The life of an intern in the world’s strongest gym (PART 2)

Posted: September 22, 2013 in Guest Blogs


The life of an intern in the world’s strongest gym

Written by P.J. Dundass

 “Pushing it to the Max”

Weeks 2-3

Who the hell is that?

It’s max effort day in Westside Barbell and I am mid-set training my triceps to work on my bench… When someone appears to be looming over me…?

Louie is hovering over my head? “No no no, I don’t know what way you guys do it in Europe but you have got to flare your elbows out”. I start doing this and I am already smoked from the reps, I lose complete count of this set, I just do em ‘til they give out.

From across the gym I hear Lou say to one of the guys “We should call this kid guns” I think to myself… Do I feel smug by that comment? He finishes his sentence; “He is all flash and no bang. Those are some weak ass arms”.

Welcome to the school of hard knocks. This is environmental conditioning in over-drive. If you want to be “THE MAN” in your crappy little gym with your 130Kg bench press getting high fived from losers in tank tops getting stapled under 90Kg, stay where you are my friend. You don’t get praise here. Shove your praise up your ass.

“Watch this guy”… BOOM… Up flies my best ever bench PR in one of the first warm up sets of a bench press with resistance bands in the corner. Today the maximal effort is in


second blog Pj 2

The maximal effort method requires you to lift the heaviest possible weight. The aim of the max effort method is to develop-




The max effort method enhances inter-muscular and intramuscular co-ordination. A person’s CNS will only become accustomed to the stimulus it is put under.

Max Effort = MAX OUT. The max effort attempt you execute may not be your best record ever but all that matters is that is your greatest effort on that day. When utilizing the maximal effort method multi-joint exercises are executed. This in power-lifting terms relates to the three power-lifts; the squat, bench press and deadlift.

In order to use the maximal effort method effectively and correctly without crashing your CNS and adapt to training, you are performing-

  1. A compound lift for a maximum of 1-3 repetitions.
  1. 3 reps are sometimes used to achieve sufficient muscle tension to develop additional body mass which can therefore help decrease the ROM for many lifters or move up a weight class.
  1. ALWAYS select a *variation of the squat, deadlift and bench press every single week and at maximum every 2 weeks.

*Variations: The area of variation is where the majority of individuals become puzzled and baffled by the Conjugate Method in the maximal effort method. To put it into context in a real life situation, remember that kind of gym warrior you’ve seen train hard a number of times a week wearing that “Lift or Die” T-shirt performing the same exact exercises each week and not getting any stronger… EVER! He may not be dead physically, but his brain is. This is a classic example of The Law of Accommodation.


It is fundamental to modify the stimulus which is sited on one’s body. Simply put by Vladimir Zatsiorsky- Accommodation is; “The process whereby the response of a biological object to a given constant stimulus decreases over time.” When training over 90% of a 1RM for 4-5 weeks, you will suffer damaging effects to the CNS and advancement and progression will go backward unless an exercise is varied. Varying exercises will help defeat accommodation.

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Examples of variations

Monday- Squat/Deadlift

Wednesday- Bench Press

Low Box squat w/chains

Close grip bench press

Sumo deadlift w/ bands

Cambered bar bench press w/bands and chains


Any type of variation will work, be creative but always MAX OUT and alter the variation every 1-2 week

Typically in Westside, 90% of a one rep max serves as the last warm up. Then optimistically one attempts to achieve a record over 100% and perhaps 2-3 PRs, going until a weight is missed. This is best way to gauge an accurate and real max effort.“But I don’t lift weights to become big and strong, how does the maximal effort method apply to athletes?”Absolute strength is the basis of all types of strength.

An example-

If your one repetition maximum is 140Kg in the squat exercise then theoretically you cannot do multiple reps with 130Kg (10-12). But if your one repetition maximum is 180-200 for example then you can. This is strength endurance, once maximal strength is increased, strength with less than maximal weights will increase… Correct?

So if a play (e.g. Rugby or American football) lasts a certain amount of time, if you put two players in competition with one another in squatting (for example) a fixed weight over that length of time, whoever can accomplish the most repetitions in that timeframe has better strength endurance. Strength endurance is the ability to maintain adequate muscle tension (repeated muscle contractions) under action (force) over time. This equals superior power/strength production and maintenance meaning that they are essentially a better athlete; It is that easy.

Developing absolute strength is essential to athletes. This is established in studies by Hill in that the speed of an action is reliant on the greatest muscular strength attained. This demonstrates and validates that building absolute strength will make you stronger, not slower (Theory and Practice of Physical Culture). Remember nobody can lift a heavy weight slow.

To Summarize-

Max Effort (ME) standards:

  • Load parameter: 90–100 % +
  • ME exercises per workout: 1
  • ME exercises per week: 1 for the squat OR deadlift and 1 for the bench.
  • Reps: 1–3
  • Rest: Take as much time as required however 3–5 minutes is adequate.
  • Weeks per ME exercise: 1–2
  • Every 5-6th week do a repetition method on Wednesday: Do 3 sets of a fixed dumbbell weight to failure OR a 6RM in illegal wide bench presses (The maximum set of 6 achieved repetitions with this exercise).
  • Every 34 workouts on Monday: Perform a 3RM with a type of good morning.
  • Band and chains– For strength speed guidelines based on 100%-

35% of the weight should be supplied by straight weight and 65% by bands/chains/or both.

One afternoon while training, I see a man in the corner wearing a rugby polo top. I go over and introduce myself, thinking “finally someone who can fully understand my accent”. This man turns out to be the U.K.’s top strength coach Phil Richards. During our brief encounter, Phil talks to me about his life and his application of the conjugate system to the development of an array of different athletes ranging from world champion boxer Amir Kahn to his brilliant coaching stint with Worchester Warriors, making them arguably the most physical side to ever grace the premiership. Talking to Phil is a breath of fresh air. He has a no nonsense, no bullshit approach.  He speaks to me about his tailoring to individual athletes while also staying old school as over-complicating methods is the key way in steering people off the path to success.

He stresses that developing health is fundamental to an athlete and that after that is in place everything in the gym will follow suit, that being strength and performance. Phil, being a nutritional expert, places a huge emphasis on the role of diet and also the importance of raising absolute strength thus raising all surrounding strength qualities for athletes of any sport. He states examples to us that studies involving athletes hitting new records in compound lifts will raise areas such as throwing distance and also running distance over certain lengths A.K.A. the maximal effort method. Simply put as Phil’s philosophy states- “Build Health, Build Strength, Build Performance”.

Pushing oneself maximally in all areas of life is a tough task. Although sport is played in many different arenas, it all derives and comes down to the mastery of one main arena in our environment: the space between your two ears. In Westside, no-one cares what I lift or, in fact, who the strongest guy here is. There is no “130Kg bench guy” attitude. It is all about having complete guts. No-one celebrates a new PR, they just kill it and move on.

In atmospheres where mediocrity is not accepted, you don’t win Silver or Bronze, YOU LOSE GOLD. When you become content with the way things are you become obsolete. Or in non fancy thesaurus language- “YOU REST-YOU RUST”.

-As preached by the mastermind behind the world’s strongest playground-

“When you go to war, you go to kill, not to be killed”


Till next time.



P.J. Dundass is an aspiring Irish strength and conditioning coach originating from Connemara, Co. Galway. He is a recent graduate from The Waterford Institute of Technology having completed a Bachelor of Business (Hons) degree in Recreation and Sport Management. He is currently completing an 8 week internship in Westside Barbell in Columbus, Ohio.

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