High Frequency or Low Frequency for Powerlifting? What Really Matters

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Everyone wants to talk about what’s the perfect frequency for a Powerlifting program. Should I squat twice a week? Four times a week? Everyday? What about Bench Press and Deadlift? More is better, right? This is minutae! It doesn’t really matter how many times a week you squat, bench, and deadlift. To think otherwise ignores the fundamental goal of every Powerlifting program.

Every program, fundamentally, should be designed to get you progressively stronger in a sustainable fashion, PERIOD. Who cares how many times a week you should lift? The question you should be asking is “Am I getting stronger without getting injured?” If the answer is yes, stop asking questions and just keep going. Only when the answer is no is when you should be making small tweaks to your programming.

Powerlifting Meet Day Manual: How To Have The Best Competition Experience

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I’ve been Powerlifting for five to six years now and I’ve competed in about as many meets. It’s gotten to the point where the fear has faded and I’m confident I know what to do. It’s quite freeing really. I can focus less on my own nervousness and more on performing or helping others perform. Some Powerlifters will use a handler, someone who knows what to do and when to do it. But for the rest of us we have to both lift and handle ourselves. It’s my goal with this guide that you’ll be able to approach the meet as if you were a more seasoned competitor.

The Night Before

The meet actually starts the night before. I say this because this is where you set yourself up for failure or success. The first and easiest way to begin preparation is to put all of your equipment into a gym bag and organize it in such a way that it’s easy to pull out and put back in. Here’s a short checklist of things you should bring:

  • Singlet
  • Belt
  • Knee high socks (for deadlift)
  • Ankle socks
  • Wrist wraps
  • Shoes (Squat and Deadlift)
  • Shirt
  • Knee sleeves
  • Foam roller
  • etc.

Food is the next important aspect of the night before. I like to have a large dinner, something hardy that will stick. A burrito or a steak works well for this. Plenty of carbs included. Then I’ll go to the store and buy food for tomorrow’s meet. Usually I don’t have a big appetite on meet day so I’ll stick to carby snacks like pop tarts or fruit snacks. I like to drink gatorade and so I’ll make sure to buy plenty.

Sleep is the last important part of the night before. If you don’t usually have trouble sleeping you can skip this paragraph but I usually have trouble sleeping before an important day. The fact I don’t sleep also increases my neuroses about the whole affair and so I make SURE I sleep. This usually involves taking something to knock myself out like benadryl. Make sure you know how you’ll react to something like this before you take it, especially when it comes to performance. You don’t want to take this if you expect it to affect your strength.

Lastly you should familiarize yourself with the rules of the federation you are competing in. Most federations have rule handbooks easily available online. If all else fails a quick google search should bring it up.

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The Morning Of

You should have an indication of when to arrive at the meet. This will usually be explained by the meet director in some fashion. Usually you’ll want to arrive when weigh-ins start, if not before. For those of us who do not have handlers meets are usually days full of running around trying to figure out what we need to do and then long periods of sitting. I recommend you get to the meet early that way you have plenty of time with which to do your running around. Doubly so if this is your first meet.

There are several things you’ll need to do upon arriving at the meet. You’ll usually be given a card on which you’ll write several things. Upon getting this card the ref will usually ask you for your openers. You should have these figured out ahead of time. The first thing you’ll need to get are your rack heights. These are the heights at which the rack or monolift will need to be set for your squat and bench. Usually there is a rack somewhere with a helper/referee helping individuals get their rack heights. This should take less than five minutes. Record these on the paper but also record these somewhere else. If you save these then it’s one less thing you’ll need to do at your next meet.

One thing to have on hand ahead of time is your federation membership info. Most meets are sponsored by a particular powerlifting federation and therefore require you to be a member. This usually involves paying a fee and signing up through their website. Some let you sign-up at the meet itself. Some don’t. You should find out what federation you’ll be competing in and sign-up before hand.

The next few things you’ll need to do are weigh-ins and equipment check. There will usually be lines for both of these so you should pick one. Equipment check will involve opening up your bag and showing all of your equipment to the referee one by one. They’ll sign your card and then you’re on your way. Weigh-ins work similarly although they may differ depending upon your federation (24 hour weigh-ins vs. 2 hour).

After you weigh-in and have your equipment checked you’ll likely have a bit of downtime. Use this to double-check whether you’ve forgotten to do anything. At some point the meet director will post the list of flights. Flights are groups of lifters, usually about 10, which will lift consecutively together. Flights are usually sorted from lighter to heavier bodyweights. Find your flight and write it down. This will be important when it comes to warm-ups.

Before lifting begins the head referee, usually the most senior ref, will do a rules briefing. In this they will give a quick overview of the rules and faults for all three lifts. This is worth paying to. While federations usually have a strict set of rules, each referee brings their own background to the meet. It’s worth understanding exactly how they interpret the rules.

Warm-Ups

If you’re not in the first flight you’ll spend some time watching the flights before you lift. This is another opportunity to watch the refs and understand how they call the lifts, the depth of squats their expecting, etc. Make note of mistakes that other lifters get called on and try not to make them yourself.

Sit tight until the flight before yours begins lifting. At this point you need to think about when to start warming up. Here’s a quick formula that should help you understand how long a flight will take to finish:

T = 1 min * Number of lifters in the flight * 3 lifts

So if there are 10 lifters in the flight it should take roughly 30 minutes for the flight to finish. Based on how long you normally take to warm up should give you and indication of when to begin. You should have your warm-ups determined ahead of time so you know exactly what to put on the bar. Another consideration is whether the warm-up room has pound or kilo plates. This threw me off at one meet. I was NOT used to calculating warm-ups in kilos and so I took a lot longer. This site is a plate calculator in kilos. Worst case you can pull it up on your phone.

When it’s time to warm-up try to find someone of similar height and similar strength to you and ask them if you can jump in! Most lifters are super friendly and have no problem sharing the bar during warm-ups. Most people will also appreciate if you help change and load the bar. While your warming up you should occasionally poke your head out and check out the screen to see how much time the current flight has left. This will tell you whether to slow down or speed up your warm ups.

Lifting

Eventually lifting will commence! This is the whole point of the meet, what you’ve been training for up to this point. There will be an area off to the side of the platform in which you will wait until it’s your turn to perform. When you’re up next the announcer will say ” is on deck”. They will also usually indicate whose next by saying ” is in the hole”. Sometimes they’ll also indicate who is three out, etc.

When it’s your turn the helpers will change the weight on the bar, the referee will double check everything and then give you the indication “platform ready!” or “bar is loaded!”. Wait until they say this before approaching the platform. Once given the call you are free to setup and begin your lift.

The last thing to say as far as the lifting itself is WAIT FOR COMMANDS!! There’s nothing more disheartening/frustrating/embarassing than missing a lift because you fail to follow proper commands. If you have a friend/handler nearby you can have them call WAIT! Otherwise the best you can do is drill this into yourself. It can help to practice these commands during your normal training sessions before the meet.

After an attempt you’ll need to almost immediately let the referees know your next attempt. You’ll do so usually at the announcers table. It helps to have all of your attempts laid out in a notebook but anything can happen on the day so be ready to adjust. Also, be prepared to offer the attempts in kilograms. It helps to have a kilograms to pounds chart handy. Good meet directors will have this available at the table to help you make your decision.

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After Lifting

If you’ve prepared well and understand all of the rules you should have a relatively easy time with the meet. It will still be stressful but less so having prepared. Hopefully you ENJOY the experience, make new friends, and come back with take aways to apply to your training. After all, nothing gives meaning to our training like competition!

Once lifting is over you should stick around for a while. Depending upon your federation there may be drug tests to be taken, and while usually not everyone is tested, failure to show up to a test results in disqualification! In addition there is generally an awards ceremony. You may or may not receive a reward but it’s fun to cheer and clap along with others when they receive theres.

Competing may not be for everyone but given the chance, most people will gain something from the experience. Whether it’s new friends, new medals, or new training tips competing is a worthwhile experience that we can derive much benefit from. I thoroughly recommend you give it a shot if you’re on the fence!

 

Using DOMS For Template Construction

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We hear all the time about how DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) is not a good indicator of how recovered you are. Sure, this is true. Due to the repeated bout effect, eventually you’ll become less sore over time by doing the same movements. But DOMS can be a proxy for recoveredness, that is, it can hint to you how recovered you are. We can use this to our advantage.

If you’re having trouble building a template, deciding on which days to squat or deadlift, here’s a trick. One week, on Sunday, do high rep squats. Something like 3 sets of 10. Don’t do anything else the rest of the week but note when your soreness is finally complete. Next week, on the same day, do high rep deadlifts. Again, do nothing but note when the soreness leaves.

By now you should have a good sense of how close or far apart you should keep deadlifts and squats. The length of soreness can let you know about how many days, plus or minus one, you should wait before you squat or deadlift again. Bench can be placed in between as you see fit.

What I’ve Learned Each Year I’ve Lifted

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Like anything else in life it’s easy to plow forward with our blinders on without looking back at all of the things we’ve accomplished. This has been true for me in my lifting career. In the grand scheme, and compared to some people, I haven’t been lifting that long. But there are some definite lessons I’ve learned along the way and I think it will be helpful to do a bit of a retrospective.

2008 – 2010

I’m lumping this period of time together as it’s what I would term my “fuckarounditis period”. I initially started going to the gym with a friend to lift weights. My weight at the time was actually around 180 lbs. and so I was hoping to drop a few pounds. My training consisted of mostly machines, maybe some dumbbells for the biceps. I mostly just went in and hit what I thought was important, mostly bro type stuff.

The biggest lesson I learned here was that I was quite capable of putting on muscle. I never really had a hardgainer phase that some have before they understand what’s required. That’s probably due to the fact of how much I was eating. In addition I did clean up my diet a bit, started cooking more for myself and did indeed end up dropping weight. My routine did not change that much during this period. In late 2010 I discovered the barbell and that’s when my training took a significant turn.

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late 2010 – early 2011

In late 2010 I began reading LeanGains and was swept up in the burgeoning intermittent fasting wave of the time. Martin Berkhan espoused a simple training routine involving a few barbell lifts. I began squatting, benching and deadlifting with a fair amount of regularity. I didn’t really know what I was doing, especially when it came to squats, I remember once actually falling backwards with weight on my back. But I was able to gain strength while cutting down to a lean 165 lbs.

This period taught me about progression. It taught me that you can progress for a fairly long time by adding 5 pounds a week. I learned I could cut weight without actually counting calories. I attempted counting during this period but I found (as I still do) that it makes me too neurotic. Admittedly the fasting I was doing at the time might be considered slightly extreme I still learned what it was like to go a period of time with less food. I didn’t get that strong, I remember deadlifting in the high 100s low 200s for reps, but I did manage a 45+lb weighted pull up which I’m unlikely to match any time soon.

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late 2011 – late 2012

During this period I read Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. Initially I was very engrossed in his koolaid. This worked quite well in my favor as his prescription was what I needed to get quite strong. My form on the lifts improved by a lot. During this period I squatted my first 400 lbs (for reps), benched in the low 200s, and deadlifted 400 lbs. My bodyweight rose to 200 lbs. I accomplished all of this by following the very simple progressions outlined in the Starting Strength and Texas Method programs.

In this period I got a much better understanding of my strength potential. I discovered that if I hit on the right variables I could get very strong fairly quickly. At this point I didn’t really understand how the variables worked and how to create a successful program with them. That would come later.I competed for the first time and learned h0w different competition was from training. I also learned how to put on bodyweight. I probably did so a little too fast. My Squat form developed quite well during this period. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same of my Deadlift and Bench.

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2013

Alas, the simple and productive progressi0ns that had worked so well in the past had ceased to continue working. There were a few reasons for this including not understanding how to manipulate the programs to continue progressing and changing things for the sake of changing things. I would consider this period to be the beginning of my “dark night of the soul” in Powerlifting. I began experimenting with a few programs, namely Sheiko. I ran #29 and was able to get a new Bench PR of 265. This was also the period in which my wife and I moved into a house and I built a home gym in the garage. This would be my gym going forward.

During this period I realized how much volume I could truly tolerate. The lesson I should have learned was that I could tolerate a lot more volume mentally than I could physically. I had developed a layer of mental resolve in which I could push through set after set. This is something anyone needs to develop if they are to sustain high volume training for a long period of time. This wasn’t a terribly productive period of my training career but it’s lessons would be apparent later.

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late 2013 – 2014

In this period I began reading the works of Mike Tuchscherer and learning about Autoregulation. I also began learning much more about the fundamentals of training and program design. I took the RTS Classroom series of lectures that were offered at the time and learned a lot about what actually goes into designing a productive program. During this period I started developing formalized programs for myself. I competed in the USAPL for the first time which would be where I would compete from this point on.

This period really taught me what makes programs work. Before this point successful programs were indistinguishable from magic but now the veil had been lifted and I saw the man behind the curtain. I had a few notable PRs in this time period and the first was Deadlifting 500lbs. I wouldn’t touch this number again for some time. I also stumbled upon a progression that would yield major gains in my squat. Unfortunately this progression would grind to a halt due to elbow pain.

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2015

During this period I experimented with a few types of training styles notably a conjugate-style program and more heavy bodybuilding focus. I read Arnold’s bodybuilding encyclopedia and developed an enjoyment of high rep “pump” work. This era taught me that I didn’t necessarily need to be touching heavy weight on a consistent basis. I could strive for more volume and larger muscle and still be satisfied with my work in the gym.

Conjugate style did not really appeal to me. As part of this experiment I learned that I personally need more consistency in my training programs and I tend to thrive in programs that don’t utilize a ton of variability. This period of my training career didn’t see a ton of new PRs. I spent a fair bit of it trying to bring back old styles of progression which was not very successful for the most part. I learned that you adapt to the level of volume you’re currently using and trying to make large increases is a recipe for disaster.

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2016

This essentially brings us to today. In 2016 I learned that I don’t need nearly as much volume as I used to or used to think I needed. I experimented with an Ed Coan Style Linearly Periodized program and got great results. My past experience has taught me to remain skeptical that such a program will work forever at the same time as it tells me to continue riding the progress out as long as possible.

I hope this retrospective has been as interesting to you as it has been for me. I think we can always learn something from taking a look back through time.

The Best Way To Train Your Deadlift Grip

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I got this one from Mike Tuchscherer. If you want to eliminate dropped Deadlifts, the best way to do it is with static holds. During your last set of Deadlifts, regardless of however many sets you do, when you stand up with the last rep hold it for as long as you can. Do this every time you Deadlift and your grip will develop quickly.

It’s not hard to see why this works so well. It’s literally the most specific way to train your grip. You might not be able to hold it for long, at first. Each time you Deadlift you should be able to hold it longer than the last time. I’ve tried other methods of working the grip including Captains of Crush, etc. Nothing seems to work so well as this.

Things I Thought I knew

As I get older in the sport of Powerlifting a lot of assumptions and beliefs I had seem to be invalidated. Here are a few that have changed lately. Remember, they are specific to ME. YMMV.

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  • You need a fair amount of volume to sustain strength during a peak

I’m the past I thought I knew what a peak was. I thought dropping too much volume was a recipe for losing strength. Subsequently I never experimented with substantially lowered volume during a peak. Because who wants to risk it when you’ve got a meet coming up? Recently my peaks have consisted of a heavy double per exercise. That works out to a much lower volume load than I had used in the past. And I’ve been doing that for two weeks straight into a peak.

  • You need to push the volume to make progress

In the past I used to do 8, 10, 12+ sets per body part per week. I really felt I needed this much volume, after all most programs included that level of volume. Now I’m doing at most 6 sets per week, 3 per exercise. Much less than before and making better progress. More isn’t always better.

  • Higher frequency is better

Related to the above point, I used to think I needed 3x a week frequency on Squat, 4x a week on Bench to make good progress and retain good movement patterns. I’m currently making great progress on 1x and 2x frequency for squat and bench. Maybe I needed the higher frequency earlier maybe I’ll need more in the future but not for the moment.

  • You need to autoregulate; there’s no way to perfectly plan out a 12 week cycle without missing reps

All signs so far point to the opposite. By starting light and making smart jumps in weight I’ve been able to progress from week to week without missing reps. Start to heavy or take to big of jumps and progress stalls very fast.

Those are the points that come to mind at the moment. Likely to be more in the future. Never hurts to challenge your existing notions about what is possible.

Results From My First Full Power Ed Coan Style Linear Cycle

In this post I spoke about my initial flirtations with Linear Periodization. At the end of the post I said that I was excited with my results and would be moving forward with a full power program. I’ve just completed my first full power cycle and unsuprisingly I am extremely happy with my results. They were:

Squat: 485 (+25lb PR)
Bench Press: 285 (+5lb PR)
Deadlift540 (+15lb PR)

All told, I added 45 pounds to my total after 3 months of consistent, healthy training. Something I haven’t accomplished in a long time. Needless to say I am thrilled and will be continuing to utilize this training style moving forward. But how did I setup and utilize this program? Read on for in-depth details.

One of the most important aspects to setting up a successful program is choosing your accessories. For Deadlift, I’d already run a successful cycle utilizing Barbell Rows. I definitely intended to continue utilizing them. For Squats, I knew that working my quads would carry over to my Low Bar Squat. I’d utilized Front Squats in the past but they often bothered my upper back so instead I went with High Bar Squats. I also chose to utilize the Hip Thrust as my PT had said my glutes were under-developed. Couldn’t hurt to develop them more! For Bench Press, I’d utilized the Close-Grip Bench Press in the past so I figured it would continue to be useful. I also decided to Overhead Press for shoulder development.

Next I chose the numbers for my opening sets. I had taken time off of Squatting and Benching due to nagging injuries so I knew I had to start light with these. For Squats I went with the following numbers:

Squat: 230x10x3
High Bar Squat: 190x10x3
Hip Thrust45x10x3

For the Bench Press:

Bench Press: 175x10x3
Close Grip Bench Press: 
145x10x3
Press: 75x10x3

and for Deadlift (+10lb from my last, mini, cycle):

Deadlift: 345x10x3
Rows: 165x10x3

For this cycle I also determined I would experiment with a 1 time frequency for all 3 lifts. My Deadlift clearly responded well to this and so I determined that I would test how my Squat and Bench Press would respond. The jumps I would make from week to week were as follows: for bigger lifts like the Squat and Deadlift I would make 15lb jumps within the same rep range and 20 lb jumps when dropping reps. For smaller lifts like the Bench Press I would make 10lb jumps regardless. Also, when it came to the Press, prior cycles had told me that when in the 3s and 2s weeks I could only make 5lb jumps.

I began the cycle hopeful of the results! After the 4th week, however, it was clear that I had to modify the Bench programming. One time a week frequency and three movements was not enough volume to drive progress. I failed when attempting to Bench 205x8x3. The changes I made were as follows: on the main Bench day I would do Bench Press and Close Grip. I added a second day in which I would Pin Press as well as Overhead Press. Before the Pin Pressing began I would work up to a heavy single to practice technique. I dropped the Bench Press weight back to 195 as I began the 5s week. For the Pin Press, I began with 155x6x3. I determined that I would utilize a step periodization scheme I’d used in the past so as not to introduce too much volume or intensity too quickly.

From this point on I did not have to make any adjustments and ran the program as written. The results speak for themselves! The only mistake I could say I made was when testing my maxes I stuck too much to percentages vs. only adding the weight to the bar I knew I could handle. I tested all 3 lifts on separate days to ensure I was most fresh. I realize this might not transfer perfectly to a meet but I did not take a deload week between my last doubles and my test week so there might be some give there that would make up the difference.

Video of my results:

Useful Bench Cues For Leg Drive And Strength Off The Chest

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I’ve recently had an epiphany in regards to my Bench technique, specifically in the areas of leg drive and force off the chest. Now I know what you’re maybe thinking (and what I’m definitely thinking), leg drive has been done to death. That’s true. Maybe you won’t find anything new here that you can’t find in the countless YouTube videos on the subject. But because there’s always the chance that the way I phrase a cue or describe a technique might cause a similar epiphany in someone else I think it’s worth putting on paper once more.

I think Leg Drive is a shortened description of what I personally think is referring to full body tension when benching. The common visual conception we have of leg drive is the visible movement of the body back toward the uprights as the lifter drives the bar off their chest. This is an on or off form of leg drive where the lifter has to consciously engage their quads to assist in pressing the weight.

This is a form of leg drive I’ve utilized in the past. I think it can be useful but in my opinion the better form of leg drive is one where the lifter is imparting constant backward force via tension in the legs throughout the entire movement. There are many ways to accomplish this. The prerequisite here is that you should already be moderately tight after performing your setup. If you’re too loose you’re going to be able to effectively transfer force to the bar.

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The first cue you can use to initiate this form of tightness is “load the legs” or “load the quads”. This involves allowing the weight to settle into the legs after unracking. This should feel like your quads are engaged in the same way that unracking a squat should feel your upper back tight and engaged. This has the effect of making your hold body rigid and immobile, perfect for imparting force to the bar. This might take a second or two after unracking the bar for the load to distribute onto the legs. Once you understand how “load the legs” should feel you can use the cue “Settle” to remind yourself to allow the weight to distribute onto the lower body.

The second method is more of a modification to your setup rather than an active cue. As I mentioned above, you should already be very tight after performing your Bench setup. To help with leg drive, one technique is to throw your feet back behind your hips so that you’re on your tippy toes while lying on the bench. Next, walk your feet forward until you’re almost flat on the floor but there is still some space between your heel and the floor. Your heel should be pulled upwards by the tension in your lower body without you having to keep it elevated at all. Now, when you unrack think “Heels down” and allow the weight of the bar to force your heels hard into the ground. This will have the effect of getting your lower body extremely tight. A combination of these two cues can definitely up your leg drive game.

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The last cue I want to talk about involves the moment you drive the bar off of your chest. I’ve always had issues with strength off the chest. I’ve never felt comfortable or confident in the bottom position. Recently I’ve come to realize I haven’t been actively engaging my chest in the Bench. This might sound kind of ridiculous, of course the chest is always engaged to some extent. But I’ve found I can actively contract my chest to get better strength of the chest.

The cue I’ve used to accomplish this is “Push with chest”. The way to think about this is that you should feel your chest engage in a similar fashion to how it feels when you perform a Pectoral fly. You should think about squeezing your pecs together, creating a peak with them to force the bar off of your chest. You can see this a lot in very good benchers. At the top of the lift the pecs will look very similar to how they might in the last bit of ROM in a fly.

These are a few cues I’ve used to improve how my Bench Press feels and performs. Remember that cues are always individual. These might not work for you and might even be counter-productive in some circumstances. But they might also be just what you need to get that next five pounds.

Why Linear Periodization is simple yet effective, Ed Coan did Westside? And spitting out thoughts after high rep deadlifts

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Most training programs are similar. This is not an opinion, it’s a definite fact. They are all similar in the ways that matter. This is also not a new assertion, it’s something that all Strength/Powerlifting coaches know extrinsically or intrinsically. There are some great articles on this topic such as Juggernaut’s There is only one type of Periodization. The reason for this is that all programs need to follow a few core principles to have some modicum of success among lifters. Principles like overload, specificity, and fatigue management need to be utilized at least to some degree for the program to be useful and produce results.

All of these methods and programs are just new and different combinations of these variables. Most start out as experiments that their creators initially ran and produced training epiphanies (big PRs). This is another reason why some people get disillusioned after a while in regards to talking about training. The saying “there’s nothing new under the sun” is true in some regards. It’s highly unlikely that there will ever be a successful training program that is not just another manipulation of these variables in new, and maybe, interesting ways.

Training Epiphanies

I write all this to preface a discussion of situations where we try an new training style and suddenly we have a training epiphany. These situations don’t usually occur because there’s some special sauce in the program that worked for you, the proverbial key that unlocks your potential. What happened is that the program offered you what you needed to progress without requiring too much. The largest part of this is that the volume the program calls for is like the third bear’s oatmeal, just right. Another aspect is whether or not the program jives with your personality. I put this second, though, as the volume will be the major determining factor as to whether you’re making progress. For most, nothing is more motivating than fast continuous progress.

Personally, I’ve never had an issue doing enough work. Some coaches/lifters say that most people don’t work hard enough in their training. I’ve never had this problem. I know explicitly that this is true because for the past several years in training I’ve had several spates of injury which I attribute to developing levels of fatigue greater than I was able to dissipate using the normal fatigue management tools (deload weeks and the like) that are often prescribed. This will become important later when I describe my experiments with vanilla linear periodization.

Program Hoppin’

I’ve recently been on a spate of experimentation, literally trying new types of training with every few training cycles. This is useful in that you get to try and bunch of different training styles but not so good in that you might not be giving a style enough time to work. This is all known to me. I understand all the caveats of working this way but I’ve been program hopping nonetheless. I feel this is fine if you make the conscious decision to do so. Otherwise, I do agree with the concensus that it’s probably more harmful than helpful in the long run.

This time around my experiment has led me to trying vanilla linear periodization. I’ll need to set the context as well so that you understand all of the conditions affecting this experiment. Both my squat and Bench were kind of out of commission for the experiment. My right hip has been bugging me since before my last meet. I ended up going to a PT with slightly useful results. In addition I overestimated my ability to handle volume in the Bench (as compared to the past) and ended up overtaxing my pectoral tendons. Comparatively, I was able to Deadlift just fine.

My Deadlift hasn’t moved too much in the past several years. There are a few reasons for this. Most importantly is that I was so focused on trying to keep my form perfect (namely keeping my back neutral) that I was self-limiting my progress. If I were to compare my body structure to a high-level lifter it would probably be Chad Wesley Smith. We’re relatively upright when squatting but when it comes to deadlifting our relatively longer torso makes it tougher to stay neutral.

Recently I’ve made the choice to push ahead with the attempt of performing my deadlift with as good form as I can but to not limit myself by trying to make my form perfect. I actually believe this is overall a better approach. My reas0ning is that if you tend to round on max effort attempts then it’s better for your body to be somewhat adapted to that position. If you pull perfectly in training and then round during competition I’m betting that you’re more likely to get hurt. But if you pull generally the same in both you’re more likely to maintain back health.

Bell Bottoms are Back

Enter linear periodization. Most of us have some sense of how linear periodization works. We’ve seen videos on Ed Coan’s training, heard him on the PowerCast talking about how he would starts with sets of 10 then 8 then 5s and finally 3s and 2s. It’s always seemed deceptively simple and it’s been very easy to dismiss this training method. We’re not Ed Coan (at least most of us). We can’t expect to see the same results he did! On top of that we’ve had lots of new periodization styles come into vogue, Block and Concurrent, which claim to make up for the drawbacks present in Linear Periodization.

One of the main supposed drawbacks to Linear Periodization is maintenance of abilities. Linear Periodization develops abilities separately and therefore you can lose some of these abilities over time. I have an issue with this assertion. This may be true for other sports where the abilities aren’t so sticky, they might start to wither away if not maintained. In Powerlifting, however, the initial ability that is developed is muscular hypertrophy. This is a very sticky attribute. You can maintain a hell of a lot of muscle just by lifting weight of sufficient intensity. It doesn’t have to be anywhere near the same amount of volume utilized when you built that muscle. Take some time off of lifting and continue eating the same amount of food. That muscle is going to stick around for a long time.

And so a Powerlifter using linear periodization is providing enough stimulus to maintain muscle throughout the entire training program. She might not continue to build muscle after she leaves the hypertrophic period but I think saying that Powerlifters should utilize Block and Concurrent because they need to maintain abilities is a red herring. Those periodization styles might be useful for other reasons but I think we can say that Powerlifters, as long as they’re doing a modicum of training and not heavily dieting, don’t need to worry about muscle maintenance.

One major advantage to linear periodization is that it’s exceedingly simple to layout. All of the major questions are answered. Fatigue management? Your fatigue is naturally going to dissipate (assuming you layout the program correctly) as your volume drops and intensity increases. Rep ranges? Pre-determined, or at least they can easily be. You start with 10s drop to 8s then 5s, 3s, and 2s. Peaking? Built-in, that’s what those 3s and 2s will do. Total volume load? This will be determined by the number of sets and exercises you do but keeping the exercises constant will mean you simply need to modulate the number of sets. Here’s an example training program for an athlete working towards a 300 pound squat:

190×10
200×10

210×8
220×8

230×5
240×5
250×5

260×3
270×3

280×2
290×2

300×1

Need to modulate volume? Add sets as needed. I wanted to spend a little extra time talking about one aspect of programming: phasic structure aka phase potentiation. In all my training I’ve done up to this point I’ve never physically felt the effect of the previous phase. I never spent a period of time performing hypertrophic training and felt that I was more prepared for a strength phase. This was an entirely new aspect of training for me that I encountered with linear periodization. After the high reps, transitioning to a lower more strength focused training felt easy, like I was physically ready for this style of training. The same when moving on to triples and doubles. It was an eye opening experience and made me feel like I had been missing something during my previous training cycles. Why was this such a different experience than previous? My guess is that I had successfully dropped the level of fatigue I was carrying and I was able to realize the gains I made in the previous phases.

Coan & Simmons

Another aspect of my experiment, that I also stole from Mr. Coan, was periodization of accessory/supplemental lifts. If you’re unfamiliar, Ed would periodize his close-variant accessory lifts with the same pattern as his competition movement. This contrasts a lot with the current trend in Powerlifting programming which is to periodize accessory, and especially the supplemental, muscular focused movements, with higher reps than with the competition movements. This makes sense in that higher reps facilitate higher volumes which helps to develop the musculature. However, in the same way that the competitive movements benefit from higher intensity lower volume work, the supplemental movements can as well.

No, Ed Coan didn’t really do Westside. However, the clickbait title indicates the similarities between these two programming styles. Strength is specific to joint angles. Said differently, you build strength in the range of motion in which you train it. You wouldn’t expect that quarter squats with 110% of your Squat to make an enormous impact on Squats to depth outside of an overload effect. By performing supplemental lifts at a higher intensity you can develop strength in a similar ROM to that of the competitive movements. This is an area where Ed and Louie Simmons can agree.

The Devil Don’t Pull Off the Floor

One last topic I wanted to touch on is High-rep Deadlifts. I think high rep deadlifts are probably one of the most difficult things you can do training wise. There’s nothing like taking a full-body lift and doing it one after the other until you’re sucking air and not thinking straight any longer. I decided to experiment with touch-and-go deadlifts as they seem to make the exercise slightly more bearable. I was farily successful in utilizing them. I now perform it such that there’s not even really a touch, a slight touch if anything, and I keep tension throughout the whole set. Similar in a way to how Jesse Norris performs his deficit deadlifts.

I’m not concerned about it affecting my strength off the floor. I go back to off-the-floor style once I hit the fives phase and I have no problem performing as usual. I think when you’re so far on one side of the specificity curve that touch and go or off the floor is not going to make much of a difference in the end. Certainly as the weight gets higher and the exercise becomes more specific then how you begin the movement will matter more. But I don’t think performing high rep sets in a touch and go fashion is going to ultimately harm the lifter.

My linear periodization experiment was a success given the context I described at the beginning of this post. I was able to hit a 525 Deadlift which was an 18 pound PR. I also ended up with a 165 pound Press after not seriously training the lift for years. Before I took time off squatting I finished with a 400×2 double which was a good result having previously taken time off the lift.

My wife and I are leaving soon for a trip to visit friends and family back home in Pennsylvania. Upon return I intend to launch into a full power program utilizing linear periodization. I’m also intending to experiment with a once a week frequency on all movements. I know for a fact this works well for my deadlift and I’m interested to see how it works for my squat and bench as well.

Exercise Selection Exercise

Here’s an idea for a strategy to help develop your exercise selection.

Draw a table (or use Excel, if you’re inclined) with the three competition lifts across the top as columns. Under the lifts write down the aspects of these lifts that are important to the execution of that lift. These should be specific to YOU. Yours might look like:

Squat Bench Press Deadlift
Quad Hypertrophy Pectoral Hypertrophy Upper-Back Hypertrophy

 

Circle aspects that reoccur across lifts. Then use this table when selecting exercise for your next cycle. Pay special attention to those aspects that you’ve circled.