Max-OT adherent Jeff Willett / Instagram

Get stronger and get bigger. That’s the foundation of most bodybuilding systems. The arguments are fought over questions like: how heavy, how many, how long, how intense, which exercises? For Max-OT the answers are: maximum, 4-6, 30-40, failure, basic. Get in the gym, stimulate growth with a heavy and brief assault, and a half-hour or so later you’re out the door. Max-OT has carved out its own unique niche somewhere between power-bodybuilding and high-intensity. It’s a philosophy of lower reps, lower volume, and short workouts. You don’t hear as much about it as you did two decades ago, but it remains a valuable philosophy. In fact, Max-OT may just be the right system for you to maximize gains.

MAX-OT: HEAVY AND BRIEF 

Maximum Overload Training, better known as Max-OT, was developed by Paul Delia; and it rose to prominence when its two greatest adherents, Skip LaCour and Jeff Willet, won the drug-tested NPC/IFBB Team Universe in 2002 (LaCour) and 2003 (Willet).

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Skip LaCour wins the overall 2002 Team Universe. / Mitsuru Okabe

The two words most associated with Max-OT are heavy and brief. Working sets for everything but abs consist of only 4-6 reps. This boosts intensity, as it’s easier to focus on every rep when you do less of them. Select a weight with which you’ll hit failure at no more than six reps, and choose mostly exercises that allow you to hoist the heaviest metal. For example, barbell curls are better for Max-OT than concentration curls, because you can move more iron and thus better overload the biceps.

So, all sets are heavy.

The other key component of Max-OT is its brevity.

Do no more than three sets per exercise, only 6-9 sets per bodypart, and ideally train only one bodypart per workout and no more than two. This creates workouts that last only 30-40 minutes. Intense training stimulates growth-promoting hormones, but these decreases after about 40 minutes. Therefore, brief workouts stay within your “anabolic window.” Furthermore, you have limited stores of strength and intensity, and by keeping your training time short, you’re able to bring your best to each set.

MAX-OT: HEAVY METAL MANIA 

Max-OT is a complete program. Unlike some training styles, don’t just select what you like and disregard the rest. Of course you can always do some sets of 4-6 reps within a standard bodybuilding program, but don’t call those your Max-OT sets. For Max-OT to be effective, every set needs to be heavy and every workout needs to be brief. Another thing to note about Max-OT is that it shares similarities with high-intensity training, but it’s not technically HIT. Max-OT features a little more volume than most HIT workouts, and, though all sets are pushed to failure, they’re not typically pushed beyond failure, as with HIT. At most, do one forced rep at the end of a set when you’d otherwise fail to eke out that last rep.

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Jeff Willett grinds out a Max-OT set of squats back in the day. / Instagram

For Max-OT to be effective you can’t just use the same heavy weights over and over again. You need to hoist heavier and heavier metal. Because your rep range is limited to six, you won’t be getting more than six reps with the same weight. Instead, you need to use more weight for the same reps. This is why compound lifts are preferable to isolation exercises. It’s easier to make 5-10 pound strength jumps on the bench press than the pec deck fly, simply because you’ll use more weight on the former, so those jumps represent smaller percentage gains. (Our sample chest routine includes both exercises, but it emphasizes the former more.) Variety can also help strength gains. Because you tend to plateau doing the same exercises in the same order over and over again, switch your exercises at least once every four weeks.

MAX-OT CHEST ROUTINE

Barbell Bench Press  — 3 sets x 4-6 reps

Incline Dumbbell Press  — 2 sets x 4-6 reps

Flat Dumbbell Fly  — 2 sets x 4-6 reps

Pec-Deck Fly  — 1 set x 4-6 reps 

MAX-OT BASICS

✷  Perform 4-6 reps per set and 6-9 sets per bodypart.

✷  Push every set to failure but not beyond.

✷  Rest 2-3 minutes between sets.

✷  Workouts should last no more than 40 minutes, and 30 minutes is optimal.

MAX-OT TIP SHEET

✷  Warm up with fast, light, high-rep sets.

✷  Focus mostly on compound and basic exercises, the kind that allow you to use the heaviest weights.

✷  Bodyparts should be worked once every 5-7 days.

✷  Take one week off from training every 8-10 weeks.