Lots of different schools of thought have impacted how I train. You will see elements of Pavel Tsastouline, Stuart McRobert, Randall Strossen, Paul Kelso, Steve Pulcinella, and Dave Tate/Louie Simmons in my training, but the two biggest influences at present are Bob Peoples/Paul Anderson’s range of motion progression training and Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1. If I were too quickly summarize my training, it would be ROM progression with 5/3/1 assistance work.
The training is divided into 4 different days: overhead press, squat, bench and deadlift (look familiar)? As a powerlifter primarily with some dabbling in strongman, I have found these 4 lifts to be very beneficial in reaching my goals, and focusing on improving them to be key to making progress. If one’s goals were a little more nebulous, I imagine you could use different movements than these, as long as they could follow ROM progression in their implementation.
Training follows 8 week waves. You will train heavy for 7 weeks and then deload on the 8th week before starting the cycle over.
Each training day starts with the primary lift of the day. At the start of the cycle, you will have the lift at a height such that it is 7 points higher than the bottom of the movement.
I realize that sounds confusing, so I will give an example.
EXAMPLE: If you were using rubber patio pavers to elevate your deadlift, then at the start of the cycle you will have 6 patio pavers under the plates. On week 2, you will have 5, week 3 will have 4, week 4 will have 3, week 5 will have 2, week 6 will have 1, week 7 will have 0 (deadlift from the floor), and then at week 8 you will deload by only training the assistance work before starting the whole thing over. Ensure that you keep the weight on the bar the same each week.
(Note: When it comes to ROM progressing the other lifts, the most effective strategy I have found is suspending chains from the support beams of a power rack and then counting the amount of chain links I need to create the loop of chain needed to hold the bar at certain heights. It’s as easy as moving 7 links up the chain at the start of the cycle and moving down to the bottom range of the movement. For overhead pressing, I have to sit on a bench, but if you have a high power rack, you could most likely still do it standing.)
When it comes to picking a weight for each lift, start with something that you can hit double digit reps in at the start of the cycle. Shoot for 10-12. On your very first cycle, you may end up keeping the same amount of reps or even adding as you get close to the bottom, but with more cycles you will start to lose reps from start to finish, and having that kind of buffer will allow you to be able to complete a cycle. After you finish a cycle, add 5-15lbs to the bar and start over. On your second cycle, you may be able to get away with a bigger jump (I have gone as high as 25lbs moving from a 495lb deadlift for 10 reps), but after that it’s definitely going to get smaller and smaller. Once you get to the point where you are only able to do 1-3 reps at the end of a cycle, reduce the weight on the bar by 10% and start over.
Additionally, I will note that, on the primary lift, start the movement from the bottom, but every other rep after the first is touch and go. Rest pausing can be implemented to get more practice with breaking the weight from a dead stop (and I do this with deads especially), but they are not absolutely necessary.
After hitting the primary lift of the day, you will follow up with assistance work. The point of the assistance work is to make that primary lift get stronger. If your assistance lifts go down while your primary lift goes up, you are doing it right. If your assistance lifts go up while your primary lift goes down, you are doing it wrong. Keep your priorities straight and you’ll be fine.
You should pick assistance lifts that are improving weak points. My generally philosophy is that if you hate something or are bad at it, you probably need to do it, whereas if you have a favorite assistance lift that you love to do and look forward to, it’s probably time to scrap it.
In terms of assistance lifts structure, I have a few preferences. On my bench day, I like to follow up the primary lift with an overhead press variation, and on press day I use a bench variation. On both squat and deadlift days, I use squat variations, as I find my squat needs more training to improve, while my deadlift requires minimal practice. For the upper body work, I like to do 5 straight sets of 10 reps, whereas for lower body work I tend to do 3 sets of 10 and then strip the weight down for a widowmaker set of 20. Additionally, the upper body work is done immediately following the primary lift, while the lower body work is performed at the end of the workout, ala Dogg Crapp/John Meadows training. I find that, by saving the squats until the end, one can really give the movement their all while still pushing the assistance work hard. When doing the squats first, the assistance work tends to get a very half hearted effort.
When it comes to upper back work, I find the back responds well to high volume, and try to get in a ton of reps by working my sets in between sets of everything else that day, to include warm-up sets. The key is to perform sets of sub-maximal reps to stay fresh and avoid negatively impacting your performance on your other work. Additionally, I am a big fan of using chin ups as my first movement of the day to warm-up. I’ll do a massive set of them with 2 rest pauses and shoot for a rep goal. Jim Wendler said that he did about 50-100 chin ups before he even touched a barbell with 5/3/1, and I think that’s a great approach to get in more volume and get warm for the day.
For example, on bench day, in between each warm-up and working set on bench and each set of overhead pressing, you can do a set of 5 chin ups, or a row variation, or band pull aparts, or even combine the movements into a quasi-circuit. You can see how this can quickly add up to a good amount of volume, especially as you add more reps to the back movement performed between reps.
With the general explanation over, I’ll provide a template to follow.
-(Chain Suspended) Strict Press
1xAs Many As Possible
-Bench press variation
-Lateral/Rear delt work
Pull up variation performed in between each set. Consider setting a rep goal for the day and meeting it in the workout.
-(Chain Suspended) Squat
-Hamstring/lower back work
I like to do a few sets of glute ham raises in between my warm-up sets for squats, but otherwise you can throw in some more hamstring/lower back work as needed.
-(Chain Suspended) Bench
-Overhead press variation
There are a few options with back work on this day. You want to have some sort of row variation here. You can either train it 5 sets of 10 like the overhead press, or train it in between sets of other work like the pull up variations. Still keep the pull ups in here as well, and consider some band pull aparts too. You can’t go too wrong with volume.
-Mat pull/deadlift (depending on time in cycle)
-Hamstring/lower back work
1x30-50 reps (Kroc Row style)
Just like squats, I like to get in a few sets of GHRs on this day as well for extra volume.
ASSISTANCE WORK MOVEMENTS
When it comes to assistance movement variations, here are some of the one’s I’ve found to be most effective.
Bench Press Variation
Barbell bench press
Swiss bar bench press
Swiss bar floor press
Swiss bar incline press
Dumbbell bench press
Barbell bench press with chains
Barbell pause bench press
Overhead press variations
Barbell strict press
Swiss bar strict press
Seated dumbbell overhead press
Fat gripz barbell strict press
Axle strict press
Seated swiss bar strict press
Dead stop barbell strict press
Close grip barbell strict press
Safety squat bar squat
Barbell squat with chains
Safety squat bar squat with chains
Lower back/hamstring work variations
Glute ham raise
Kettlebell swings (I prefer hitting these either for max speed or a rep goal)
Ab work variations
Weighted GHR sit ups
Pull up variations
Neutral grip chin up
V-handle chin up
Wide grip chin/pull up
Close grip chin/pull up
Rear/lateral delt work
Band pull aparts
Seated dumbbell power cleans
Swiss bar curls
Grenade ball curls
As a general note, when it comes to most assistance work, I rarely ever lock out the rep. I see assistance work more for muscle building and working on sticking points rather than grooving competition form, so I will find the hardest part of the rep range and spend the majority of my time training within that part of the rep. It is very beneficial for maintain time under tension for the muscle, and will tend to build up the parts you are weak on with a lift, which will pay off on your primary lifts.
CONDITIONINGThe above mentioned is 4 days of lifting per week. When it comes to conditioning, I try to fit it in whenever I can on non-lifting days. I am a big fan of the tabata protocol for various movements, and tend to employ the protocol for a movement similar to one I trained the day before. IE: If yesterday I did heavy pressing, then today I’ll do tabata log clean and press. If it was squat day, then I do tabata front squats. If it was deadlift day, sled drags or famer’s walks. I find this to be helpful in getting bloodflow to the area and speeding up recovery.
The key with this type of training is to pick a weight heavy enough to tax your but not so heavy that it’s impossible to lift for the last few rounds of the protocol. You can’t go too light, as long as you make up for the light weight by trying to get in as many reps as possible in the 20 seconds.
Aside from tabata work, I like employing circuit training for conditioning. Set a time limit, like 15 minutes, and pick a circuit that hits the full body. I like KB swings, dips and chins, for 10/5/5 reps respectively. Try to beat your previous records for number of rounds completed in the allotted time.
One other option is something lower in intensity, like walking or dragging a sled (not running with the sled, just dragging it). This can help with recovery from heavy/brutal workouts and still keep one in decent shape.
I try to avoid having days with zero training performed. The tabata protocol makes it easy to get in a quick, intense workout, and if you pick something like burpees, you don’t even need equipment. More work capacity and GPP never hurt anyone.
And that’s how I train, for now at least. If you choose to employ this method, leave a comment on this post if you have any questions, or just to update me on how the training is going for you. If enough interest in generated, I can discuss my diet as well.