Workout Tips

M&F Cheat Sheet: Limit Strength

How big you can get is directly related to how strong you are. Here’s what you need to know about limit strength and how it can help your physique.

josh bryant thumbnail by CSCS, MFS, PES

Lots of lifters like to try to lift for size, sticking to moderate weights and rep ranges, with a slightly higher focus on total volume. But growth is achieved via a cumulative breakdown of muscle tissue, so you can’t discount the importance of limit strength. Using the bench press as an example, three sets of 10 at 225 pounds is better at helping you grow than three sets of 10 at 185.

Sandow winners Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman both started out as powerlifters. Dorian Yates focused on moving more and more weight while incarcerated. Limit strength – not high-volume schemes – set the stage for their legendary physiques. What can it do for yours?

WHAT IS IT? >> Limit strength, or the amount of force you can exert in one all-out effort, is the base of both athletics and physique building. In layman terms, limit strength is how much weight you can lift for a one-repetition max, typically on a compound, core movement.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT? >> The best way to train for a higher repetition max – more reps at higher weight loads – is to increase your one repetition max. Not surprisingly, a 500-pound squatter will use more on leg extensions than a 250-pound squatter. So before you write off limit strength in favor traditional bodybuilding methods and isolation exercises, realize these are all enhanced by increasing limit strength. All facets of physique and performance will be enhanced by building a limit strength base and you will be much more likely to stay injury free.

HOW DO YOU MANAGE IT FOR GREATER GAINS? >> Limit strength is built training heavy on compound movements like squat variations, bench press variations, deadlift variations, dips and pull-up variations. These movements build the most muscle mass and produce the highest levels of inter- and intramuscle coordination and high threshold motor unit (HTMU) recruitment, which have the highest potential for growth and helping to increase limit strength. As an added bonus, these movements cause your body to release a cascade of anabolic hormones contrasted to the purgatory of machines and singe joint movements.

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