Two years ago I released my first book, “Base Strength” which included 10 prefabricated programs at the end. I never meant for these programs to be ran as written or to be done in sequence of some kind of bucket list of training programs (though I knew they would). Rather, they were specifically meant to be examples of the concepts that I’d spent the early part of the book fleshing out.
The fact is there are a lot of viable ways to train that involve different frequencies, exercise selections, set and rep schemes and so on and I wanted to give the reader plenty of opportunity to see how these same principles pop-up in differently structured programs.
Choosing an appropriate training split requires knowledge of your own recovery abilities and training tolerance. It can be kind of tricky to get that down as starting out in weight lifting usually involves just copying what other, more successful lifters are doing. In the beginning, everybody grows and it’s not until you’ve been around for a while that you recognize that the same old thing doesn’t work or that what will work really well for somebody else may not provide satisfactory results for you.
These are just 5 of the endless options you have for training organization. It can be mind numbing to look at all of the (seemingly arbitrary) ways to put together a workout and the result is paralysis by analysis.
I did a video last year covering charlatans in the lifting/performance/fitness industry. My main focus was Joel Seedman, somebody who’s gained quite a bit of notoriety by peppering his Instagram with videos of his clients doing ridiculously complex exercises. Seedman is known for gems like “ squatting to 90 degree knee angle is superior to squatting to depth” and likes to insist on his very carefully branded method of training, which primarily consists of training conflicting movement patterns within the same exercise and often in a massively destabilized setting. Do a curl with one arm and a press with the other, stand in a split squat, control the eccentric and try to resist external band tension pulling you out of position. Seriously, that’s an exercise.
Now, in his case it’s one thing to argue the efficacy of any one movement. Of course A movement can’t be evaluated until you have a specific goal to apply it against; NFL players, for instance. Seedman often uses Pro players to prop up his methodologies, which is a compelling sales tactic. Understand that these athletes need to be strong but also fast, reactive and coordinated more so than they need to be big. So it stands to reason that standard hypertrophy work is going to be a smaller piece of the puzzle than things that might lend themselves to sports specific performance. You wouldn’t evaluate a program for an NFL player the same way you would a powerlifting or general fitness program for the average Joe.
Size and strength are two of the most trainable qualities in the human body. Not only do they both respond very predictably to training but they just so happen to go together like peanut butter and bananas.
Where certain physical qualities might have a more rigid ceiling that can’t be pushed past, anybody can continue to add a little bit of muscle mass by increasing training volume, implementing progressive overload and upping their calorie intake. If your goal is to increase strength, there is always the option to add a few more pounds of muscle to your frame.
Size and strength can also be trained separately and when that’s done for a long enough period of time you can dramatically increase one at the expense of the other. At the top end of the competitive tier, you might very well find bodybuilders with ridiculous amounts of muscle on their frame who would be hard-pressed to hang with amateur powerlifters 3 weight classes down. And on the other end of the spectrum, you will see 500lb benches and 800 lb deadlifts from specialists who have as much muscle as your average landscaper.
Strongmen are better deadlifters than powerlifters are.
This is a point I’ve made in passing a few times while having a broader discussion about different training variables and why certain activities are so good for strengthening your posterior chain and improving your ability to pick things up off the ground.
I never thought it was that controversial. After all, strongmen are known for having a dozen or so athletes who are capable of deadlifting 1000 pounds from the floor within several hours of performing Yoke carries, bag loading and log pressing. Powerlifters are known for missing their second deadlift attempt and blaming it on the fatigue from their bench attempt from 4 hours earlier.
After so many posts on the subject, I’ve come to expect the voice of dissent in the comment section every time I make this point. I can talk about the massive lifts that are done with many different implements through many different movement and rep ranges. I can talk about how the feats performed by the world’s best strongmen are out of arm’s reach of the world’s best powerlifters. Like clockwork, a powerlifting sycophant (likely someone who has had no exposure to other strength sports and likely isn’t very competitive themselves) will imply that powerlifting holds the rights to the one true deadlift because they don’t use straps and they hitch.
And let’s not forget about those dirty, dirty suits.
Example: Is low-bar squat or high-bar better? Will the safety bar or cambered bar do more for my squat? Is parallel more productive than full ass-to-grass?
Here are some better questions.
What are the meaningful differences between these training variables (if any) and how will those differences impact my immediate and long term goal?
Let’s start with your competitive setup.
For your main lift, you should be aiming for a comfortable and intuitive setup where you have good purchase on the weight at the bottom position and can transition to lock out in a fluid and efficient manner. That’s going to mean different things to people with different builds. Regardless of your build, remember you get good at how you train! You can have the longest femurs in the world and still learn how to high bar squat. There are plenty of Olympic lifters who fit that mold. Similarly, us stumpy potatoes can mimic a wide, hip dominant type squat just as well as we can put our heels together and touch the ground with our butt. The thing we will have the most skill and efficiency with will invariably be the thing that we drill the most. So don’t sweat the small stuff.
Performance in anything requires physical ability as well as skill and experience in that particular movement. It would be enough to say that squats develop really strong and conditioned leg and hip muscles but the fact that the pattern of squatting so closely resembles athletic and real-world movement patterns gives it a quality that few other movements have. It’s no accident that squatting is a key feature in all athletic programs, from American football and soccer to track and field events. Putting a weight on your back, sitting down and standing back up creates physical adaptations that transfer over to just about every physical activity you can think of.
Now, there might be valid arguments for favoring more specialized variations when it comes to peaking in a specific event. Specificity advocates have cited quarter squats as being more specific (and, thus, more useful) to sprinting and jumping and I’m inclined to say that they aren’t exactly wrong. But as a base standard for physical development, getting comfortable sitting down into a parallel squat will lead to a baseline of strength, size and coordination that will provide a substantial platform for more specialized training in any particular sport.
The muscles are responsible for most of the power that extends the hip. If you are standing up, running, jumping or, most importantly, deadlifting, your glutes will be the difference between success and embarrassment.
Serious training builds up fatigue. It’s a fact. If you’re training hard enough to get stronger then you’re training hard enough to dig yourself into a recovery hole. Now, there are a lot of ways to work around that which might include varying the exercises over time, dropping volume as the weights get heavier or moving into different phases of training. But when it comes to making your training sustainable in the short-term, deloads are one of the easiest and most proven methods for making your training sustainable.
While not defined in most textbooks, deloading is talked widely about in general training culture and has been written about extensively. It generally means a deliberate reduction in training stress that is done to allow for recovery. So as multiple weeks of hard training compound togethe,r a single week of reduced training stress will allow the lifter to bounce back so that they can continue to hammer the iron once again. This can be done by reducing volume, intensity, effort, aggression, changing the exercise or doing some combination of all..