The Dynamic Effort Method is one of three core training methods used in the Conjugate system, or Westside system, developed at Westside Barbell by Louie Simmons. But its history goes back long before Louie Simmons became aware of it.
What is the Dynamic Effort Method? The Dynamic Effort Method of training is defined as lifting a submaximal weight with maximal effort. By training to move a submaximal weight with as much velocity as possible, the lifter develops greater force output than they would by lifting a heavier load slowly. This increases overall strength.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot that goes into effectively using this method (much more than just “moving weight fast”), so let’s break it all down piece-by-piece.
Important Note: The Dynamic Effort Method is used as part of a whole training system, which includes the Repetition Method and Max Effort Method. I’ve written separate articles for each of these concepts, which I encourage you to read. You must understand all of them if you’re going to understand how they all fit together into a well-designed training program.
History Of The Dynamic Effort Method
The Dynamic Effort method is outlined by Vladimir Zatsiorsky in his book “Science and Practice of Strength Training.” It was originally developed by the Soviets to supplement Max Effort (ME) workouts as a way to continue the athlete’s training during the week without taxing them as much as a ME workout does.
The objective of these workouts is to train the lifters to explode out of the bottom of the lift, exerting maximal force into a submaximal weight to train their ability to exert the greatest amount of force possible.
The foundation of the training method is Isaac Newton’s second law, which states that
the force (F) exerted on an object is directly proportional to its mass (m) and acceleration (a), or F=ma.
In other words, imagine trying to throw a ping pong ball as hard as you can. Then compare that to throwing a baseball as hard as you can. Then compare that to throwing a shotput as hard as you can.
Because the ping pong ball is so light and has very little mass (m), the force exerted will be lower than throwing a ball with great mass. Think about it – if your “m” in the equation is a smaller number, when you multiply it by the same acceleration (your arm speed), you wind up with a smaller product (F).
The goal of the DE method is to use a submaximal weight that sits in the middle of the spectrum, similar to a baseball in this example. We don’t want a mass or load so light that we lose overall force, but we don’t want a load so heavy that we have to grind, or slow our acceleration to move it.
Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell became acquainted with this method of training in the early 1980’s and incorporated it in his programming ever since.
How Is The Dynamic Effort Used In Training?
Training Force Output
Moving lighter weights, quickly, can increase force production.
Let’s think back on the math in Isaac Newton’s Second Law again. F=M*A.
If we increase mass and leave acceleration constant, the force is greater as a product of mass times acceleration. If we leave mass constant and increase acceleration, we get greater force as a product of the same function as well.
So if you want to develop greater force, those are your two options – accelerate the weight faster (a), or move heavier weight (m). The Dynamic Effort method focuses on the first one.
As we stated above, the Soviets figured out that human beings, even very athletic ones, can only sustain training maximal weight so many times per week before they wear out.
That lead them to introduce the DE workouts to their athletes.
So the Dynamic Method aims to train acceleration as a means of improving force, because we can’t train with heavy weight every day of the week, but as lifters, we still want to keep training our ability to exert maximal force into the bar.
What this looks like in training is two to three workouts of many sets of very few reps (8-12 sets of 1-3 reps) for each of the three main lifts (squat, bench press, and deadlift, or sometimes combining squat and deadlift into one DE workout). These should be spaced a few days apart from the max effort squat, bench, and deadlift days to allow for rest and recovery.
Additional resources on training frequency:
- How Many Times Per Week Should You Squat?
- How Many Times Per Week Should You Bench Press?
- How Many Times Per Week Should You Deadlift?
A DE rep is performed by loading up the bar with 40-80 percent of your 1-rep max (1RM).
This percentage will vary from lifter to lifter, and you’ll need to experiment to get a feel for it. In the end, advanced lifters will be able to get more out of lighter loads, while newer lifters may need a heavier load to get the stimulus.
While the negative or downward portion of the lift may not be speedy, the positive or upward motion is what matters.
Exert full force into the bar to move it upward without allowing the bar to slow down until it reaches the top. If your bar slows down at any point in the upward motion, you’ve got too much weight on the bar.
Throughout the upward portion of the lift, you should be exerting maximal effort into the bar, whether it’s a squat, bench, or deadlift. It is not enough to move the bar fast, you must move it with everything you have.
This is where weight selection becomes so important.
If you are squatting weight up so fast that your feet come off the floor at lockout and you “jump” at the end, the bar is too light and you aren’t getting maximal force (because your mass is too low, see Newton’s law above – you’re throwing a ping pong ball).
If you are decelerating at any point in the lift moving up, your load is too heavy and you won’t have maximal acceleration (which is, ideally, no slower than 8 meters per second. Not that you have any way to measure that in your gym unless you bought a Tendo Unit).
The technique is key when using the Dynamic Effort Method. We are not performing fast reps in a sloppy fashion. The opposite is true, in fact, as you are advised to stop training as soon as your reps or sets start moving slower than your first reps and sets, or form breaks down.
The reason we perform many sets of 1-3 reps is so that we can get the desired effect from the method. If you do too many reps in one set, you can lose your technique or speed too quickly. If you do too many sets, you can have the same problems. If you do too few sets or reps, you may not ever get the stimulus we were shooting for in the first place.
Louie Simmon’s rule is 3 reps for the bench, 2 reps for squats, and 1 rep for deadlifts per set.
Oftentimes, a DE workout will call for the use of bands or chains as accommodating resistance in your lifts. These are helpful elements to add but should be noted that you can still have a great DE workout without the use of bands or chains.
Using bands and chains can change the strength curve so that the lift is harder at the lockout than it is at the bottom. By flipping that strength curve around, the lifter must accelerate out of the bottom of the lift with maximal force to avoid decelerating as the band tension or chain weight increases with the bar moving upward.
The accommodating resistance becomes a great coaching cue to keep the lifter pushing maximally from the bottom all the way to the top of the lift.
As with the standard bar weights we discussed above, be sure to analyze your lifts so that your bar weight and band tension/chain weight allows you to exert maximal force without your lift slowing down, and without your load being too light overall.
Other resources on using bands and chains can be found here:
- Do Bands Help Bench Press?
- The Banded Deadlift (4 Reasons Why You Should Do Them
- Reverse Band Squat: How-To, Benefits, Why Do It?
- Reverse Band Bench Press: How-To, Benefits, Why Do It?
- Reverse Band Deadlift: How-To, Benefits, Why Do It?
- Training With Chains In Powerlifting: Should You Do It?
5 Benefits Of The Dynamic Effort Method
Here are the top five benefits to using the dynamic effort method in your training:
- It improves force output
- It increases training frequency
- It improves technique
- It Increases endurance
- It avoids accommodation
1. It Improves Force Output
Training the DE method will improve your force output. That’s the whole point of this system, and you will absolutely see that result by training it effectively.
While your max effort days train your force output by cranking up the “mass” in Newton’s second law, DE allows you to train force by increasing the acceleration and decreasing the mass.
2. It Increases Training Frequency
The DE method allows you to train your squat, bench, and deadlift twice as much as if you only trained with the max effort method.
Even though your max effort workout earlier in the week wiped you out for a day or two, by using the DE method, you can show up a couple days later and hit the same lift again, but with a different focus (acceleration) to keep working toward a big result the next time you max out in a competition or for yourself.
3. It Improves Technique
The DE method forces a lifter to pay attention to their form. If form breaks down or speed slows down, it’s time to stop. If you are watching your form and speed closely with each DE workout, you will be able to identify larger areas of need in your technique.
The added frequency of training not only improves your performance, it increases the amount of time you spend videoing and watching your lifts, or your friends or lifting buddies watching and analyzing your lifts.
This added time and attention will give you the data you need to see if you need to make form changes or improvements far more than the casual lifter that only squats, benches, or deadlifts once a week.
4. It Increases Endurance
DE workouts will increase your endurance for two reasons:
- Doing additional workouts each week will accommodate your body to meet those greater demands of working out twice as frequently
- The act of performing 1-3 explosive reps over and over will accommodate your body to that type of endurance – demanding maximal force from your body for short bursts over and over.
As a powerlifter, you likely won’t need the type of endurance a marathon runner or even a crossfitter.
However, the DE workout, when done with short rest and full effort, will improve your ability to produce maximal force over and over when called upon. And that’s exactly the type of endurance we want on competition day, or any time we want to use our hard-earned strength.
5. It Avoid Accommodation
The DE method will help you avoid accommodation or a plateau. By changing up the approach every other workout to your squat, bench, or deadlift, you keep introducing fresh stimuli to your body to always be adapting and changing as a result of your workouts.
We all know that the longer you do the same things, the sooner your body will adapt and won’t change as a result. Keep your DE work fresh each week, and you’ll have a whole new way to change things up and keep making progress.
Other resources to help you break through plateaus in strength:
3 Cons Of The Dynamic Effort Method
There aren’t many downsides to incorporating the DE method, but you should be aware of a few:
- Incorrect Application
- Limited Effectiveness by Itself
This one may seem obvious, but you can kill your progress pretty quickly by doing something wrong, and the DE method is no exception.
If you are performing sloppy reps fast, if you are using too light or too heavy of a load, if you are misusing bands and chains, you’ll be spinning your wheels at best, and at worst, hurting yourself.
The DE Method is only as good as its proper application, so talk with friends or coaches who are familiar with it and keep learning about how to use it and apply it so you aren’t wasting your time or risking your health and safety.
Limited Effectiveness By Itself
If you only train with the DE method, you will see limited results. Sure, to the novice lifter, it will provide some clear results if done consistently, just like any new workout would have some positive results on someone starting to lift for the first time.
However, if this is all that you do, you won’t go very far. Use the DE method as a tool in your larger toolkit to get the best results.
The opposite of the benefit we shared above, if you do your DE work the same every week, you will adapt to it and you won’t get ongoing results. You will hit a plateau pretty quickly.
This is true for lifters who only train with the DE method and nothing else, as well as lifters who don’t progress or vary their DE work, even if it’s part of a larger program.
Tips To Using The Dynamic Effort Method
A few things I want to emphasize about effectively using the DE Method:
Acceleration vs Speed
Remember that speed is a tool that we use to develop force, but the real goal here is not moving the bar fast, it’s moving the bar with acceleration.
The bar should be moving faster the last 2 inches of the lockout than it was the first 2 inches from the bottom of the lift.
Focus on accelerating the bar throughout the lift, not just moving the bar faster than your other lifts.
Just because there is another method called the “max effort method” does not mean that the dynamic effort is performed without maximal effort as well.
The very definition of DE work is moving submaximal load with maximal force.
Put everything you have into moving that submaximal load as fast as you can, and that will get you the result you are looking for.
Do It Right
Take the time to learn how to do it right. You’re off to a great start by reading this article. Keep reading about how to set up a reverse band lift, or how to squat or deadlift or bench with chains. Read about how DE workouts should be different from ME workouts.
Make sure you’re doing your best during your DE Workouts and think critically about how you plan them to get the most out of it.
Once you get the hang of the DE method and you’re seeing progress, keep adjustin. Try adjusting the percentage of your load on the bar weight versus the accommodating resistance of bands and chains.
Try different variations of your lifts, try your lifts with specialty bars, watch and learn what others are doing. Never be satisfied with where you are in your knowledge as well as your gains.
Other resources on variations of the powerlifting movements:
Should Powerlifters Use The Dynamic Effort Method?
Powerlifters should absolutely use the Dynamic Method as part of their larger training program.
While you may not use a full day, or three full workouts to dedicate to your squat, bench, and deadlift, you can absolutely include DE sets as backoff sets (see our piece on how to use backoff sets here).
Some incorporation of the DE method to train yourself to accelerate through a lift, to exert maximal force no matter the load, to explode out of the bottom of a lift is critical to improving your overall strength and ability to move big weights.
The Dynamic Effort Method goes well with many training splits, including a 6-day powerlifting split. You can learn more about training 6 days per week in my other article.
Program Example: Dynamic Effort Method
Here is an example of a DE workout for the lower body (squats and deads, 2-3 days after ME lower body work) and DE Bench (2-3 days after ME Bench work).
The program starts with the DE work first, then progresses to three accessory movements utilizing the Repetition Method to aid in the lifter’s hypertrophy and endurance work.
Dynamic Effort Method: Lower Body Example
- Warm up
- Squat with chains – 10 sets of 2 reps @ 60% plus 15% in chains
- Deadlift against bands – 10 sets of 1 reps @ 60% plus mini bands
- Box Jumps – 4 sets of 10 reps
- Leg Press – 4 sets of 10-12 reps
- Seated Leg Extension – 4 sets of 10 reps
Dynamic Effort Method: Bench Press Example
- Warm Up
- Bench Press against Bands – 8 sets of 3 reps @ 60% plus mini bands
- Close Grip Bench Press against Bands – 5 sets of 3 reps @ 50% plus mini bands
- Skull Crushers – 4 sets of 10-12 reps
- DB Bench Press – 4 sets of 10 reps
- Seated Overhead DB Press – 4 sets of 10 reps
The Dynamic Effort Method is an important tool for a powerlifter to be able to train their ability to exert maximal force into a lift, but without constantly training with a maximal load.
There are many ways to accomplish a good DE workout – sometimes with just the barbell and plates, other times with accommodating resistance, and always with a variety of the lifts you are performing with dynamic effort.
Effectively incorporating the dynamic effort into your workouts will absolutely show results for you. Whether you have entire workouts dedicated to DE work, or just including it as backoff sets during your once-a-week workouts for each lift, its effects will be visible for anyone that uses it properly and consistently.