A friend of mine used to tell me “health is cumulative.” What he meant was that you could think of your health like a bank account of sorts. Doing certain things added to your overall state of health. Other things subtracted from it. And if you work yourself into a hole, you’ve got to work yourself out of it again.
The same concept applies in the strength world. There are some things that you need to do to stay injury-free. You can neglect them for a while, but the longer you do, the more risk you take. Often, this comes in the form of neglected muscle groups, but can also include other aspects of overall fitness (flexibility / mobility, energy systems, etc).
Recently I was having a conversation about this with another coach. We were both remarking that high-specificity training (even extremely high specificity) undeniably gets good results in the short-to-mid term. But left unchecked for longer periods of time, lifters get injured. We know that a major key to long term progress is avoiding injury. So this very-high-specificity training cannot be a long term solution to your progress.
What we’ve done in the name of reducing overall injuries is to include a block of training focused on addressing those aspects of fitness that are often neglected in our pursuit of the total. It’s placed away from main competitions, obviously. The intent is to make some deposits to your “health” account so you can get through more specific blocks of training unscathed.
Normal powerlifting training is focused on the squat, bench, and deadlift. In terms of biomechanics, this includes knee extension, hip extension, spinal extension (isometric usually), shoulder flexion, transverse flexion, internal rotation, and elbow extension. There are others, but these are the major actions. So our goal is to include movements that are not normally trained: knee flexion, hip flexion, spinal anti-extension, spinal rotation, the many untrained articulations of the shoulder, and elbow flexion.
The form this could take is relatively simple. Knee flexion can be trained via leg curls or GHR. Hip flexion and spinal anti-extension are fundamentally ab and core exercises. Spinal rotation can take the form of landmines or other rotating ab movements. Most if not all of the neglected shoulder articulations can be trained using a wide variety of rows and pull downs. Elbow flexion too will be trained with rows and pull downs. Okay, throw some curls in there too.
During this stage of training, you’ll want to reduce the volume of work targeting your main powerlifting movements. You need to get the time to do all this from somewhere and it will be good for you to give those movement patterns a break. Even just 2-3 weeks will be helpful with 3-4 weeks after each major contest recommended (i.e. ~2 times per year). Of course for some items, this “Restoration” phase is not the only time they are included in your training (abs and rows come to mind). But for others it may be. In either case, the idea is to provide a concentrated block of training where injuries can heal and health can be built and bankrolled for later.
Why opt for the block approach? I’m well aware that many powerlifting programs attempt to include all of these patterns in all stages of training. I don’t opt for that approach. We like to include blocks of training concentrated on the competitive lifts so that we can drive them to new levels. So to do that, we must prepare in advance. Doing this takes discipline. If you don’t have the programming skill or discipline to carry out this phased approach, then the all-in-one approach makes sense for you. However, our current thought is that the block approach will let you take advantage of timing and sensitivities in the body so that you can build your total higher than you could with the concurrent approach.
Just training the powerlifts is not a complete program. I used to think it was viable, but not optimal. Now I think it’s a short-term-gain, long-term-loss. And it’s not just the assistance exercises and varied rep schemes that matter. It’s the other non-specific and neglected movement patterns that, if they contribute nothing else, can help reduce your overall chance of injury. And if they do that, then they are contributing a great deal.
|About the Author
Mike Tuchscherer is the owner and head coach at RTS. He has been powerlifting since 2001 and since has traveled all over the world for competitions. In 2009, he was the first man from USA powerlifting to win a gold medal at the World Games – the highest possible achievement in powerlifting. He has coached over a dozen competitors at the world championships, a score of national champions, and multiple world record holders.