Gaining Strength

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Roughly eight weeks ago, I participated in my own, personal powerlifting meet. Just as it would be done in an actual meet, I tested myself in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. You can read more about it here in one of my previous blog posts about maximum strength and power training. In this last week, I tested myself again. I improved on all my lifts, some more significantly than others. My bench press improved from 225 lbs to 230 lbs. I was actually very disappointed with my rather microscopic improvement in this lift. As most young males tend to do, I did a lot of bench pressing when I was younger and it was one of my best lifts. My goal max was 240, and I took too many shots at it before dropping the weight down to 235. I probably could have gotten 235, but I had accumulated too much fatigue by the time I tried it. It left a bitter taste in my mouth and two days later, I took one more shot at a max of 235. This was a mistake, as soreness and fatigue were still a factor. I needed to let it go and just be satisfied with 230 (done during training), and a 5 lb increase. I squatted a pathetically low weight of 205 in the first round of testing. This time I improved my squat to 235, 10 lbs above my goal of 225, for a 30 lbs total increase. I wasn’t completely surprised with this result since I had the most room for improvement on this lift. My deadlift topped out at 285 last time, and my goal was to reach the 300 lb mark. I hit 315, good enough for a 30 lb improvement which is also not shocking since this is a big, strong, whole body lift.  My previous total for all three lifts was 715 lbs and my new total is 780 lbs, for a total gain of 65 lbs at the body weight of 170 lbs. It was an individual experiment to see how much strength I could add in 8 weeks. For those who are interested, continue on as I reveal the program I followed.

I am not sure who originally created the program that I used as a template, but it is quite similar to some of the easy strength programs I have seen by Dan John and Pavel Tsatsouline. The first step in the program was to determine my target goals for my new maxes in the three lifts (squat, bench press, and deadlift). A 15 to 20lb increase is considered reasonable, and beyond that, it can start getting unrealistic. The weights for the workout are based on percentages calculated from the goal max. Here are my original maxes, followed by my goals(what I based my training loads off of), and that is followed by what I actually achieved in my recent strength testing.

Squat            205            225         235

Bench Press   225            240         230

Deadlift         285            300         315

If you know me by now, I place a huge emphasis on mobility.  I wanted to make sure I kept up on it, and kept moving well.  I also worked on a few key areas that limit me from time to time. Particularly my upper back and shoulders. I wrote about my mobility/warm-up protocol in this last post. I also did foam roller work at the very beginning of the workout, focusing on all the major muscle groups for a minimum of thirty seconds each.

The first four weeks consisted of higher volume training. Each week, the weight increased, the volume decreased, and it looked just like this.

Weeks 1 to 4

  • Week 1 – 3 sets x 6 reps @ 60% of my goal max
  • Week 2 – 3 x 5 @ 65%
  • Week 3 – 3 x 4 @ 70%
  • Week 4 – 3 x 3 @ 75%

A typical week looked like this, following the above sets and reps for all lifts, except the core exercises:

Monday

  • Squat
  • Bench Press
  • Deadlift
  • Pull-Ups
  • Front Plank – 3 x 30 seconds (only the core exercise was done with a different set and rep protocol)

Wednesday

  • Bench Press
  • Deadlift
  • Squat
  • Bent-Over Row
  • Cable Core Press – 3 x 10 reps each side

Friday

  • Deadlift
  • Squat
  • Bench Press
  • Pull-Ups
  • Bird-Dogs – 3 x 10 reps each side

The next four weeks consisted of the heavy training phase. Only one heavy lift was performed each workout, and the other two lifts were lower weight and higher volume. I implemented some of the Triphasic Training concepts. In week five, whichever lifts were done with lower weight and higher volume, I emphasized the eccentric portions of the lifts. I did this with squats, bench press, pull-ups, and bent-over row, but not deadlift. I utilized long, slow barbell descents in the squat, bench press, and bent-over row, and I lowered myself slowly in the pull-ups. I usually did a four to five second eccentric portion of the lift. I consistently did deadlifts with a moderate tempo. Week six, I did an isometric hold in the bottom portion of the squat and bench press, and the top portion of the pull-up and bent-over row. The isometric holds were three to four seconds. Just as with the eccentric phase, I only did the isometric holds with lighter loads. The last two weeks, lighter loads were lifted as explosively as possible.

Weeks 5 to 8

  • Week 5 – 2 sets x 1rep @ 80% of my goal max
  • Week 6 – 2 x 1 @ 85%
  • Week 7 – 2 x 1 @ 90%
  • Week 8 – 2 x 1 @ 95%

A typical week looked like:

Monday

  • Squat – 2 x 1
  • Bench Press – 4 x 4 @ 60%
  • Deadlift – 4 x 4 @ 60%
  • Pull-Ups – 4 x 4
  • Plank w/ arm or leg raises – 3 x 10 each side

Wednesday

  • Bench Press – 2 x 1
  • Deadlift – 4 x 4 @ 60%
  • Squat – 4 x 4 @ 60%
  • Bent-Over Row – 4 x 4 @ 60%
  • Half Kneeling Cable Chop – 3 x 10 reps each side

Friday

On days that I didn’t lift, with the exception of Sunday (my one whole day off), I usually ran sprints. I followed the protocols from Joel Jamieson’s book, Ultimate MMA Conditioning.

Sprint

Alactic Power Intervals- Increase in enzymes of alactic energy production and power output of fast twitch fibers.

  • 1 to 2 sets
  • 5 to 6 reps per set
  • 7 to 10 seconds per rep
  • 2 to 5 minutes rest between reps
  • All out sprints

Alactic Capacity Intervals- Increase in phosphocreatine storage capacity and power endurance of fast twitch fibers.

  • 2 to 3 sets per workout
  • 10 to 12 reps per set
  • 10 to 15 seconds per rep
  • 20 to 90 seconds rest between reps
  • Maintain maximum power as long as possible

I did one aerobic session per week for maintenance, usually a longer run on the weekend.

TNT run

Cardiac Output Method- Increase in cardiac output, vascular network slow twitch fibers.

  • 30 to 90 minutes
  • Heart Rate: 120 to 150 beats per minute
  • Low Resistance
  • Any Cardio

I also did low intensity hiking in the mountains with my dogs and supplemented it all with MovNat training. All the MovNat training was lower intensity skill work and I stayed away from any extra heavy lifting, so it didn’t interfere with my powerlifting program. I wanted to avoid over-training. I was always cognizant of how I felt, and I was not hesitant to skip any workouts if I was feeling extra sore and fatigued. This experiment was about maximal strength and I had to keep a high priority on the training that was helping me to maximize my strength and reach my goals. All other training was secondary.

That encompasses all my training for the last eight weeks. I hope that someone out there might find it useful or interesting. Overall, I was happy with all my strength gains. My body weight stayed the same throughout the program. I started at 170 and ended at the same weight. I didn’t make any changes to my nutrition and still follow a low carb paleo approach. Now I am going to focus more on endurance training in the next month to get ready for Summer racing. I will probably return to some type of heavy resistance strength training in a month to help maintain my strength, and to test how much strength I have lost. I will not stop strength training during this endurance phase, I will just increase the volume and lower the weight. Just remember, whatever your goal is, keep focused on the key training sessions that will help you reach your goals, and make those sessions your priority! If you have any questions about the training program I documented here, don’t hesitate to contact me.

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