It feels good to strip away all of the biased notions inherited from the various personalities I’ve attempted to learn from over the years since my entry into the world of barbell strength training, and reboot from the ground up. I’m training specifically for a sport it’s true, but I’ve gone to square one and started with a fairly basic system of strength training, albeit tailored for Powerlifting, and will run it out until it fails to deliver performance improvements.
I’m focused specifically on the competition lifts, executed for the most part, in competition form. I’m using the accepted consensus for increasing strength and manipulating volume, intensity and frequency as needed to do the one thing required to make progress: disrupt homeostasis. In order to adapt to training and improve on what one is capable of doing today, one must apply a stress to the system which will force the system to adapt to the stress it has encountered, steeling itself against future bouts with that stress. The easiest way to do that is to increase the weight against which one is asking the body’s musculoskeletal system to move.
Rather than use a complex system of exercise variations, and periodized methods of volume and intensity fluctuations, I am sticking to the simplest, most direct way of applying new stress, which is moving more weight. I dreaded this seeming retreat from more advanced methodologies but now that I’m in it, I am enjoying it more than I thought I would. There’s actually something invigorating about doing the lifts I will be judged in, doing them often, and doing them with heavier loads than I did before. Imagine how stoked one would be if every time we did a squat, or a bench press or a deadlift, we were able to lift more than the last time! So far, that’s exactly what is happening.
Granted, it’s hard to know for certain that my training session applied enough stress to force an adaptation. The only way to find out though is to try it and see what happens. If I squat 250 lbs for 5 today, then squat 255 lbs for 5 the next time I lift, which is around 48-72 hours later, and this trend continues, it would appear logically that improvements are taking place; that adaptation is occurring and strength is increasing. Whether this results in a higher single repetition maximal effort squat or not is the ultimate question, but it’s fairly easy to see that over time, if my regular increases continue, at some point I’ll be squatting more for 5 reps than I ever had before, which at least in theory, means I can squat more for 4, 3, 2 or 1 repetition than I ever had before.
I haven’t actually strayed that far from the concepts I outlined in my UL 83 post. I’m still using Linear Progression, RPE’s, Fatigue Percents, AMRAPs and the like. I still think UL 83 is a great way to organize generalized strength training, but it’s not specific to Powerlifting. What I’m doing now is.
Essentially, I Squat, Bench Press (in competition form, so each rep is paused at the chest) and Deadlift twice each week, increasing the weight (Linear Progression) each time I train. I do a lighter version of Squat and Bench Press (2-count Paused for both) in between the two main sessions, and I also do something interesting that I’ve never tried before. Much is written about General Physical Preparedness, which is basically doing physical things to improve overall physical systems for doing any type of athletic event. They don’t have to be specific to any sport, and I’m doing it by focusing a little time and energy on muscle groups that don’t get a lot of attention from the Powerlifts, along with some Conditioning work for the cardiorespiratory system and a bit of mobility work to keep the twists and knots at bay. The twist to my GPP work is to use a time limit for how much I do, vs. using a progression scheme or percentage based system, etc. In other words, I will do some type of rowing movement, say cable rows or chest-supported rows, for time. I get as many reps as I can in the time limit, resting as much as I want or need, and just work the muscles well before moving on to do the same for abs and even biceps. Yes, I’ve been doing direct bicep work again to help keep my elbows happy.
To keep progressing with this basic system as long as I possibly can, my increases in weight are as small as I can make them, but they are based on how many reps I get in my first set. If I can get a lot of reps, the next weight increase will be larger. As the weight goes up, the reps tend to come down and at some point, I won’t be able to get 3 reps with my working weight (this should sound familiar to anyone who read UL 83). At this point, I will have to make some changes as the basic linear system is becoming more challenging in disrupting homeostasis. Nothing special about the number 3, it’s just a good number of reps that translates fairly well to improved 1Rep Max performance. But if I can’t muster more than 3 reps with a given weight, adding more weight may move us toward the risk vs. reward stage of intensity. Lifting near maximal weights repeatedly increases the risk of injury while becoming more and more difficult to disrupt homeostasis. A better way would be to add more sets, but the issue there becomes the total amount of work required in one session to disrupt homeostasis becomes challenging to complete, and the stress is more one of muscular fatigue than necessarily increasing one’s ability to move more weight. At this stage is when more advanced systems of training are required to keep the ball moving forward. I’m not there yet, so I’m not going to worry too much about it, but I have peeked a bit into the future just to have something to think about.
By the way, I’m no expert, and certainly not a coach or even a credible source of information. If you want to get some good information to teach yourself these concepts, I suggest starting with Practical Programming for Strength Training, 3rd Edition. I had the Second Edition on my bookshelf for years, perhaps thinking I’d learn something through osmosis. I finally cracked it open and it’s loaded with goodness. The 3rd Edition is much better with more expansive writing on programming and different ways of setting up training once the initial easy gains stop coming. I highly suggest it. $10 on Kindle is a much better investment than spending $20, $25 or even $40 for some powerlifter’s program that is probably too advanced for you and doesn’t have enough information about the underlying principles of why something works or doesn’t work. In my professional career, I’ve always taught my folks that they must learn why we do what we do so that they can make better decisions and not have to run to their manager every time a new scenario arises. I believe that applies to most things in life, including strength training.