort Method for Intermediate Athletic Performance

Dynamic Effort Method for Intermediate Athletic Performance

There isn’t a program for beginner athletes because in the first two years a simple focus on the repetition method is the better plan. The so-called newbie gains are primarily neural in nature. This means the improvements come from improved motor unit recruitment in the form of rate coding, synchronization, and coordination. This is the very reason that Dr. Yessis’s 1×20 Program makes so much sense. 

Conclusion

I would like to conclude by saying that Louie Simmons has contributed more to the world of strength than anyone. GymAware has made velocity based training (VBT) more readily available to all of us. That availability is the catalyst for making some of the methods within the Conjugate System more specific. 

Rising up as a strength athlete, terms like compensatory acceleration, strength speed, and speed day in general were subjective in nature. What ‘speed day’ means to one person might mean something else to another. Telling an athlete to apply compensatory acceleration can be confusing. However, telling them to hit a specific velocity that they can actually see and hear in real time is much easier to apply. 

Finally, GymAware RS and FLEX units allow coaches to test athletes, which makes it easy to prescribe specific velocity zones. This ensures the adaptation is specific to the needs of the individual. You can even individualize at scale by classifying athletes into three categories: slow but strong, fast but weak, or perfectly powerful. I have loved the Conjugate Method for over twenty-five years, and I hope that everyone reading this can feel my excitement for this article. This article allowed me to consolidate years of reading and applying the Dynamic Effort Method. I hope it allows the coaches and athletes reading this to apply the DE Method in a way most beneficial for the intended purpose.

If you have any questions, email me at Travis@GymAware.com

References

Coach Travis Mash

Travis Mash

Being a World Champion in powerlifting, Travis competed at a world-class level in Olympic weightlifting and has coached professional Olympic weightlifters alongside Don McCauley and Glenn Pendlay at Team MDUSA. Now Travis coaches the most successful weightlifting team in the USA.