Monthly Archives: November 2014

Movements, not Muscles

Abstractions are all around us. They remove a lot of details and make something complex more simple. The computer you’re using to read this article is built on a tower of abstractions. I have written in the past about how RPE is a form of abstraction. Another useful abstraction that I picked up under the tutelage of Mike Tuchscherer is thinking about building strength in terms of movement patterns versus the muscles utilized.

Benefits of Abstraction

A good abstraction is one that eliminates the need for a lot of details. A lot of people in Powerlifting think in terms of making the muscles stronger. At first glance this makes sense. The muscles are doing the work. If we get them stronger our lifts should go up! The issue is that the movements involved in Powerlifting are multi-joint, multi-muscle movements. If we think in terms of the muscles then we have to build each major group up, hopefully in the right ratios, and then integrate them and transfer the strength to the competition movement.

However, if we think in terms of movements then we can utilize the movement itself to build the muscle. This has can be very beneficial as we don’t have to worry about the ratio of muscular strength or transference to the competition lift. For example, most lifters are weak off the chest in the Bench Press. We could say “oh, we have weak pecs” and do lots of dumbbell flies and dumbbell press to build up our pecs. But then we end up leaving the triceps out of the chain. If we think in terms of movements we’ll do long paused bench press and pin press to build up our bottom end strength. We don’t need to worry as much about muscular ratios and transference. It’s very specific to the competition movement.

Practical Recommendations

If you know where you’re weak (determining weakness is another post in and of itself) then it’s fairly simple to adapt your programming to target the weakness. You will pick exercises and rep ranges that allow you to spend more time in the weak range of motion. Paused and Pin variations for strength at the bottom ROM; chains, bands, and blocks for the top end. You can also pause at different points along the ROM. Another way is to do a lot of sets in the 4-6 rep range around a 9-10 RPE which will have you grinding through those weaker ranges of motion.

Baby and Bathwater

We’d be remiss if we took the abstraction too far and eliminated all muscle work. One must be wary of anyone who claims to have all of the answers. The movement-based abstraction is very useful, yes, but it’s not the end all be all in training ideologies. Your focus should be on the competition movement. After that, including ROM specific movements is probably a pretty good exercise selection strategy. Past that it couldn’t hurt to throw in more musculature-centric work. Specificity should still be respected here and it would be best to select exercises that are still close to the competition lift.

Next time you’re designing a program try thinking about the movements first and see how that might change things.

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It’s okay to train alone

Yes, that’s right, you heard it here. I’m telling you that you’re allowed to train alone. I’m using this post to rally against the prevalent idea that you’re leaving pounds on the table if you don’t surround yourself with a loud group of lifters screaming at you to complete that PR.

The extrovert ideal

In Quiet, Susan Cain makes a good case that we tend to idolize the extrovert in the United States. Introverts are often seen as shy, anti-social or designated as geeks and nerds. Whereas extroverts are seen as go-getters and passionate individuals. I think in some ways this has infiltrated lifting culture as well. We see it a lot especially in advice threads: “if you really want to improve find a group of like minded individuals to train with!”

I will fully admit that this advice has merit. You will learn a lot from other experienced individuals, especially if you’re not the type to go out and research on your own. However, I would argue that those who would prefer not to train in a group are the ones more likely to furiously research anything they have questions about!

The individual’s advantage

To further my argument I would to detail several advantages the individual training alone has. The biggest advantage is certainly in the time department. Anyone who has trained with others knows that there tends to be a lot of chatting between sets. Not that socializing isn’t fun. It can be. But when it’s time to go to work you don’t want to have to wait for your training partner to quit flapping their gums. To add to that, the time required to switch out weights and rack setup between individuals (assuming you’re sharing the same rack) can add up as well.

I think another huge advantage is just focus. When it’s me in my garage I’ve got no distraction, no one shouting at me. It’s just me and the bar. I think this gives us a better opportunity to focus on movement quality and also performance metrics like RPE. It’s a lot easier to let the movement break down if you’re in a loud environment.

Lastly I think we’re a lot less likely to do stupid shit. In public and around others there’s always the temptation to show off. Some of us can temper that temptation but others have more issue with it. If you’re one of those, training alone can ensure that you stick to your programming and not do something you’ll regret in the future.

The last word

You can absolutely learn a ton from individuals more experienced than yourself. Seek out those stronger than yourself. But don’t feel like you have to drive two hours out of your way to train with a group because you’re not going to get stronger otherwise. There are plenty of super strong individuals that train by themselves. A lot of very valuable learning can be done via books and, obviously, the internet. A lot of effective training can be done on your own.

Training Updates and Blog Ideas

Wanted to write a quick update as to what I’ve been up to. I’ve been using the progression I wrote about last week for about a month or two now and have been having pretty awesome results. My Squat went from 415×3 to 445×4. To put this in perspective, I’ve never squatted over 455. Bench has responded pretty well to. In the Deadlift I’ve just made some technique changes so it’s all about giving it time to catch up. I’ve got amazing forward momentum all around. Unfortunately, my old foe, elbow pain, has decided to pay me a visit.

I’m so used to recurrent elbow pain that it’s become a predictable pattern. Every 4-5 weeks into a cycle I’ll usually run into some kind of elbow pain. This time I believe it’s due to the Squat. I tried to train through it, hoping it’d go away but it’s gotten so bad that any kind of training now aggravates it and I need to take the rest of the week off. I’ve literally tried everything in the book up to this point. That said, if anyone has suggestions outside of curls, high-bar squatting, widen squat grip, elbow sleeves, voodoo flossing, etc. I’d be interested to hear it.

Really the only thing I haven’t tried is altering my programming. So my plan going forward is every four weeks, switch out the Low-Bar Squat with the Front Squat for a three week block. Literally just replace every slot with it’s corresponding Front Squat variation. I’m currently doing Belted Squats, Paused Squats, and Beltless Squats and so instead I’d use Belted Front Squats, Paused Front Squats, and Beltless Front Squats. I’d also use the same exact progression.

I fully realize this won’t be at all optimal from a specificity standpoint but if I can preemptively prevent elbow pain by doing this sort of rotation it’s going to be a lot more optimal than just dropping Squats all together. Why not switch to High-Bar Squats? Well, I’m worried that pushing those could still incur some elbow pain. I tried to High-Bar Squat this week and it still hurt. I definitely think it’s worth pushing a quad-dominant movement as I’ve felt my low-bar squat get more and more quad dominant recently and it’s subsequently felt better.

Future Blog Topics

I still have to finish up my Autoregulating the Texas Method series. There’s more to be said there. I’ve also been thinking about writing an article in regards to how we qualify “what works” in our training, be it new accessory movements, progressions, etc.

That said, if anyone has any ideas for blogs I’d be interested in hearing about them!

Pulsed Periodization

This picture is meant to illustrate what's going on. But don't read too far into it

This picture is meant to illustrate what’s going on. But don’t read too far into it

I wanted to talk about a concept/strategy I’ve been playing with the past month or so that seemingly has been working pretty well for me. This is something I’ve stumbled across several times in the past, almost randomly, that worked really well but I had brushed it off as a random fluctuation rather than an effective strategy. I decided to test the concept in my own program after a period of being a little unmotivated with training, essentially using it as a back-to-basics approach. And it’s worked pretty well.

The Strategy

The concept is quite simple. The first week work up to a heavy triple (@9, if you’re familiar with RPE). The next week add a rep and the week after that add a rep, staying at the same weight across the weeks (if you can). So you start out working up to x3 @9 and you finish at x5 @9. Then increase the weight of the topset by 5% and start over. For example:

Week 1

385×3 @7, 405×3 @8, 425×3 @9

Week 2

385×4 @7, 405×4 @8, 425×4 @9

Week 3

385×5 @7, 405×3 @5, 425×5 @9

Week 4

405×3 @7, 425×3 @8, 445×3 @9

Practical Implementation

I’ve been using this strategy on all exercises in my program. For the competition exercises I’ll start at a triple and go up to 5s. For more accessory-oriented exercises I’ll start from 4s or 5s and add reps from there. It’s conceivable you could use blocks where the competition exercises would use 4s, 5s, and 6s and then move down to 3s etc in the next block.

I use this strategy in the context of autoregulation. So if I can’t hit that new topset then I don’t. I think it’s also better if you keep the topset to an 8.5 RPE rather than a full on 9.

This setup might be more appropriate for an off season time frame. At some point it might be better to switch to a more linear style when getting closer to a meet.

Pulsed Periodization

When thinking about what to call this thing I was drawn to the fact that for short pulses this looks like linear periodization. The intensity also increases in a sort of “step-wise” fashion. There already existing something called “Step-wise Periodization” which is just another name for Linear Periodization where the volume and intensity are manipulated in a stepwise fashion, ie. x8, x5, x3 etc. So Step-Wise Periodization seemed out of the question.

I settled on the name “Pulsed Periodization”. I like to categorize things. Maybe I’m being overly categorical. Maybe I’m neckbearding and this doesn’t really deserve it’s own designation.

Why has this worked for me?

My hypothesis is that it’s worked well because it keeps me at a relatively high intensity where I’ll build volume. It starts me out at a higher intensity and allows me to get accustomed to it. The fourth week acts as a slight deload due to the drop in volume although the intensity is still high. This strategy has taken me to an all new e1RM PR on Squats as well as a rep PR of 445×3.

Keep in mind my context. I’m an intermediate (maybe advanced-intermediate) with approximately 4 years under my belt. This probably wouldn’t be appropriate for someone more advanced than me. And I fully realize this probably won’t work for me forever. Also, the strategy might only work in synergy with the rest of my program.

Expect more tweaks and modifications. I’ll probably post them here, so feel free to check back from time to time.

Chad, you’ve invented a new form of periodization!

Oh, god, no. Please do not take this as me coming out saying I’ve invented a new program that will take the world by storm and get every hardgainer and their uncle stronger. I’m damn sure there’s an article somewhere on http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/ that exactly describes just this sort of strategy. This even harkens back to Doug Hepburn-style training. I’m not so arrogant to believe I’ve come up with a brand new style of periodization. I’ve simply come across a strategy that works for me and I wanted to see if anyone else would be interested.

If anyone tries this out, please let me know. I’d even be willing to build a training program utilizing this strategy. Contact me if you’d like. More data here would be awesome. Also, let me know what you think in general. Positives and negatives are welcome.

My last question for you is: how much would you pay for the ebook?

Just kidding…