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The Problem with Percentage-based Programs

percentvsrpe

The majority of training programs you’ll find online will use percentages do dictate the level of intensity for a given set or workout. This is understandable, percentages are easy to understand, easy to implement, and work real nice in an Excel spreadsheet. But when rubber meets the road sometimes what’s on the spreadsheet doesn’t have the desired effect. Lets explore why this is true, some alternatives to percentages, and also a way to combine various intensity prescriptions.

The Training Effect

When a program gives a prescribed percentage along with sets and reps the intent is to develop a training effect. The coach is mixing a certain level of volume and intensity to fit within the overall context of the program. The percentage is not the end goal, just a tool used to produce the required effect. The closer these tools can get the trainee to the effect, the better. Percentages can be very accurate given how close their current level of strength matches the maxes used to calculate the weights. However, they can just as easily miss the mark.

This is why percentage-based programs can have wildly different effects for individuals (given similar levels of volume adaptation). The maxes two individuals use can differ quite a bit in their accuracy. Of course, the most accurate will be frequent max testing but that’s not always possible. One individual might use a very conservative max and the program might end up being too easy. The next person might use too high of a max and suddenly the program is grueling and too much fatigue is developed.

Autoregulation

Another drawback to percentages is the lack of an autoregulatory framework. Percentages don’t take into the day-to-day fluctuations of us carbon-based lifeforms. More specifically our “max” is fluctuating and while on some days might echo the number used to generate the program, other days it can be off significantly. Without any autoregulation a lifter can do too much on a bad day and do too little on a good day. Autoregulation helps us get to that “just right” amount of work. The goldilocks zone.

Autoregulation is something all top athletes do in some form or another. Perhaps they have a coach who will regulate the training load and intensity based on their past experience and their observation of the athlete they are training. Or if not coached the athlete will have a well of experience to draw upon when designing a program such that they know what they should be able to accomplish at certain points throughout the cycle. In addition to planning, the athlete can adjust the load and volume on any given day depending upon their performance on that day. This is why you’ll rarely find a high-level individual plugging maxes into a spreadsheet and just “doing the program”.

The Alternative

I’ve talked a lot about RPE around here. It should be fairly obvious that I think it’s a really useful tool. Using RPE we take into account the day-to-day strength fluctuations and know when to drop weight or go heavier. While it is mostly subjective it’s based on in-training performance rather than how you’re “feeling” emotionally on a given day. You can even use more objective means to enhance the accuracy of your RPEs, such as video or tendo units.

Another advantage of RPE is that it can be added on top of an existing program. With a little fannegling you can be doing 5/3/1 with RPEs rather than percentages and take what’s there rather than sticking to straight percentages. There are a few examples of traditional percentage-based programs that have been translated to use RPE. Mike Tuchscherer’s got a few. Bryce Lewis has a 5/3/1 example. And of course I wrote an Autoregulated Texas Method.

Drawbacks of RPE

RPE is not without potential drawbacks. The first and most apparent is that it takes time to be accustomed to rating your sets immediately after you complete them. This could be strange especially if you’re used to just performing the set without thinking about it. Rank novices also will have a hard time with RPE. They’re so completely new to the movements that they really won’t have any breadth of experience to draw upon.

Another drawback, less obvious to an athlete but maybe more apparent to a coach, is that predictability is lower using a fully autoregulated program. Weight and volume could potentially be changing on the fly. Of course, that’s the whole point of autoregulation, and one could make the point that’s gonna happen anyway. There are some lifters, Coan comes to mind, who will literally plan out every topset up to a meet. Letting RPE always dictate their topsets probably wouldn’t jive with their style of planning.

Best of Both Worlds?

So there are drawbacks to both RPE and percentages… what do? Just remember that they are both tools, not the end all be all. There’s a reason we have both hammers and screwdrivers. There are cases in which percentages are better suited and the same is true for RPE.

Can we combine the two? I think it’s quite possible to blend the two in programming. Here’s how I’d probably do it:

Lift Percentage RPE Reps Sets
Squat 80 8 5 3
Bench 85 8 3 6

…etc. Okay so obviously nothing groundbreaking here. If the individual is unfamiliar with RPE they can simply use the prescribed percentage along with the sets and reps and just get the work done. As they start to become more accurate with RPE they can start using it as a guide rather than just using the percentage. For example, they can work up to the percentage and depending upon how the RPE is working out they can subtract 5% or even add 5% depending upon the day. Eventually they can just let the RPE determine the weight rather than the percentage.

The RPE can also be used to modulate the volume done. If they go from an @8 to an @9 before the number of sets reached, they can subtract 5% and keep going until they hit the number of sets. Another way to autoregulate the number of sets would be to use the RTS TRAC system. It will assess the individual’s adaptability and make on-the-fly volume recommendations such as adding or dropping a number of sets from the programming prescribed. You could also use fatigue percents. In which case it helps to have a trusty RPE chart handy to figure out how the RPE will need to progress to achieve the percentage of fatigue required.

Personally I’ve been using a similar approach for my sets-across type work. I’ll go into the session with a “target number of sets”, similar to having a target topset when working up to a heavy sets. I still following the RPE but a little less rigidly than before. I like the predictability when it comes to volume. You have an idea of what you’ll be hitting coming out of the session. This is simply what’s working for me now, at this point in time.

In short, RPE and Percentages both have their uses. You shouldn’t think in terms of which one is better, which one is more optimal. You should ask, which one is the right tool for the job.

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Autoregulating the Texas Method Part 4: Periodization and Final Thoughts

This is the last article in a series on Autoregulating the Texas Method.
Click Here for Part 1: The Basics
Click Here for Part 2: Fatigue Management
Click Here for Part 3: Template and Exercise Selection

The author and his deadlift face

The author and his deadlift face

 

Series Finale

My series on Autoregulating the Texas Method is far and above the most popular set of posts on this blog. Altogether the previous three posts have received almost 2000 unique views in 2014. For this small blog that’s saying a lot. So I wanted to thank you all for spreading these blog posts around the internet. At the end of the last post I said that in this final entry I will give some final thoughts on the program and also provide a downloadable PDF with an example of the program. I’ve finally got off my bum and finished this series. What follows is my final thoughts on Autoregulating the Texas Method. At the bottom of this article you’ll find a link to sign up for the forceXdist mailing list. We’ll then send you downloadable PDF which contains an updated copy of the entire Autoregulating the Texas Method series as well as an example template and program.

Periodization

Personally I think one of the best modifications to the Texas Method is to periodize the intensity day. I’m certainly not the first person to suggest periodizing the Texas Method. Justin Lascek uses a form of it in his ebooks. Chad Wesley Smith has also developed a form using it. In my opinion, programmed drops in volume and increases in intensity will be better than dropping reps when you fail to achieve the desired amount. This is because you will generally accrue more fatigue when going to failure. If you program it instead you’re less likely to run yourself into the ground with fatigue.

Here’s an example Intensity day setup. Let’s say we’re programming an 8 week cycle:

Week 1 & 2

x5 @9, 5% fatigue

Week 3 & 4

x4 @9, 5% fatigue

Week 5 & 6

x3 @9, 5% fatigue

Week 7 & 8

x2 @9, 5% fatigue

For this example we’re gradually increasing the intensity over the course of 8 weeks. Every two weeks the reps are dropped by one which will have the effect of increasing the intensity. The trainee should be trying for reps PRs every friday. 9 RPE is a guideline but if the individuals goes higher with the RPE it’s probably okay. We’re just not looking for gut-busting grinds for the most part. Why not start with higher reps and then go down to singles? If we start at fives the trainee will probably lift a good deal heavier than the volume day and we really want the focus to be on heavier weight on this day. We don’t move to singles in this example because the understanding is that the trainee would then have a test week where they’d taper and then have a mock meet at the end of the week. It’s conceivable that you could also treat Week 9 as a normal training week and then do singles @9 or @10 on Friday as a sort of test. You’d probably expect results to be slightly lower in that case than if the trainee had tapered.

The Texas Method in Context

I want to take the time now to discuss the Texas Method within the context of the trainees overall development. I do feel the TM is a fairly good program for an intermediate trainee as it allows for weekly PRs immediately coming off of a novice program (where one is generally hitting a PR every day). This will help to keep them motivated and also give them an understanding of a more delayed PR-type scenario. I also think it’s good in that it’s generally an individual’s first introduction to higher intensity, higher RPE style lifts which is certainly important for the intermediate trainee.

At some point, pushing PRs every week will not work and it’s time to move to a more sustainable style of training. The TM template we developed here is not a bad layout for an individual pushing past intermediate but there will be several modifications required. The first change is for the weekly fatigue distribution. Rather than accruing a bunch of fatigue on Monday we’ll rather spread the fatigue throughout the week, so that each day is set at 5% fatigue. The effect is separating the idea that Monday is driving Friday’s progress. That’s true to an extent but the truth is they work in tandem.

Another big change is to spread the intensity and volume slots throughout the week. Because we lump the volume and intensity work all on the same days it can take a long time to get through all of that work the day of. Here’s an example of this sort of template:

Monday Wednesday Friday
Intensity Squat Intensity Bench Intensity Deadlift
Volume Bench Volume Squat Developer Bench
Volume Deadlift Shoulders/Triceps Developer Squat

With the spreading of fatigue the volume slots should be a lot more manageable time-wise. Eventually, though, it might take too much time to get through the work required. This may be a good time to shift towards a 4 day a week template. With a 4 day a week template the trainee will have less time in the gym, initially, and allow for the addition of new slots to increase volume when necessary to continue progressing. This is an example of what a four day template might look like:

Monday Tuesday Thursday Friday
Intensity Squat Intensity Bench Intensity Deadlift Volume Squat
Volume Bench Developer Squat Shoulders/Triceps Developer Bench
Volume Deadlift

As you can see we didn’t change any of the slots, only added a day and shifted the existing slots around. The first three days should be shorter sessions with Friday (or maybe Saturday) as a longer session to maintain and develop conditioning. At this point this is a sustainable template that a trainee can “grow” into.

Conclusion

This concludes our series on Autoregulating the Texas Method. The intent was to give you all of the tools to build your own customized autoregulated version of the Texas Method, rather than just handing you a program to run. If you click the link below you can sign-up for the forceXdist mailing list. By signing up you’ll receive notifications on new articles and offerings from this blog. You’ll also receive a link to a downloadable PDF containing the full Autoregulating the Texas Method series as well as example program setups that you can use when designing your own versions. If you’ve enjoyed the series please take a moment to like our Facebook Page. We always appreciate when readers share our articles!

Click here to sign-up for the mailing list and receive your free PDF

The Deadlift is NOT a back exercise… unless you pull rounded

The neutrality of your spine during a deadlift has big ramifications when it comes to your weak points, the force curve, and the utilization of muscle groups during the movement. In my opinion, the differences are large enough such that their rounded and flat deadlifts almost constitute two separate exercises. In this post we’ll talk about both separately, how they differ, and what that means for you as an athlete. I’ll say it before, and I’ll say it again: I do not advocate for either style. It’s up to you to decide what is best for you.

What I’m smoking

This might be a bit controversial and perhaps even rustle some jimmies. When I’m speaking in terms of associating musculature with a movement, I’m associating the prime movers with that movement. For instance, you could make a case that the Squat is primarily a leg and hip movement. Obviously these are compound movements and utilize a lot of musculature but again, I’m speaking of the prime movers and muscles that go through a range of motion during the movement.

Speaking in this context then, the flat-backed deadlift only works the back isometrically and is a much more hip-dominant movement. Conversely, if you pull with a rounded style, Spinal extension is part of the movement. You are literally working the Erector Spinae through a range of motion and must do so to finish the pull. This should mean that the back musculature of a rounded puller is much more developed than a flat puller. It’s not that pulling flat won’t develop the back but in my opinion it’s not to the same extent as rounded pulling.

Flat-backed Analysis

To illustrate the difference between the two, I’ve picked two extremely impressive examples of these two styles. While these two are on the more extreme ends of the spectrum, obviously some individuals will fall a bit more in the middle. Let’s watch Mike Tuchscherer as he pulls almost 800 pounds with a neutral back angle. I’ve chosen a side angle for maximum benefit (starts at 57 seconds in):

You can see that as he breaks the floor his hip angle is very acute due to his back angle. He’s slow off of the floor but quickly begins to accelerate. Once the bar passes his knees all he needs to do is extend his hips to lockout. Locking out requires no spinal extension because his back is already neutral.

Round-backed Analysis

To illustrate a round-backed style check out Eric Lilliebridge’s 900 pound pull (starts at 19 seconds in):

Due to his rounded back his hip angle is a lot more open as the bar breaks the ground meaning his hips end up closer to the bar earlier in the pull. Because of this, the bar breaks the ground with a lot more speed. Once the bar passes the knee the lift is finished with mostly spinal extension. Eric has built enough strength in his low-back that he can extend his spine even while holding 900 pounds.

How do you pull?

As you can see, the amount of spinal neutrality has a lot of bearing on the mechanics of your deadlift. It’s important to understand where you fall on the spectrum. I recommend you video your deadlift worksets from the side across several sets and compare to the two videos above. If you find that you are rounded but you’d prefer to pull flat check out my guide to transition to pulling flat.

How to adapt your programming to fit your style

I mentioned that there are some ramifications for your programming depending upon your style of pulling. If you pull with a neutral spine then the lift will probably be a lot more hip-dominant for you. To develop the muscles used in your style you should work on the hip extensors. Hip thrusts and hamstring dominant deadlifts, such as RDLs and SLDLs could be useful. Your weak point will be when breaking the weight off of the floor. Paused deadlifts (an inch from the floor) and deficit deadlifts could be useful in working on your weak point.

If you pull with a rounded back I think working on the musculature of the low-back could be of use to you. Specifically, Round-Back Extensions should imitate the lockout of your deadlift. You may also find Round-Back versions of hamstring dominant deadlifts useful. Your weak point will be the lockout and so you should emphasize this position. If you train Rack Pulls as a way to build the lockout you should be careful to imitate the same level of rounding that you usually encounter near lockout. Many tend to use a more neutral spine position when doing Rack Pulls vs their off the floor deadlift. If you want to be specific to your competitive pulling style you’ll need to ensure you’re not accidentally pulling flat. Pausing just below the knee can also be useful.

Own your style

If you find that you do pull rounded and don’t feel the need to re-work your deadlift then I encourage you to fully embrace this form of the deadlift. If someone asks you why you do it, explain to them your reasoning and don’t make excuses for why you pull this way. Use this information to adapt your programming to your style of movement, or inform your coach why you think certain exercises might be a better fit. Own your deadlift.

That last paragraph might sound accusatory or make it seem that I’m on the side of flat-backed deadlifting. I’m really not. I’ve just seen too many claim that their back is flat (or that it’s only their thoracic rounding) when it’s pretty plain to see there’s rounding in the lumbar as well. I think we should keep the younger lifters in mind and be truthful when speaking of the pros and cons of both styles.

I would be very much open to any comments on the matter.

What I would do differently as a novice

Novice Chad, 4 years and 40 pounds ago...

Novice Chad, 4 years and 40 pounds ago…

I thought it would be an interesting thought experiment to think about what I would do as a novice if I had the chance to do it over. What follows is the official forceXdist Novice Program (TM). It’s superior to Starting Strength, StrongLifts, Ice Cream Fitness 5×5, etc. /sarcasm lol no. As I said, just a thought experiment.

The main difference this time around would be that I know that I’d want to eventually compete in Powerlifting. This changes a lot. A lot of novice programs are very general. But this makes sense. Most people use them to just put on muscle and general strength. Most individuals don’t start a novice program with the intent to transition into Powerlifting. For this experiment we will plan with that thought in mind. This is also probably what I would do were I to train someone from the ground up.

The Squat

A lot of novice programs have the trainee squatting 3 times a week. Why? Most explanations include hand-wavy justifications about growth hormones or some such. I think a twice a week frequency is perfectly fine for beginners. This will be an adequate frequency to get practice with the lift and to allow for some room to “grow” into a higher frequency.

I personally wish I had started out at two times a week or at least the same frequency as the deadlift. By beginning with a 3 times frequency (and thereby a higher volume) with the squat any reduction in frequency means a decrease in volume and most likely a drop in strength. I think it’s better to leave room to grow into the volume.

The Bench Press

Most novice programs rotate the Bench Press and the Press frequency every week. We can just Bench 3 times a week. This will ensure we’re getting a lot more practice than we would if we were rotating. We don’t need to worry about Pressing or any other sort of assistance work yet as the Bench will be plenty of stimulus for now.

Another important change I’d make would be to start out pausing all Bench work. Most trainees start out doing touch and go bench and then have to retroactively learn the pause for competition. I think it’d be a good idea to start pausing from the get-go and then add in variations from there.

The Deadlift

There’s a pretty significant decision when it comes to the deadlift. Should the trainee focus on the conventional or sumo deadlift? I think a good way to figure this out is just to try both and see which one responds the best. Once there arises a clear winner we can drop the other variation and focus on the stronger one which will become the competition form.

Since we’re going to be utilizing both forms of the deadlift there will be a second movement pattern to learn. In the best case scenario the trainee following this program would have a good coach to oversee their use of the two movements and attempt to decide which their body type is suited for. We’ll start with a twice a week frequency and rotate both of the movement styles.

The Template

Monday
Squat
Paused Bench

Wednesday
Conventional Deadlift (rotate with Sumo)
Paused Bench

Friday
Squat
Paused Bench
Sumo Deadlift (rotate with Conventional)

So this is what the template looks like. The exercise selection is vanilla on purpose. The trainee is learning the movement pattern. Friday, they’ll practice all three movements which will improve their conditioning. Monday and Wednesday only have two movements which also makes the program a bit more schedule friendly. This will probably help with compliance and motivation.

Rep and Set Scheme

What rep/set scheme should we use? 5×5, 3×5? 8×3? All of them! I think Greg Nuckols is right on the money with this article where he suggests that a beginner program incorporates periodization. I think the traditional drop X pounds and work back up is unnecessary and often doesn’t work. You’ve built up a lot of fatigue, dissipate some and continue to get stronger!

RPE

I think trying to utilize RPE in a novice program is not going to work very well. If you’re a coach observing a novice in real time, you can use the concept of RPE, along with the trainee’s bar speed to get a feel for how close the trainee is to failure. But it’s unlikely that the trainee will be able to utilize it functionally.

One thing the trainee can do is practice calling the RPE post set. They should include the RPE along with the rest of their workloads in their trainee log. Their coach can help by comparing their bar speed correlated RPE with the trainee’s subjective RPE and inform them how accurate they may or may not have been.

Conclusion

It’s always fun to say “what if”. This is my attempt at going back and imagining what I’d do with the knowledge I possess now.

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.

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…

Personality and Program Design

One of the most important variables to consider when designing a successful program is the personality of the trainee. It’s important because designing a program to fit the likes and dislikes of an individual trainee could mean the difference between your trainee following the program to a T or them half-assing it. In this article I’ll discuss several programming variables that might need to fluctuate based on an individual’s personality traits.

Exercise Variability

This is a variable that can be very useful for individuals who find that training quickly becomes boring if the workouts are the same every week. By rotating the assistance exercises the trainee can encounter an almost entirely new workout each week. It also allows for the coach to work on several different aspects of the lift: technique one week, weak point the next, etc. On the other hand, you may find that the trainee does not enjoy much variability at all and prefers consistency and familiarity. In this case it’s probably best to vary exercises very infrequently perhaps only with the mesocycle or less, depending upon the individual.

Some considerations to keep in mind: It’s probably still a good idea to train the competition exercises in addition to any of the variations introduced. This will ensure the movement pattern stays fresh and that transference is high. The trainee should also be sure to push the variation to the level of intensity prescribed and not to low-ball it due to novelty.

Emotional Variations

I’ve written about psyching up in the past and how there is spectrum of lifters from emotional to analytical. A coach should consider the effect a trainee’s psyche-up routine might have on their overall level of fatigue.

I’ll admit this is mostly just a hunch as I don’t have much data on it but I believe that emotional lifters would do better with sets across (or repeats, in RTS parlance) with maybe working up to one heavy set a week. Although, one could also make the case that I’ve got it flipped and that analytical lifters should use more sets across while the emotional lifters are more adapted to getting psyched up and can more readily dissipate the fatigue. As I said, need more data here.

My reasoning for using more sets across as opposed to working up to a topset is that you’re less likely to get amped for multiple sets across. Even if you’re an analytical lifter and don’t intentionally get hyped for a PR, it’s still probably going to have a psychological impact on you. I can say from experience, if I work up to a PR I’m less likely to get as many dropsets as I would had I worked up to the same RPE but not a PR.

Opportunities for PRs

One big factor that can affect motivation is the opportunity for breaking personal records on a regular basis. Motivation can be an important variable to monitor and drive as a coach and a lifter. It can affect adherence to a program and, I have a feeling, it can subconsciously affect how hard we work during training.

Depending upon the trainee they might be ok working in at a lower percentage of their max building up volume until they display that strength at a meet, like in a Sheiko-style program. Conversely, other lifters will need to be breaking some sort of personal record at an often enough frequency to feel like they’re making progress. The best approach is probably somewhere in the middle (as usual).

The trainee’s personality is only one variable the coach needs to take into account but it’s just as important as any other.

Why are internet lifters so concerned with Squat depth?

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Alternate title: Why do most of my article titles end in a question mark?

While I’ve been slowly plodding my way through Thinking Fast and Slow I’ve naturally been thinking about the various concepts introduced and how they apply to my own experiences. One of these concepts is the Substitution Heuristic whereby an individual answers a difficult question by mentally substituting an easier one, often without realizing. This, of course, made me think of Squat depth…

We’ve all seen the youtube videos where a lifter will be performing a very impressive max or near max Squat but the comments are filled with individuals asking whether it was to depth or not. Now, let’s be fair, the rules do specify depth as a requirement for a good lift in competition. But that’s hardly a requirement for a lift to be impressive. A Squat half an inch above parallel is not that different from one half an inch below.

I would posit the reason these comments are so common is the fact that there are a lot of new lifters on the internet and because they’re so new they don’t really comprehend what it means to Squat that heavy and the only thing they know how to judge is Squat depth. So in reality these lifters are substituting “How did that Squat look?” with “How deep was that Squat?”

When you think about it this way, sure they’re annoying, but they just don’t know any better. Until you’ve had to grind for months and months to add another plate on the bar it’s hard to conceptualize how much work it takes to reach these significant poundages.