Following in Jim Wendler’s footsteps, I’ve taken my immensely popular (in my mind) strength training program, UL83, and updated it specifically for Powerlifting. If you’ve read the program, you know I stated that “This is not a program designed for a sport of any particular stripe, nor to make you more athletic or more intelligent, but rather something to get you as strong and muscular as you can get.” Since I am personally interested in competing this year–I saw an October meet that might work–I felt like I couldn’t continue using the basic UL83 even though it’s my favorite way to train. Suddenly, like a bolt of inspirational lightning, I realized how I could absolutely still use UL83 with a minor tweak for Powerlifting.
Powerlifting at its core is about one rep max efforts in the three lifts. At a certain percentage of one’s maximum, the lifts just become different. Your body perceives the effort as a threat, which causes a cascade of physiological reactions designed to keep you from dying. Your muscular system is taxed to its limit as is your nervous system and if you want to perform at that level of stress, you’ve got to train for it. There’s just no way around it. Doing sets of 8 or even sets of 3, without ever pushing beyond a triple at a 9.5 RPE (or 2.5 under my own rebellious numerical scale) is just not the best way to prepare for an all out effort. So a Powerlifting program must, on occasion, push beyond those limits and hit some heavy doubles and heavy singles. And I don’t care what anyone says, you must train the actual Powerlifts at those levels of effort to get better at doing them. Sure, the other lifts in the UL83 will help build strength in the weakest points of the lift, and build muscle overall which is a key to continuing to get stronger, but no amount of stiff-legged deadlifts or front squats, or sumo pulls off blocks is going to drive a one-rep max on the competition squat the way doing the actual competition squat will.
With the case being made that UL83 must incorporate the specific competition lifts in a more carefully orchestrated manner than just choosing them as one of your Upper or Lower lifts when you feel like it, the key question is how to do that. I spend more time thinking of how to optimize the actual training schedule or parameters than anything else. What I’ve decided to try is to ensure I hit each competition lift once a week (nothing earth-shattering there), working up to a top triple, double or single depending on how I feel that day, doing some back off sets after the top set, and then proceeding with the UL83 as per usual. So if you’re training 6 days or even 7 in a given week because you can, you’ll have at least 3 training sessions where you won’t do the competition lifts. Those days will be UL83 days as originally designed. For example, let’s say I begin tomorrow, which I actually will:
Wednesday: Upper day.
I’ll start with the competition bench. That means widest legal grip, paused, practicing the judge’s command calls in my mind. 1) Bench, 2) Press, 3) Rack.
I’ll pick my rep scheme for the day, which tomorrow will probably be singles, and keep going until I hit a heavy single where any heavier would be in doubt. I will then take some percentage off based on how I’m feeling and do more singles until that weight also reaches that level of fatigue, i.e. another rep would be in doubt.
Now I will resume UL83 and pick two Upper lifts and train them in the designated UL83 method.
You will probably have a little less gas in the tank for the rest of the session after doing the heavy paused bench, but that’s okay. Your body will be your guide as to how much you can do in a given day.
Thursday, I will likely do the Competition Deadlift, which I’ve decided will be Conventional with Belt vs. Sumo. After deadlifting, I will resume with Lower body movements.
Friday, since I’ve already done the Competition Bench for the week, I just pick two Upper body lifts from UL83 and perform them as per the program.
Saturday, it’s Competition Squat, which for me is Low Bar, with Belt and Knee Sleeves. When completed, doing either the Singles, Doubles or Triples rep scheme, resume UL83 Lower.
I’ll update the blog with the results of my experimental changes to the original UL83 as we go. Lift Strong.