By Bob Wanamaker
Not only do we have to consider intensity in developing a program, but we have to consider volume as well. While the two are interrelated in getting from Point A to Point B, a good way to look at it is that intensity determines the training effect, and volume determines the magnitude of that training effect. So, as a coach, I prescribe less reps per set with more intensity to develop strength in an athlete, and more reps per set with less intensity to develop (say) hypertrophy.
This important to note: for intermediate and advanced athletes, the rep range is always prescribed by programming, when the coach develops the training cycle. Different rep ranges target different systems; doing an all out set of 3 reps is not the same as doing an all out set of 10 reps.
This approach differs greatly from a well-known 5×5 program, used by many beginners. In this program, which will remain unnamed, the lifter is supposed to do five sets of five reps with a target weight that increases each week. Typically, there will come a time when the lifter can do the first set or two quite easily, but has trouble after that. S/he might hit the third set, and gets four reps, the fourth set two or three reps, the fifth set two or three reps. Read more…
By Bob Wanamaker
Quick review: autoregulation is a strategy to control the intensity and volume of training so as to maximize training effect while accounting for changes in the individual. Changes which impact training can include stress, illness, and injury. Of note is that “stress is stress.” Whether stress originates from training volume, from relationship problems, from money problems – there’s only one mechanism in the body for coping. So if that mechanism is busy coping with external stressors, the last thing we want to do increase stress from training.
A tactic that can be employed is RPE. RPE quite intuitively provides a means to regulate intensity on-the-fly: the basic concept employed is that of “difficulty in moving the weight.” As the athlete adds weight to the bar for the back squat, the move becomes progressively more difficult, and the athlete works with more intensity, up to maximum possible intensity: the one-rep max (1RM). Intensity determines training effect.
So why not just use the 1RM, and Prilepin’s table, and develop training blocks based on that?
Pendulums swing to and fro. That’s what pendulums do. I see another pendulum swinging lately and this one has to do with exercise specificity. Not long ago, the pendulum was as far away from specificity as it gets. Lots of lifters and popular writers talked about what assistance exercises drove their lifts the most. In powerlifting, you had guys who never actually trained the contest lifts, yet did all manner of other lifts with varying degrees of non-specificity. I’ll admit that at one time I bought into this, but I’m happy to say I was impressionable at the time and have since grown out of it.
Contrast that with what we see growing in popularity over the last couple of years. There has been a resurgent popularity in the SAID principle (specific adaptation to imposed demands). By in large I would say this is a very good thing, but like all things it can be taken too far. Some lifters are even ahead of this current trend and train only in hyper-specific ways (for example, ONLY perform their contest lifts and perform them using extreme loads at all times). The pendulum is swinging in this direction more, so I expect this to grow even more in popularity before it stops.
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.
Writing can be a difficult process, even for those without literacy issues! I know at least for me, I have all these ideas in my head and they all interrelate to one another. Writing is a process where I attempt to take those ideas, untangle them, and put them in a logical, readable form that makes an impact on the way people train or live. Because of the interrelatedness of different concepts – the sheer organic nature of athletic training – I often feel like I fall short in terms of getting my points across. That’s not a que for you to pity me – that gets us nowhere. It just means I continually try to improve what I write about.
Take for example the RPE Chart. In my book, The Reactive Training Manual, I discuss what the RPE chart is and how you use it. I also say that it is best if you customize the given RPE chart to fit yourself as an athlete. But that’s all I say. I don’t tell you how to go about that or anything. And as a result, I get the impression that very few people do any customizing to their RPE chart at all.
So what is a process-oriented guy like me to do about it? How about design a process that helps people fix this problem?
IPF Masters World Champion and world record holder in the 83kg class (50 years old). Then comes back to set a PR in every lift and improve his total by 40kg at Raw Nationals a couple months later. What’s his secret?
When Laddie came to work with us at RTS back in February of 2015, he already had an extensive training history (since 1987). You can find out more about Laddie and his twin brother Troy – who is also a Masters World Champ and world record holder – on our Podcast. So our job at this point in Laddie’s career is to hone and peak rather than teach and develop. So with that unique position in mind, let’s discuss how we adapted Laddie’s training.
We used a similar training strategy for Laddie both in prep for his world-record-setting performance in Finland, and then again to exceed those marks a few months later at Raw Nationals. In June, his lifts were 220/170/245/635 (kilos of course). By October, he had improved beyond those marks to 230/180/265/675. That’s a 40kg (88 pounds) improvement on his (already world record) total in just over 3 months.
In the beginning of working with Laddie, we were simply looking to get established on a productive training regimen, so we opted for a 3-day-per-week training template. My thinking was that this provides a good starting point so we can avoid any potential recovery issues. If Laddie was recovering easily, we could just turn up the frequency. However if we started too high, there would be more steps in getting training stress back under control. When he responded quite well to this level of frequency, we kept it. This leaves another tool in our toolbox for later as well.
The driving force behind all of his strength development would be training of the competition lifts. The competition style squat, bench, and deadlift would be trained at least once per week, with more work targeting assistance and supplemental movements. Intensities for the contest lifts were kept fairly high. In the beginning of a training cycle, they would start about 80% and then gradually increase in waves up to 92-95%. The overall pattern of intensity was linear, but it came and went in waves.
All of Laddie’s training was done using an RPE system to auto-regulate the weight on the bar. This way, on good days he could use heavier weights. On bad days, he could reduce the weight to an appropriate level. His main lifts were trained by working up to an 8 RPE and repeating this load for multiple additional sets. The volumes I required from him were quite brutal, but recovery was managed via auto-regulation as well as the 3x frequency template (more on recovery later).
Laddie’s assistance work targeted the bottom of the squat and the bench – typical problem areas for raw powerlifters. We did very little assistance work for Laddie’s deadlift, which had a propensity to beat up his hips. For the squat, this meant lots of 2ct Pause Squats and Pin Squats. Laddie loved the pause squats saying, “I had never really done Pause Squats consistently. Pause Squats played a big role.” Well, maybe “loved” is the wrong word, but he definitely felt they made a big impact on his squatting performance. Squats with chains were done toward the end of his training cycles. For the bench, we used various pause lengths as well as pin pressing, touch-and-go benching, feet up bench, close grip benching, etc. Again, intensities stayed fairly high – there was less 80% stuff than for the main lift, but less 90%+ work too. RPE’s were again around 8 with lots of volume.
Supplemental movements were rotated and varied a lot more than other slots. For the lower body, lunges, SSB Squats, Good Mornings, more pause squats, and 303 Tempo squats were all included at various times for various periods. For the deadlift, lots of rows and some Stiff Leg Deadlifts were the bulk of the movement selections. When it came to benching it was Dips, DB Bench, and lots of close grip partial pressing (such as pin press and board press) to develop triceps strength. All movements were rotated regularly, but when trained, were done at a fairly high intensity (say 80% +/- 5%). RPE’s for these movements were typically higher (9 RPE) and volume was lower.
As we came into each peaking phase, the general intensity of all the work would rise just as you’d expect it to. But then we would also begin incorporating heavy-ish singles into his training. Some weeks it would be just x1 @8. Other weeks it would be x1 @8 and x1 @9. They were always followed by down sets afterward. This was done to provide a highly specific stimulus as we approached competition. It also helped Laddie hone his competition skills, practice commands, and in general focus on the coming contest.
When it comes to recovery, the volumes were managed in such a way that recovery was possible on most training weeks. But other weeks would be “high stress” weeks where we would intentionally do more volume than Laddie was able to tolerate. To balance this out, we planned deload weeks after every 3-4 week long training block. Laddie’s deadlift in particular seemed sensitive to this and needed some deloading. He is a sumo deadlifter, so all the volume that I required on the deadlift pushed his hips and adductors to the limit. As such, every three weeks or so, Laddie would skip sumo deadlifts, usually replacing them with conventional deadlifts. This allowed him to continue getting in some pulling practice without continuing to tax his hips and adductors.
Particularly when training for Raw Nationals, Laddie credits lots of his improved health and recovery to his daily stretching regimen. Every day (sometimes twice a day) he would stretch whatever seemed tight and sore for 15-30 minutes. Most times his focus seemed to be on the upper body – particularly chest and shoulders. Laddie told me, “This was the first time I was able to bench press with no shoulder pain at all. [Stretching] helped me with both [recovery and avoiding injuries]. This was the first time I had no major injuries.” This is huge – especially for a masters lifter!
As was mentioned earlier, the result of all this work that Laddie put in was a world-record setting performance at IPF Classic Worlds in Finland. Then only a few months later, he exceeded all of those marks by 40kg total at USAPL Raw Nationals in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
After Nationals, we’ve changed up Laddie’s training quite extensively in an effort to keep him healthy and strong. This short restoration phase will be followed up by more loading phases, but the strategy is ever-adapting. Future cycles should allow for better recovery and improved stress management so Laddie can continue to set World Records for years to come. Just like with all our lifters – Laddie’s training has been unique. The general principles are constant, but how they take shape into a training program is not.
|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.
For as long as I’ve been lifting weights (and probably a lot longer than that), “Long Term Planning” has been eschewed and neglected by powerlifters – especially the typical non-professional-coach type, but even by some prominent professional coaches. The thing is successful coaches see the benefits (and also the limitations) of long term planning, so they put it in its proper place – much to the benefit of their athletes.
I make it no secret that I greatly respect Norwegian Powerlifting coach Dietmar Wolf. In 2013, his most prominent lifter, Carl Yngvar Christiansen (CYC for short), placed 2nd at the IPF World Championships – only 12kg behind the winner. Now, by all accounts this is a fantastic performance, but some of CYC’s lifts looked quite easy. After the meet, there was quite a bit of discussion about, “why didn’t he go for it?” Someone had heard that CYC had a minor injury and the Norwegian coaches wanted to play it safe. Still some of my friends questioned the call saying, “When you’re there, you’ve gotta take the shot!”
The thing is I see where they are coming from, but I also know Dietmar Wolf a little bit having spoken with him on several occasions. I know that he likes to consider the long term view of things. His goal is to take the athlete to their genetic potential, which is a 10+ year vision, not a 10 minute vision. Lo and behold, after playing it safe at the 2013 championship (and avoiding injury), CYC came back in 2014 to crush the competition by 200kg, set a World Record Squat and Total, and also hit the highest Wilks of any lifter in the IPF. Score one for long term vision. Read more…
I get lots of people coming on the site asking for a program check. Actually thoroughly checking a program is an involved process and it usually requires more information than the poster supplies. What’s more, it turns out that “is this a good program” is actually a bad question. Yes, there’s science and some hard rules when it comes to planning training. But there’s also a lot of art to it. So posting a program and asking if it’s good is kind of like posting a picture of a painting and asking for a critique. You can critique some stuff, but how you paint isn’t going to be the same way I paint. Read more…
Have you ever noticed that most of the top level lifters have the ability to grind out heavy weights? Of course that’s not universally true, but most of them can really struggle through a lift and still come out on top. However, there are lots of other lifters who can’t grind to save their life. For these folks, when the weight hits the sticking point, it’s not only like hitting a brick wall – it’s like bouncing off of it. They hit the sticking point and immediately fail the lift. Now if you read the title of this article, it will come as no surprise to you that the ability to grind is something we can develop in ourselves and our training partners. Read more…
When an athlete approaches me for coaching, I have a big task on my hands. There is a lot of information I have to gather about them so I can write the most effective training programs possible. For each athlete, there are many small details that affect the way they will respond to training and my job as a coach is to find out what those details are and address them in training.
Since I conduct the majority of my coaching via email, I have developed some specialized questionnaires to help me extract these details about each new athlete. I then pair that with the general knowledge base I have built and the results speak for themselves.
But how can you as a powerlifter do this for yourself? How do you get a training program tuned in to your body’s unique responses? Fortunately for you, you have much of the information you need already. Many lifters who are in the intermediate and above stages of powerlifting will already know many nuances of how they respond to training as well as the fundamentals of how a powerlifting training program should work; things like having adequate recovery, training with low reps, etc. Read more…