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Episode 8 - Mental Health and Training

Episode 8 - Mental Health and Training

A more serious chat. Anxiety, depression, how motivation dips in general tasks in life and how supporting someone with this mindset effects you. How training can help you overcome mental obstacles and how to set some positive habits in order to progress from a damaging state of mind to a pro-active state of mind.

Less about happiness and more about contentment.

TED talk from Andrew Solomon I mentioned is here: https://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_solomon_depression_the_secret_we_share

Episode 7 - Training with Limited Time

Episode 7 - Training with Limited Time

In this episode we discuss training with limited time, from short sessions to being on holidays.

Covered:

-Intra session time limits (maybe you only have 30 min to train)

-Frequency training restrictions (how many times can you train per week/month)

-Set and rest period restrictions

Episode 6 - Overcoming Sticking Points in the Deadlift

Episode 6 - Overcoming Sticking Points in the Deadlift

Things covered:

-Building specific qualities in the deadlift

-Why would you get stuck?

-It’s not always starting position but a lot of the time it is

-Deadlifting with a round back

-Common misconceptions about rack pulls

Barbell Samurai Podcast Episode 5

Barbell Samurai Podcast Episode 5

On this episode we continue the conversation on sticking points, this time tackling the bench press. We cover how to assess whether it's a technical issue or a strength issue.

We cover some common sticking points such as:

  • Off the chest

  • Mid point through the lift (transition point)

  • Lockout

Want to increase your bench press? Read our articles on Maximum Bench in the blog section!

Barbell Samurai EP004 - Solving sticking Points in the squat

Barbell Samurai EP004 - Solving sticking Points in the squat

A brief chat on the sticking points in the squat.

Broken down as:

-Neuromuscular (technical faults)

-Muscular Weakness (which can then cause technical faults)

-How both interact with one another and how you can go about fixing them by using various methods.

Maximum Bench - The Sequel

What are you getting yourself into?

2427 Words - Average read time of 18 Minutes and a whole lot of awesome

 

I am back on the blog train after a break and content will be coming out again more regularly. The long absence was a combination of personal and professional but I won’t bore you with details - Instead we are going to dive right into the second part of the maximum bench series! So sit back, dig in and pick up some tips on how to improve your bench for your next training cycle.

Maybe people should stop trying to do yoga back bends so you can arch more on your bench and focus on the most important thing; getting stronger at benching.
— Coach Steve

 

The Need for Speed

 

Years ago if you would have asked me about perfect reps I would have told you they are a unicorn - you needed to strain and break down before you progressed if you wanted to get stronger. That statement holds partially true to me now; I would certainly agree that if the reps look effortless and feel effortless then the weight is likely too light to be beneficial - however if you keep position but slow down or hit a slight sticking point then that is a beneficial set. Envision a fast rep compared to one that starts slowing down around the sticking point - the kind of rep that feels slower than it looks, you know the one. No grinding, no painful slow ugly movementbut it slows just a little. Right about then is the point you should rack the weight and call the set. Risk of injury goes down and the reps are kept relatively smooth.

 

So what changed my mind? It was a few things rather than just one. A combination of having too many ugly reps in my repertoire and a reduction of speed in each of my sets over a short period of time took its toll over a training cycle. Grinding is a skill in itself but everything has a time and place and having enough mental toughness to finish a repetition under duress is less for every rep in a training cycle and more for a competition. There is such a thing as working too hard, too much and progressing very little because of it. What I learned from experience was the more I used slow grinding reps in my training the weaker I was getting even after my training cycle. The more I pushed, and kept persevering, the less progress I saw. I can be a stubborn guy, especially when it comes to work ethic. As a friend put it, you can work too hard on the wrong thing sometimes. Don’t misinterpret this as never having hard slow reps, because that’s not what I said. It’s about having too many  slow hard and sometimes ugly reps in a program that creates problems.

 

At the time I was running a few people through some experimental programs to find what worked and what didn’t. These individuals were intermediate lifters that had been lifting between 2-4 years. I ran two program designs; one with high volume (25-40 working sets per week), working up to a heavy triple 2x a week and I had another two that ran a low volume (8-12 sets a week total) 3x a week with low(60-65%)—high(90-95%)—moderately high(85%) intensity in that order.

 

I was pretty surprised that not only did the second group with a quarter of the volume do better, but they did so much better by hitting 10kg (110kg to 120kg) and 12.5kg (127.5kg to 140kg) personal records respectively. The other group both managed small increases of 2kg (100 to 102kg) and 1kg (130kg to 131kg). So what in the world was going on?

 

Some things I took away were:

  • Volume isn’t king for strength - in fact the amount of volume in the first group was stalling progress.
  • Drop in bar speed was the biggest indicator of strength increases; the faster the bar the better, with the final rep being the slowest. Preferably the final set.
  • Intensity needed to be high enough that it was diffcicult to perform the movement fast but light enough that it did move fast. There was a fine line where the Mass was large enough but the Acceleration was fast enough to produce the most amount of Force. (Force = Mass x Acceleration anyone?) 

 

Before you jump the gun and tell me I threw way too much volume at the first group for them to recover; the largest amount of volume was coming from back off sets and fatigue was managed adequately to ensure the quality of the next session was good (72 hours minimum between each session). At least that was what I thought at the time - realistically in hindsight the volume was too high for them to recover from regardless of the lighter loads. From a perspective of fatigue volume regardless of load is far more fatiguing than intensity from a performance and hypertrophy standpoint.

 

From a research standpoint it seems my observations on bar speed seemed accurate. Take a look at the infographic below.

Slow bar speed = NO GAINS

 

The faster the bar speed was in the concentric phase the better the outcome was on 1RM strength. This makes some sense as Force = Mass x Velocity. If the load is too light you wont produce enough force even though you move the bar quickly, and conversely if it is too heavy you cannot produce enough force as the speed drops too much. We only get stronger by increasing the amount of force we produce.

 

The main argument you hear from most bodybuilders is to build muscle you need TUT (Time under tension). In regards to strength that doesn’t seem to be the case as even though the “TUT” was 62% greater in the slow bar speed group, the strength improvement was only half that of the fast group. Less "TUT" more gains.

Velocity + intensity seem to be the new king and queen in town when it comes to strength on the bench

 

A few criticisms might be that the slow group weren't pushing as hard as they could and that a smith machine was used so it isn’t the right measure. So to dispel both of those claims here is another study that’s just as recent using a barbell bench press where one group was allowed to do as many sets as they liked and the other would stop when bar speed dropped below a certain threshold.

Not only did the fast group destroy the self-selected group in increases but the self-selected group made no progress at all! Not only that but look at the volume difference - 62-73% fewer repetitions were done by the fast group. Less work with more results; now that’s quality over quantity.

 

If you are still in doubt and think that volume is still king, take a look at the study below on the popular german volume training model.

 

Man was this thing all the rage in the 90s.

 

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. The dosage of volume does matter and there is a point of diminishing returns. Volume isn’t king; in fact it looks as though in some instances it is counterproductive to do more volume, not only in strength training but for the sake of size too. Most of the time when people are looking to increase any lift they encourage people to do more volume with more frequency. It seems we need to reconsider that sentiment and revisit some critical thinking. Velocity+intensity seem to be the new king and queen in town when it comes to strength on the bench at least.

 

Putting things into perspective and using this information in a practical sense is important if you want to benefit. Revisiting the Force = Mass x Acceleration model it is important to understand that there is a tightrope walk between the weight being too heavy that reps become too slow for there to be a transfer to a 1RM and the weight being too light and reps being too fast to generate enough force to cause adaption to transfer to a 1RM. So how can you hit that sweet spot? It’s a question I explore in a future article.

 

Big Arch - Little Bench

 

A contentious issue for many. Like sumo vs conventional deadlifts. This next section will likely come off more as a rant, but it’s an important one. Something I myself pointed out at the very beginning of this series is that the biggest bench pressers never had big arches; they had a small arch and used it primarily for stabilisation purposes, not so they could cut huge amounts of ROM out of their bench to artificially increase their strength. It was never about cheating a rep; it was always about getting stronger - a point I think is lost on most competitors today. Jennifer Thompson is such an incredible bench presser, the mind literally boggles and yet compared to a lot of her female competitors has one of the smallest arches, yet her bench is the biggest by far. Even Kimberly Walford who has extra long arms has a bench over 100kg and has practically no arch at all.

 

147.5kg Bench Press not even weighing in at 70kg

Long arms, close grip and still killing 102.5kg

Pat Casey; one of the all time greatest raw bench pressers

The shift in focus on the bench press the last five or so years has been moved away from upper  body development and more on leg drive, arching and getting tight to cut ROM. Personally I took this advice at first, and quickly saw my bench go up and then very promptly go back down. I actually got weaker after a small initial boost! From seeing others over-emphasise leg drive and arch I noticed most, if not all have weak benches - especially using a close grip or using a small arch. Men and women inclusive.

 

Strong individuals from the past taught me that they didn't give a damn about the arch or cutting range; in fact they abhorred it. Your legs were your stable base, your back was tight so you could stabilise the bar and reduce your chance of injury. You laid down, planted yourself, brought the bar down to your chest then pressed it up with all the ferocity you had.

Serious upper body development from Pat Casey. Tell me low reps don't get you big again.

Maybe people should stop trying to do yoga back bends so you can arch more on your bench (there are YouTube instructionals' on that shit) and focus on the most important thing; getting stronger at benching.

 

The Unsung Heroes of Bench Press

If you are still convinced arching as much as possible is not only important but necessary for a large bench press then let me direct you to some unknown (sadly) champions of the bench press. ParaOlympian bench pressers. These guys are absolute bench monsters with absolutely zero leg drive. They deserve an incredible amount of respect not just because they bench big, but because they do it with extreme technical scrutiny - the bench must be locked out evenly, no downward movement and a large pause are some of the big things.

 

Take Gabriel Magu Wanjiku for example. He weighed in at the Rio Olympic games 58.02kg and took gold with a ludicrous 200kg bench press. You didn’t misread that and I didn’t mis-type it. It wasn’t just a 200kg bench though; it was executed with a degree of mastery not found anywhere amongst some of the best IPF current bench press holders. Did I mention it is also 29kg above the current world record IPF bench press in the 59kg category, 11.5kg above the 66kg record and only 11kg and 8kg less than the 74kg and 83kg bench press world records. To put that in perspective Gabriel benches 8kg less than the able bodied Brett Gibbs who outweighs him by 24kg with stricter technical rules without the use of his legs.

 

Gabriels Bench opener and 200kg done with a close grip and a slow eccentric can be found below at 52 seconds.

 

The heaviest Paralympian Siamand Rahman bench pressing 305kg (30kg over the IPF world record and 25kg shy of the untested GPC world record) can be found below.

 

If you think these are isolated cases I challenge you to look up some of these bench press paraolympians. Male and female competitors are unbelievably strong and did I mention they have no leg drive or a large arch and the drug testing is just as severe as the IPF (GPC is untested).

IPF male bench world records for comparison (March, 2017)

So to recap - these ParaOlympians out-bench their able bodied counterparts. They have no leg drive, are strapped to a bench for good measure and have no arch. In addition, the rules they must adhere to in the bench press are much stricter than that of even the international IPF competitions by a LOT.

You can check the rule book here.

 

Maximising Your Leverages

 

Leverages can be a tricky thing. There is a lot that goes into the topic of biomechanics and can be a complicated subject. It would be a stretch to attempt to condense something so complicated into a single article. From a breif practical standpoint to help your bench improve I can give you this simple advice. Determine where your best point of leverage to train the bench press is by figuring out where you can lift the heaviest load with the fastest bar movement. I emphasise train because you may bench MAX with a wider grip but getting stronger in that position by training that grip doesn’t always work because the bar speed may typically be very slow. If the bar speed is high with heavy weight then you produce the largest amount of force in that position. Once you determine this you can work with that grip and its particular sticking point. Then you may if you so choose use the wider grip for max attempts in a training peak.

 

That being said, if you want a more complex way of determining your grip width you can head over to www.mybenchmechanics.com and type in your forearm, upper arm length, where you touch the bar on your chest and the width of your shoulders. All of these proportions will alter your bench pattern. In addition a larger arch will change the angle of the push and placement of the bar may also shift. It is quite a lot to take in. From a coaching perspective I tend to look at the individuals bottom position in the press. If the forearms are perpendicular to the floor then that is a good starting position to train their bench. Obviously this can and usually does evolve over time and the grip can be moved out or in to accomodate comfort, stability and power if necessary.

 

One of the big things that I haven’t seen mentioned very often is that the narrower you are built, the narrower your grip should probably be to push efficiently - regardless of height. The wider you are, the wider your grip needs to be. This is despite arm length! - look at Gabriel or Kim Walford. The reason for this is two fold - firstly, if you are narrow (shoulder to shoulder measured from the acromium process) then your hand spacing will likely have to be narrow to be able to produce the most amount of force from a stable base. However if you are broader, hand spacing will be wider so your hands don't interfere with your shoulders. This means spacing on the bar may appear narrow or wide but may actually be very similar across narrow and broad lifters. 

Here is a comparison between Gabriel (59kg) and Siamand (107kg+).

Broad shoulders compared to narrow shoulders

 

Size does in fact matter. As the width of the person determines the width of the grip on the bar, and this can sometimes be misleading to people when they first look at it, but doing a clear side by side comparison will quickly show you that although the hand width on the bar is extremely different the hand spacing according to anthropometric is almost identical. A 1:1 ratio from shoulder width and distance from shoulder to hand seems to be a good start.

 

Another thing that is of importance is forearm to arm length ratio. In simple terms; the longer your forearm is comparatively to your upper arm length will mean you will likely have a narrower grip than someone with the same width shoulders and touch lower on your chest. There is a hell of a lot to cover regarding so this in no way is a definitive list but a good starting point for anyone wanting to perfect their bench form.

 

Some basic take aways that should influence grip width

  • Individual limb lengths (forearm, upper arm, shoulder width)
  • Bar placement at the bottom position (high, low)
  • Arch
  • Stability and comfort
  • Efficient force production (Mass x Acceleration) - The bar must move quickly with a heavy weight

Just like the whirlwind of information you absorbed i'm out. Next up is how you should quantify your bar velocity into efficient programming once you have a way to track it, and a potential hack if you don't!

If you liked this article and found it useful, share it with your friends. More great content is on it's way.

@barbell_samurai_coach_steve

Maximum Bench - How to Build a Bigger Bench Press

Bench Big

Out of all the compounds you can do, the one that gets the most attention tends to be the bench. Everyone I know wants a bigger bench, male or female. The bench is also the most infuriating SOB to increase once it plateaus. I know what that feels like quite well as I was stuck on 125kg for around a year and had tried everything to move the damn thing. I read every critical bench article, bought every bench book, did a smolov junior training cycle and tried Greg Nuckols bench program. In about 9 months worth of hauling arse it moved just a little (5kg). I certainly put some mass on my upper body with all the volume but my 1rm really didn’t want to move. Considering how great some of the programs I was running my bench just didn't want to move.

 

As with every sad story there comes a silver lining. I had learned a lot in my 12 months of failing. I had promised myself to bench 180kg in a year (which is a big ask in itself) and that certainly didn't happen; in fact I had hardly made any progress at all. My clients weren't just catching up to me, but overtaking me. They say a mark of a good coach is training people to get stronger than them; In that case colour me flattered — and pissed off. The thing that makes me a good coach is that i’m a critical bastard with descent lateral thinking skills most of the time; and I care about everyone I train - all of the time. I analyse, collect data, self educate and try to find root cause problems so I can make everyone that comes to me better, stronger and faster. There are general guidelines that I follow but there is no specific one size fits all model when I coach. So in 12 months worth of failing I had logs upon logs of personalised training information and what I gleaned from it lead me to certain conclusions that were hinting at a solution to unsticking my bench. It isn't just my own personal journey but people I coached and tried things on; the great results and the not so great. Strap yourself in; I have some anecdotes, some practical application, some scientific research and a good direction for anyone willing to listen to increase that bastard bench that just won’t move.

 

A Lesson From The Greats of The Past

From Bill Kazmier, Jennifer Thompson (Possibly the GOAT bench presser), Mike McDonald, Lamar Gant, Vince Anello, Joe Bradley and to not so great bench pressers like John Kuc there were patterns that emerged. This is the short list of what the best bench pressers tended to do:

 

  • All emphasised quality of repetitions (Bar speed especially) 
  • All emphasised tricep and shoulder development (whether it was overhead press, close grip or dips)
  • All emphasised upper back tightness and lat strength for stability
  • All had small arches and never focused specifically on the arch to cut range 
  • Most trained bench twice per week 
  • Most had a heavier day and a lighter day (lighter; NOT light)
  • Many trained heavy frequently and some did blocks of training leading up to heavy sets
  • Many did heavy lockouts or partial lockout reps

 

Off course there were some minor differences too. Bill Kazmier preferred a more structured block periodised approach where he went from doing sets of 10 for four weeks to eventually doing sets of three over the course of around 12 weeks. Mike McDonald, Jim Williams and John Kuc preferred pyramid style workouts with back off sets; working up to a heavy single, double or triple and then adding more volume with back off sets (Mike McDonald did his back offs as a pause with a cambered bar). Pat Casey trained heavy all year round and did heavy partials, although he has been noted as saying that if he had to do it again he would have block periodised his training. Despite slightly different programming structures they all emphasised the above points. All the aforementioned typically trained twice per week (except Jim Williams who trained 5), all emphasised quality of reps, had small arches and placed great emphasis on tricep, shoulder and back development. 

 

The reason I mention individuals like Lamar Gant, Vince Anello and John Kuc although none of them were amazing benchers (except for Lamar who had a world record bench before he had a world record deadlift) they all had great benches despite having long arms and were better known for their deadlifts. Typically people will look to the greatest bench/squat/deadlifter to see how they did it, but I think it serves to look at people who were still great at something despite their situation. Most world record benchers were amazing at that lift before they put much effort into it; that’s why they are labelled freaks, but the ones who really had to haul arse were the ones that didn’t have the genetics to make it an easy lift. So by cross referencing what worked in the gifted and the destitute we can ascertain a better idea of what likely works best. You may be saying to yourself “But anecdotes are useless and the science of lifting is where it is at” but you would only be half right. Only a fool dismisses anecdotes; after all, where do you think studies come from? Someone does it first and thinks something works then science will take it and test that hypothesis. Learn from the past rather than relying on the future.

 

The Path Of Least Resistance

If you haven't read Greg Nuckols article on bench then I suggest you give it a read as it is the most thorough breakdown that iv’e personally read. He breaks down technique very well, which is not what i’m focusing on here. I’ll touch on something he cited though; an old study that still hasn't been replicated since about bar path in champion bench pressers.

 

If you can’t fathom a 30 minute read the main take away is when pressing the bar off your chest you need to push immediately back then up; not the other way around. As illustrated by the diagram below. (The entire study can be found here (http://ditillo2.blogspot.com.au/2010/07/bench-press-part-one.html))

 

Bar Path 1
Bar Path 2
Bar Path 3

The eccentric and concentric phases differ quite a lot and; very notably the concentric phase (way up) for a high level competitive bench presser is very different to that of a novice (Novice lifters in this study were still strong with a 140kg bench). We owe a great deal to the researchers of this study as they truly were pioneers. To my knowledge no study like this has been replicated.

 

Although the bar path was very specific (as per the barbell); the actual press itself and how to cue it can be a little more tricky. Initially I thought just pushing the bar back towards my shoulders would fix any bar path issues I may have had. In reality the barbell path doesn’t capture the full story. What I noticed from studying heavy bench presses is although the initial push is back you need to then immediately flare your elbows and push down. If this sounds confusing, it’s because it is. To highlight what I mean here is a video of Bill Kazmier pressing a world record at the time from an arial view, followed by a side view.

 

A throwback from the 1980 World Powerlifting Series, Bill Kazmaier bench presses 633 lbs on his third attempt after blasting 584 lbs on his second attempt / opening lift as he skipped his 1st. He was also injured prior to this after missing a 887 squat and discontinued the competition after this lift.

 

Let’s take a look at Kaz’s press from transition to transition. Kaz was the best example I could find of this as he has quite a close grip, which exaggerates what I'm trying to highlight and was a world record holder in the bench that was actually used in the aforementioned original study.

 

Arial Bottom.png

The narrow grip brings the bar slightly lower than usual.

Kaz half way Arial

After immediately pushing back off his chest we see here Kaz snapping his elbows under the bar and starting to push down.

Kaz Lockout Arial

Finishing in a locked position.

Side Bottom Position.png

From the side

Off chest Kaz

Elbows are slightly behind the barbellInitial drive back

Kaz half way side

Elbows flare so that they get under the bar

Near lockout Kaz Side

Coming to lockout as he fights for position

Full Lockout Kaz

Finished position. Full Lockout.

 

By looking at the bar path from the study I mentioned prior and the way Kaz presses you can see that the bar path itself can sometimes be misleading in regards to where the elbows end up and how to potentially cue the press itself. Kaz was also in the aforementioned study so I am using an example that was tested by the researchers themselves. If you still have doubts you can see a similar (although grainy and choppy) transition here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIFP3QoqIb0) of Mike McDonald from the 1975 senior nationals.

 

Take away point:

  • Push back immediately off the chest
  • As the bar hits half way snap the elbows under the bar
  • Start pushing down immediately after the elbows get under the bar (which ends up straightening the bar path)
  • Narrow grip could be cued as push down, wide grip could be better cued as push outwards

 

Shoulders, Triceps, Pecs In That Order

When most people think bench press they think pecs; I mean international bench day is even referred to as chest day. So why would I be prioritising the shoulders and triceps over the pectoral muscles? At first it was anecdotal; I noticed that although weightlifters typically didn't prioritise bench a vast majority at a high level seemed to have really strong benches. Their primary work, obviously was overhead pressing, jerking, snatching, push pressing and pretty much any type of barbell overhead variation you can think of, with very little horizontal pressing in comparison.

 

Weightlifters bench:

 

The other thing I noticed is that other than a few weightlifters; most weightlifters have narrow bench grips. Despite this they seem to out-bench the majority of athletes and even powerlifters who train the pause bench press as a competitive lift. Obviously the weightlifters shown train the bench press as their position and coordination shows, but training prioritisation isn't on bench but overhead movements despite this their benches are strong.

A Look into the Research

So what does the research say? Quite a bit actually. Firstly let me define close grip and wide grip so we can have a point of reference to go from. In two separate studies, researchers determined narrow grip as the distance between your acromion processes (which is pretty damn narrow). They then applied this measurement to the hand spacing (distance between index fingers) on the bar. Wide grip was two times the narrow grip distance. Both groups of researchers found that grips that were 1.65 to 2 times their narrow grip were the most effective strength wise. A potential way you can determine your grip is to measure the distance between your acromion processes. Now measure the distance between your index fingers when you bench. Divide the bench distance by the acromion distance and if your number is between 1.65 and 2.00 you would be in an optimal position according to the two studies (Clemons, J. & Aaron, C, 1997; Wagner, et. al, 1992). What was particularly interesting was that no matter what grip was used in the 1997 study the triceps muscle activity was higher than the pectoral musculature on heavy sets. Both studies also showed greater activation in the deltoids and triceps with narrower grips with a decrease in wider grips. As noted in the 1992 study “The results of the statistical comparisons of bar path indicated that as grip width increased, the horizontal and vertical distance from the bar to the shoulder decreased.” Which from a biomechanics standpoint the results make a lot of sense as the further the bar travels towards the head from the sternum it requires more from the shoulders as the bar is further from the shoulder socket.

Acromium

Here it is on a skeleton.

Now here is a more recent study that really piques my interest.

Chris Beardsley Infograph

The infographic has some pretty ground breaking implications. 

One of the most incredible things that turns up in this study is the higher the percentage of 1RM used the higher the triceps, deltoids and lats activate and the less the pectorals contribute. Let that sink in for a minute.

 

Somewhere around the 85% mark the triceps and pectorals are essentially the same contribution wise with the deltoids being eclipsed by the triceps. At 95% we see a decrease for the pectorals and an increase in the triceps and deltoids with the triceps overtaking the pecs by quite a margin. At 100% we see the triceps with the highest contribution with deltoids, then latissimus doors finally followed by lucky last; that’s right, last; the pecs.

 

Here are two more in depth graphs from the same study to show activation courtesy of (http://suppversity.blogspot.com.au/2017/02/bench-press-study-higher-weight-less-of.html)

In depth 1
In depth 2

 

Before we jump the gun, this doesn’t mean pecs aren't important in the bench. It may mean it isn't as important as we previously thought when considering a stronger bench. Your chest is involved in the bench press no matter what and is still important as a prime mover. What it seems to show though is that the triceps and deltoids are more important for anything above 90% 1rm strength in the bench; that is if 1RM strength is your priority. If a bigger chest is your priority, training around 80% is probably more bang for your buck.

 

Intensity Matters.

If we apply the SAID principal (Specific Adaption to Imposed Demands) it would make a lot of sense to be training in high percentages regularly for the bench if strength is of primary focus or alternatively when performing low percentages (potentially for volume) to train a close grip variant or overhead press type movement to develop the shoulders and triceps to a greater degree before transitioning to heavier training cycles. As the two prior studies from 1992 and 1997 showed the closer grip activated the triceps and shoulders more than the wider grip counterparts; so that may also influence lower percentage training which wasn't covered in the most recent study of 2017.

 

What we know currently:

  • Closer grips utilise more deltoids and triceps
  • Heavier loads utilise more shoulders and triceps
  • 1RM strength in the bench press demands the most tricep; then deltoid, lat, and pec
  • Lighter loads have a higher degree of pec activation in comparison to tricep, deltoid and lat activation

 

After seeing the anecdotal and research based evidence I don’t think it’s a mystery as to why weightlifters would have big benches after learning how to bench for skill acquisition. There are some limitations here though, as always. Some criticisms would be:

  • Horizontal bar travel may shift as the bar gets heavier; meaning bar path can change the demands of the musculature (Force vectors)
  • Bar speed may potentially change the emphasis of muscles activated (although usually when the concentric speed drops all muscular activation drops with it)
  • Would grip width change where the peak in activation be if a narrower grip was used in the last study? Would it have peaked earlier if a narrower grip was used? (Speculation, but I would say yes given the previous studies)
  • Does anthropometry such as forearm to arm length alter the demands on the musculature?

 

Regardless of these limitations I think there is enough evidence to support the theory that prioritising tricep and shoulder work and potentially altering grip width would be a smart move. Choosing what type of variation (if you generally bench wider) should be incorporated is largely due to mobility constraints and shoulder structure (More info on shoulder structure here: http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0102-36162014000600636). Grip width in general is dependent on individual factors and the recommendations outlined before should be taken with a pinch of salt. Just because you don’t have the exact “optimal” measurement of grip width doesn’t necessarily mean you are benching inefficiently either; comfort and stability play a role in power output and are sometimes underemphasised.

 

In the next issue, I will be expanding the importance of bar speed and how a big bench arch may be holding you back.

Go ahead, follow me on instagram @barbell_samurai_coach_steve

Training in the Heat

Training in the Heat and what it can do for you!

What are you getting yourself into?

688 Words - About 5-6 minutes of reading time.

With the warm weather that we have been having lately, training – whether at Barbell Samurai, or your sporting field of choice – hasn’t been the most pleasant. Instead of skipping your training session, or opting to train at a cooler venue, research has shown that there are benefits to exercising in the heat (above 36⁰C) and that you only need 3-5 consecutive days of exercising in the heat to receive up to 70% of the maximum adaptation. Here are some of the benefits associated with training in the heat consistently:

-          Increased plasma volume and decreased heart rate during exercise allow for a more efficient cardiovascular system that has a greater capacity to deliver oxygen to the muscles

-          Decreased salt loss in sweat improves the body’s ability to maintain electrolyte balance which helps to regulate blood pressure, maintain nerve function and maintain muscle function

-          Improved sweat response improves the body’s ability to cool down during exercise

-          Increased blood flow to the skin helps to transfer heat from the body to the surrounding environment, thereby keeping your core temperature lower during exercise, thus preventing you from overheating

-          Increased endurance (both aerobic and anaerobic) resulting from the increased capacity to deliver oxygen around the body, recovery from anaerobic activity, and the ability to sustain aerobic activity will both be improved

 

These changes and resulting benefits can be maintained for up to 1 month after your exercise in the heat has finished and transfer over to training in cooler temperatures too. So, for athletes, whether they be endurance or field sport, and whether they play in climate controlled environment or outdoors in the elements, there are well researched benefits to training in the heat.

 

 

With that being said, exercising in the heat does present some risks compared to exercising at lower temperatures due to the increased demands of trying to keep the body from overheating.

 

Precautions to take while exercising in the heat.

-          Increased sweating compared to exercising in “normal” temperatures means there is an increased risk of dehydration, both in the individual session, and across multiple sessions on consecutive days. To ensure your safety making sure you consume lots of fluids, before, during and after sessions in the heat is a must.

-          There is a risk of getting heat illness if you go too hard to soon. Don’t try to go at the exact same intensity as you would during a session on a cool day. Do a lighter training session the first time, as assess how you feel during and after. Progressively increase the intensity from there.

Some easy ways to tell if you are getting dehydrated is feeling thirsty or a change in colour of your urine (getting darker). A more immediate way to monitor your fluid during a workout is to weight yourself before your session, then at the end of the session. Whatever weight you have lost replace 1.5x that with fluid. E.g. weight went from 81.9kg down to 80.9kg in a 60 min workout. That is a loss of 1kg, so multiply that by 1.5 is 1.5kg. Aim to consume 1.5L of water in the following 60-90 min, and if the amount of fluid needing to be consumed is more than 1L, look to include an electrolyte replacement such as Powerade, Gatorade or Maximus into your fluid replacement. Aim for about 500-600mL of electrolyte replacement for every litre of water.

 

In summary, don’t use the heat as an excuse to not train. Modify your training so that you can still complete everything you need to. You can decrease your intensity (lower weight, lower the distance you run), increase your rest breaks (between sets or between efforts) or reduce your volume (total sets/reps, total efforts) to ensure you don’t overdo it. After the first week of training you will have received most of the adaptations and can start to progress back towards your usual intensity and volume and you should find that your performance has improved by a little but, rather than the slight drop off you would have from not training that week during the heat.

Misinterpreting Specificity

Why training strength in-season as well as pre-season is necessary

 

What you're getting yourself into - 1479 words and a lot of infographics

Estimated Read time - 10-12 Minutes

 

Having recently had a discussion with a high level soccer athlete that I train the topic of specificity in training came up. He mentioned that one of his coaches who was also a strength and conditioning coach mentioned that while performing compound movements such as the deadlift and squat are good to build a base they have no place in the on-season. His reasoning being that it isn’t specific enough and as a soccer player he should be solely focussing on “single leg stuff” for his leg strength. He also stated “when are you ever in the squat position in soccer?” This mantra has been repeated by a short line of old periodisation scholars and “traditionalist” or “purest” coaches in a given sport. In this article I will break down why not only is this concept inefficient but leads to a greater cost to the athlete by increasing chance of injury while at the same time reducing performance if resistance training is stopped or modified to stop the stress response the body needs to become more robust.

 

The True Meaning of Specificity

 

When coaches mention specificity I usually take a moment to clarify what they mean so that we are on the same page regarding how we will both be applying the concept. This is especially true when I talk to field sport coaches as I find a lot of their knowledge regarding training principles is clouded by the field sport itself. As my soccer player mentioned barbell strength training; the most advanced method of strength training there is to get stronger is not specific enough for him as a soccer player because it doesn’t put him in the same positions as when he is playing.

 

...having a plan that allows you to train all year round without impeding performance but rather enhancing performance while preventing the chance of injury.
— In regards to training year round

Let’s think about that for a moment and use a sprinter/cyclist/discus thrower doing squats as an example. None of those athletic endeavours utilise the barbell squat position in their sport specifically yet athletes at an advanced level use squats to improve sprint/cycling/throwing power. So why is that? It’s because improvement in power is directly associated with improvements in absolute strength. Here’s an excerpt from an interview from Tudor Bompa himself in 2002, one of the original (and some argue the very first) creator of periodisation.

 

“The most critical innovations in the approach to strength training came in 1963 when I was asked to train a nationally ranked javelin thrower. Her coach had moved to another city and I was the only person who could train her. I have to mention that at that time, as is the case today in many sports, athletes were training year-round only for power, using some free weights but also a great deal of medicine ball training. Before I started to train this athlete in early 1963, I'd logically concluded that power is a function of maximum strength [he highest force one can display in one attempt or 1RM], as well as speed and quickness of action. While speed has more genetic limitations than strength, I had decided to look for improved power by increasing maximum strength to the highest possible levels.

 

As I continued to train this thrower, I also continuously monitored and tested both speed and quickness and maximum strength. After a year and a half of training her, I found out that gains in power come 95% from gains in maximum strength, and only 5% from speed. That year represented the year when I created periodization of strength. Using this strength training strategy, my javelin thrower improved by 15 meters within a year and a half. She became the Olympic champion in 1964 and set a new world record as well.” (Full interview can be found here)

 

Your job as a coach is simple, but not easy: find out which movements at which intensity/volume/frequency improve the athletic performance of a given athlete within their field of expertise while keeping the athlete injury-free year round. 

 

Specificity is finding which movements matter most to the athlete in regards to these principles. If squats have the greatest carry over to sprinting performance for a field athlete then you will prioritise squats. Conversely if hamstring strains are prevalent in athletes (“Hamstring strains account for 12-16% of all injuries in athletes with a reinjury rate reported as high as 22-34%.”) and if strengthening the hamstrings reduces injury risk then you should use a movement which strengthens the hamstring to the greatest degree, which would be a combination of the deadlift and a nordic hamstring curl so that the hamstrings are utilised it both hip extension and knee flexion.

 

A Step By Step Guide to Why You Should be Strong Year Round

 

I’m not sure when or why something like strength training in sports became a point of contention with purists or where and when it became clouded in the minds of some coaches but it’s very clear that strength plays a vital role in sport and should be a permanent fixture in an athletes regime. To be clear; it is important to periodise training in order to get the most out of athletic performance. Age, competitive season, injury and level of the athlete will dictate when to build strength, when to maintain strength and when to improve neuromuscular power output. I am not saying go heavy all year round; what I am saying is that you must prioritise strength year round in an intelligent manner rather than do “pre-season training” and then stop completely. You will lose the majority of your strength and the same issues will occur all over again (injuries, lack of speed and power).

 

In this series of infographics (Courtesy of Chris Beardsley) we will examine why strength training is a logical conclusion when training an athlete, regardless of sport, regardless of season.

We have strong evidence to support acceleration (sprinting for example) is contributed highly by the hips (e.g. Gluteus muscles) and deceleration by the knee and ankle. 

 

We have strong evidence to support that variations of squats highly activate and strengthen the knee and hip musculature and have strong evidence to support full hip extension under load utilising the largest hip extensor in the body; the Gluteus Maximus is achieved with hip thrusts and deadlifts.

 

 We also have strong evidence that sharper angles in change of direction while running have higher braking requirements and that joint angle when changing direction is influenced by strength as outlined in the different sex study below.

 

We have strong evidence to support the fact that the stronger the athlete is the more force they can produce and the faster they can change direction.

We also have strong evidence that shows hamstring injuries are prevented if we use a nordic hamstring curl to strengthen the hamstring and that deadlift and deadlift variations utilise the hamstrings to a great degree too.

It’s important to note that while there are studies that report no significant risk factors associated with being weaker in the hamstrings there is a mountain of studies which support hamstring strength having a very high correlation to hamstring health and injury prevention.

 

Conclusions We Can Draw

 

We have covered specificity and research regarding strength translating to greater performance and even touched on injury prevention being strongly associated with injury prevention. As anyone who has every trained knows if you stop training you lose the strength you accumulate and if you take it easy while you are in season then it is highly likely that from the loss of strength you will see a down regulation in performance as well as a higher potential to injure yourself. This doesn’t mean training all year round as if you were in the pre season attempting to break records or having large amounts of volume and intensity in your program. What it does mean is having a plan that allows you to train all year round without impeding performance but rather enhancing performance while preventing the chance of injury. Will squats, deadlifts, barbell lunges, nordic curls and an assortment of other movements help maintain strength, increase power and reduce chance of injury? It would seem, in my opinion, and from the evidence presented a poor choice to not include them in field sports and indeed many other sports.

 

As a coach I think we have a moral, not just professional obligation to our clientele to read up on current research as well as practically apply the knowledge that we learn to suite the needs of our clients. We are obligated not to parrot teachings but make an effort to understand concepts to apply them in the appropriate situation. Strength is an absolute when it comes to athletic development, performance and indeed quality of life in regular people.

 

Now go train.

 

References 

Wisløff U, Castagna C, Helgerud J, et al Strong correlation of maximal squat strength with sprint performance and vertical jump height in elite soccer players British Journal of Sports Medicine 2004;38:285-288.

 

LENGTHENED, P. O. R. U. (2012). IJSPT. 

 

Opar D, Williams M, Timmins R, et al ECCENTRIC HAMSTRING STRENGTH DURING THE NORDIC HAMSTRING EXERCISES IS A RISK FACTOR FOR HAMSTRING STRAIN INJURY IN ELITE AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL: A PROSPECTIVE COHORT STUDY Br J Sports Med 2014;48:647-648. 

Progression After Plateaus

 

What you're getting yourself into - 2,013 words

Estimated Read Time - 15 minutes

 

...there comes a point where running every day doesn’t make you faster, benching more doesn’t make you bench bigger. There is that point of diminishing returns...

Many people experience plateaus; I myself am no different. How we overcome them can be a tricky subject with many people having varying opinions on how to break through a plateau. In this article I will attempt to give you an outline of how to break a plateau using some basic practical concepts. Before diving straight into the methods I need to touch on some of the theory behind plateauing; how it potentially occurs then how we can identify the means by which to overcome it.

 

Stress, Recovery, Adaption

 

The most basic, accurate model regarding training is the SRA curve. It highlights in a very basic way how an organism adapts to it’s surroundings. You can think of this curve as evolution on a micro scale. The most basic analogy that i’ve heard to describe the SRA curve is how we get a tan. The sun is the stress; the more exposure the darker you can get. Too much and you become sunburnt, not enough and you get no tan at all; but if you get just enough over a longer period of time you become tanned. This analogy works well to define the dose dependent relationship we have with training stimulus. 

 

Stress, Recover, Adapt.

 

Over time performance increases although different mechanisms in the body, from technical adjustments to the size of a muscle (hypertrophy) to neuromuscular coordination (Nervous system adaption to produce maximal force for example) and even the longest adaption; connective tissue. So if we took that simple SRA curve and utilised the examples I mentioned it may look something like the below graphic. 

Connective tissue comes back up, it just takes a while

 

As far as overtraining is concerned it is quite a rare phenomenon; as most individuals are recreational lifters and not professional athletes, which is the context in which overtraining came about (context is important). From a work capacity standpoint we are not so fragile which I have mentioned before in a previous blog. Overreaching is something that is real and is required sometimes in order to induce a better adaptive response. This is one way to break through plateaus. Overreaching is not to be confused with the regular stress stimulus or over training. In fact; the concept of overtraining and overreaching originally comes from Mateyev’s model of periodisation where we have things like the preparatory, transition and competition period. This model includes the concept of compensation supercompensation (sometimes referred to as overcompensation) and involution (Where you miss the adaptive window to tolerate more).

The point is; there are many models and terms we can use to describe the process of getting stronger but ultimately long winded explanation may be nice in a theoretical setting or in a classroom setting but from a practical standpoint the basic SRA model does just fine in explaining how we get stronger. Stress. Recover. Adapt. 

 

Grab The Bull By The Horns - The Stress Response

 

So why go through the trouble of explaining this basic model? Well if you’re hitting a plateau the answer is usually simple but not easy. The SRA model has three stages for a reason. Put simply if you’re not progressing one of the stages isn't working as it should and thus you are clutching out. In certain areas ahead i’ll be delving into some terms that may be new to you, i’ll do my best to explain them in the simplest way I can in order for us to move on empowered by knowledge rather than overloaded and confused. Let’s begin.

Stress manifests in many ways; specifically in training the stress response initiates a long chain of responses in your body from hormonal to structural to psychological. We will be talking specifically about training from here. Remember the analogy I gave about the sun and the tan you could get? Well the majority of the time I find most people don’t progress due to working too hard or not working hard enough. The latter is more common than the former. A practical example is someone coming in and performing the same workout again and again then expecting to get stronger. This sounds silly but hear me out. This person may be doing a basic linear progression like 3x5 and then adding 2.5% each session then doing the same accessories they usually do. Linear progression works really well, and is on parr with daily undulating periodisation (reference needed) but over a long period of time it can stop working. This is referred to as the repeated bout effect and typically it happens quite quickly (you get sore from squats but the week after you do squats and you’re not sore at all), although the mechanisms which make it occur are still not understood very well (Reference needed). The muscle and nervous system starts tolerating the movements and loads you're putting on it and it starts to blunt training response (your adaptive response to become stronger basically). So although the person may be pushing as hard as they can they seem to just spin their wheels. When someone works too hard on the other hand they keep trying to push the weights up or do more reps, etc but end up sacrificing technique and bar speed which leads them to the same issue; progress grinds to a halt. The repeated bout effects like the law of diminishing returns; once you break through a certain ceiling it’s harder to break through the next with the same/slightly more amount of work.

 

Specificity Gone Too Far

 

Typically when discussing progression we can use the analogy of the glass. This is a common example of prioritising training with the bottom of the glass being the most important factors related to success in program design to the least important sitting at the top. A common theme is that you must do the specific thing you want to get better at in order to get better at that thing. While this is 100% true there comes a point where running every day doesn’t make you faster, benching more doesn't make you bench bigger. There is that point of diminishing returns and once you reach it specificity may need to take a back seat to some form of specific variation. I say specific variation as any type of variation will not do. Simply working a muscle or group of muscles may not have any/minimal carry over to the specific thing you want to get better at.

Left is you typical glass of specificity; right is a slightly modified version placing specific variation before variation

Overall a specific variation assists specificity, it doesn’t hinder it by adding fatigue that has no benefit.

 

You should notice that the glass itself is specificity as everything is built around the ability for you to progress around a particular specific goal. For a powerlifter it would be a squat slightly below parallel, pause bench press and deadlift; all for the heaviest single allowed within the rules; for a sprinter it’s how fast they can run a given distance and so on. Within the glass of specificity overload, fatigue management, SRA, variation, phase potentiation (if you want to use that term) and individual difference fill it.  

Realistically overload and fatigue management sit within the SRA model. As I explained before stress needs to be high enough (intensity, volume, total work) so that we may adapt and we require proper recovery (sleep, food, days off) before we can adapt to raise our baseline. The SRA curve is so important that it essentially makes up over half the glass! What is mentioned next is variation; what I believe is a commonly misunderstood chunk of the glass. Variation if used correctly can make a large impact on training due to a few reasons but mainly it reduces the repeated bout effect (RBE) by creating a novel stimulus. There are indeed many ways (which I will list in the next section) that allow you to overcome RBE but variation deserves a special mention as it is typically overlooked and misunderstood.

I’ve seen individuals over-utilise variation and others barely use variation in their training at all. To reap the benefits of a variation you need to first assess a lift and see where a sticking point or an area that needs improvement and then choose a variation that will make that weakness stronger. This is what I will call “specific variation”; just like a touch and go bench is a specific variation of the pause competition lift so is something like a floor press/board press with your competition style grip if you have lockout issues. The great thing about specific variation is it gives the body a new stimulus while training a movement close enough to the competition lift that it has carryover. Having bigger glutes may help you get a big booty but that doesn't necessarily mean you will fix a lockout issue on a deadlift or increase your squat.  Remember that motor patterns dictate your ability to utilise the muscle you have built in certain situations so hip thrusts although are magnificent for gluteus hypertrophy they may not have as much carryover (maybe for what you need) due to a lack of specificity to motor control in a squat or deadlift. It is important to do what you need to do, not what you want to do. I've seen people use the wrong tool for the wrong job countless times, usually because they are trying to chase aesthetics over performance and sacrifice performance in the process when they say performance is their number one priority. Don’t get caught in the honey pot and choose something you like doing if it doesn't help what you want to achieve; train with a purpose. Overall a specific variation assists specificity, it doesn't hinder it by adding fatigue that has no benefit.

 

Fixing The Repeated Bout Effect

 

There are some simple yet practical strategies you can employ in order to stop the RBE process from stunting your progress. Here is a list of stuff you can try with examples in brackets.

  • Switch repetition ranges regularly (5, 3, 1 would be a classic example)
  • Switch exercises frequently (Three week waves and switch to a specific variation is an example. Low bar to High bar; preferably something you’re crap at)
  • Deload a movement every 3-4 weeks and replace it with a less taxing accessory that trains the same muscles (Could replace squats with barbell lunges or deadlifts with reverse hypers or hip thrusts)
  • Fluctuate Frequency (Squat one week 3 times but next week only squat once at the end of the week, then switch to two the week after or train twice in one day, etc)
  • Add more volume to the point where you become a little weaker; then back off completely. (This works by overreaching; do more than you can sensibly recover from, then when performance drops take a deload for a week and come back to training to retest. This is in my opinion the worst way to break plateau and I don’t recommend it 90% of the time)

Although your body can’t be confused it can get very good at tolerating stress; making it sensitive again without simply adding more is in my opinion a more sensible way of continuing to progress. Sometimes more is needed (as noted) but if you’re already doing huge amounts of volume then doing more volume usually doesn't help that much, and if anything can lead to a greater risk of injury. There are a few more options such as doing singles and triples to keep strength as high as possible for a month or so then adding a bunch of volume to increase MRV (Maximum Recoverable Volume) but that is more for advanced lifters and doesn't work well with beginners or intermediates so I have omitted it from my recommended list.

I should mention that individuals at a high level have found ways to reduce the RBE response usually through trial and error. This is where you will hear stuff like “Hip thrusts/back extensions/rack pulls made my deadlift huge” or “I always deload and work on technique/switch reps regularly/change my periodisation/do heavy walkouts, hand outs, etc”. Many people have found many different ways to get to the same place. As an old proverb states: Someone can take a different path up the mountain and still reach the same view. 

What is important is understanding the reason you have made progress. Following an elite lifters routine won’t turn you into that lifter; you’ll have to find your own way. The way someone has made progress is usually an organic process done through trial by fire but it doesn’t have to be (all) that way. Look at any high level athlete and they have found a way to progress by muting the RBE so they can push their body beyond known limits. Yes of course there are genetics and drugs but it doesn’t mean you can’t keep progressing without stellar genetics or drugs. Pay attention and find your best approach from the list I gave you as a start. Make some modifications after paying attention to what worked well and what didn’t. Modify, rinse, repeat.

In the next article I will be discussing recovery and how to optimise it. In the meantime. Work your arse off and stay healthy.

Go ahead, follow me on instagram @barbell_samurai_coach_steve

Metrics That Matter

Understanding What Makes you Progress

 

What you're getting yourself into - 1843 Words
Estimated Read Time - 15 minutes
Level of Technicality - Moderate

Do not assume; assess.
— Coach Steve

 

Anyone who has been lifting for a good amount of time and read some literature on the subject has a basic understanding of tracking volume and intensity and it’s (generally) inverse relationship (Volume goes up, intensity goes down and vis versa). I’m going to assume you have a book where you track your progress or some sort of log. More often than not when you hit a wall and plateau you may look back at that program that got you so strong in X lift and think to yourself maybe you should just go back to repeating it. Repeating programs rarely has the same affect but by adding a little to an existing one that has worked can do the trick. In this post i’m going to dig past the superficial surface of the intensity and volume discussion and talk more broadly about not just measuring metrics but attempting to understand and identify the metrics that contributed to greater success in any lift, as well as how you can add to an existing program.

 

The first thing I want to say is that there are many variables to progress. Some are more quantifiable than others. Certainly you can track things like sleep, food, volume, rest periods, etc but some things, although slightly trackable are more ambiguous such as quality of sleep, stress, sympathetic nervous system recovery and so on. We will be focusing our attention on the things we are capable, without, or at least to a minimum doubt track; such as but not limited to: volume, intensity, number of sets and reps, variation lifts and accessories.

 

The Right Tool for the Right Job

 

Before I delve into some simple ways you can make sense of the data you have gathered from training or are going to track in order to monitor and evaluate progress I will be assuming you have a basic understanding of trackable metrics and how to gather them along with the basic principles in the discipline of periodisation. I will not be covering concepts such as phase potentiation, accumulation passes, etc but be specifically honing into the metrics that each phase, block, microcycle and so on is aiming to achieve. So for example, if your goal is to monitor hypertrophy getting a DEXA scan or taking measurements before and after a period of training would be paramount to confirming what you are doing is working; your body weight is insufficient evidence to warrant you are getting the best possible response from a critical standpoint. After confirming positive results you would then track back through the metrics that got you there. You would then repeat the experiment and isolate a single variable to manipulate (or run your program again after tweaking or adding). If this sounds time consuming you would be right, and there is indeed much trial and error. Such is the cost of finding what your body and its individual needs respond to best. If you are a coach the process is the same but you have the benefit of an objective point of view for your athlete.

 

Isolate and Eliminate

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own”
— Bruce Lee

One of the most difficult things about epidemiological studies (population based studies) is the fact that too many variables can confuse the results and the margin for misinterpretation of results is high. That is why after a correlation has been established there is a further process of more well controlled studies where variables that existed prior are eliminated and everything that can be controlled, is controlled so that correlation can be confirmed as causation or dismissed. In other words; if there is too much shit you are tracking and changing you will never know what works and what doesn’t.

 

What this means for anyone looking to test a variable is pretty simple. Pick one that you want to isolate. If you think adding more working sets on days that you are training bench increase your bench then add a set or more for the training block and absolutely nothing else. Otherwise you risk confounding your answer and not knowing whether doing 4 sets of 6 repetitions gave you a better response than 3 sets of 6. If you manipulate too much you will have no idea what has worked; it’s that simple. I cannot emphasise this enough; pick one thing to change in a training program that has previously worked for you and see if it gives you a better result.

 

Simple Models

I cannot emphasise this enough; pick one thing to change in a training program that has previously worked for you and see if it gives you a better result.

 

A simple model you can follow could be increasing overall volume by increasing sets performed. I prefer adding sets so that form can be more easily adhered to as sometimes adding a single rep going from a 5 to a 6 repetition scheme can have more detrimental affects on form than adding an extra set of 5. In addition an extra set actually adds more volume overall than repetitions typically, unless you are doing 10 sets of 3, in which case repetitions would add more volume.

 

A practical example would be to take 3 x 5 @ 100kg (for example) and turn it into 4 x 5 @ 100kg. That’s 500kg more each session. If you do this let’s say twice a week, thats a total of 1000kg or 1 tonne of extra volume. Multiply that now by 6 weeks and thats 6 extra tonnes of work on that lift. At first adding an extra set may not seem much but it can drastically change the amount of workload you do in a week, month and training cycle. That is a simplistic metric to monitor, possibly the most simplistic. Be warned however; simply throwing more volume at something does not necessitate progress and sometimes is actually counter productive to progress altogether. Do not assume; assess.

 

You could go a step further and add frequency without changing sets or intensity. Adding another day of training for a given lift may have the same overall result in volume but can give you a very different response. This is where complex models can come into play.

 

Complex Models

 

This deserves it’s own post, but I will give you a concise example this time and expand on it another time in greater detail. Manipulating variables or a single variable in an undulating or rotating pattern can and has worked very well. There are several ways you can go about doing this. Take a look at the table below and I’ll explain. 

Click to Enlarge

 

As you can see through this table there are many variables you can tinker with or rotate through. You can rotate volume weekly and see if that makes a difference. Rotate intensity weekly for the block, rotate total sets; increase average sets for the week by adding a set on a heavy or light day, alter set to rep ratio, increase the percentage of work coming from variation lifts like rack pulls or wide stance squats. To say the list of things you can change and measure is a lot would be an understatement but in my experience most people and coaches don’t even consider these variables worth measuring. It seems by focusing purely on the amount of weight you use in working sets everyone has forgotten how to manipulate, measure and assess other variables that influence absolute strength. 

 

You may be thinking; what happened to changing only one thing? If you have a measure of strength you can base the variable(s) you are manipulating over a training cycle you can do this. So for example using an AMRAP (As many reps as possible) every other week or month to determine progress if you are rotating variables to find out what works best. Think of this method more like the population based studies I mentioned. You have an idea what is working but the theory would need further testing.

 

A Real World Example

I currently train the 10th ranked female in Australia for the 63kg junior division (Brenda), soon to be in opens. She has deadlifted 180kg in official competition at a bodyweight of 61kg and is currently on track to pull 200kg by June this year (2017). When she first came to me she was gifted with the leverages for the conventional deadlift and could deadlift 130kg for a max at the time. Just short of one year later she deadlifted that 180kg. 

 

I am giving you this extreme example because I want to give you an insight into how she went from 130kg to 180kg in a year using what I have mentioned above. Careful planning and individual analysis as well as hard, hard work got her there, not just genetics as most people tend to think. Eventually I will illustrate a step by step guide of how to quantify and assess what variables will impact your strength in a given lift and how to, from a general stand point incorporate these steps into a workable program. This post would be a very large one if that were the case. Instead I will give you an idea of what went into her training variables leading up to that 180kg pull; what variables I monitored and what I learned about her individual abilities and limitations. 

 

Click to Enlarge

The graph above tells a story. You see in Brenda’s program I had placed AMRAPs strategically into every other week and rack pulls into every other week up until the 7th week where rack pulls became a staple in her training protocol.

 

What I learned about Brenda during this 12 week period was invaluable from a coaching perspective. On average she could pull in her AMRAPs 3.4 reps more than what her projected 1RM would be, even with 80-85% (in other words she could pull 8 reps with something she should technically only be able to pull for 5 reps with based on her final 1RM), in addition the biggest impact on her deadlift was the amount she could rack pull. As her rack pull from below the knee went up it was a guaranteed transfer to her deadlift 1RM. The discrepancy between her 1RM for a rack pull and her deadlift 1RM was approximately 10kg. I also learned that adding accessories like RDLs (Romanian Deadlifts) after her main work sets helped her positioning and setup in her conventional deadlift but deficit deadlifts were useless for her and would mess her position up in a regular deadlift.

 

After this 12 week protocol she pulled 170kg, a 10kg PB; but the real gem was I had learned so much from the variables I was measuring and rotating that after her deload I made a 6 week peaking program based on what I had learned. She then went on to pull that 180kg deadlift in competition with ease, taking gold and lifter of the day.

 

Brenda is not a special case. I do this with all my athletes and for good reason; it works. (My Instagram account has many but recently Marcel hit a 12.5kg PB on bench going from 127.5kg to 140kg in 7 weeks as another example) Monitoring progress over short, medium and long term programs gives you insight if you pay attention. If you think this only applies to lifting you would be mistaken. You can do the exact same thing with other athletic endeavours such as sprinting, throwing, etc. I’ve given you some basic yet extremely useful tools, now all you have to do is learn how to pay attention to what matters.

 

 

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To Be or Not to Be Failing Reps in Training

 

What You're Getting Yourself Into - 1900 Words Some of Which are Bad Words (You've Been Warned)

Average Read Time - 12-16 Minutes

 

The way you deal with failure and adversity is more important than failure itself.
— Coach Steve

 

Just yesterday I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about training and the topic of failing a lift came up. Instantly I remembered I had been meaning to write something for a long time about the topic but kept getting side tracked. He told me over a board game how “people don’t know how to fail a lift” he continued by explaining most people aren't taught how to. I took it very much another way; I thought he meant people don't have the psychological fortitude to fail a lift; especially in training. I agreed with him, we continued the night, finished our drinks and I headed home.

 

When I got home I couldn’t get it out of my head; when in the hell did failing a lift in training become anathema? Where did everyone get this obsession that every rep had to be perfect no matter what and at no point should you fail in training or else you are training your body to fail and you will explode. Maybe the last part is an exaggeration but that’s how everyone sounds lately when discussing failing reps in training: “No man, failing reps in training gets you nowhere, teaches your body to fail, fry’s your nervous system and destroys your children’s gains.” Ok then.

 

The idea that failing in training is very similar to how you can view failing in life. In between motivational speeches telling us how we shouldn't be afraid to fail in life and rocky montages about how it doesn’t matter how many times you get hit but how many times you get back up the strength and conditioning community have become Rocky Balboas fictional son. You know the one; the little bitch who gave up on his dreams, his dad and thinks everything is dangerous. It seems to me, at least in Australia, most athletes tend to get treated with so much bubble-wrap that they hardly get any actual training done.

 

 How did he not get this?

How did he not get this?

 

The main arguments for not failing reps in training seem logical. I’m going to address each one below; but before I do let me clarify this is directed to an intermediate to advanced lifter/athlete and not beginners. A beginner should focus on execution of a lift first and foremost and not much else until they can get that right.

 

Failing Reps Gives you Neural Fatigue (AKA Kills your CNS)

 

As with most blanket statements there is a grain of truth to this. There are such things as adrenal fatigue and neural fatigue but they are extremely hard to bring on. To be frank; hardly anyone trains hard enough these days to induce them and if they did they would need to train very heavy, very frequently and fail a lot with big compound movements like a deadlift to do it. There is however something called local neural fatigue; that is if you train something such as bench to your limit one day then the next day try and do the same bench session your performance will likely be sub-par, although your squats/deadlifts will be unaffected. Deadlifts more than other lifts can induce something called central fatigue as the movement is heavily taxing not just on your body but your CNS. Other stressors outside of training can induce central fatigue such as under sleeping, anxiety, stress, injury,  and drinking. The analogy I can give is to think of your brain as the battery that charges your muscles and the nerves that innervate them as circuits; if the battery is half charged or the circuits are not conducting as well as they should you get a poor muscle contraction and less than ideal performance.

 

If you fail continuously on heavy deadlifts then it is likely your performance in other movements including the deadlift will be hindered. Failing one rep on the other hand is not going to have the same impact. You are not looking for an excuse to fail a rep but rather; you are not that failure will somehow bring your nervous system into meltdown. The deadlift is the extreme example; failing at a bench or squat is less fatiguing still.

 

An athletic example would be someone like Lebrone James. When he was still playing for the Miami Heat he had played 800 games over a period of 11 years with a staggering 92% game time. That’s around100 games per year on average. He also traveled interstate for those games. That means time in transit on a cramped plane at his height. Did I mention he still trained? Well he did. With weights. Almost every day.

 Credit to DR Darren Burgess for this image from his slideshow/webinar on "High Performance, Lessons Learned From Elite Team Sports"

Credit to DR Darren Burgess for this image from his slideshow/webinar on "High Performance, Lessons Learned From Elite Team Sports"

To summarise failing a rep or two will not kill your CNS; you're not that fragile physically. Even non-athletes like people on farms perform serious physical tasks all day, every day and then train if they are inclined. We are over here talking about failed reps inducing CNS fatigue and people work manual labor jobs and still train. When did we all become so precious?

 

It Teaches You To Fail

 

It apparently takes 10,000 hours to make you an expert at something but only a few failed repetitions and you’re suddenly an expert at failing. Unless you are planning on failing every single repetition in training you will not “teach your body to fail”. From a motor control perspective poor habits are formed over a long period of time and must be performed a great number of times for it to become an issue. This is why when training a beginner it is hardly their program that is an issue; it is more teaching them good habits/form/execution, getting them to practice those over a long period of time and helping them become aware of their bodies (proprioception or kinaesthetic awareness) that will make them experts at a given skill. Squatting, benching, throwing a ball or even walking are a skill that is learned and mastered over time. Motor control is a huge topic that encompasses and overlaps various disciplines from sports psychology to kinesiology but one thing is undeniable: it takes a great deal of time and effort to become a master at a skill. It also takes an equal if not a greater amount of time to ruin that skill; otherwise three missed shots from Jordan would have ruined his career. One rep is not 10,000 and if you have become proficient at executing reps with correct form you will have the body awareness to know when you mis-grooved a rep or why you missed one and if you are intelligent about it can learn from your mistake. *Gasp*

Unless you are planning on failing every single repetition in training you will not “teach your body to fail”.

 

I have trained many different types of people over the years, some mentally tough without much talent, others with much potential but mentally fragile and a mixture in between those two. I use the two extremes as an example for a few reasons; I have generally found that talented individuals tend to be more fragile mentally and if I were to speculate (which I will because it’s my blog post) a contributing factor to this mental fragility could be that these people were always good at things physically and have never experienced failure at the same level as individuals who were talentless and just had to work at it that much harder to be at merely an acceptable level. If you’re accustomed to winning all the time your ego gets inflated and it’s that much harder when you take a tumble. If you have worked hard and failed many times your mental fortitude is high so a setback is nothing new and nothing you can’t work through. For that reason the greatest athletes of all have two things in addition to natural talent: work ethic and mental toughness. Here is a little test for you; if you miss a rep in training do you think about failing and lament or do you think about why you failed, how you can do better next time and crush that weight the next time it’s in your hands? If you are the former you will probably keep failing reps unnecessarily because you have succumb to hopelessness, if you are the latter you will likely destroy that weight the next time it’s in your hands or damn well try. If you gave up every time something was hard then you wouldn't get through a single day of life without a meltdown. The way you deal with failure and adversity is more important than failure itself.

 

It Teaches You to Grind (Badly)

 

Sometimes this is viewed as a good thing, sometimes a bad thing. There is the idea that grinding should be done often as it teaches you how to persevere through a weight and can show you sticking points. Then there is the opposing ideology; that every rep should look and be perfect and explosive, with no slowing of the bar so that perfect execution is drilled into you. As with most things, I think the truth lies somewhere in between. You want most reps to be good quality clean repetitions and strive for excellence. As the weights get heavier with added repetitions things start to move a little different; slower, sometimes choppier. This is how we learn. It’s like when you first pick up weights; you made mistakes, things didn't move so well, you made corrections and eventually became better. My old training partner and I used to say that if every rep looked perfect you weren't lifting enough. Because without struggle there can be no growth.

It apparently takes 10,000 hours to make you an expert at something but only a few failed repetitions and you’re suddenly an expert at failing.

 

The Devil In Me

 

As a coach you are generally taught to not let your athletes fail reps because of safety. As my friend mentioned though in our discussion, because of this mentality people have no clue how to actually fail a rep. Teaching people how and when to fail appropriately is paramount to safety in my mind. For this reason I intentionally give people attempts sometimes that are almost a guaranteed failed rep. (Obviously within reason. You would be crazy to do this to an injured person) Why you may ask am I so cruel? A few reasons actually. Firstly I want the athlete to see that failure isn’t the end of the world. If you set up spotting arms or teach someone how to throw a high bar squat off their shoulders you won’t explode or become crippled. Removing that fear factor and giving them confidence how and when to fail a lift is important. It also teaches them when their body is at it’s limit, which brings me to reason number two. It shows me what you are made of; mentally. If you don’t fight the weight very much and give up at the first sign of resistance it tells me you lack effort to give something your all or you doubt yourself too much. If I see you fighting the weight to the bitter end then it shows me resilience and persistence. Lastly, it shows me how you deal with failure. If the response is pissed off, quietly determined or you tell me “next time i’m getting that” then it is inevitable it will happen. If you get upset and crawl away defeated, it’s likely it won’t.

 

Failure shows character. It always has and it always will. Anyone can win and take it well but not everyone can fail well. You don't search for failure or train recklessly, but you also shouldn't be terrified of failing. Somewhere, somehow a lot of the strength community has forgotten that. It may be the “always be winning” or “that’s dangerous!” mentality that’s embedded it. For whatever reason it’s stopping you. It's in your way. Get under a bar. Get on the field. Go out there and just fucking get it.

My old training partner and I used to say that if every rep looked perfect you weren’t lifting enough. Because without struggle there can be no growth.

 

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A Simple Way to Program Progressive Overload

A Simple Way to Program Progressive Overload

 

What you are getting yourself into - 1500 Words

Estimated Read Time - 10-15 Minutes

 

 

Let me start off by saying a mountain of information exists regarding progressive overload but most of it pertains to how progressive overload works and the body of work that focuses on the theory rather than practical implementation of the concept. This is rather a crash course into how you can apply the concept into a practical setting for your training.

To start we must first define Progressive overload. It is a gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training. The term progressive resistance exercise was coined by Thomas Delorme, M.D. when he rehabilitated soldiers after World War II. He noticed that by placing gradually increasing weights on soldiers ankles and doing a leg extension while their broken leg was in a cast that they would return to service much faster after the cast was taken off as opposed to the soldiers that did nothing with the broken limb. Later this became what we now call progressive overload. In the search to become stronger and improve performance in physical endeavours coaches took this concept and applied it to training utilising a few methods; the most popular being adding weight to the bar over a gradual period of time. Later these methods would be organised into a timeline an athlete can follow to peak for their sport. This was the seed that started the tree of periodisation.

Progressive Overload is a gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training.
— Note: stress doesn't always have to be more weight on the bar.

 

Learning From Our Predecessors

Before Delorne ever touched a scalpel progressive overload was being practiced in ancient times. The simplest depiction of progressive overload is the now famous illustration of Milo of Croton. It’s used to explain progressive overload in the simplest of ways. 

The image is self explanatory; lift more weight gradually over time and you gradually get stronger. In other words your body adapts to the imposed stress gradually (I’ve said gradually a lot because people forget the word looking to get stronger). The golden rule being that more stress than before needs to be applied otherwise the organism (us) doesn't have a reason to adapt because it’s strong enough.

Seems relatively simple at first, but as anyone who has lifted weights for a long period knows imposed demand on the body by increasing load alone eventually leads to diminishing returns. Initially we make fantastic progress but if you could continually add 2.5kgs (5lbs) to a lift every week everyone would be lifting a tonne by the time they hit their seventh year of training. There comes a time when adding more weight on the bar actually becomes counter productive and can even lead to regression. The aim of this article isn't about breaking down why we have these adaptions or their mechanisms as it is a very complicated subject that requires much more than a short piece like this. Although knowing why helps you understand the how within contexts I will be focusing on giving you some tools to assist you in continuing to progress when the weight on the bar doesn’t want to budge. Nothing I will be sharing with you is new; but it’s a good summary of the primary ways how you can progress without adding more weight for the same reps. It’s the practical toolset every lifter needs.

It’s a good summary of the primary ways how you can progress without adding more weight for the same reps. It’s the practical toolset every lifter needs.

 

How to Increase your 1RM

Before I give you methods let’s put a practical example of how this can work over a short period of time using a theoretical lift. For the purposes of all my examples we will use a theoretical lifter that lifts 100kg (225lbs) in the bench press. The main goal would be to get 90% (90kg) of that weight for a set of 5-6 reps over a period of 6 weeks. Typically 90% can only be performed for about 1-3 repetitions for a max. Below is a series of ways to get to that goal using various percentages of your 1RM without ever adding weight/percentages to work sets. Stay until the very end and i’ll show you how to incorporate all of these techniques into a single program that you can apply immediately if you so choose.

 

Increase Sets

So let’s say after the initial warm up we work up to one set of 2 repetitions with 90% (90kg). For ournext session we will be aiming for 2x2 rather than 1x2, 3x2 the session after and so on. It doesn’t have to be so aggressive though. A better way to go about it would be to hit 1x2 twice or three times in a row and then increase to 2x2. Rinse and repeat. I have to say this is my favourite of the primary methods I will show you. Adding sets is brutal and effective!

 

Practical application

Week 1 - Day 1 - 1 x 2 @90%

Week 1 - day 2 - 1 x 2 @90%

Week 1 - day 3 - 1 x 2 @90%

 

Week 2 - Day 1 - 2 x 2 @90%

Week 2 - Day 2 - 2 x 2 @90%

Week 2 - Day 3 - 2 x 2 @90%

 

Week 3 - Day1 - 3 x 2 @90%

Week 3 - Day2 - 3 x 2 @90%

Week 3 - Day3 - 3 x 2 @90%

so on…

 

Increase Repetitions

Typically I would use this approach in conjunction with adding sets; after adding a sufficient amount of sets you can reduce sets and add reps. Using a percentage like 90% it is difficult to achieve as the working repetitions are too high to add reps week after week. For this I would recommend using something around 80-85%. For this example I will use 85% on our theoretical lifter. You may ask; but how do I get stronger with 90% if i’m only using 85% Steve! It’s pretty simple really; if you increase the amount of reps you do with something as close as 85% you will also increase your ability to punch out reps at 90% as it’s a close percentage. Obviously this approach has diminished returns the further away you are from your goal percentage you are trying to improve. That has big implications regarding 1RM strength but thats a long conversation for another day.

 

Practical Application

Week 1 - Day 1 - 3 x 3 @85%

Week 1 - day 2 - 3 x 3 @85%

Week 1 - day 3 - 3 x 3 @85%

 

Week 2 - Day 1 - 3 x 4 @85%

Week 2 - Day 2 - 3 x 4 @85%

Week 2 - Day 3 - 3 x 4 @85%

 

Week 3 - Day1 - 3 x 5 @85%

Week 3 - Day2 - 3 x 5 @85%

Week 3 - Day3 - 3 x 5 @85%

so on…

 

Increase Frequency

To make this work two things need to be considered. The amount of volume in a single session needs to be capable of either increasing or decreasing or alternatively starting with a low frequency, low volume approach and simply adding frequency. For the sake of simplicity we will opt for the latter.

 

Practical Application

Week 1 - Day 1 - 2 x 2 @90%

 

Week 2 - Day 1 - 2 x 2 @90%

Week 2 - Day 2 - 2 x 2 @90%

 

Week 3 - Day1 - 2 x 2 @90%

Week 3 - Day2 - 2 x 2 @90%

Week 3 - Day3 - 2 x 2 @90%

so on…

 

Increase Volume

Implementing any of these primary approaches will inevitably increase volume. As you add more sets, repetitions or frequency either daily, weekly or both daily and weekly volume will increase. Typically as volume rises we see a diminishment of intensity but that isn’t necessarily true as the models I have used have kept the chosen intensity constant while increasing volume over time.

 

Combining All Three Approaches

A combination of all three primary approaches can yield significant returns. By mixing and matching the body must respond to the added stress placed upon it by becoming more robust or put simply; get stronger. We are replacing weight on the bar with added sets, reps, frequency and rotating volume. The program below doesn’t have much volume initially but gradually increases. Obviously warm up accordingly before hitting your top sets; something like 2x5 with 50%, 1x5 with 70%, then a set 5% below what you are hitting for working sets with the same repetitions as the working sets. I’ve added a taper or deload on the seventh week so you can be primed to hit more than 5 reps come testing time with 90%, or alternatively go for a new max.

Sample program

 

Turning Something Simple into Something Complex

I left daily volume and weekly intensity in there to show you all something. Although the average percentage doesn't change much week to week this is still a simple model of daily undulating periodisation or DUP as intensity varies and so does volume. It’s all the rave but like most things it’s just a term and has been done for a long time. I am trying to illustrate that with a little bit of knowledge you can apply simple concepts to make a program that at first seems to be using very complicated mechanisms. Ultimately this is progressive overload placed within a time sensitive model or to use another word it is periodised into what could be referred to as a microcycle.

I acknowledge there are other ways to make this more advanced such as using variations of the primary movement you are looking to increase (pauses, close grip, rest pause sets, etc) but this is a KISS model and not tailored to each individuals needs. Feel free to try the program above or make your own using the tools i’ve outlined; just remember not to get carried away with volume! everything adds up and you can easily bite off more than you can chew.

 

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Managing Fatigue Or How To Auto-regulate Like a Boss

 

 

What you are getting yourself into - 866 Words

Estimated read time - 6-10 Minutes

 

 

When it comes to the topic of fatigue management usually the topics covered are things like, sleep, nutrition, supplements and rest days. In regards to auto-regulating training models exist such as RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) coined originally by powerlifting legend Mike Tuchscherer (The older guys of yesteryear used to say leave a few reps in the tank; which is essentially the same thing without quantifying how many you should leave). Percentage based training typically uses deload weeks or “tapers” towards competitions or when fatigue peaks. One focuses primarily on managing fatigue during each session so that essentially a deload week isn't necessary or can be delayed; the other focuses on implementing rest periods for the body to recover at specific intervals. Both can be used interchangeably or concurrently and both have been field tested and work. I’ll be focusing more on training models rather than the typical sleep, eat repeat stuff that most people have covered to death and anyone with half a brain and some training knowledge knows how to do.

 

The model i’m going to share is neither RPE based or percentage based approaches but incorporates elements of both in a different way. I first saw this method proposed in the late, great Mel C. Siffs book Supertraining, and it piqued my interest; then later I stumbled across a book name THE APRE (Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise) by Bryan Mann which included a simple efficient breakdown of how he incorporated the method into a workable model. It included the system based on 3RM, 6RM, and 10RMs that Siffs book covered with recommended loading parameters built in. I had taken this concept and made my own tables while training individuals and coincidently they were very close to what Bryan Mann had in his book; although mine had percentage increments rather than weight increments and mine included two extra protocols such as 5RM and 8RM which you could argue is just like 6RM and 10RM protocols; unless you've done those rep ranges then you know 10 reps is a hell of a mountain in comparison to 8.

 

So what is this thing? The basic idea behind it is extremely simple, yet very effective. Let’s say we take a 5 repetition max squat as an example; roughly 80% of your 1RM you warm up effectively maybe with 50% then 75% of your 80% working set then go balls to the wall and try and get as many repetitions as possible (AMRAP). Lets say it’s a pretty good day in the office and with acceptably decent form you hit 7 repetitions. Your next set will go up 2.5 to 5kg (5 - 10lbs for my American friends) or as I prefer 2-4% of the percentage you started with. Then you hit that next set after a long rest period for another AMRAP. Our theoretical lunatic lifter hits 6 repetitions on that set. This means next time around the lifter uses the modified increase as the main working AMRAP and the cycle begins again.

 

The wonderful thing about this system is it is based on what I call true fatigue; it is not based on what you think you can do, but rather what you can actually do. This is an important point of difference with the RPE based system as it isn’t perceived exertion it’s actual exertion. This is particularly important for people who overthink their workout or have a poor concept of utilising the RPE scale. I’ve found that the RPE scale works well for calm lifters but horribly for intense lifters. “RPE 7? NO PROBLEM MAN; I’M GONNA CRUSH THIS FUCKING SET”. Next minute: RPE11.5 for a set of 5 and a half horrible reps. That is not to say that any model or system is perfect or that somehow by going to failure someone won’t be idiotic enough to do forced reps or have the reps deteriorate to the point of no return but it does allow someone to push as hard as possible within their true capacity, and I like that. I also like the fact that if a particular lift is stuck this will tend to unstick it pronto. 

 

The wonderful thing about this system is it is based on what I call true fatigue; it is not based on what you think you can do, but rather what you can actually do. This is an important point of difference with the RPE based system as it isn’t perceived exertion it’s actual exertion.

Alright Steve but how do implement this exactly? Don’t stress, I got you covered. Below is a cheat sheet of how I personally use this system for some of my athletes. If you need more guidance regarding how to use the system I recommend picking up Bryan Mann’s book THE APRE for a simple easy to read more in depth guide.

 

Implementation recommendations would be if you’re running this method do it on a single lift that needs the most work. I would run the 10-5RM blocks twice a week and the 3RM once a week as it can be quite taxing. You can transition from one block to another every 3 weeks gradually building to a 3RM cycle and then transitioning to a retest day after a 4-10 day deload depending on your size and training age. Bigger people tend to take longer to recover and vice versa. Each individual can vary in their capacity to perform reps vs a true 1RM and the variation in 3rm to 6rm can be great sometimes. If people are interested I will make a post about how you can scale the rep ranges and effectiveness of each range for the individual as well as more complicated ways to incorporate this method that can be used.

Give this a run and watch your numbers rise.

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