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MAX PYRAMID SUMMARIZED Posted by John Little under Uncategorized
Fred Fornicola was nice (and diligent) enough to go through the massive amount of posts from last weeks
blog and excise certain of my (and others) suggestions in an attempt to itemize the methods key points
(which Im posting below). Im absolutely stunned by the volume of positive response this method has
received and hopefully everybodys interest will result in all of our ability to advance exercise by retaining
the stimulus component while taking steps to further reduce force and wear and tear issues (and proper
strength training as Dr. McGuff and I have explained thoroughly in BBS is already a huge leap in this
direction) even further. I would also suggest that those interested read the article I posted on the method
for (hopefully) additional clarification:
John Little
The Max Pyramid is simply a training option. I like it because I think that if one can reduce the forces
coming back to the body and the wear and tear, while still retaining the productive elements of the stimulus
then its a step in the right direction. It also requires virtually a zero learning curve as you dont have to
focus on slowing down on the turnaround points and moving at a specific cadence. Having said this, its also
a new protocol as against the Big 5 that has been employed very successfully for decades. I dont think
the stimulus component is necessarily any better with Max Pyramid than with the protocol we recommend in
BBS, so if its more practical to stick to a Big 5 (or a Big 3 performed as we recommend in BBS), then
stick with that. The forces are also very low in the BBS Big 5 workout and it has a much longer (and
better established) track record. Dont worry about switching over, particularly if it will require seeking out a
special trainer. Just get to the gym, work hard, dont overtrain, get adequate rest and recovery and youll be
doing fine!
The goal should be to obtain a sequential recruitment and exhaustion of fibers, while limiting the forces
coming back to the body and the wear and tear that attends dynamic (read: motion) attempts at inroading.
Training in the position of Max Moment Arm will recruit all fiber types throughout all of a muscle, and, thus,
should not negatively impact your full-range strength (it may be perceived that way to some degree, owing
to the greater strength expressed in the position of optimal leverage versus the lesser demonstrable
strength expressed in the position of a leveraged disadvantage but in either position it is the muscles that
are moving the limb, and the fibers within the muscle are fully addressed and stimulated to become
stronger with the MP protocol. Remember that motor units distribute their fibers homogeneously throughout
the length of a muscle. So as you start to recruit high threshold motor units, youre doing so
homogeneously throughout the whole distribution of the muscle. As a result, the Type S and the Type G
responses that Arthur Jones wrote about years ago are probably more of a neurological event. And, if youre
truly worried about this, you can always salt in a full range workout as you feel the need (and probably
should do so). Consequently, if youve spent some time training your muscles through a regular range of

motion rep modality and then go to a Max Contraction Training protocol (as we suggest in Chapter 7 of Body
By Science), then you will produce a strength increase throughout the entire muscle.
I would start with a load about 30 or 40 percent lighter than what you would normally rep with on a SS
protocol and then work up to your normal work weight (or slightly higher depending upon whether or not
you can sustain that load for 20-seconds). I would recommend as minor a weight increase as your machine
will allow (which is typically 10-lbs) as this keeps the forces down and as long as you move immediately to
the next weight and the weight employed isnt so light as to make it a bounce back between the slow
twitch and intermediate twitch fibers for several sets
The protocol will also work well with selectorized as well as plate-loading machines. Just make sure that
your weight increases are in the 5-10-lb. range and your trainer or training partner makes them quickly for
you. Having a stack of smaller plates at the ready by the machine/s you will be using will help this process
along nicely. MP can also be used for bodyweight training.
In essence, Maximum Moment Arm is the when the distance between the axis and the resistance is maximal
or, in other words, where your leverage is the worst (resulting in your muscles have to work harder by
recruiting fibers more aggressively to sustain or generate a contraction). The lock position refers to the
position in a pressing exercise where your limbs are locked straight, such as when your legs are fully
extended in a Leg Press or your arms are fully extended in an overhead press. At this point your leverage is
optimal and the Moment Arm is minimal, thus muscle fiber involvement is reduced to some degree
(depending upon the load employed and the degree of involvement of the bones for support).
Ive found that 2 or 3 movements (a Big 3) is plenty for anyone who has been training for a while. I think a
beginner should use a Big 3 (and may even be able to tolerate a Big 4), but intermediates and advanced
would probably be better served with a Big 2. A good workout to try the MP on would be:
1.) Leg Press
2.) Chest Press or Overhead Press
3.) Pulldown or Seated Row
Again, I wouldnt attempt to perform all of these movements in one workout but there is room for individual
choice and tolerance here, so feel free to experiment.

The hold point is not potentially the weakest point in the ROM, it IS the weakest point in the ROM owing to
the disadvantageous leverage. Yes, you will be failing in the muscles weakest point in the ROM but this
doesnt mean that the fiber recruitment isnt maximal. A muscle can be loaded in different points (with loads
that correspond to the strength of the lever system) of the ROM and a sequential recruitment will still take
place until all available fibers have been recruited, however, a large load isnt necessary to recruit all
available muscle fibers if you use leverage to your (dis) advantage. You are inroading to a much greater
degree if, for the sake of illustration, you complete a leg press and are unable to move 60 lbs than if you
complete a leg press and are unable to move 150 lbs. Thus, the inroad from performing a sequential
recruitment of fibers in your position of Max Moment Arm (where strength is not expressed greatly but that
is the most difficult) is actually greater.
Progression is achieved via load and time. The 20-second hold was chosen (over say a 5-second or 10second) is because it keeps the sequential recruitment process going more aggressively in a manner that
will result in lighter weights being employed, thus reducing the forces coming back to the body. I believe I
cover the above two points to some degree in the essay I wrote about this protocol (the part about having
200 units of force pushing out against 200 pounds of resistance, Newtons 2nd Law, etc.).
The big thing to remember is the angle of your limbs during the exercise. If your leg press starts you in a
position where your lower leg is at a 90-degree angle to your upper leg, then contract your muscles until the
weight is approximately one-inch off the weight stack and hold for 20-seconds. Lower the weight after your
20-second hold, increase the resistance by 10 or 20 pounds (whichever increment that particular weight
stack allows for), contract against the resistance for another 20-seconds and so on until you reach a load
that you either cannot move from the stack or that you cannot sustain a contraction against for the requisite
20-seconds. At this point, reverse direction and come back up the stack, one plate at a time, until you reach
a load that you can again contract against for 20-seconds or you return to your starting weight (whichever
comes first). Remember to start out with a load that is not threatening to you; i.e., youre aware youre
contracting against a resistance but its not demanding and then proceed from there. NOTE: Each set (on
the return portion of the protocol) probably will NOT be able to be sustained for 20-seconds and thats
In keeping in line of what John has described as the back bone for Max Pyramid, I have taken the liberty of
expanding his core concept a bit based on professional and personal needs and as such, maybe these
suggestions may help some of you.
The main crux of what John offers is quite simple: reduce wear-and-tear on the body while imposing a
strong enough stimulus to improve the muscular and cardiovascular systems. Taking that in to

consideration, I offered some ideas on how to implement MP using bodyweight only exercises in an earlier
post. In this post, Id like to offer an off-shoot of how MP was originally described.
The following approach works well for:
-solo training
-fixed resistance
-plate loaded equipment
-selectorized equipment that offer large jumps in weight
First, I would recommend buying a digital clock large enough to see the display. I bought one on eBay
(Trisonic) for under 5 bucks and that included shipping. I slapped a magnet on the back and I can put it on
any machine I use that is metal so I dont need to count.
Like the original concept of MP, you will need to experiment on finding that right resistance for each exercise
movement so there is no way to determine where to start other than trying and finding where to make your
tweaks. Ok, so you are on the Nautilus Leverage Leg Press and you train alone.not an easy way to use the
MP protocol that youre dying to tryso I offer you this approach:
Take a light enough resistance and push the foot plate out to almost a lock position. This is putting your
legs/hips in their strongest leverage position. Hold for 20 seconds and come back all the way down. This is a
non-intrusive warm-up, immediately push the weight back out but this time shorten the range by a couple
of inches. Again, lower the weight all the way down and now go out again but this time just a few more
inches less for 20 seconds. Do this over 4-5 sets until you are at the weakest leverage position (which is the
original position John described in his article). If you picked your weight correctly, you will have one helluva
time holding that position for 20 seconds. Now, work your way back up the pyramid so lower the weight and
go out just a few inches past that bottom spot and hold for 20. Do this until you are back at your original
position and what seemed ridiculously light will be one nasty final set.
Another way (which I may have mentioned in the essay on this protocol) is one that we used prior to MP,
which is simply to move your limbs into the position of Maximum Moment Arm and then sustain THIS
contraction for your TUL. It would work this way, for instance, with a Leg Press:
1. You chose a weight that is a little lighter than what you might do dynamically in a typical BBS set.
2. Press the weight slowly into the position of Maximum Moment Arm.
3. Start the clock.
4. Over time (say, 1.5 to 3 minutes) your involved muscles will fatigue to the point where the load begins to
overtake you and the weight returns to the stack.

5. Stop the clock and record your weight and TUL.

This also reduces force and wear and tear while still maintaining the appropriate stimulus. Its a little more
tedious and harder to endure, but it is effective.




Chris K says:
April 26, 2010 at 4:35 pm
Sorry, my post may have not been clear.
The workout today was a Big 5 as described in BBS, with dynamic super-slow reps.
The workout last week was an MP with Option 1. My TULs for that were in the 4:00 min range, and I
only did three exercises.
I decided to go back to a Big 5 dynamic workout today because Im still exploring and
experimenting. But I noticed that my TULs were lower than they were the last time I did a Big 5
workout two weeks ago. Thats what got me wondering if Im overtraining or not resting for long


Chris K says:
April 26, 2010 at 4:43 pm
Sorry I wasnt clear in my last post. Today was a Big 5 workout as described in BBS. I did an MP
Option 1 last week, and thought I would mix it up and try a Big 5 this week. Im still exploring and
I noticed today that my TULs were lower (even with lower weight in some cases) than they were the
last time I did a Big 5 workout, which was two weeks ago.

Thats why I wondered if I might be overtraining, or not allowing enough days off between training


Chris K says:
April 26, 2010 at 4:45 pm
Oops! I had some problems with the first post and it seemed like it didnt go through, so I wrote
another one. Looks like they both made it.


Fred Fornicola says:

April 27, 2010 at 1:02 am
I wouldnt make adjustments just yet as having one off day is not a sign of bad things to come
(conversly having a good day doesnt mean you should jack your weights up right away) so give it
another workout or two and if progress has halted or refgess, then consider the options that are
availble (reduce volume, longer rest, change TULs, etc.) and proceed from there.


Chris K says:
April 28, 2010 at 9:39 am
Fred or anyone else!
I really appreciate your help. Means a lot to me as Ive been unable to find a local trainer familiar
with these protocols.
One thing I forgot to mention is that the one exercise that has not felt right at all is the lat pull down.
At my gym we have this type:
I use the grip explained in BBS, with palms facing me and hands spread about shoulder width.
I noticed that the pull down machine in the Big 5 videos on YouTube is quite different, in that the
starting position of the bar is quite a bit in front of the body. This means that instead of pulling the
weight down from directly overhead, as I do with the machine I use, Doug was pulling the weight at
maybe a 70% angle from in front of his body. This seems like a very different motion.

Im feeling a lot of strain in my forearms the way Im doing it, and this actually causes me to fail
before the larger muscles (biceps, lats) are fully exerted. Im not sure if Im doing something wrong
or this is just not the right machine.
Any ideas?


Donnie Hunt says:

May 3, 2010 at 6:21 pm
Hi John,
I have followed your writings regarding muscle building for a long time. Your newest recommedation
for performing static contractions in the most leverage disadvantaged range makes alot of sense.
Previously you had talked about the position of full contraction being the only point where it is
possible to recruit the greatest amount of fibers (if the resistance is high enough also) for a given
muscle. What is the current knowledge regarding this?


John Little says:

May 4, 2010 at 6:46 am
Hi Donnie,
I think MP would represent the (at least my) current knowledge on this. A recent study by McMaster
University (an institution that is truly breaking new ground in exercise science; you may recall that
they also conducted the study that we cited in BBS that established comparable aerobic/endurance
benefits of 6-minutes a week training versus 90-minutes-a-week training) has concluded that the
amount of weight employed is not as important for muscle protein synthetic rate (MPS) as was once
believed. MPS refers to the growth and repair rate of muscle (or size) and the researchers wanted to
see how this was influenced by the amount of weight (or load) that one used in ones training. You
can read the report here:
Anyway, the conclusion of the researchers was that taking a set to momentary muscular failure (or
the effort/intensity) was of greater consequence than the actual load employed in doing so (which
makes it a rather nice fit for the MP protocol actually). Anyway, heres the conclusion of the study:

CONCLUSION: These data suggest that training to maximal failure, independent of training load,
induces a greater acute rise in mixed MPS compared to a work-matched control. The greater acute
increase in mixed MPS after exercise at 90RM and 30FAIL is likely related to recruitment of more
type II muscle fibres not activated in 30WM. These findings support the notion that heavy and light
training loads may elicit similar training-induced increases in muscle hypertrophy provided exercise
is performed to maximal failure.


Ed M. says:
May 6, 2010 at 11:15 am
As a 62 y/o, oft-injured, ex athlete who has been doing BBS for 4 months and MP for one I have the
following observations and questions:
1.I have lifted and competed all my life but have never been pain/injury free pushing this much
weight and intensity until the past 5 months. Thank you and Dr. McGuff.
2. My balance-compromised by peripheral neuropathy due to l-s issues-is nearly completely back to
3. With proper form is there a limit to how much weight should be lifted? My BBS leg press is at 570
lbs and it is creeping up in the MP protocol.
4. Do I compromise the benefits by walking, biking 2-3 times a week? How about bike sprints
(running is out for me)?
5. I continue to build mass-lots of it. Even though I have lost 23 lbs. my shirts and suits are nearing
their limits. How do I arrest this process without stopping my workouts? My wife is wondering
whether I am on the prowl for a younger woman.
Thank you,


John Little says:

May 6, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Hi Ed M.,
It sounds like a nice problem to have! First, thanks for your kind words and Im happy that BBS
(and its attendant protocols) have proved helpful to your condition/s. Both strength limits and
muscular ones are genetically mediated, so Im afraid I dont really have a definitive answer to your
queries. As long as your form is solid, you will progress until you reach the upper limits of your
genetic potential. I would employ the MP protocol so that you can limit the forces coming back at you
as you grow stronger. It sounds like youre a mesomorph, but even mesomorphs have a limit to how
much muscle they can build, so and I cant believe Im saying this dont worry, Im sure you
muscle mass gains will slow down and/or arrest soon (or maybe not so soon, again, depending upon
your genetic predisposition). In any event, you will still reap the health/metabolic benefits from
training in this fashion which will serve you well throughout the rest of your life.
With regard to your fourth question, I wouldnt do any of those things if youre doing them for
health, cardio or any of the other beliefs most people have for engaging in them. They are not
necessary if you are training intensely enough with your BBS workouts and will bring unnecessary
force and wear and tear issues to your body that, having been injured through the years by athletics,
might prove VERY problematic as you get older.
Keep up the great work and thanks for your post!


Dan says:
June 17, 2010 at 3:48 am
I did MP deadlift last night and it didnt feel very safe with lots of strain at the very bottom of my
back just above the coccyx. The position I chose to hold was with the bar just below my knee cap. I
think I had good form (head up, back straight).
John, do you think this exercise is suitable for MP and if so where would you suggest lifting the bar