Is the deadlift truly harder to recover from?

In this post I want to briefly explore the idea that the deadlift is a special lift in regards to programming. It seems in modern powerlifting the deadlift is supposed to be harder to recover from and produces more localized and systemic fatigue than the Squat. I personally do not believe it to be inherently different than the Squat in regards to how it should be programmed. The following are my musings on the matter:

One of the best deadlifters ever: Ed Coan!
Source: http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2012/09/deficit-deadlift-cycle-ed-coan.html

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

One of the most common arguments that the deadlift is different is that it’s harder to recover from because of the amount of musculature used is so great. Conversely another reasoning is that the deadlift is specifically so fatiguing to the low-back that it needs to be “babied” for fear of affecting performance across other lifts. Whatever the reasoning used the recommendation is usually for a lower frequency of deadlifting than the Squat.

I think this sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe that the deadlift is inherently harder to recover from and subsequently train it with less frequency you never give your body the chance to adapt to a higher-frequency. Therefore, a lower frequency will be more fatiguing than if you trained it with more frequency.

Squatting Is The Priority

Another aspect to this deadlift disparity is when lifters make the Squat the priority. Part of this may be due to the influence from geared lifting, the squat inherently gets more out of equipment than the deadlift. Mostly due to the eccentric aspect. Another possibility is the difficulty of breaking a heavy bar off the floor. The Squat starts and ends in a standing position, aided by the stretch reflex. In the deadlift there is no stretch reflex (at least not to the same extent) and therefore it might psychologically feel like a more difficult lift. This could be another explanation as to the preferential treatment of the Squat.

Spinal Neutrality

Most powerlifters that train the Conventional deadlift with any regularity round their back to some extent. It’s very difficult to keep the back completely neutral and rounding affords some advantages with respect to speed off the floor. The weakness then shows up at lock-out. The lifters back is rounded and so to fully lock-out they need to extend their low-back. This concentric back movement may cause some damage and subsequent soreness. I believe this also contributes to this idea. The deadlift may seem to present more DOMs to individuals who round their back.

One Final Note

I want to be clear about one point. I’m not arguing that you should train the deadlift with more volume and frequency if the amount you’re using is working. However, you shouldn’t be afraid to train it harder if that’s what you need to do to continue making progress. And at some point, you will need to deadlift more to deadlift more.

I would love to hear any thoughts you may have on the topic.

Bodybuilding for Powerlifters: It doesn’t do much but you should do it

I had some thoughts on the the idea that “powerlifters can learn a lot from bodybuilders” that’s floating around. Actually it’s not a new idea at all. Bob Hoffman used to run powerlifting meets and bodybuilding shows all on the same weekend. You can definitely make a pretty convincing argument that Powerlifting and Bodybuilding are two sides of the same coin. So should you train like a bodybuilder?

We’ve all heard guys try to make the case that putting size on their pecs or triceps translated to a bigger bench. Certainly the muscular-weakness paradigm is still very strong within Powerlifting. “I have weak quads” or “my triceps are holding back my Bench” are often heard. It’s interesting to note that this is largely an American phenomenon. American Powerlifting gets a lot of concepts from Bodybuilding, for instance: the necessity of Rows in exercise selection. A lot of these seem to be foreign to Powerlifting coaches outside of the US.

In my mind saying that tricep hypertrophy will increase your Bench is like saying that going to college will get you a high paying job. Yes, you have a better chance of getting that job had you not but one doesn’t necessarily follow the other. Bigger does not equal stronger. Musculature is an important part of strength, no one will argue against that. But all it’s going to do is give you is a bigger potential. You still need to train that musculature to Bench more. But maybe I’m just being a pedant.

My personal recommendation for “Bodybuilding work” is this: It can’t hurt and could help so do it, but don’t attribute more importance than it deserves. Don’t spend too much time on it. I do it on my GPP days, because it is, General Physical Preparation. I also like to use myo-reps because they save a lot of time.

In short: It doesn’t do much but you should do it.

How to find your projected topset using RPE

One of the most asked questions around the RTS forums is how do I determine my topset if I’m using RPE? It’s true that when we use RPE we’re autoregulating so we don’t know 100% what weights we’ll be hitting but we can extrapolate our topset from last week’s performance so that we’ll at least have a plan going into the workout.

RPE Chart
Source: http://reactivetrainingsystems.com

Let’s use a hypothetical situation as an example. Last week Joe squatted 500×5 @9. This week he’s slated to work up to a triple @9. This is what Joe should do to find his projected topset:

  1. Find x5 @9 on his RPE Chart¹. According to that chart, x5 @9 correlates to 77%
  2. Divide his topset by that percentage: 500/.77 = 650. This is his e1RM from last week.
  3. Find this week’s prescription on the RPE Chart. x3 @9 = 85%.
  4. Multiply last week’s e1RM by this percentage: 650*.85 = 550. His projected topset will be 550×3 @9

So Joe’s projected topset will be 550×3 @9. But how does he know if he’ll be able to hit that topset? This is supposed to be autoregulated! What Joe should do is two work-up sets at -10% and -5% from his projected topset². These sets will allow him to “calibrate” his topset for the day. So it’ll look similar to this:

495×3 @7
520×3 @8
550×3 @9

Using these calibration sets, by the time he does 520×3 he should know whether or not 550×3 @9 is in the cards for that day. Maybe 520×3 is more like an 8.5. He can subtract some weight from the topset. Or maybe 520×3 is a 9. He can stop there for the day. Maybe he’s having a really good day and 520×3 is more like a 7.5 and he should aim for 560 or 565.

This approach works really well to hone in on your topset. It also adds some extra volume that you might not have otherwise done. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you should try and hit the projected topset or to add weight to it. Keep in mind the initial projected topset should be considered your “maintenance” weight as it’s calculated off of last week’s e1RM, ie. your e1RM won’t change if you only hit the projected topset.

Now, if you’re new to an RPE based program and don’t have date with which to extrapolate, I’d suggest you work up in a similar way with moderate jumps until you hit your prescribed RPE.

Notes:

  1. For best results you should customize your RPE Chart

  2. I picked this up from Mike T.

RPE: An abstraction of Intensity

Autoregulation has seemingly taken the powerlifting world by storm. A quick look at any random lifter on instagram or youtube and you’re likely to see a reference to RPE or the ubiquitous @ syntax. RPE is the one tool which enables an autoregulatory overlay onto most powerlifting programs. This in and of itself is extremely useful. I think one of its biggest advantages over percentages, though, is its ability to abstract intensity.

When we talk about RPE in the sense of intensity and more specifically prescribe an RPE it’s important to note that you can’t separate RPE from a rep range. Without specified reps, RPE is just a scale. However, together RPE and reps correlate with an intensity. And like all good abstractions it removes the necessity for a certain foreknowledge and/or assumptions.

One of my favorite examples of the utility of the RPE abstraction is when prescribing intensity for new exercises. You’ll often run into lifters on forums or reddit commenting on an article about an exercise variation. One of the first questions they ask is naturally, “how heavy should I go?” Normally they’re answered by some sort of experienced lifter who’ll give an off-the-cuff percentage, “take 20% off your 1RM Squat and start there.” This is certainly a noble attempt by the experienced lifter but prescribing a percentage requires certain assumptions to be fulfilled:

  • The trainee has tested their 1RM at some point in their training career
  • The trainee has tested their 1RM somewhat recently
  • That the prescribed percentage will be appropriate for this trainee

RPE separates the notion of intensity from its underlying implementation. It allows you to prescribe an intensity without knowing a lot about the individual. So rather than say, “Do sets of 5 at 80%” you can say “work up and do sets of 5 across @7.” By using RPE you don’t need to take into account the trainees current level of experience, their 1RM or even their level of fatigue on the given day. The only thing they require is a half-decent ability to estimate RPE¹.

Notes:

  1. I realize that this might not always be realistic

Autoregulating the Texas Method Part 1: The Basics

This is the first article in a series on Autoregulating the Texas Method.
Click Here for Part 2: Fatigue Management
Click Here for Part 3: Template and Exercise Selection
Click Here for Part 4: Periodization and Final Thoughts

The Texas Method is a popular program for intermediate trainees. The typical setup involves a 5×5 volume day on monday and a heavy set of 5 on Friday. There are a multitude of modifications that can and are made to this program. Many are detailed in Justin Lascek’s ebooks as well as the latest edition of Practical Programming by Mark Rippetoe and Andy Baker. There isn’t much, however, on how to adapt this program for autoregulation. While I’ve written about this in the past I thought I’d give my current thoughts on how to approach this.

Why Autoregulate?

Autoregulation adapts the programming based on the level of fatigue (among other factors) the lifter has on a given day. One of the biggest difficulties in utilizing the TM, in my opinion, is how to progress the volume day. Many lifters develop a natural sense of when to increase the volume vs the intensity weight. Others find it more difficult to know when to change it.

Using autoregulation, specifically the RTS-style developed by Mike Tuchscherer, we can adapt the Texas Method and listen to our body systematically rather than increasing based on rules of thumb.

Example Template

Monday

Squat w/ Belt x5 @8, repeat 4-6%
Bench (touch and go) x5 @8, repeat 4-6%
2″ Deficit Deadlifts x5 @8, repeat 4-6%

Wednesday

2ct Pause Squat x4 @9 4-6%
2ct Pause Bench x4 @9 4-6%

Friday

Squat w/ Belt x3 @7 x3 @8 x3 @9 4-6%
Competition Bench x3 @7 x3 @8 x3 @9 4-6%
Deadlift w/ Belt x3 @7 x3 @8 x3 @9 4-6%

Commentary

For those unfamiliar with notation and terminology used above I would recommend you check out the resources on the Reactive Training Systems website. On Monday we’re using repeats to get some volume at lower intensity. This will be similar to the training effect already utilized by the Texas Method. I utilized 4-6% fatigue (Medium) as a baseline but it’s conceivable that some weeks you should push the repeat set up to a 10. For those unadapted to deadlifting multiple times per week you could start out with working up to a topset @9 with no dropset or you could sub in some kind of row.

Wednesday involves some pause work although there’s no reason you couldn’t include other variations. Friday has you work up in triples with the intent of doing a pyramid of @7, @8, and @9. Those first two sets will tell you whether you should go for a PR or not. You should err on this side of going for that PR. However, if the first two sets are more like @8 and @9 you should stop there.

Who would benefit from this?

The limitation of this program is obviously it was developed for a generic lifter. It will need to be customized for each individuals scenario. Conceivably, someone who is already using the TM with success and wants to begin autoregulating their training could use something like this to do so.

Disclaimer

I have not tested this variant on anyone. It is my personal opinion on how to work autoregulation into the TM. If you wish to try it I’d be happy to hear from you. If you would like to discuss how you might adapt this to your current state of development I’d be happy to discuss it with you.

The Difference Between Linear Progression and Linear Periodization

There seems to be some confusion when it comes to the difference between linear progression and linear periodization. Perhaps this is me just being pedantic but this is how I see the two:

Linear progression refers to the routine adding of weight to the bar on some sort of repeating interval (daily, weekly, monthly). This happens a lot in beginner programs like starting strength, 5×5, etc.

Linear Periodization is a planned linear inverse relationship between volume and intensity. For instance, at the beginning of a macrocycle you start out doing sets of 8 and near the end you’re doing singles. The weight has gone up and the volume has gone down.

Clearly these two concepts are not mutually exclusive. With linear periodization you will probably have some sort of linear progression. Intensity is going to go up ergo weight goes on the bar. However, linear progression does not imply linear periodization. If you linearly progress a 5×5 program you’re adding weight to a topset or sets across, therefore intensity AND volume are increasing.

My next meet

I’ve decided that my next meet will be the USAPL California State Meet usually held the weekend of President’s Day in February. This roughly puts me 17 weeks from the meet.

Why USAPL?

I’ve decided that I want to focus on competing in the USAPL for the foreseeable future. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Many of the top lifters that I respect compete in this federation
  2. It’s drug tested. I have nothing against PEDs I just currently don’t want to use them and don’t want to compete against those that use them.
  3. It’s known for being strict and I’d like to have my lifts held to a high standard
  4. It’s raw, therefore the meet will go faster… right? …maybe?

Considerations for meet prep

I’ve been digging into more Reactive Training Systems and have come up with a pretty simple program from the material in Mike’s Total Game Plan Strength Summit DVD (highly recommended). I feel like I’ve been program hopping a bit lately and I really need to just buckle down and follow something for an extended period of time. My biggest concern going into meet prep is another China trip. I’m not sure yet how long it will take me to get back to my previous strength levels but so far I’ve taken a pretty big hit from no serious training for three weeks. If another China trip comes, say maybe in January 2014 I’ll probably be royally fucked. Maybe. My plan is to use the rest of the year to get as strong as possible. That way my baseline will at least be a little higher than it is now.

Texas Method + RTS: An Experiment

What’s next?

Since I’ve hit the end of my little Sheiko stint I’ve started to wonder what’s next. I haven’t done a ton of programs but I do know that the Texas Method worked real well for me in the past. The biggest problem I encountered with it was there wasn’t any autoregulation going on. Mondays were “beat down your body” and Fridays were “PR at all costs”. Autoregulation requires you to “listen to your body”. Problem is I’m still a relative newb and it’s hard to do that.

Enter the Reactive Training Systems

I’ve been following Mike Tuchscherer over at Reactive Training Systems for a while now and have come to respect him and his approach to training. He uses RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) as a way to subjectively decide a lifts relative difficulty. Using this scale from 1-10 you can adapt the weight on the bar to your current level of fatigue and ability. Mike describes RTS as the scope which can fit on most rifles (programs). This got me thinking: if I can adapt RTS to the Texas Method maybe I can better autoregulate my volume.

The Template

Volume Recovery Intensity
5s or triples @ 8-9 5s @ 7-8 (Front Squats: triples @ 8-9) 5s, triples, doubles, singles, 5, 3, 2, 1 @ 9-10

Volume day is the most important in terms of autoregulation. What this means is that I will work up to a weight with 5s or triples such that at the end of the set it feels like I have 2 to 3 more reps left (RPE of 8). Once I hit this weight I will continue to do 5s or triples until at the end of the set I feel like I have only 1 rep left in the tank (RPE of 9). This should autoregulate the volume and keep it in check such that I don’t over do it on Volume Days.

Intensity day will be largely the same. I will try to push the weight up each week. What will change, however, is how many reps I do based on the RPE. If I hit three reps @ 9 I’ll do another. Or if I only hit 2 @ 10 I’ll stop.

This is the basic template of my experiment. This is all subject to change based on my findings. Stay tuned for updates!

Thoughts on the Texas Method Split Template

My old routine that I was on since the end of my Starting Strength days, continued into Texas Method, was laid out thusly:

Monday: Volume Squats, Volume Bench/Press
Tuesday: Accessory Day, RDLs, Chin-ups
Wednesday: Light Squat, Medium Press/Light Bench, curls etc.
Friday: Intensity Squats, Intensity Bench/Press, Deadlifts

I’ve now spent two weeks on a Texas Method Split Template. If you’re not familiar with the Split template you can read more about it in the Texas Method: Advanced by Justin Lascek (buy HERE, highly recommended). It looks like this:

Monday: Upper Volume, Bench/Press, accessory work
Tuesday: Lower Volume, Squat, accessory work

Thursday: Upper Intensity: Bench/Press
Friday: Lower Intensity, Squat and Deadlift

My program based on this template has looked like this:

Monday: Press 3×5, Bench 3×5, Pendlay Row 3×8
Tuesday: Back Squat 3×5, Front Squat 3×3, RDL 3×5

Thursday: Press 1×3, Bench 1×3, Curlz etc.
Friday: Back Squat 1×3, Deadlift 1×3

A few notes on my program: I’m currently attempting to increase both Press and Bench each week. This is an experiment of mine and is not really something Justin recommends for everyone. I also added Front Squats on Monday because I have a theory that I’m quad weak.

I’m really enjoying the Split template. It allows me to get in and out of the gym in an hour to an hour and a half (coupled with the decrease in volume) vs the old routine. The volume is the most time intensive part of the Texas Method and splitting this up between days really decreases the amount of gym time required.

Another aspect of the split routine is that it allows for more accessory work. After volume work is completed on monday and tuesday there’s room for several more exercises which I’ve filled with Front Squats, Pendlay Rows, and RDLs. The Accessory day in the old Template was setup to accommodate these kinds of exercises. The problem I had with it was that I was less motivated to drag my ass into the gym on Tuesdays since I wasn’t directly contributing to progress on the big lifts. Now everyday is either Volume/Intensity for a lift so I have no issues getting in to work.

The only disadvantage I can see to running this template is that you have less wiggle room as far as recovery is concerned. On the old template you had 3 days to recover from Volume day (includes the light day). Now on the Split template you only have 2. So if you have one night of really bad sleep/day of crappy eating it can have a bigger effect on the week’s progress vs when you might have had one extra day to fix things (See the update below for a clarification).

To review:

Pros:

– Less time spent at the gym
– More time for accessory work
– More motivating since every day contributes to a lift’s progress

Cons:

– Less time to recover (if you train on Friday instead of Saturday)

I’ll be staying on the split template for the foreseeable future.

Update:

Regarding the only disadvantage being recovery time, Justin chimed in,

Hey dude,

Note that Chris/Mike routinely do their Intensity Squat/DL day on Saturday. so they train Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. This gives them the extra day of rest (and the same as the old template).

–Justin

I personally can’t train on Saturday’s since I lift at work and getting a membership at a second gym on Saturday’s would be too expensive. But if you can, absolutely do this.