Maximum Strength

Get Your Strongest Body in 16 Weeks with the Ultimate Weight-Training Program


By Eric Cressey, CSCS

By Matt Fitzgerald

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Most of the 23 million American men who lift weights do so to get bigger; unfortunately, many of them are going nowhere with watered-down bodybuilding routines that don’t help them actually get stronger. Eric Cressey’s cutting-edge four-phase program, featuring constant progression, variation, and inspiring goals, keeps you focused on increasing strength along with muscle mass, helping you achieve the fittest, most energetic, and best-looking body you’ve ever had-with fewer hours at the gym.


"Eric Cressey is equal parts academic scholar and in-the-trenches veteran. It's hard enough to find a fitness expert who exhibits one of these qualities, let alone a man who exemplifies both.... Cressey is a complete professional."
—SEAN HYSON, Fitness Editor, Men's Fitness, Sly, and Muscle & Fitness magazines
"Maximum Strength is a guide for those who truly want to make meaningful changes to their bodies. Eric Cressey has created a program that will challenge any individual to push themselves to levels they have never been before. In the years that I have known Eric, his goal to help people achieve maximum performance and get the most out of their bodies has never wavered."
—MICHAEL IRR, BS, CSCS, Assistant Strength Coach, Chicago Bulls
"Eric Cressey is one of the sharpest minds in the field of performance enhancement today. His ability to apply his knowledge in an efficient, progressive, and comprehensive manner is outstanding. He continues to be a fundamental resource for me in this profession."
—CHRIS WEST, MS, CSCS, ATC, Associate Head Coach, Strength and Conditioning, University of Connecticut
"Not only does [Cressey] have an unparalleled knowledge base, but he also has the innate ability to think critically and apply this knowledge into his programming. This leads to stronger, healthier, and better-performing athletes and clients."
—MIKE ROBERTSON, MS, CSCS, USAW, Director, Custom Athletics

ERIC CRESSEY, MA, CSCS, renowned strength coach and record-setting powerlifter, is the author of The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual and cocreator of the Magnificent Mobility DVD and Building the Efficient Athlete DVD set. A regular contributor to Testosterone Nation, Men's Fitness, and Elite Fitness Systems, Eric is the owner of Cressey Performance, which features two strength and conditioning facilities in the Greater Boston area. He lives in Framingham, Massachusetts.
MATT FITZGERALD is the author/coauthor of seven books, including Brain Training for Runners and Triathlon Magazine's Complete Triathlon Book. He writes regularly for such national publications as Maxim, Men's Fitness, Men's Health, Runner's World, Triathlete, and Maximum Fitness and for Web sites such as and Runner's World Online. A triathlete, runner, and coach, he lives in San Diego, California.

To my parents,
Susan and George Cressey,
for sticking with me through the thick—
and definitely the thin.

by John Berardi, PhD
A few years back, when my personal Web site was publishing the work of up-and-coming coaches, trainers, and nutritionists, I received an e-mail from a young Eric Cressey. Eric, a recent university graduate and weightlifting enthusiast, had decided to try his hand at writing and was wondering if I'd be interested in publishing an article he'd recently put together. The article was all about teaching weightlifters how to budget for things like gym memberships, gym equipment, healthy food, and nutritional supplements—and it was pretty good. So I decided to run it. Interestingly, more than 30,000 readers checked out the article. And they loved it.
I had no idea that this type of article would have such an impact. But Eric did. You see, Eric's a true problem solver. By nature he looks for areas that can be improved upon and sets out to make those improvements. Back when he sent me that first article, he recognized a specific problem people were having. And he set out to find a solution. Of course, by nature, he hasn't let up since.
Impressively, since that first article, Eric's star has been on the rise. Over the past few years, he has established himself as one of the top exercise and performance specialists in the world, a guy people come to in order to build muscle strength, to boost muscle size, and to improve their fitness. It doesn't hurt that he's earned a master's degree in exercise science from the prestigious University of Connecticut, studying under top strength researchers Dr. William Kraemer, Dr. Carl Maresh, and Dr. Jeff Volek. It probably doesn't hurt either that he's published more than 250 articles on strength training, he's brought to market several books and DVD products in the area of strength training and athletic preparation, and he's personally helped hundreds of athletes and recreational exercisers reach their goals. Nor does it hurt that he's a guy who both talks the talk and walks the walk.
Eric Cressey is one strong SOB. Seriously, how many 165-pound guys do you know who can bench-press over 400 pounds, deadlift over 600 pounds, and squat over 500 pounds? Heck, I'm in the high-performance field and I don't know that many. And Cressey wasn't born strong. Nor did his parents feed baby Cressey massive quantities of spinach while having him pull a plate-loaded red wagon for exercise. In fact, he grew up fairly chubby and unathletic. But with the right plan (and a good amount of heart) he built his strength from the ground up. And you can, too.
Now, I know what you're thinking. Just because a guy can figure out how to get himself strong doesn't mean he knows how to get you strong. And you're right. However, that's where you have to look past Cressey's barrel chest to the results he consistently produces with others—results that you'll be able to read about as you progress through the Maximum Strength Program. For example, check out Chris Paul on page 37. He gained 80 pounds on his box squat, 30 pounds on his bench press, and 50 pounds on his deadlift in just 16 weeks by following the Maximum Strength Program. Also make sure to read about Dan Hibbert on page 37. He also gained 80 pounds on his box squat, 30 pounds on his bench press, and 70 pounds on his deadlift on the same program.
These results are no fluke. The Maximum Strength Program formula is well researched in the science lab and well proven in the real-world "lab" known as the gym. Would you expect anything less from a guy who's learned it in school, who's done it in the real world, and who continues to teach it successfully?
By now it should be obvious that I highly respect Eric Cressey's professional expertise and that I wholeheartedly believe in the power of the Maximum Strength Program. Indeed, I know that if you consistently apply the principles you're about to learn, you'll be turning heads both in and out of the gym. While training, your gym mates will wonder how the heck you're making progress with every single workout—specially when they've been dedicated but stagnant for years! And your nonworkout friends will wonder whether you've been washing your cotton shirts on high heat or you're simply packing too much muscle for your wardrobe. Either way, I'm sure you'll be fine with both sets of observations.
However, one of the best parts about this particular book is that you'll not only learn how to lift for increased muscle strength and size but also learn a host of other valuable lessons—like how to lift pain- and injury-free. That's right; get out your foam rollers, folks, and start doing those mobility drills. The injury prevention segment of the program is worth its weight in gold, as it'll help resolve previous muscle and joint pain as well as help prevent these aches and pains from rearing their ugly heads in the future. My clients and I swear by this book's warm-up methods.
Another huge "value-added" element is the nutrition section. Being a nutrition coach and all, I may be a bit biased—especially as many of the strategies in Chapter 10 are strategies Cressey and his coauthor, Matt Fitzgerald, stole from me. But in all seriousness, if you commit to applying the nutrition suggestions provided in Chapter 10, your weightroom progress will be light years ahead of that of your peers. And on top of it all, you'll have better health and a leaner physique to show for it.
I could go on and on about how great Eric is and how much I like this book. But you probably want to get right down to it. So I'll wrap up here. If you've been looking for the right recipe to get strong—seriously strong—step into the Cressey kitchen. Backed by both science and results, the Maximum Strength Program template Eric and Matt have provided in the coming pages will change the way you view strength training—while changing both the way you look and the way your body performs.
In strength,
John Berardi, PhD, CSCS
Dr. John Berardi is one of North America's most popular and respected authorities on fitness and nutrition. He has made his mark as a leading researcher in the field of exercise and nutritional science, as a widely read author and writer, and as a coach and trainer to thousands of elite athletes and recreational exercisers. Currently Dr. Berardi is the president of Precision Nutrition—a world leader in nutritional programming for active men and women. You can find out more at

When I was a little boy running around on the school playground, I dreamed of being the strongest man in the world, not the largest man in the world. I liked to imagine all the cool stuff I could do with superstrength, like hit a baseball into the next town and pin bullies to the ground with one arm. The notion of having super size without matching strength held no appeal for me whatsoever. How much fun would it be to merely look as if I could hit a baseball into the next town if I actually couldn't? None!
Years later, however, when I got into weightlifting, I was somehow brainwashed into thinking I wanted to be massive instead of mighty. The same thing happens to most American males who choose weightlifting as their primary fitness activity. Somewhere between the playground and the office cubicle they lose their childhood wisdom and trade the dream of being the strongest man in the world for that of being the largest man in the room.
This unfortunate substitution comes with significant consequences. The most effective methods of increasing strength are drastically different from the watered-down bodybuilding methods most guys use to pursue greater mass. Training for maximum strength is much more fun, because your progress is more steady and easy to quantify. It's all about adding weight to the bar instead of squinting into the mirror, trying to see whether your shirt is fitting more tightly than it did four weeks ago. Scientific research has also shown that increasing your strength produces greater benefits in terms of health and real-world performance than merely increasing your muscle size. You really can accomplish much more with strong muscles than big muscles, and strong muscles also do a better job of keeping you lean, preventing degenerative diseases such as diabetes, and even slowing the aging process. Increasing your maximum strength is simply one of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself, whether your main goal is to improve your performance in any sport, enhance your overall health, build self-confidence and improve your sex life, or live to see your 100th birthday.
Fortunately, I rediscovered the superiority of muscle strength to muscle size while studying exercise physiology as a graduate student at the University of Connecticut. Over the next several years I threw myself into learning and creating the most effective methods to develop maximum strength. I now use these methods with a wide range of clients, from professional athletes to grandfathers who just want to get around better, whom I train in my fitness facility in Boston, Massachusetts, and online.
These same methods are also the basis of the 16-week Maximum Strength training program that I will guide you through in this book. In the Maximum Strength Program you will swap the goal of getting bigger for a better goal of getting stronger, and you'll leave behind those tired, old watered-down bodybuilding workouts for the cutting-edge strength-building sessions detailed in the following chapters. As a result you will become stronger than you have ever been. You will also become more functionally sound—familiar sore spots and weak links in your body will vanish—and you will experience improvement in any and all sports you may participate in. You will enjoy your training sessions more than ever before, and your confidence will reach new heights, in part because your physique will inch closer to that perfect 10 rating you've always coveted. Finally, you will shed body fat, and yes, if you are still interested in gaining muscle mass, you will find it easier to do that, too.
How can I be so confident that you will experience such great results? Because I see them every day in my clients. And my first client was me. My entire life changed when I took up powerlifting several years ago. In just eight weeks I went from being an unemployed videogame addict living in my parents' basement to the lead singer of a band with a Billboard Top 10 single.
Not buying it? OK, what really happened when I started powerlifting was that I not only found the sport I was truly born for but I also broke out of a prolonged period of staleness and stagnation in my pursuit of a better body. At the time the opportunity to become a powerlifter came along and rescued me, I was working out with the vague goal of putting on a little muscle mass, just like 99 percent of the other guys with fitness club memberships. My pursuit of a better body was all about appearance, not performance. Consequently, my "routine" was just that: routine. I lacked focus and direction and was really just spinning my wheels at the gym. After weeks and weeks of working out using traditional bodybuilding methods, I might put on half a pound of muscle, which is barely even quantifiable and certainly not a very motivating result for so much sweat and effort.
Working out was a part of my lifestyle that I enjoyed, but it no longer had the excitement that it previously had when I was a competitive tennis and soccer player in high school, training to win and seeing myself improve every season. I was involved in varsity strength and conditioning at the University of Connecticut, and each day I looked around and saw that same excitement in the athletes with whom I was working; they were training for something, not just "working out." I had to find an outlet for my competitive side—and a pursuit in which I could quantify my progress. Some friends who knew of my frustration suggested I try powerlifting, and boy, am I glad I listened to them!
Two things changed when I started powerlifting: my training methods and my mind-set. As you will quickly discover in reading this book and following my Maximum Strength Program, the methods used to train for maximum strength are very different from those used to increase muscle mass. In essence, the difference is bigger movements, heavier weights, and fewer reps. I couldn't believe how quickly my strength improved when I traded my bodybuilding routine for a powerlifting program. In September 2003 I tested my maximum deadlift at 429 pounds. Just over nine months later, I pulled 510 pounds at my first meet, beating the old American Powerlifting Association Connecticut Junior 165-pound-weight-class state record by more than 60 pounds. And the stronger I got, the more everything fell into place. My muscle balance improved, some old aches and pains went away, and I found it easier to gain muscle and lose fat.
That's right: lose fat. At the time I took up powerlifting I was lucky enough to have a DEXA scan done. (A DEXA scanner measures body composition by imaging the inside of the body. It's considered the most accurate body-fat-assessment technology in existence.) I then weighed 171.6 pounds, at a height of 5 feet 8 inches. The scanner reported that I was 14.6 percent body fat, and my bone density was 1.226 g/cm2. Conveniently enough, just under one year later, I scored an opportunity to have a second scan done. I knew my body had changed significantly, but I wasn't ready for the astounding results I saw.
After one year of powerlifting (including four meets) my weight had gone up by 3.5 pounds to 175.1 pounds, but I had dropped 3.7 percent in body fat to 10.5 percent. (And, by the way, if that number sounds high, be advised that DEXA scan measurements of body fat are usually 3 to 4 percent higher than those produced by other methods, which systematically underestimate body fat percentage.) Meanwhile, my lean body mass had increased 7.9 percent. This change equates to an 11.26-pound increase in lean body mass with a simultaneous drop of 5.46 pounds of body fat on a frame that was already pretty lean. Just as impressively, my bone density had risen 6.2 percent. I had added approximately ⅓ of a pound of pure bone to my body!
Even more important to me than these results was the change in mind-set that I experienced after becoming a powerlifter. Powerlifting gave me concrete, meaningful, quantifiable goals to pursue. No longer was I squinting in the mirror, trying to see whether the past month of doing the same old thing had resulted in any visible changes in my physique ("Was that vein always so visible?"). Now I was counting the plates on the bar. Each time the weight increased, I felt rewarded for my hard work and got a shot of motivation to increase the weight even more. My passion for exercise was fully reawakened. Going to the gym was exciting again, and it was all because I had changed my focus from appearance to performance. This shift in mind-set gave my training regimen the focus and direction it had been lacking.
In fact, my entire life aligned itself around my new goals in synergistic ways. For example, instead of merely trying to eat right so I wouldn't get fat, I was now nourishing and fueling my body to get stronger, and this new purpose made it easier to eat even more healthily than I had previously. And to top it all off, women started throwing themselves at me. Well, maybe not, but I did receive a lot more compliments on my physique than I had in a long time!
Now, you don't have to become a competitive powerlifter, as I did, to get all of these benefits. Only a small fraction of my clients are competitive powerlifters, but virtually all of my clients train for and increase their maximum strength and also improve their performance in sports and everyday activities, as well as their appearance, overall health, and self-confidence. I wrote Maximum Strength to help out the countless guys who are caught in the same rut I was stuck in a few years ago: the rut of boredom and stagnating results that comes from endlessly pursuing the vague and pointless goal of getting bigger with inefficient, outmoded bodybuilding routines. The way out that worked for me, and that also works for my gym clients and online clients, will work for you, too: training for maximum strength instead of maximum size.
The Maximum Strength Program is a 16-week training program that's divided into four phases lasting four weeks apiece, each with its own training emphasis. The weekly training schedule entails two upper-body strength sessions and two lower-body strength sessions. Optional cardio workouts are also provided to supplement the training program. (I'll cover nutrition and mental training techniques in the book's later chapters.) The program culminates in a four-lift maximum strength test on the final day, which I call "Moving Day," to emphasize the real-world benefits of achieving maximum strength. When you complete the program you will be amazed by the amount of weight you are able to bench-press, squat, deadlift, and chin-up after just 16 weeks of focused training. In the book's final chapter, I will show you how to transform the basic structure of the Maximum Strength Program into an ongoing training approach that will enable you to keep getting stronger for some time to come.
Are you ready to find out just how strong you can be? Then I'm your magic genie, here to grant your wish. The only catch is that you have to bust your ass to get this wish. I just lead the way. So follow me!

Go to any local gym, make your way into the free weights room, and you'll see the same thing. The majority of the men there are performing familiar exercises, including the flat bench press, the EZ-bar biceps curl, and the cable triceps pushdown. If you count the number of times each of these movements is repeated before a rest is taken, the final tally will be 10, give or take a rep or two, more often than not. Finally, you may also notice that each of the exercisers in the room is concentrating on one or two areas of his body—doing exercises for his chest and shoulders, perhaps, or just his arms. (Those concentrating on their legs will surely be in the minority.)
All of these behaviors that you will observe in the gym—any gym—are classic features of the bodybuilding approach to resistance training, of which the purpose is to maximize muscle growth. This approach is almost ubiquitous among men who lift weights in gyms. Yet there are, and have been throughout history, other types of resistance exercise that serve other purposes. The modern sport of Olympic weightlifting involves high-speed overhead barbell lifts that are based on the feats of strength performed by the Olympians of ancient Greece (which they did with forms of resistance other than barbells, of course). Soldiers have performed calisthenics exercises—body-weight resistance movements—to enhance functional strength and muscular endurance for centuries. And in my sport, powerlifting, the competitive lifts (bench press, deadlift, squat) are familiar enough, but the way we train them (very heavy loads and low reps) is not, nor are many of the supporting exercises we do in training.
Why does the bodybuilding approach so dominate recreational resistance training, even though it is not the ideal approach for the recreational weightlifter? The answer is simple: because bodybuilders, beginning with Charles Atlas in the 1920s and peaking with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1970s and 1980s, were the ones who made recreational weightlifting popular.
The problem with this type of training is that it's inefficient and is really designed for men who are capable of achieving an absurd level of muscle size that most men cannot achieve and probably wouldn't want even if they could attain it. Also, traditional bodybuilding methods are derivatives of programs from lifters who were big-time steroid users, so they seldom work for the average guy. Given a choice, most men would rather be the strongest man in town than the largest, but the bodybuilding mentality has been so dominant for so long that, until now, nobody has given guys the choice.
Not only is strength a better goal than size for most men, but training for maximum strength is a much better way than training for muscle size alone to get all of the results men seek from weightlifting. Training for maximum strength has several advantages over bodybuilding-style training. Specifically, maximum strength training is:


Bodybuilding-style training is a high-volume (i.e., time-consuming) approach to resistance training. In that approach, individual muscle groups are isolated and trained individually. Consequently, large numbers of exercises are required to cover the whole body. By contrast, maximum strength training emphasizes "compound movements" that challenge multiple muscle groups, so the participant can cover his whole body with fewer exercises. In addition, maximum strength involves heavier loads, so the muscles reach an appropriate level of fatigue more quickly (with fewer sets and repetitions). With today's busy schedules, every second is precious. If you're like most guys, you want to get maximum results in minimum time spent in the gym. Maximum strength training is the ideal resistance training method for the time-crunched.
Many professional bodybuilders spend two to three hours a day in the gym, including a morning session and an afternoon session, six days a week. I'm guessing that those of you who don't lift weights for a living don't have that kind of time to devote. Fortunately, you can realize 100 percent of your genetic potential for strength by going to the gym just four times a week for approximately an hour per session. And that's exactly what you will do on the Maximum Strength Program. Heck, I compete as a high-level powerlifter and I don't train much more than that.


In recent years there has been a sea change in the world of fitness that is often referred to as the functional fitness revolution. Personal trainers have switched their focus from designing and prescribing workout programs that are intended primarily to improve appearance to designing and prescribing programs that are intended primarily to improve the body's performance in life. Most types of exercise improve both appearance and function, but some types improve function more than others. Training for maximum strength improves function and performance much more effectively than bodybuilding-style training.
Pound for pound, powerlifters, who train for strength, are usually stronger than bodybuilders, who train for size. Maximum strength exercises not only involve heavier loads than bodybuilding exercises, and thus boost strength more, but also require more balance and coordination. As a result, the fitness gains made in the gym through maximum strength training have greater functional carryover to real-life activities such as moving furniture and pushing stalled cars.


On Sale
May 13, 2008
Page Count
256 pages

Eric Cressey, CSCS

About the Author

Matt Fitzgerald is an endurance sports writer, coach, and nutritionist. He is a coach and spokesperson for PEAR Sports and former senior editor at Triathlete and Competitor. Fitzgerald has contributed to Men’s Health, Outside, Runner’s World, Shape, and other publications. He lives in Northern California with his wife.

Learn more about this author


Matt Fitzgerald

About the Author

Matt Fitzgerald is an endurance sports writer, coach, and nutritionist. He is a coach and spokesperson for PEAR Sports and former senior editor at Triathlete and Competitor. Fitzgerald has contributed to Men’s Health, Outside, Runner’s WorldShape, and other publications. He lives in Northern California with his wife.

Learn more about this author