Smith Machine Squat

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.

Barbell Row A

Additionally, studies confirm that exercise sequence is extremely important for the desired adaptations of training to take place. In other words, the most important exercise needs to be the first exercise in your routine.

The take home point is when training to build limit strength, your workout needs to start off with a heavy core lift and the assistance work and more traditional bodybuilding techniques follow suit. So, a back day begins with the deadlift, a chest day with the bench press, and a leg day with a squat.

THE REST OF IT >> Healthy adult males 50 years of age and younger should shoot for the following goals: 2-2.5 times your bodyweight in the deadlift, 1.5 times your bodyweight on the bench press and double your bodyweight on the bench press, all without the benefit of straps and suits. The stronger you get, the less you have to focus as much on limit strength. As you develop a higher limit strength on the big moves, you can divert more of your attention onto other accessory movements.

Josh Bryant, MFS, CSCS, PES, is the owner of and co-author (with Adam benShea) of the Amazon No. 1 seller Jailhouse Strong. He is a strength coach at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and holds 12 world records in powerlifting. You can connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or visit his website at