Monthly Archives: August 2014

Is the deadlift truly harder to recover from?

In this post I want to briefly explore the idea that the deadlift is a special lift in regards to programming. It seems in modern powerlifting the deadlift is supposed to be harder to recover from and produces more localized and systemic fatigue than the Squat. I personally do not believe it to be inherently different than the Squat in regards to how it should be programmed. The following are my musings on the matter:

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

One of the most common arguments that the deadlift is different is that it’s harder to recover from because of the amount of musculature used is so great. Conversely another reasoning is that the deadlift is specifically so fatiguing to the low-back that it needs to be “babied” for fear of affecting performance across other lifts. Whatever the reasoning used the recommendation is usually for a lower frequency of deadlifting than the Squat.

I think this sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe that the deadlift is inherently harder to recover from and subsequently train it with less frequency you never give your body the chance to adapt to a higher-frequency. Therefore, a lower frequency will be more fatiguing than if you trained it with more frequency.

Squatting Is The Priority

Another aspect to this deadlift disparity is when lifters make the Squat the priority. Part of this may be due to the influence from geared lifting, the squat inherently gets more out of equipment than the deadlift. Mostly due to the eccentric aspect. Another possibility is the difficulty of breaking a heavy bar off the floor. The Squat starts and ends in a standing position, aided by the stretch reflex. In the deadlift there is no stretch reflex (at least not to the same extent) and therefore it might psychologically feel like a more difficult lift. This could be another explanation as to the preferential treatment of the Squat.

Spinal Neutrality

Most powerlifters that train the Conventional deadlift with any regularity round their back to some extent. It’s very difficult to keep the back completely neutral and rounding affords some advantages with respect to speed off the floor. The weakness then shows up at lock-out. The lifters back is rounded and so to fully lock-out they need to extend their low-back. This concentric back movement may cause some damage and subsequent soreness. I believe this also contributes to this idea. The deadlift may seem to present more DOMs to individuals who round their back.

One Final Note

I want to be clear about one point. I’m not arguing that you should train the deadlift with more volume and frequency if the amount you’re using is working. However, you shouldn’t be afraid to train it harder if that’s what you need to do to continue making progress. And at some point, you will need to deadlift more to deadlift more.

I would love to hear any thoughts you may have on the topic.

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Training – Monday 25, Aug 2014

#Squat w/ belt
415 x 2 @7
435 x 2 @8.5
455 @9.5 Welp just wasn't there today. Dumped the second
410 x 2 @9
Volume was shit this past week

#Bench
220 x 4 @8
205 x 4 @7
205 x 4 @7
205 x 4 @7
205 x 4 @7
205 x 4 @7
205 x 4 @8

Not a great performance today. Probably the drop in volume last week due to the elbow.
Wore new SBD elbow sleeves during this. Seemed to help.
Need to get that amazing momentum back.

Bodybuilding for Powerlifters: It doesn’t do much but you should do it

I had some thoughts on the the idea that “powerlifters can learn a lot from bodybuilders” that’s floating around. Actually it’s not a new idea at all. Bob Hoffman used to run powerlifting meets and bodybuilding shows all on the same weekend. You can definitely make a pretty convincing argument that Powerlifting and Bodybuilding are two sides of the same coin. So should you train like a bodybuilder?

We’ve all heard guys try to make the case that putting size on their pecs or triceps translated to a bigger bench. Certainly the muscular-weakness paradigm is still very strong within Powerlifting. “I have weak quads” or “my triceps are holding back my Bench” are often heard. It’s interesting to note that this is largely an American phenomenon. American Powerlifting gets a lot of concepts from Bodybuilding, for instance: the necessity of Rows in exercise selection. A lot of these seem to be foreign to Powerlifting coaches outside of the US.

In my mind saying that tricep hypertrophy will increase your Bench is like saying that going to college will get you a high paying job. Yes, you have a better chance of getting that job had you not but one doesn’t necessarily follow the other. Bigger does not equal stronger. Musculature is an important part of strength, no one will argue against that. But all it’s going to do is give you is a bigger potential. You still need to train that musculature to Bench more. But maybe I’m just being a pedant.

My personal recommendation for “Bodybuilding work” is this: It can’t hurt and could help so do it, but don’t attribute more importance than it deserves. Don’t spend too much time on it. I do it on my GPP days, because it is, General Physical Preparation. I also like to use myo-reps because they save a lot of time.

In short: It doesn’t do much but you should do it.

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How to find your projected topset using RPE

One of the most asked questions around the RTS forums is how do I determine my topset if I’m using RPE? It’s true that when we use RPE we’re autoregulating so we don’t know 100% what weights we’ll be hitting but we can extrapolate our topset from last week’s performance so that we’ll at least have a plan going into the workout.

Let’s use a hypothetical situation as an example. Last week Joe squatted 500×5 @9. This week he’s slated to work up to a triple @9. This is what Joe should do to find his projected topset:

  1. Find x5 @9 on his RPE Chart¹. According to that chart, x5 @9 correlates to 77%
  2. Divide his topset by that percentage: 500/.77 = 650. This is his e1RM from last week.
  3. Find this week’s prescription on the RPE Chart. x3 @9 = 85%.
  4. Multiply last week’s e1RM by this percentage: 650*.85 = 550. His projected topset will be 550×3 @9

So Joe’s projected topset will be 550×3 @9. But how does he know if he’ll be able to hit that topset? This is supposed to be autoregulated! What Joe should do is two work-up sets at -10% and -5% from his projected topset². These sets will allow him to “calibrate” his topset for the day. So it’ll look similar to this:

495×3 @7
520×3 @8
550×3 @9

Using these calibration sets, by the time he does 520×3 he should know whether or not 550×3 @9 is in the cards for that day. Maybe 520×3 is more like an 8.5. He can subtract some weight from the topset. Or maybe 520×3 is a 9. He can stop there for the day. Maybe he’s having a really good day and 520×3 is more like a 7.5 and he should aim for 560 or 565.

This approach works really well to hone in on your topset. It also adds some extra volume that you might not have otherwise done. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you should try and hit the projected topset or to add weight to it. Keep in mind the initial projected topset should be considered your “maintenance” weight as it’s calculated off of last week’s e1RM, ie. your e1RM won’t change if you only hit the projected topset.

Now, if you’re new to an RPE based program and don’t have date with which to extrapolate, I’d suggest you work up in a similar way with moderate jumps until you hit your prescribed RPE.

Notes:

  1. For best results you should customize your RPE Chart

  2. I picked this up from Mike T.

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Training – Thursday 21, Aug 2014

#Reverse Band Squat w/ belt
445 x 2 @8
Stopping here cuz elbow is tender

#Deadlift w/ hookgrip
135 x 5 x 2
225 x 3
Deadlifts thankfully did not hurt my elbows. My thumbs on the otherhand… but that’s to be expected

#Deadlift w/ straps
315 x 3 @6
335 x 3 @6
355 x 3 @7
335 x 3 @6
335 x 3 @6
So no longer contributing to elbow pain with deadlifts. Now let’s see if they heal up.

Training – Wednesday 20, Aug 2014

#Slingshot Bench
260 x 2 @7
280 x 2 @8
300 x 2 @9
First time handling anything around 300. Hope to handle it soon sans Slingshot.
Stopping at topset due to elbow stress. Hopefully with my deadlift protocol I should be able to let it heal by next week
Going to take a break from pressing the rest of the week

Training – Tuesday 19, Aug 2014

#Deadlift w/ belt
365 x 3 x 3 @6-7
Getting some higher-intensity work in. Probably last week before I resume normal programming.
Feeling some elbow pain after these. I think I’ve got some arm-bend in my deadlifts. Here’s my plan going forward:
– Slowly start incorporating hook-grip
– Use hookgrip on most warmups
– Use straps once I can’t take the thumb pain anymore

#Competition Bench w/ belt
230 x 3 @7
245 x 3 @8
260 x 3 @9 Video: http://instagram.com/p/r5yFgWtpLy/
All-time PR! Stopped after the topset due to elbow pain

#Squat
315 x 3 @8
300 x 3 @7
300 x 3 @7
300 x 3 @8

Training – Monday 18, Aug 2014

#Squat w/ belt
395 x 3 @7
415 x 3 @8
435 x 3 @9
415 x 3 @9
All-time PR baby!

#Bench
225 x 3 @6
235 x 3 @7
245 x 3 @8
235 x 3 @7
235 x 3 @7
235 x 3 @7
235 x 3 @7
235 x 3 @8
Can’t believe how easy 245 is now.

RPE: An abstraction of Intensity

Autoregulation has seemingly taken the powerlifting world by storm. A quick look at any random lifter on instagram or youtube and you’re likely to see a reference to RPE or the ubiquitous @ syntax. RPE is the one tool which enables an autoregulatory overlay onto most powerlifting programs. This in and of itself is extremely useful. I think one of its biggest advantages over percentages, though, is its ability to abstract intensity.

When we talk about RPE in the sense of intensity and more specifically prescribe an RPE it’s important to note that you can’t separate RPE from a rep range. Without specified reps, RPE is just a scale. However, together RPE and reps correlate with an intensity. And like all good abstractions it removes the necessity for a certain foreknowledge and/or assumptions.

One of my favorite examples of the utility of the RPE abstraction is when prescribing intensity for new exercises. You’ll often run into lifters on forums or reddit commenting on an article about an exercise variation. One of the first questions they ask is naturally, “how heavy should I go?” Normally they’re answered by some sort of experienced lifter who’ll give an off-the-cuff percentage, “take 20% off your 1RM Squat and start there.” This is certainly a noble attempt by the experienced lifter but prescribing a percentage requires certain assumptions to be fulfilled:

  • The trainee has tested their 1RM at some point in their training career
  • The trainee has tested their 1RM somewhat recently
  • That the prescribed percentage will be appropriate for this trainee

RPE separates the notion of intensity from its underlying implementation. It allows you to prescribe an intensity without knowing a lot about the individual. So rather than say, “Do sets of 5 at 80%” you can say “work up and do sets of 5 across @7.” By using RPE you don’t need to take into account the trainees current level of experience, their 1RM or even their level of fatigue on the given day. The only thing they require is a half-decent ability to estimate RPE¹.

Notes:

  1. I realize that this might not always be realistic
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Training – Friday 15, Aug 2014

#2ct Pause Squat
305 x 3 @7
320 x 3 @7.5
345 x 3 @9 PR
330 x 3 @9

#Pin Press (chest level)
220 x 3 @7
230 x 3 @8
245 x 3 @9.5 PR
235 x 3 @9

#Deadlift
315 x 5 x 3
Back neutrality really depends on hips being opened hard. Knees feeling good