Max OT Workout Program: A Guide to Maximum Overload Training

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By Alex
Last updated on

This Max OT program guide explains everything you need to know about "Maximum Overload Training."

Although I have provided a download of the workout (above), be sure to read the rest of this page. It contains all the information you need to know before beginning this popular weight training program.

Is Max OT the Right Routine for You?

Max OT is Not for Beginners. Yes, Max OT is marketed to beginners. And many trainees who used it as their first routine saw "great gains." However, Max OT is not appropriate for pure beginners for the following reasons:
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  • Good ≠ Best. You'll make great gains by doing just about any workout routine thanks to the magic of newbie gains. However, that doesn't automatically make the routine the right choice for a beginner.
  • You Can Do Better. Beginners who use this program do not experience optimal strength and size gains. The best beginner weight training routines don't have the same appeal as Max OT because they are very basic. However, they do produce the same (if not better) results.
  • You Have to Walk Before You Can Run. Most important of all is that beginners can't properly learn correct exercise technique using this routine. Perfecting your technique from the get-go is essential if you want to efficiently build muscle mass and strength in the long term. Not to mention, it will help you remain injury free.

Who Should Use Max OT? If you've already paid your dues as a beginning weight trainee, then this routine is a great choice for you. Specifically, this routine is recommended to:

  • Intermediate Trainees
  • Advanced Trainees

True intermediate and advanced weight trainees already have the base strength and proper exercise technique needed for going to failure on all sets, which is required for this program. Also, they have developed their bodies to the point that doing more "direct work" (e.g., arms, calves, forearms) is actually beneficial.

How Can It Benefit You? If you are one of the prime candidates for Max OT, then you can expect to see impressive results. Most people experience a fairly even split of size and strength gains; of course, much of it depends on your diet.

My Max OT Review

I did Max OT after about 2 ½ years of training. I had previous success with several full body or upper/lower body split routines. I had also tried many different body part splits, but always experienced poor results.

Program Highlights. Max OT was my first truly successful body part split workout routine. I performed several Max OT cycles over the span of about 6 months. The best parts included:

  • Intense Workouts. My previous workout sessions seemed to drag on forever. Instead, this program kept me 100% focused because of the short time constraint for each workout. And of course, lifting heavy loads and taking almost every set to failure certainly added to my overall effort intensity level.
  • Warm Up Habit. When you read further down the page, you'll see that I do critique the original guidelines for warm-up sets. However, I have to thank this program for teaching me the importance of performing enough warm-up sets. Previously, I would go half-assed and do just 1-2 warm up sets (or even skip it completely!) before lifting heavy. Then, I'd wake up the next morning and wonder how I pulled a muscle.
  • Strength Gains on a Split Routine?! Sure, Max OT isn't the only program that can add considerable size and strength. But it's definitely the best body part split that I know of for doing this effectively. I experienced impressive strength gains, but the increased muscle mass was more noticeable in my case. Others have reported the opposite, though.

What You Must Know Before Starting...

If I Could Do It Over Again. The rest of this review includes what I have learned about the program that I wish I had known when doing it. I hope you can use this knowledge to increase your potential by knowing it beforehand.

Quick Disclaimer. To ensure nobody takes the following parts the wrong way, let me be clear in saying that I think Max OT is a very effective training style. That is why I consider it to be among the best weight lifting routines. However, there are several things that you should know about it beforehand.

Be Skeptical. This program was developed by Paul Delia, who is the owner of AST Sports Science, a nutrition supplement company. That should be enough to raise a red flag in your mind for two big reasons:

  • Conflict of Interest. AST is a nutrition supplement company before anything else. Everything they (or any other supplement company) do is geared toward selling more supplements. Does that mean they're evil and the routine is crap? Obviously not, but you can rest assured that Max OT was created and released with the ultimate purpose of generating profit.
  • The Supplement Industry Isn't Honest. That statement is not a jab at AST, but it is true about the industry as a whole. That should be enough reason to raise an eyebrow and question Max OT's validity.

The "Official" Protocol is Officially Flawed. You can find the official Max OT protocol if you sign up on the AST website. However, the information isn't completely accurate and can be misleading in parts.

  • You Do NOT Have to Follow It "to the Letter." If you read through the AST's information for the Max OT program, you will find that they always stress the need to follow the program "to a T." Yes, it is important to follow the general guidelines. However, you can change certain things as outlined in the rest of this page.
  • Don't Fall Prey to the Dogma. As I go through the program outline and review, I will point out aspects of the program philosophy that you should ignore. You can pretty much put your hands over your ears whenever you see Max OT's claims of being "the best…" or "the only…." Nothing is an absolute in the realm of weight lifting routines (except this sentence).
  • Be Wary of Pseudo-Science. AST comes off as trying to sound smart by using lots of big/scientific words when it is completely unnecessary. This is usually a sign that someone either doesn't know what they're talking about or is trying to trick you about something. Take their advice with a grain of salt.
  • Ignore the Diet Recommendation. Simply put, the diet information is completely worthless and is only given as a way to get you to buy supplements from them.
  • But...Do Give It a Chance. The program, as a whole, does have plenty of merit. Just take it for what it is and don't fall prey to the dogma. It is not the ultimate program. Rather, it is just one of many effective training methodologies that will produce some great results if you're a good candidate.

Now, with that out of the way, let's move on to learning about the actual program and training principles...

The 7 Max OT Principles

The Seven Principles.These are the rules behind the Max OT training methodology. I like how they are very straightforward because it makes it easier to create a customized routine that doesn't deviate from the intended workout structure. Below are all seven rules, at a glance:

  1. Limit each workout session to 30-40 minutes.
  2. Work 1-2 muscle groups per session.
  3. Perform 6-9 total heavy sets per muscle group.
  4. Perform 4-6 reps (to concentric failure) per set for (almost) every exercise.
  5. Take 2-3 minutes to rest after each set.
  6. Allow 5-7 days of rest before working the same muscle group.
  7. Take 1 full week off after every 8-10 weeks of training.

1. Limit each workout session to 30-40 minutes

The idea is to get in the gym, focus on lifting hard, and get out. You will be lifting at relatively high "load intensity" (percent of 1 rep max), but you need to go all out in terms of "effort intensity" (going balls to the wall).

Although you should never be pussy-footing around during any workout routine, it is especially important to stay on task with the Max OT workout.

  • Note: The 30-40 minutes should really just be a guideline. Even some of the official sample routines created by AST are impossible to do in such a short period. However, it's a good range to aim for, but don't freak out if you go 10 minutes over for some workouts.

2. Work 1-2 muscle groups per session

The reason behind this rule is that, as stated in the first rule, you want each workout to (ideally) be 30-40 minutes.

Also, by limiting the number of muscle groups worked each session, you:

  • Avoid becoming mentally drained.
  • Avoid having performance drop-off towards the end of your routine.
  • Avoid overworking certain muscle groups because of "exercise overlap" (i.e., using exercises for one muscle group, which indirectly hit another muscle group that you already hit directly).

The above points apply to Max OT (as opposed to other programs) because the workouts involve using high load intensity, combined with training to failure on every set.

It's important to note that you can break rule number 2 in certain situations. That is, it's okay to work 3 muscle groups in one workout if 1 or more of the muscle groups worked are "minor" muscle groups (e.g., calves, forearms, traps, abs). For example, a workout session including calves/forearms/traps or biceps/triceps/abs, etc. are okay.

3. Perform 6-9 total heavy sets per muscle group

As the name suggests, Max OT is all about maximum overload of muscles. That's a fancy way of saying that the goal of each workout is to induce strength and size gains by demolishing the given muscle group in a single session per week.

Don't be worried if you're used to higher volume and/or higher frequency routines. Max OT works because it sacrifices training with high volume and/or high frequency for training to failure with high intensity (heavy) loads.

Hypothetically, the highest number of sets you could perform per workout would be 18 (9 sets for 2 muscle groups). But practically speaking, that puts you way over the 30-40 minute ideal time limit since you must account for warm-up sets and proper rest between sets (see rule 5).

Perform no more than 15 work sets per workout to finish in an acceptable time frame, which may still end up being a little more than 40 minutes.

4. Perform 4-6 reps (to positive failure) per set for (almost) every exercise

The 4-6 rep range is a staple of the Max OT protocol. It is important that you perform each set to "positive failure."

  • Positive Failure. Your goal is to be able to barely complete the final rep without requiring help/forced reps or breaking form. In other words, do not attempt another rep if you know you will be unable to perform it properly.

Going to failure using the 4-6 rep range ensures that your intensity remains high. It also makes it easy for you to know when to adjust the weight you should use for a given exercise, as explained below:

  • Increase weight if... you can do more than 6 repetitions without failing.
  • Decrease weight if... you fail before you can complete 4 repetitions.
  • Keep weight the same if... you fail between the 4th and 6th repetition.

Also note that this rule applies to most exercises. For example, the Max OT program recommends using higher rep ranges for different exercises/muscle groups, including:

  • Abs and Obliques. Rep ranges of 8-10, 10-12, and 12-15 for different abs exercises such as weight crunches or leg lifts. Although the program doesn't call for any direct oblique work, I feel it could be helpful for more advanced trainees. So, if you decide to do it, I would recommend a 10-15+ rep range.
  • Calves. Rep ranges of 6-8 for calf raise exercises. However, the program also recommends the 4-6 rep range. Either one is beneficial for calf training, so try out both.
  • Forearms. Rep ranges of 6-8 for exercises such as forearm curls.

The above isn't set in stone, so don't worry about choosing between 8-10 or 10-12 reps for an abs exercise; it simply doesn’t make any noticeable differences. The point is that these muscle groups tend to respond differently to higher rep ranges. Typically, this is because they have more of one muscle fiber type than most other muscles.

If you truly are an intermediate or advanced trainee, you probably already know or have experienced much of what I'm talking about. So, feel free to play around with all of the different rep ranges for the minor muscle groups. However, keep the 4-6 range for all other muscle groups.

5. Take 2-3 minutes to rest after each set

You're lifting heavy weights and going to failure on every set, so you need to have enough rest between sets. If you work your muscles when they are still fatigued from the previous set, you won't be able to lift the same weight for the proper number of reps.

A 2-3 minute rest period should give you ample time to recover from the previous set. But even after enough rest, you may not be able to perform the same amount of reps as the previous set (i.e., set 1 = 6 reps, set 2 = 5 reps). This occurs because 2-3 minutes is enough for a nearly complete recovery. However, you need days for that extra little bit to completely recover.

  • Note:For exercises that are very taxing (e.g., squats and deadlifts), you may need a little bit more than 2-3 minutes, especially if you're moving some really heavy weight. I needed 4 minutes (sometimes a little more) when doing these exercises if there was going to be any chance for me to use the same weight again.So, the 2-3 minute rule is really just a guideline that works for most exercises. The basic principle behind the rule still stands – rest until you're recovered, but no longer.

6. Allow 5-7 days of rest before working the same muscle group

You will need plenty of time to recover from constantly subjecting your body to lifting high intensity loads to failure.

Your muscle tissue needs to recover, as well as the central nervous system (CNS). The nerves/neurons involved in performing the exercises are highly stressed when going to failure, and typically require more time to heal than the muscle tissue.

A shorter amount of rest is typically needed for certain muscle groups like abs, calves, and forearms. So, if you do know what you're doing, and especially if you have great recovery genetics, then you may want to try working these more frequently.

But unless you know from experience that 5 or 6 days is a sufficient amount of rest for a given muscle group (under similar training circumstances), then 7 days is your best bet.

7. Take 1 full week off after every 8-10 weeks of training

You not only need, but also deserve a break after pounding on your body with heavy-ass weights for weeks on end.

It is important to take periodic breaks on any routine, especially high intensity routines like Max OT. Not only have your muscles and CNS been stressed, but your mental drive is stale (whether you believe it or not) as well.

When you come back, you'll be physically healed and mentally refreshed. As you may have already experienced, it's not uncommon to see jumps in your performance and muscle gains.

If you're a complete gym addict, you might have the urge to cut the break short and get back in the gym – don’t do it! Take a complete weeklong break. That means no weights and no cardio. I do, however, recommend stretching and doing foam roller exercises.

King of the Gym's Max OT Variation (12 Weeks)

Weeks 1-4

Note: I'll explain how to warm up on Max OT in the next section.

Monday – Chest & Triceps:

Tuesday – Legs & Traps:

  • Squat – 3 x 4-6
  • Stiff Legged Deadlift – 2 x 4-6
  • Leg Press – 2 x 4-6
  • Seated Dumbbell Shrug – 2 x 4-6
  • Hex Bar or Barbell Shrug – 2 x 4-6

Wednesday – Shoulders:

Thursday – Back & Biceps:

  • Deadlift – 2 x 4-6
  • Chin Up – 2 x 4-6
  • Lat Pulldown – 2 x 4-6
  • Barbell Curl – 2 x 4-6
  • Alternating Dumbbell Curl – 2 x 4-6
  • EZ-Bar Curl – 2 x 4-6

Friday – Abs, Calves & Forearms:

  • Ab Machine Crunch – 3 x 8-10
  • Weighted Leg Raise – 2 x 12-15
  • Standing Calf Raise – 3 x 6-8
  • Seated Calf Raise – 3 x 6-8
  • Barbell Wrist Curl – 2 x 8-10
  • Wrist Roller – 2 x 8

Weeks 5-8

Monday – Back:

Tuesday – Shoulders & Traps:

Wednesday – Legs & Calves:

Thursday – Chest & Abs:

Friday – Triceps, Biceps & Forearms:

Weeks 9-12 (Take 1 Week Off Before Starting Week 9)

Monday – Shoulders & Abs:

Tuesday – Back, Traps & Forearms:

  • Barbell Row ("Yates" variation) – 2 x 4-6
  • Cable Pulldown – 2 x 4-6
  • Good Morning – 2 x 4-6
  • Seated Cable Rows – 1 x 4-6
  • Hex Bar or Barbell Shrug – 2 x 4-6
  • Farmer Walks – 3 x 20 seconds
  • Barbell Wrist Curls – 2 x 6-8

Wednesday – Chest:

  • Barbell Bench Press– 3 x 4-6
  • Barbell Incline Bench Press – 3 x 4-6
  • Weighted Chest Dip – 3 x 4-6

Thursday – Legs & Calves:

  • Front Squat – 3 x 4-6
  • Leg Press – 2 x 4-6
  • Stiff Legged Deadlift – 2 x 6
  • Standing Calf Raises – 3 x 6-8
  • Single-Leg Smith Machine Calf Raise – 2 x 6-8

Friday – Biceps & Triceps:

  • Alternating Dumbbell Curl – 2 x 4-6
  • EZ-Bar Curl – 2 x 4-6
  • Dumbbell Hammer Curl – 2 x 4-6
  • Bench Dip – 2 x 4-6
  • Dumbbell Triceps Extension – 2 x 4-6
  • Cable Triceps Pushdown – 2 x 6

Max OT Warm Up

Warm-Up Sets. This is one place where I disagree with the Max OT protocol. It states that you do not want to fatigue your muscles during the warm-up sets. I completely agree with idea; however, the actual warm-up recommendations that the program recommends contradicts it.

The recommended warm-up uses unnecessarily high reps for the first few warm-up sets. It does warm you up, but it also fatigues you to an extent, which limits how much you can lift during the work sets.

Below is the example given for official warm-up set protocol versus what I recommend:

Original GuidelinesImproved Guidelines
Warm Up Sets:
135 x 12
135 x 10
185 x 6
225 x 3
255 x 1
Work Sets:
285 x 4-6
Warm Up Sets:
135 x 8
165 x 5
185 x 3
225 x 2
275 x 1
Work Sets:
285 x 4-6

Check out this warm-up routine for more details on warm-up sets, as well as how to do a full warm-up to maximize performance and minimize risk of injury.

Warm-Up Sets FAQ. Below are the answers to a couple of the most common questions about the Max OT warm-up:

  • "Do I have to wait two minutes between warm-up sets?" No. It shouldn't take that long unless you're lifting too much weight and/or doing too many reps. Just do the next set as soon as you feel ready for the next warm-up set. From my experience, this only takes about 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on the exercise.
  • "Do I have to warm up before every exercise?"Not necessarily. If you do your biggest compound lift first, then the warm-up and work sets will get you more prepared for the following exercises. For example, if you do squats first on leg day, then it may not be necessary to warm up for the following leg exercises.However, you should do a couple warm-up sets if you have any doubts about being able to do the work sets without hurting yourself.Also, I recommend doing warm-up sets when transitioning from one body part to another. For example, if you are doing legs and shoulders, then you should do warm-up sets for your first shoulder exercise.

Create Your Own Max OT Workout

If you'd rather make your own routine, then that's fine too. This section provides extra information to help you do just that. However, it may be helpful to use the above sample routine as guidance. And of course, you also have to use the Max OT principles, as outlined earlier in the page.

Choosing Exercises. The point of Max OT is to maximally stimulate your muscles using heavy loads in order to most efficiently overload your muscles. In other words, you should use compound exercises because they allow you to lift heavier weight compared to isolation exercises.

Max-OT "Approved Exercises" List

The official protocol for the program includes "approved exercises" for each muscle group. You don't have to be limited to just these approved exercises, but they do provide plenty of great options for compound lifts.

See the list of approved exercises below.

Note: I have also included some of my own additions, which are marked by an asterisk symbol (*). Also, the exercises are in alphabetical order, so the first exercise isn't necessarily better than the last.

Abs Exercises (add weight if necessary)

  • Cable Crunch
  • Crunch
  • *Hanging Leg Raise
  • Lying Leg Raise
  • *Nautilus-style Ab Machine Crunch
  • Vertical Knee Raise
  • *Vertical Leg Raise

Back Exercises

Lower Back:

Upper Back:

Biceps Exercises

  • Alternating Dumbbell Curl
  • Straight Bar Curl
  • Cable Curl
  • Dumbbell Hammer Curl
  • EZ-Bar Curl
  • *Non-Alternating Dumbbell Curl

Calf Exercises

  • 45 Degree Calf Press
  • Donkey Calf Raise
  • Hack Machine Calf Raise
  • Seated Calf Raise
  • Standing Calf Raise

Chest Exercises

Forearms Exercises

  • *CoC Grippers
  • *Farmer Walks
  • *Plate Pinches
  • Dumbbell Standing Wrist Curls
  • Reverse Wrist Curls
  • Wrist Curls
  • *Wrist Roller

Legs Exercises

Shoulders Exercises

Trapezius Exercises

  • Barbell Shrug
  • Barbell Upright Row
  • *Dumbbell Seated Shrug
  • *Farmer Walks
  • *Hex Bar Shrug

Triceps Exercises

Final Word

That sums this page on the highly popular Max OT program. Hopefully, I've provided you with some good ideas, advice, and warnings. If you've decided that this is the workout program for you, then I'm confident that you'll see excellent results, especially since you have this page for reference. Not that you'll need it, but good luck!

Alex from King of the Gym
Hey! My name is Alex and I'm the founder and author of King of the Gym. I've been lifting weights seriously since 2005 in high school when I started a home gym in my parents' basement. I started writing about fitness in 2009. Then, in 2014, I got into writing home gym equipment reviews and I haven't looked back. My current home gym is in my own house and it's constantly growing and evolving. My goal is to help you build the home gym of your dreams! Read more about me here.

20 thoughts on “Max OT Workout Program: A Guide to Maximum Overload Training”

  1. Hi there.

    Please forgive me if this question has already been asked. But can you incorporate supersets using MaxOT principals? For instance, can I execute tricep cable pushdowns and then immediately execute dumbbell kick-backs using the 4-6 rep rule for 2 or 3 sets?

    What are you thoughts and recommendations?

    Thank you and hope you are having a great weekend!

    Joanne Ott
    Elizabeth, CO

  2. Hey Alex.

    Thanks for this article. Max-OT was recommended to me to try by a guy that used to compete. I gave it a try on Friday for my leg workout and it was like being a rank beginner all over again.

    Of all the sites that break down the program, yours offers the best info in my opinion. I have a hard time getting into things that I don’t get enough to execute. You explained out things pretty well and didn’t give that “it must be done exactly” this way. Providing the exercises to build your own program is a God send as the standard plan you presented had a couple exercises I have my eye on getting better at, but I have alternatives thanks to you.

    I’d suggest adding a small part reminding people that take on this program to make sure they are tracking what they are doing somewhere. I’ve been using blogspot to keep my efforts documented as I can and add comments about the exercise or the weight to refer back to the next time that body part is being addressed.

    Again, thanks for the info. Happy to share the blog link with you if you want to follow it.

  3. Thank you for this article. I agree with you that pre-workout can keep you on track with your fitness regimen. Your PRE and POST workout meal are both important parts of building muscle and losing fat.

  4. Great article! And great website!

    The 4-7 rep range is fantastic for strength and size gains. Even with a lesser frequency (like direct work every 5 days).

    Thanks for the help in putting together my new “Max-OT” style routine! Again, love the site.

    • I totally agree, Sean! The 4-7 rep range is very effective for those goals.

      Happy to help, and enjoy the routine.


  5. Is there another way to download the Max-OT Spreadsheet and MYx8 Routine? I have registered my name and email for both twice and have not received an email for either.

    • It looks like the spam filter for my form was having a glitch, and you got marked as spam. Sorry about that. I fixed it and manually added your email. You should get the email with the workout shortly.

    • Hi Kade, sorry about that. It appears my spam filter settings were off for this form. I put your email through manually, so you should have the workout waiting in your inbox now.

  6. Started the program today to switch things up. Will post back with an update periodically. This plan is very much still relevant!

  7. Hi Jerry,

    I really appreciate this breakdown. I tried to get the spreadsheet but something isn’t working. Could you please send that to me directly?


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