Why does the “dynamic effort” method (sometimes) work for powerlifting?

The ?dynamic effort? method in powerlifting is a training strategy in which light loads and high bar speeds are used in an attempt to improve performance in one or more of the three contested lifts, the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Conventionally, the ?dynamic effort? method is used alongside ?maximum effort? and ?repetition effort? strategies, which involve a few reps of heavy loads (1?3RM), and many reps of moderate loads ( 8RM+), respectively.

Proponents of the ?dynamic effort? method rarely suggest it as the sole method of improving powerlifting performance, and is often presented as an adjunct to the ?maximum effort? method.

Some powerlifters are very supportive of the ?dynamic effort? method, while others claim it is not effective. So why does it work for some people, and not for others?

Interestingly, the research provides clues.

What happens after high-velocity strength training?

After high-velocity strength training, like the ?dynamic effort? method, certain unique adaptations occur, which either do not happen or happen to a lesser extent after other types of strength training, including the ?maximum effort? and ?repetition effort? methods.

Compared to heavy load, low-velocity strength training, light load, high-velocity strength training produces:

  • greater retention of type IIX fiber proportion
  • increased contractile velocity (if light enough loads are used)
  • increased early phase neural drive, likely by increased rate coding
  • reduced antagonist activation (coactivation), although this effect is mainly limited to high velocities
  • somewhat similar improvements in coordination (unlike repetition effort, which involves more different ones)

How might this help a powerlifter?

Training with light loads and fast bar speeds produces both peripheral (inside the muscle) and central adaptations that differ from training with heavy loads.

The peripheral changes are unlikely to have any impact on powerlifting, partly because heavy load training is conducted at the same time and will therefore negate the beneficial effects, and partly because they relate solely to increased contraction velocity, which is not relevant to powerlifting performance (contrary to popular belief, fiber type has a large effect on contraction velocity, but has only a minor effect on force production).

In contrast, at least one the central adaptations may be beneficial.

The central adaptations include an increase in early phase neural drive, a reduction in antagonist activation, and a similar improvement in coordination (at least compared with the ?repetition effort? method).

Out of these, the increase in early phase neural drive seems like the main contender for a transferable adaptation to maximum strength.

How might increased early phase neural drive help a powerlifter?

Increases in early phase neural drive after high-velocity strength training contribute substantially to the ability to produce force quickly. And we know that these also transfer (albeit to a lesser extent than the neural adaptations after heavy load training) to maximum strength.

This increase in early phase neural drive after high-velocity strength training is likely caused by an increase in rate coding, because rate coding ?spikes? several times higher at the start of a fast contraction against a light weight, compared to after a maximal contraction against a heavy weight.

Lifting heavy weights also causes long-term increases in neural drive, but these gains are spread out over the whole exercise range of motion, and are not increased by as much in the early phase .

This is because lifting heavy weights does not produce the same ?spike? in rate coding at the beginning of the movement, so does not cause it to adapt in the same way.

Consequently, the ?dynamic effort? represents an opportunity to produce increases in early phase neural drive, which would otherwise not be improved by either the ?maximum effort? or ?repetition effort? methods, even if they were always performed with maximal intent, because bar speed needs to be high to achieve an early spike in rate coding.

Which powerlifters might benefit?

In all likelihood, the ?dynamic effort? method will be most relevant for lifters who have not previously done any high-velocity strength training, and who can therefore quickly achieve large improvements in early phase neural drive.

For lifters who have many years of strength training experience at various velocities (like most team sports athletes) the transfer might not be anywhere near as impressive, because they will have already achieved the large increases in early phase neural drive.

And this probably explains why some lifters are very enthusiastic about the method (because they have seen some fast improvements), while other lifters are not.

What is the takeaway?

If you are a powerlifter, you will often come across athletes and coaches debating whether the ?dynamic effort? method is effective, mainly based on their personal experience.

The reason for the disagreement may well be their training history.

Those lifters who have experienced increases in strength after using the ?dynamic effort? method probably really did see those gains, likely because it was the first time they had done any kind of high velocity strength training. Conversely, those lifters who have not experienced any benefit from the ?dynamic effort? method may be former athletes from other sports.


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