Oct 29, 2014
this week on barbell shrugged we’re going old school. It’s
just me, Mike and Doug talking training. We sort of geek-out on the
topic of strength progressions. It’s a discussion that you need to
hear if you want to become strong.
“What program do you guys think I should do? No matter what I try,
I can’t gain muscle. I’m lifting 6 days a week, but still, my lifts
are going nowhere!”
It happens all the time.
This week marks the 148th episode of Barbell Shrugged. That’s a
lot, but I can promise you that I’ve been asked this same
programming question at least 150 times this year.
The cycle repeats. People get very excited and motivated early on
when it comes to training. I know the habits because I have been
there before. You use three different colors of dry erase marker to
graffiti the training goals across your whiteboard. Also, we cannot
forget the name-brand gear, the crispy clean weightlifting shoes,
or the finest lululemmon board shorts that money can buy. It all
seems important enough, right?
All of that stuff is great, I guess, right up until you go window
shopping for the actual training program. That’s how it usually
goes, right? You click around on the internet, or ask around at
your box, “What program are you guys doing right now?”
You end up doing whatever seems cool and exciting at the time.
Forget reason, evidence and personal experience, this is more
random chance silliness. How could you be surprised with a random
or negligible training result?
You have a certain amount of years to pursue the development of
your training career.
It’s like any other career path you would take. It comes in phases.
For a few years you pay your dues and put in your work. Before long
you’ll do well, but you always have to be learning and hustling to
build your skills and keep your edge. That process doesn’t ever
stop, not if you want to keep making progress throughout the
progressively harder years ahead. You will climb and climb, with
clear markers of progress all along the way. But then one day
you’ll know things are getting a little too hard. You won’t be able
to keep up that relentless edge. Retirement or a brand new
challenge become what you need most.
Do you know what program hoping really is? It’s quitting a job 3-6
months in because the retirement benefits aren’t coming fast
enough. Or, how about this? Would you ever consider working 2-3
jobs at a time? Probably not, but have you ever done more than one
training program at once? Right, this sort of mixing and matching
can be done with some experience, but you have to be really
Most athletes are reckless in practice.
What everyone needs to understand is that strength is the result of
intense, persistent and cumulative effort. Your $30 eBook or
weekend long training seminar is worth little more than a pamphlet
at the local job fair. You’ve still got to commit to something and
do some real focused work if you want a real reward.
Strength is rooted in the fundamentals. Before you think about
switching programs, make sure you’re sleeping 8-9 hours a night.
Eat more real food. Make sure you utilize basic recovery methods,
including sauna and message. It really does make all the
difference. And when it comes to training, just try being there for
a while at first.
Find a gym that has some strong members…And then be there, 4-5
times a week, every week for a year or so. You’ll always have a
better understanding of training if you do that first. You can
search for the secret sauce later on.
When you are ready to pick a training program, start with your
needs and nothing else. What do you what to get really good at?
What must improve? That will take the focus of your programming,
along with a series of very similar assistance movements that will
bring up your lifting skills quickly. It’s only then that the brand
of progression becomes a critical thing.
To get really strong, you have to add weight to the barbell. At
first you will do it weekly, or just about every time you come to
the gym. Be patient, 5 pounds a week adds up. This is simple and
linear, but you’ll be a lot stronger than you are now with zero
fuss. It’s an amazing way to train. To skip this phase is foolish.
If you do that, you’ll never reach your full potential.
The only time you ever mess around with your progression is when
the progress train stops. In that case, you rest for a while, eat
some fattening food, and you come back at it. If you ever find
yourself failing and failing again, then you know you’ve graduated.
You now need to consider spreading out the loading to every other
week, two weeks, etc. These styles of programs look more like
undulating waves if you graph them out. The most ideal, in my view,
is when you ramp up your work to a tough record attempt on week 3,
then unload. That works so well it’s silly.
I would only recommend one other approach. It’s something I arrived
at in my powerlifting training after years and years of trial and
error. My wave was still 4 weeks. I still went for my really heavy
record attempts on week 3. The last week was devoted to unloading
work and recovery.
The difference is that week 1 was my second heaviest week, with
target loads around 95% of my best. I then used my second week to
restore speed to the barbell, explode through t 70-85% weights.
That left me feeling explosive and bulletproof for my record
attempts on week 3.
Those are just a few ideas. In truth, there are endless ways you
could progress your strength work. I think you’d be wise to get
yourself two books in the beginning, “Starting Strength” and
“Practical Programming.” Both are authored by Mark Rippetoe.
You need those books. Learn all you can starting now, the rest will
sort out. Just keep your barbells heavy.