What is Max-OT and why is it best for changing your body?

Max-OT stands for Maximum Overload Training and is based on the physiological principle that overloading a muscle with heavy resistance creates the best stimulus for growth.  The Max-OT principles were created by Paul Delia, CEO of AST Sports Science and are the principles I’ve followed exclusively since 1998.  Paul was a very valuable mentor and I model a lot of my teaching after things I learned from him.

Max-OT is a low volume, high intensity approach to weight training that will maximize muscle and strength gains.  Remember, this is very important to anyone interested in fat loss because every ounce of muscle you can build you are going to raise your resting metabolic rate and make fat loss easier.  Plus, if you can build muscle you will achieve a more shapely/toned body when all is said and done.

When I speak about volume I am talking about the total number of sets and reps you are going to perform in any given workout. Most “typical” workouts prescribe way too many sets and reps, particularly those workouts that are supposed to be designed specifically for “toning”.

I often hear people say they don’t want to lift heavy because they don’t want to get too bulky or they will point to one of my contest photos and say they don’t want to look like that; they just want to “tone up.”  They make it sound as if the moment they start lifting anything challenging they’ll add gobs of muscle over night.  Before I yell at them, I remind myself it is not their fault they have this fear of lifting heavy.  This misinformation has been ingrained in their heads.  We all hear it all the time….light weight and high reps for muscle tone and heavy weight with low reps for bulk (I hate the term bulk by the way.  To me that is another way of saying fat because adding quality muscle will never make anyone look “bulky”.  A so called “bulky” look comes from too much body fat).  Every time I hear the talk about light weights for muscle tone I want to scream because that is just not accurate and leads people to mediocre results.

You don’t need to lose any sleep over building too much muscle.  Building muscle is very low on the physiological totem pull.  You need to do a lot of things right with your weight training and diet to build muscle and not only that, you have to do these things day in and day out for a long, long time.  Even then you might not build appreciable amounts of muscle depending on your body’s propensity to do so.  It is doubly hard for women right out of the gate because they don’t have the hormonal support to build muscle easily on top of everything else.

Take drug free bodybuilders for example.  They work their tails off for years doing everything geared towards building muscle from a diet, training and supplement standpoint just to add a few inches of circumference to their muscles so what makes the average person think they are going to start working out and become the Incredible Hulk over night?  It just isn’t going to happen so stop listening to all that nonsense and start grabbing heavier weights.

Lifting heavy weights is not going to automatically make you huge but it is going to set you up to build muscle way more efficiently than high rep training.  The reason is because overloading the muscle with a heavy weight will create the best stimulus for the muscle to grow and become stronger.  This is not my opinion, this is physiology talking.  And let’s remember the whole purpose behind lifting weights to begin with is to build muscle and strength.  (More muscle = higher resting metabolic rate and a more shapely body when you lose the fat with smart diet and cardiovascular exercise.)

I believe Max-OT is the best way to train to maximize results based on what physiology tells us and also based on my own 20 year real world study with myself as the primary test subject as well as countless other success stories over the globe.  Men and women alike.  I was a very good bodybuilder before I started Max-OT.  After I adopted the Max-OT principles 100% I became one of the greatest drug free bodybuilders in the world.

Our documentary “I Want to Look Like That Guy” it illustrates my point perfectly.  In the documentary, Stuart MacDonald was the test subject and he followed Max-OT training for a 6 month period while also following the Max-OT cardio principles as well as a very strict and carefully calculated nutritional plan.  In those 6 months his results were astounding and you can watch it happening right in front of your eyes during the film.  He went from over 30% body fat to under 6% body fat and lost over 50lbs.  All this by continuing to lift heavy weights throughout.  If you follow the logic that heavy weights build bulk and light weights get you toned and trim then how do you explain Stuart’s outstanding results?

Keeping the weights heavy with Max-OT style training kept Stuart in a state where he was building and at the very minimum maintaining muscle throughout his strict diet and intense cardiovascular exercise.  I guarantee you that if Stuart followed the “normal” guru advice and did a lot of high rep, high volume workouts with long duration cardio he would have never achieved the results he did.  He may have been able to lose 50lbs or even more but his physique and body composition would not have been as incredible as there were at the end of the film.  Why?  Because he continued to have a muscle building emphasis with his weight training by using the Max-OT principles.

If you take nothing else away from reading my blog entries, hopefully you will at least have an understanding of why a smart muscle building component to your workout plan is absolutely critical if you really want to transform your body and why Max-OT style training is the most effective way to make sure that component is met.

Max-OT should be the constant in your workout program whether your goal is to be a champion bodybuilder and gain maximum muscle or your goal is to tone up and shed fat.


  1. avatar
    pete smith

    I understand the principles of Max-OT and now use them myself. And while i also understand that you will not veer from this training modality and why should you. As the saying goes, “if it’s not broken…”.

    That said, do you see any value in adding static contractions and slow negatives to each rep? Perhaps you have experimented with these and could tell of your experiences.

    • I have not attempted that nor do I personally see the value in it. I prefer to execute reps in a smooth motion with a controlled negative. I don’t really stress any specific cadence or exaggerate the motions one way or another.

  2. avatar
    pete smith

    How do you do it? Really? It seems that once you have decided that something works, you do not veer from it in the slightest. That is really commendable. I wonder are you like that in other areas of your life.

    With that said, what if you discovered research that suggested ways to produce the same benefits if not greater using a different system than that which you follow and perhaps in even less time. Would you think about trying it or would you just ignore it?

    • You pose a good question. You can train a variety of ways and still achieve results. My feeling is basic physiology isn’t going to change and therefore the basic triggers for maximum results aren’t going to change. The Max-OT principles are built with an understanding of those basic physiologic principles. Based on that and my own results and experience over 20 years is why I am so confident in these principles and personally choose not to vary them.

      I think it can be over-analyzed. At the end of the day I believe principles that will always be productive to drug free trainers are low volume, heavy weights and basic free weight lifts.

  3. My question is with the cardio side of this. You say to do 16 minutes each time. How hard should you be going? say if you are on a treadmill at what pace? Can this cardio be performed on a bike? or better still half on a bike and half on a tread mill?

  4. Just wanted to know, I have gained alot of weight on the past few years I’m at 138kg.. Just started getting back to training, so would you recommend for weight loss and muscle gain I follow this principle or should I do more cario???

    • Execute the Max-OT principles and add more cardio if fat loss is a primary goal. Also, make sure to watch caloric intake closely.

  5. avatar
    Bryan Jones

    Hi Jeff, I would like to know how much lean mass have you gain since 1998, when you started using Max-OT principles, until 2003, when you won your pro card. It’s just curiosity of a fan.

  6. What exactly is ‘heavy’ lifting? ‘Heavy’ would be relative, right? So how is it determined? Is it by how many reps you can do before failing? And how many sets?

    • “Heavy” lifting is determined by the rep range. I would determine heavy lifting as a weight you can only complete 4-6 reps with.

  7. avatar
    Mike avina

    I have one qustion for ya.. How many exercise to you do for each muscle? For example Monday I’m doing chest and triceps..does your DVD have all that info? And do you have it at your gym? Thanks Avina

  8. Jeff, why do you choose to do 6-8 reps for calves, when traditionally its though higher reps work the calves effectively?

    • Calves are a muscle like any other and overloading them is the best way to encourage growth. We use a slightly higher range (6-8) because the exercises are more isolation by nature and it is hard to have as much weight as you can handle for only 4 reps and still execute the moves effectively.

  9. Great stuff! My bodies a little different. I’m 6’5″ 185 but my natural weight is probably down around 170. After years of trying all sorts of programs to gain weight I have fat on my waist. So one one hand I would like to gain 15 to 20 pounds, but on the other I probably need to lose 10 to 15 pounds to get the fat off my waist.

    I live in California how can I get started with your program? And what suggestions would you have for me?


    • The basic principles apply to all from the training, cardio and nutrition strategies. You can find a lot of free info on my blog about all 3 aspects of the plan or if you want more in-depth information I have a variety of products available including the comprehensive set….”I Want to Look Like That Guy” SYSTEM.

  10. Jeff, how do you feel about running this program with just straight sets of 3×5?

    • I don’t modify the principles much. I think all the Max-OT principles work together so I stick with the basic format of sets and reps.

  11. Dear Jeff,

    I know you say no excuses for not exercising, but I commute 4 hours per day for work and really cannot put in the hours to train 5 times per week. I would like to use the Max OT method with a 2 or 3 day split. What do you think would be the best way to break it down? For a 2 day split I am thinking of going for an upper-lower split, and a 3 day push-pull-legs. Any ideas for total sets? Many thanks for the inspiring work.

  12. 1 I am 5,6, 19 and have been in phase one since mid October, I’m at 144 pounds when do you think I should go into phase 2 and how long for so I will be in shape by the end of may/June

    2 how often do you go between phase 1 and 2

    3 when you go from phase 1 back to phase 2 do you still manage to stay in a good shape?

    Cheers jeff
    Happy new year

    • Switching to emphasize fat burning like Stu did in phase 2 depends on your physique goals. There really isn’t much difference in emphasizing muscle building verses emphasizing fat burning other than the caloric reductions and increased cardio frequency. The basic core principles of the training and nutrition remain constant.

  13. Jeff, do it means you think that the 8-12 rep range is inefficient? Is there a big difference, I mean, at the end of the day, is that over analyse? thanks,.

  14. avatar
    Mikey Dezoma

    Hello, really siked to see if you’ll reply. I’m a big fan and believe that you can get big naturally too. I’m 15, 5’6, around 150, and have a great foundation of muscle and strength. My primary goal is to bulk up/gain muscle. I often have a hard time gaining weight and try to drink a lot of milk, do you think the max OT program would help me gain alot of muscle considering my body responds most to heavy weight low reps?

    Thanks alot,

    • Thanks.

      I think regardless of body type Max-OT style training is the most effective for maximum muscle gains.

      • avatar
        Mikey Dezoma

        Wow, can’t believe I got a reply from the Jeff Willet hahah, thanks. I’ve optimized the rep range to more isolation type excersizes being 8-10 and compounds 4-6 reps. I’m also using the low volume set method and I’m seeing great results! Thanks man.

  15. Hey Jeff
    I want to know what to do if I can only work out 4 days per week and for how many weeks I should b doing that exercise ?

  16. avatar
    Gwyn Hollar

    Jeff: I’m a 70 year old male and been lifting heavy for 51 years. Your workout intrigues me so I’m giving it a shot. Over the years I have written many work out schedules for people you have heard of if I mentioned their names. I feel that this high intensity and low reps might be the thing for me as it should keep my testerone level at a high note. My question is the one many ask. At my age would you keep the protein level at 1 gram per body weight as I know if it is too high it can tax your liver and kidneys. I will keep you informed how this work-out schedule works for someone of my age

  17. Hi Jeff,

    I just purchased “I want to look like that guy” and love it. I already started to mimic Stu’s nutrition plan to a T. My question is how do I know when to skim calories? Or should I just folllow exactly as stu did in the documentary?
    Thanks for the motivation!!!

    • After a few weeks (6-8) of following a set caloric level you can start the skimming process. You can use the documentary as a guideline. Basically after you establish that starting point you can begin skimming every 7-14 days depending upon your goals and time frame. The longer you can spread the skimming process out, generally the better. Small and gradual skims over a longer period of time is recommended.

  18. Hi Jeff. I had a look at your training routine and it’s really solid. Funny thing was that i have been doing almost the same routine on my muscle building days without knowing it was called max ot. But Im just curious on how you would modify this routine for someone who focus on powerlifting where you always want to cut reps and increase weight.

    Best regards/ Aron

  19. Hi Jeff,
    I have read the structure of the workout. I have been using Stronglifts 5X5 which if you haven’t heard of it is basically ful body 5X5 3 times a week, with an easy day once a week. Can you tell me more about the differences there might be between this and the Max-OT routine please?
    Thank you

    • I believe to maximize the muscle building process it is most effective to overload the muscles with heavy basic lifts and the Max-OT principles 1 time per week only. Any more than that and you will greatly risk over training and impede your results. From my experience less volume and frequency is best for drug free muscle building.

  20. Hi Jeff, i have a question for you. Im sticking with the max OT system. Im currently in starting tommorow week 10-13 have seen a bit of change. I want to lose more fat percentage. During does week I have no speciffic diet but I eat pretty good but not so stric. DO you have any ideas or diets I can follow?
    I cant follow the Max OT diet because I dont have everything any other ideas?
    Thanks allot,

    • You need to monitor your caloric intake and nutrient ratios. Then over time you need to progressively skim total calories to progress towards getting leaner.

  21. Hi Jeff,
    I much should I put my weights up and when?, I try for 5kg per 2 workouts is this enough?


    • Let the reps be your guide. When you can complete 6 reps on your own it is time to increase weight. Always increase by the smallest increment possible.

  22. i am 51 years old with some arthritis pain on right elbow. How can i modify my training, so that i do not get hurt using your program.

    Thank You.

    • Try to select exercises that cause little to no pain to the area, even if those exercises depart from the most recommended Max-OT exercises. Also, you may want to slightly reduce the load and work more in a 6-8 rep range on movements that cause problems.

  23. avatar
    Devang Parekh


    Do you keep different tracks of the weight you do for lifts. For example, the weight you do when you squat first, as opposed to the weight you do if you squat after leg press. when the routine changes do you still start at the same weight? And I have the same question when it comes to the diet. When your calories really start to get low do you feel the fatigue and need to start at a slightly lower weight?

    Thank You,
    Devang Parekh

    • I follow the same order of exercises for 8-10 weeks so the accuracy tracking weight is not an issue.

      After the week off of training following the 8-10 week cycle if I change Max-OT routines, I still typically follow the same order of exercises but either way I establish new numbers each training cycle and treat them as separate entities.

      You do feel fatigue in time after lower calories but lowering weight shouldn’t be an issue until you are very deep in the process, say 4-5 weeks out. Even then, weight shouldn’t really lower as much as it just won’t be increasing. If you do the process correctly any muscle loss should be a minimum and therefore strength loss should be a minimum. Fatigue is different than getting weaker. You can overcome fatigue with set by set focus on moving the weight.

  24. Hi Jeff
    fat loss is my primary goal. Is it fine to do max ot cardio directly after max ot lifting. Would it not quickly lead to overtraining

    • That’s the next best option to separating cardio from weight training. If you can’t separate the two, then do cardio after training and follow that up with the post workout drink.

  25. avatar
    Friðrik Rafn

    Hey Jeff, I was using your program 3 years ago and I’ve never progressed in strength as fast as I did back then. Now, again today I’m going back to Max-Ot, can’t wait. There’s one difference, I’m currently in a state of ketosis, HFLC.

    I believe I read somewhere that you haven’t gone LCHF diet before, but with your experience on the field and perhaps clients, do you think my diet will be detrimental towards my strength and muscle gains?

    • I am not familiar with that nutrition approach. I believe the most effective approach for maximizing a body composition change is the principles that I teach of nutrient selection and timing.

  26. avatar
    Alexandr Selenchuk

    Hi Jeff! I’m from Russia, I love max ot, have a few questions, I do not resting 2-3 minutes, 4-5, in the squat can relax and 6 minutes. Is it critical? The fact that the 2-3 minutes of rest, I share the same weight can not already do 4-6 reps and do 2-3.

    • It is OK if you have to extend the rest longer than 2-3 minutes. Things like Squats and Deadlifts it is reasonable that it will take more time to rest between sets so you can do another maximal effort. Keep executing!

  27. Hi Jeff I’ve being working on max ot programme and seeing good results and I’ve lifting heavy with the 4-6 rep ranges but I don’t feel sore or get doms a few days later anyone, is it something I’m doing wrong? Or I don’t feel the workout is doing anything which is confusing as I’m sticking by the max ot with the correct reps and rest periods, thankyou

    • Soreness or lack there of is not an indication of overload success or the success of your workout. So the fact you are not experiencing soreness is not an issue as far as I am concerned. I would continue to execute the principles and work to keep doing them better. Keep stringing great days together and you will keep achieving results!

  28. thankyou for your reply Jeff and sorry for another question but what’s the best way to get rid of stubborn lower belly fat as I’ve being trying for a few weeks and seeing no results

    • Fat loss will be achieved through cardio and diet. We can’t spot reduce fat so there is no way to try and target an area. Fat lost takes time so you need to be patient and execute the plan.

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