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.
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.
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:
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.