The max-out method is a high-intensity technique for advanced trainers. “Don’t do more than three one-rep sets and three lighter follow-up sets per exercise,” Peña instructs, “and use the max-out method only once per bodypart before moving on to other exercises done for straight sets. Because it’s a high-intensity technique, you should do less volume than usual in a routine when you incorporate the max-out method.”
Peña also recommends you follow the max-out sequence with another set of the same exercise done with 70% of your 1RM and pushed to failure. In this way the sequence of exercises doing, say, Smith-machine overhead presses would follow the protocol in “Constructing Your Max-Out Workout” at right.
This is then followed by sets of 8–12 reps of the other exercises you typically do in your shoulder routine. For example, you may do dumbbell lateral raises, barbell front raises and pec-deck reverse flyes. To make certain you fully recover when using max out, reduce your normal volume in exercises that complement the max-out exercise. In our example, if you normally do four sets of those single-joint shoulder moves, do only 2–3 sets because they’re preceded by max-out shoulder presses, which also hit your middle and front delts. In addition, don’t add other intensity techniques, like drop sets or forced reps to a max-out workout.
You can use max out at any time to shock a complacent bodypart into new growth, but Peña recommends a routine that incorporates one max-out exercise for each major bodypart. These exercises can be changed from workout to workout. Stick to the max-out method for a period of 4–6 weeks. Afterward, return to mostly straight sets of 8–12 reps for the next 4–6 weeks.
Let’s return to that sprint up a steep hill because it’s an apt analogy for working out. Training shouldn’t always be a level road. Whether packing on muscle or stripping off fat, the key to progress is to avoid the easiest path and instead climb over challenging obstacles. The max-out method makes your journey easier in the long run by making your journey harder in the short term. The cool thing about this, though, is that it accomplishes it via a little trickery on your nervous system, in effect faking out your physique, prepping you for an all-out assault and then lightening the load. Max out revs up your muscles to use ever greater weights and, in so doing, keeps you speeding onward and upward toward your goals.