Do you have a program that you follow when you go to the gym? Do you just go and try stuff you thought up? Maybe you found a program online that you have been doing for a while but haven’t been seeing much success with lately. If you fail to plan you don’t exactly plan to fail, I mean let's get real you are still creating strength gain stimulus, but are you doing it optimally?
One of the biggest issues I see with aspiring powerlifters and bodybuilders is their ability to program training well. Programming is not all that complicated but you have to know where to start. There are three big problems I see...
1. You’re Not Focusing on Hypertrophy
To get the right body leverages to lift well, you have to have a lot of muscle. If you are trying to break into the powerlifting world, have a high total or just get really strong, you have to focus on putting on more muscle. Adding muscle takes time and effort. The number one factor to putting on more muscles is volume. Volume is calculated like this (weight X reps X sets). If you are not progressively increasing your volume over time, you are going to be spinning your wheels when it comes to adding muscle and strength.
The easiest way to get big is to spend more time in the rep ranges that give you the best return for your effort. This ends up with a program structure centered around 3-5 sets in the 6-12 rep range. You can spend a lot of time here and have a pretty effective workout that is high volume. It is much harder to achieve the high volume of work we need when you use other rep ranges like a 3-5 reps or 20 reps.
Let’s run through a little thought experiment and assume you can bench 300lbs. For multiple sets of 10 you will work with something like 65% of your max, so that is 195lbs. Let's say you do 3 sets, for a total of 30 reps; that is 5,850lbs of volume. To match this volume at a 3 rep weight (about 85% or 255lbs) you would have to do 23 reps, that's 7-8 sets of 3. You may get the same amount of work in, so same volume and same growth potential but I don’t see many people getting much out of the rest of their workout after that. The same problem presents itself when you do sets of 20. Sets of 20 are so cardiovascularly demanding that its hard to get your wind back to do multiple sets and put quality effort forward for more than a few sets. At that point you are also working mostly on muscular endurance which really does not align with your strength goals.
When I say spend more time in this rep range, I mean a lot of time...like 4-6 months at a time. Unless you are squatting more than double your bodyweight you could probably use some more size.
2. You Test Your Strength Too Often
When you are into lifting you want to see how much you can lift. Yes, it feels good to PR regularly, and moving big weight is pretty awesome. Here is the problem, you have to spend time building strength and building muscle. This runs in line with the problem from above, two parts of the same problem, you are not spending enough time in the higher rep ranges. You will have a much more effective training cycle if you build up to a new max over months and hold a little more in the tank during your training rather than pushing the limits on maxing out on singles regularly. Your nervous system needs to spend more time getting used to the heavy loads and build capacity for the lifts over time. Testing all the time will leave you frustrated and spinning your wheels.
3. You Don’t Train Frequently Enough
There is this notion that you should only train a specific body part once per week, honestly that makes no sense. I think this idea is dying out, but I still hear it floating around, mostly from bodybuilders. If you want to get really good at a sport do you only practice once per week? I know, I know, recovery time is a factor in training but there are ways to structure your program so that you don’t train yourself into a hole. If you seriously think you need a whole week to recover from a squat workout you are either killing yourself in your workout and probably doing more damage than you need to, or you are not being honest with your ability to recover. Most programs that I write for my athletes include squatting and benching 2-3 times per week. You can handle it, trust me, and once you adapt to the program your strength with shoot up.
Be on the lookout for part 2 coming out next week where we talk about how to improve your squat technique
If you want to learn more about how to best optimize your powerlifting programming register here for a FREE powerlifting seminar we are hosting on Saturday March 26th starting at 9am