The Dynamic Effort Method Can Help You Break Through Strength Plateaus

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If you want to build strength and gain muscle, you need to lift heavy. There’s no way around that, and it’s just as true for the average gym-goer as it is for the competitive powerlifter. But here’s another inescapable reality: If all you do is chase PRs, you can quickly find yourself stuck at a plateau—or even worse, sidelined by injury or overtraining. That’s why even powerlifters—whose singular goal is to increase their one-rep max (1RM) in three lifts (bench press, squat, and deadlift)—regularly vary up their routines with “submaximal efforts.”

In practice, that typically means backing off from max-effort lifts two or three times a week to crank out more reps with slightly lighter weights. But the best way to go about that is one of the most hotly contested topics in powerlifting, and no technique stirs up more debate than the dynamic effort method.

What Is the Dynamic Effort Method?

The dynamic effort method (DEM) is a submaximal training strategy employed mostly by strength athletes that was popularized by Westside Barbell in Ohio—an esteemed powerlifting “training factory” (i.e., gym) famous for producing elite powerlifters.

DEM is typically used during the “Big 3” lifts (bench, squat, deadlift), and it works like this: Instead of performing just a few sets at or near your 1RM, you do 5 to 8 sets of 3 to 5 reps at roughly 55 to 80-percent of your 1RM—and you do those reps with as much explosiveness as you can. That’s why many powerlifters also refer to DEM as “speed work.”

The Purpose of the Dynamic Effort Method

The goal of DEM is to hammer your type II muscle fibers—the same ones targeted by heavy lifting. Instead focusing on building strength, however, the objective is to increase your rate of force development (i.e., explosiveness).

But here’s the thing: While science seems to support the ability of DEM to boost hypertrophy (i.e., muscle growth), there’s not a lot of research to back up its effectiveness for increasing strength and power over other training methods. What’s more, it’s generally only recommended for veteran powerlifters, as it requires a high amount of experience and technical skill to execute safely and effectively due to the quick pace at which each rep is performed.

Alternatives to the Dynamic Effort Method

Every body is different, and what works for one person might not be as effective for another. For some powerlifters, DEM can be an efficient way to build strength and boost explosiveness; for others, it’s less so. But while the debate continues to rage among elite strength athletes, there are safer (and typically more effective) means to enhance strength and power for most gym-goers who aren’t only aiming to improve in the Big 3 lifts, such as weaving plyometrics and Olympic lifts (with proper instruction, of course) into your training program.

No matter how you go about it, however, they key is to vary your routine. Workout variety is critical to not only avoiding plateaus, but also fast-tracking your progress.

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