Hi. I’m Luke.
You may recognize my name from around the site… I’m kind of a big deal around here. = D
Today, I want to tell you a bit about how I have been applying a lot of these principles I’ve been rambling about in weeks past to my own training, and what my plans and goals are for the immediate future (ya know, training-wise… not for life and stuff).
For those of you that have signed up for the newsletter (There are 7 of us. I am one of them. We are legion.), you will know that I have been talking for a while (or 2 weeks) about starting to log my own training on here. My working plan is to do this as a side-project while still putting out weekly articles, but I figured for the first one, I might as well make a full post of it. On a side note, if you haven’t signed up for the newsletter but would like to keep updated on the site, show some love and give me your email on one of the forms on this page (right sidebar or below this post). I promise I won’t pester you aside from one weekly update; please be my friend!
Anyways! On to business.
Before we just jump into what exercises I’m training or how I’ve programmed them, we need some context (e.g. goals). So what am I training for?! Well, I haven’t signed up for anything yet, but I’ve been eyeing up a few powerlifting meets that are happening in December.
While I have technically competed in a couple of push/pull meets before (i.e. powerlifting competitions minus the squat event; so just bench pressing and deadlifting), I have never actually entered a full, sanctioned powerlifting meet, though it is an idea I have been gravitating towards more and more in the past several months. I think it’s time.
There are several reasons I think this is a positive thing for my training, not the least of which being that it has given me a concrete timeline along which to plan my training so that I will (hopefully) be at peak, tip-top levels of strength come mid-December. On top of that, though, the two events I have competed at have been really positive experiences, and I am sure that at a sanctioned meet, there are going to be several lifters much stronger than myself, which usually means a prime environment for learning valuable lessons about… you guessed it: getting stronger.
Before then, though, I need to do everything I can to make sure I’m ready to hit the best 1 rep maxes I can muster come meet day. This leads us to the fun part: what I’ve been doing in my training so far and what I plan to do over the next couple of months.
Up ‘Till Now
I’ll write more soon about the idea of periodizing one’s training to pursue specific goals one at a time, but for now we’re gonna skip the intro course and jump straight into the practical. As I’ve pointed out in past articles, the best way to get stronger is to move heavy(ish) things. However, as I’ve also discussed (mostly in this article on specificity), there are ways that we can use more general training to increase our potential to build strength (e.g. building more muscle, getting in better overall shape, fixing faulty movement patterns, etc.). Since we are still a ways out from my December target, this is exactly what I have been doing. In particular, my training for the past 6 weeks has been focused on building volume to help increase my overall work capacity and try to promote some hypertrophy. To specify even further, I was mostly focused on increasing my specific work capacity on the squat and bench press. I also tailored most of my assistance and accessory work to try to focus on thickening my legs, upper back, and triceps, as I felt (and feel) that I personally had the most to gain out of adding muscle to these areas.
You may notice that I used the word “focus(ed)” for the past three sentences straight. Maybe we can call that lazy writing, but it raises an important point: the further along you get in your training, the harder it becomes to improve everything at once. That’s not to say you can’t do it, but at some point, the amount of time and energy you need to dedicate to one aspect of your training to get results could mean that you’d be best suited by backing off from another aspect of your training for the time being (in fact, backing off from something for a while and then coming back to it could yield other benefits, but more on that another time).
Now, I clearly didn’t add pounds of muscle to my legs, upper back, and triceps in the past 6 weeks, but at this point in my development, that’s just not something that I could reasonably expect in anything less than years, no matter what I do with my training. Still, I think that I’ve gotten these three areas about as thick and conditioned as I could have in the given time before moving on to the strength work (more on that below).
See this simplified, idealistic doodle above? That’s pretty much where my planning for this block began. I knew I wanted to increase my volume in undulating waves, while also waving the intensity to counter the changes in overall volume. My programming did not end up perfectly reflecting this illustration, but I thought it might be amusing to see where the wheels started turning.
I’ll show you another visual representation below of how I ended up programming my volume, but first, I’ll break down the split. The general outline went like this:
Main: Back Squat
Assistance: Front Squat
Accessory: Smith Machine Hack Squat; Back Extensions
Main: Bench Press (Superset w/ Band Pull-Aparts)
Assistance: Close Grip Bench Press (Superset w/ Dumbbell Rows)
Accessory Giant Set: Dips, Neutral-Grip Pulldown, Dumbbell Lateral Raises, Band Triceps Pushdown
Main: Deadlifts (Alternating Sumo and Conventional Weekly)
Assistance: Deficit or Snatch-Grip Deadlifts; Leg Press
Thursday – Rest
Main: Bench Press (Superset w/Band Pull-Aparts)
Assistance: Close Grip Incline Barbell Bench Press (Superset w/ Neutral-Grip Pulldowns)
Accessory Giant Set: Barbell Overhead Press; Dips; Lateral Raises; Band Triceps Pushdown
Main: Back Squat
Assistance: Leg Press
Accessory: Smith Machine Hack Squat; Back Extensions
Sunday – Rest
Just as a quick aside, when I specify “assistance” and “accessory” exercises, I’m mostly just denoting whether I am expecting some direct carryover to that day’s main movement (assistance work) or if I am simply trying to build the muscles involved in that day’s main movement (accessory work). It probably seems like an irrelevant distinction, yet this is something that some seem to fret over a lot for some reason. I’d recommend that you just call your extra work whatever you want to call it, but make sure you have a reason for doing it!
As for how I actually programmed the work, here’s the breakdown, contained within a crude visual representation of how the overall training volume progressed through the 6 weeks.
I didn’t include the accessory work in the above graphic mostly because I allowed it to fluctuate a bit depending on how I was feeling. For the most part, all of the accessory exercises were done for 3 sets of anywhere from 10-20 reps.
Before I move on, I’ll mention a couple of critiques of what I’ve done and considerations for how I would choose to do things differently next time around:
- I think that this block would have been more productive towards my primary goals if I had not cycled the rep ranges for my main work as low as I did in the first 4 weeks. When I started what ended up being this 6 week block, I had only known that I wanted to start consciously focusing on building my training volume, but I hadn’t yet decided to enter a December meet and thus didn’t have a set timeline in mind (I actually had thought I might do this 6 week block twice, back-to-back). As you can see, I adjusted this for the final 2 weeks, but if I were to do it again, I would keep the reps completed/total volume even higher (and thus the average intensity a bit lower), staying in probably the 8-12 range for the entire block (at least 6 weeks, but I would probably lengthen this out to 8-10 weeks with more foresight).
- I didn’t actually program any of my deadlift work for these 6 weeks, partially because I felt that I didn’t want to take my deadlift volume very high. Instead, I just pulled once a week, alternating between sumo and conventional stances each week and usually working up to a few decently heavy triples then following with assistance work (usually a few sets of deficit or snatch-grip deadlifts along with some more direct leg work). I’m thinking now that avoiding higher volume deadlift work was not necessary, and I may have left some gainz on the table. Additionally, walking in and deadlifting without a set plan led me to work to higher intensities than were probably optimal on several days, leaving me fatigued for other workouts on those weeks.
You live and you (hopefully) learn. Now I know what I want to do differently next time!
Moving forward (actually, starting this week), I’ll be shifting into work geared towards building general strength on the squat, bench, and deadlift. The general plan here is to do most of the work within the range of 70-85% 1RM, doing 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps for the main lift each day and significantly decreasing the volume of any assistance and accessory work I’m doing. The focus here is simply to smash submaximal weights as heftily as possible for 6 weeks to prepare myself for pushing harder with near-maximal weights for the last few weeks leading up to the meet.
I’ll be squatting and benching twice per week, and deadlifting once per week, cycling between “light” (70-75%), “medium” (75-80%) , and “heavy” (80-85%) days for each movement. I like the idea of having target ranges for intensity instead of exact intensity targets simply because it can help with adjusting for good and bad gym days and offsetting the negative mentality that can come if/when you aren’t able to hit your exact target numbers on a given day.
As of now, my plan for these 6 weeks looks like this:
I’ll repeat this 3 week block twice, taking a one week break in between to attend a neuroscience conference in Chicago in October and aiming to bump my weights up ever-so-slightly (or hit whatever reps I may have missed in the first cycle) for the second round (the goal being just to make sure that I am doing a little bit more work).
I will also admit that this strength block outline is almost exactly following what Chad Wesley Smith lays out in the video below. Credit where credit is due! I made minor tweaks (e.g. incorporating sumo deadlifts and doing less pull variations, as I’m not entirely sure yet whether I will pull sumo or conventional come meet day and I feel the need to practice both), but the core design remains very much intact.
You may wonder what the deal is with the 15 minute “dealer’s choice” chunks I threw onto the schedule for Wednesdays, and to that, I must confess: I have a mild problem most of the time with throwing in too much of what some might call “junk volume,” or basically just extra movements/sets tacked onto a workout that might not be super productive or totally in line with the goal currently at hand. While this extra volume is probably a bit less problematic during, say, a hypertrophy/high volume block, I want to make sure I’m not going overboard as I move into this more focused strength block. The goal with these 15 minute blocks, then, is basically to give myself a chance to do a little bit of this “fun” volume while also placing a cap on it.
The Final Steps
Once I have completed this six week (7, counting the planned off week) strength block, the next steps will be a peaking block and, lastly, tapering off before the meet. The goal of the peaking block will be to practice exerting near-maximal efforts on the competition lifts while also holding on to as much of the size and conditioning I’ve gained through my hypertrophy and strength blocks. In a nutshell, this will mean reducing overall training volume and doing mostly sets of triples, doubles, and singles at or above 85% 1RM.
Tapering, on the other hand, refers to the practice of significantly reducing both the volume and intensity of training for a short period of time (in my case, it will be about a week) leading up to the meet, the goal being to provide time for the body to recover and (hopefully) overcompensate to the stimulus the training has provided up to that point.
I’ll plan on writing in more detail about my plans for peaking and tapering once it is time to move into that phase of preparations. For now, I just wanted to make my intent to compete known and to lay out my plans for the upcoming strength block—mostly because I thought that some of you might be interested to hear more about the purpose and structure of my own training, but also partially to more tangibly commit myself to this goal.
As always, thanks for reading, everyone! If you like my work, please spread the word to your friends, and feel free follow me through the links below (or sign up for the newsletter) for future updates on the site!
Let me know in the comments if this little journey of mine is something you would like to hear more about or if you have thoughts, feedback, or questions about my training! Conversely also let me know if you want me to shut up about my own training and just keep the other information flowing! I’m writing for all of us, here!
- My noggin.
- Chad Wesley Smith’s jugger-noggin.