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PostPosted: Tue Jan 22, 2013 12:36 pm 
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I have a question about how people structure their programs when the PR's don't come with so much assurance every week or two anymore.

Prior to my first comp in November, I did three major programs. Stronglifts way back when, 5/3/1 for some months, and then programs provided by my trainer. But what they all had in common was a regular expectation of setting PR's, even rep PR's, without worrying that it might not happen. If I didn't make a PR on those programs it was because I was sick, had missed sleep for 2 nights or more, or something like that. Otherwise I always made them. Even after the comp I made a few rep PRs.

Now I'm beginning to think more in terms of trying to set something like a 3RM every few weeks on each of the major lifts. Adding 2 pounds to my press 3RM would be very satisfying, 5 to my bench, 5 or 10 to my squat. Deadlift is different, I'd be looking for a 1RM on that.

So I'm thinking something like a five week cycle, culminating in a 3RM in the 5th week. Anybody doing anything like that?

I know this question is very open-ended, not very specific, and likely to produce lots of chatter, but I'm interested in that chatter and where it goes.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 22, 2013 1:44 pm 
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Ken,

I avidly follow your progress and always look forward to seeing your posts because of your enthusiasm, how well you've been doing, and how you've overcome injuries to get there. I'm hoping that my answer to this question doesn't do anything to dampen your enthusiasm.

I'm at the point that I'll be lucky to hit a PR once a year. Usually only happens if I decide to incorporate a new lift into my program (see recent OH squat posts). I haven't had (or even tried to get) a 1RM PR on any major (or minor) lifts that are part of my "regular" rotation in more than a couple of years. I don't really know what my 1RM is for Bench, squat, or deadlift. Ditto for power clean, BSS, Dip, DB press, DB row, KB swing, you name it.

This is due to a variety of reasons:
Because I don't compete they just aren't that important to me.
They're sufficiently heavy weight that pushing that hard has significant potential to injure me.
The risk vs reward is not sufficient to execute (see two reasons above).
I typically train without a partner (leads to uncertain spotting).

That being said... I don't generally keep track of multiple rep PRs either. I write down my workout in my log book, then go back and see where I was to determine what I'm doing next week (or month, or cycle, or etc). I judge progress more by long term trends in poundage, how I feel during and post recovery, and what hole I'm using in my belt. :sad:

At some point I stopped chasing bigger max numbers and started trying to have a more... I guess "holistic" approach. Am I "generally" healthy? Am I maintaining my mobility and ability to do work? These work for me and give me a framework to plan my training around. Which is the important part.

So... PRs will slow down. Eventually they will get few and far between (if you stay in the game long enough). Have some goal to work towards that keeps that fact from derailing your efforts toward getting stronger/being healthy.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 22, 2013 2:20 pm 
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ditto.
Except I'm a tad less strong.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 22, 2013 10:04 pm 
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Yeah, I guess I hope for a PR a couple of times per year. I don't compete, but there is still something in my psyche that demands new PR. I don't find rep records very satisfying, though I believe that they are just as good and just as important as 1RMs. The real thing for me is some sort of measurable progress.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 5:24 am 
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As others have said, and as i'm sure you know, PR's slow down over time. The stronger you become, the more difficult it is to get even stronger. But, atleast for me, this is the beauty of strength training. I never get bored of it.

I love the way I complicate training. Suits my mind. This is why i've always leaned towards conjugate/westside type training templates. You have more variation, basically. I'll still find a variation that i've never done before and make some "beginner" gains on it.

The way I look at my own training, and anyones strength training is - what breaks down and why? This is the million dollar question. With a beginner, everything is a weakness, consistency and "perfect practice" on the basics is the most crucial factor, in my opinion. After this phase, however long it takes, you can now say, "ok, what is weak, what is actually holding me back".

I base my training on what I feel is my weakest link. I approach it from a technique and "muscle" perspective. If it's technique, I look at where i've broken down, then I find a variation of the same lift that emphasises the problem. Traditionally I'll make this a main lift but, right now, due to a meet approaching, I've kept the basics as the main lifts. Normally though, I'll make the variation that exposes my biggest technical weakness the main lift.

The aim is to use the variation until your gains slow down. Normally you'll improve significantly and consistently for 2-4 weeks, sometimes even more.

So, you get PR's in all the variations you train. Then you need carryover to the original variation, and this is where I hope i've got it right and i'll hit a PR. Sometimes i'm just wrong.

I recently trained bottom up squats as my main lift. Added 20KG to it over 8 weeks. Went back to free squat, excited, and failed to get a PR. This happens, but it takes you one step closer to getting it right.

Also, as well as where technique breaks down, you want to base it on your sticking point, too. Normally the technique breaks down a little before you hit your sticking point (you could then argue the sticking point is where you break down - either way, this is how I look at things).

Whatever conclusion I come to will also give me a whole bunch of assistance exercises I think will be important and help the cause. I'll aim for rep PR's on these, too, but again, at the end of the day, i'm looking for carryover.

Some people who don't do the whole westside/variation-without-change thing will pretty much do the same thing but use the variations as assistance exercises. Same idea just a different structure.

In general, I want to find related exercises I suck at, or exercises that just feel really uncomfortable, then master them. Through mastering them I get PR's. Then the real test is when I see if there's carryover to the main variations/lifts.

For example, when I squat, my hips come out the hole before my chest - when the weight is heavy enough. My main variation on squat day is just squats. Technique wise, I'm constantly thinking of keeping that chest up, and leading with the chest/pushing the back in to the bar on the way up. Assistance wise, I've got front squats and good mornings. Just about to cycle in paused squats. Also always have a quad dominant lunge variation because quads are important at the bottom of a free squat. I just try and get better at everything, whilst being very conscious of technique on the main lift, and hope that i've got it right.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 12:59 pm 
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Thanks guys for the replies. I've read them through a couple of times, and will respond on a couple of highlights.

@Kronos, that's all good stuff, especially your wrap-up comments on "holistic" approach. Coincidentally today's T-Nation article suggest making sure you know what your goal is. Dan John often says the same thing when he says, "The first goal is to keep the goal the goal" -- don't get distracted. The goals for me are health, fun, strength. Chasing numbers is part of the fun, but should not overshadow the other goals. I definitely fall prey to chasing the number.

@Doc: yup I'll always demand a new PR until age and experience make it clear that those days are past, but I don't think that will happen for some years. I guess I'm getting comfortable with the idea that it might not be every 4 weeks anymore.

@KPj I don't really do a Westside thing but I'm learning to treat so-called assistance moves as their own art form. Yeah, sometimes there's no carryover and that sucks, but they were still fun. The big full-body ones like farmers walks and trap bar deads, even heavy barbell rows, these are all additional sources of satisfaction. Even overhead squats which for me at a whopping 60# is just a mobility drill is satisfying to improve upon.

But I wonder if it really ever was every 4 weeks? I'm more and more convinced that 5/3/1 with its weekly rep PRs can be extremely misleading as to the progress you are actually making. I'm not so sure I was really advancing in a monthly linear cycle. Experience shows that my 1RM's tend to lurch rather than rise gently. After months of training my squat lurched from 280 to 320 in a few weeks. Same for deadlift, which leapt from 385 to 455 over about 3 or 4 months. So I just need patience! :grin:


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 3:08 pm 
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I'm wondering if you really can effectively peak every few weeks in each of your lifts. That's what setting a 3RM every few weeks is going to mean. You're basically asking yourself to exceed your best constantly, without breaking down. I don't think that's possible for more than a short time once you're no longer a beginner. Recovery will quickly get exceeded by intensity.

I'm more and more convinced a good long-term goal - for me and generally for my clients - is to maximize your minimums rather than maximize your maximums. What I mean is, instead of trying to raise their one-rep max, my goal is to raise their baseline walking around strength. Raising the weights they can get all the day, day in, day out, without any problems. I'm very influenced here by Paul Carter's blog - http://lift-run-bang.com/ - more so because I've been steadily moving that way myself.

I also think that's easier on your body. I think that's why the rep maxes of 5/3/1 make so much sense - you're really trying to get the most out of the weights you can before you move on, and you're worried more about what you can do at a variety of weights than what you can add to the bar for a single all-out rep. But I'm not training any powerlifters, myself.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 3:22 pm 
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pdellorto wrote:
I'm more and more convinced a good long-term goal - for me and generally for my clients - is to maximize your minimums rather than maximize your maximums.


sometimes you really come up with a gem.

Personally, I dont DL much weight, but its considerably more now than it was two years ago. Nonetheless, everytime my wife wants me to move our "heavy" coffe table so she can stretch her legs, it feels about as heavy as it did back then. Even lifting 50 lbs bags of fertilizer are not super light now. I'd liek more real life carryover. More carry over to something that isn't a barbell and doesn't require me to brace and psyche up for, but ... heck even walking up stairs isn't easier, no matter how many step ups I do. Maybe I just need more gpp. But I thought your comment was also related. I'll check out that blog. Perhaps I misinterpreting... back to Ken (he ignored my first post)


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 25, 2013 10:24 pm 
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Well here is what I cooked up. I'll try this for Squat, Bench and Press, but for Deadlift I resume with the trainer tomorrow specifically for that.

Basically it's all about lots of quality reps with modest increases that tend to add up. It's 10lb increase per month for as long as I can sustain, and I'll only deload if I seem to need it.

The example is for squats, 4x3, with a 30# increment between sets. This is what I did this past Tuesday:

185 x 3
215 x 3
245 x 3
275 x 3

Then add some for a single, maybe 20# which would be 90% or so, then take some off for some backoffs.

Call that week 0, The next 4 weeks are:

Week 1: add 5 to bottom 3 sets for 190, 220, 250, 275
Week 2: add 5 again to bottom 3 sets for 195, 225, 255, 275
Week 3: add 5 to top set for 195, 225,255, 280
Week 4: add 5 to top set again for 195, 225, 255, 285

From there you can repeat the pattern until you can't make the sets. The 4x3 is non-negotiable but you can drop the single and the backoffs if it starts getting tough. As long as you make the top triple you continue.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 26, 2013 4:20 pm 
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Interesting. Could you go into your logic (I have no doubt that there is solid logic, knowing you) behind it?

I'm assuming that the 1RM in the example is about 230. That makes the ramp something like
55% for 3
65%x3
75%x3
85%x3
90%x1
So, the first 4 sets are really acclimation, with a work triple at 85 and a single at 90. My initial reaction is that I'd rather not burn so much "gas" at 55, 65, 75, and save some to do more at 85 and maybe 90. So:
3x55
1x65
1x75
3x85
3x85
1x90
1x90

Or did you have a purpose here that I'm missing?

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 26, 2013 4:24 pm 
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By "longer cycles", don't you really mean, "more gradual progression"?

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 26, 2013 7:12 pm 
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Jungledoc wrote:
By "longer cycles", don't you really mean, "more gradual progression"?


Yes

Regarding the logic, I've got an idea to drop dealing with percentages and work more with increments. It goes like this.

First, actual lifetime 1RM in a comp is 320. However, we all know that a peaked comp 1RM is unrealistic, so...

Second, Just pick a weight I know I can do as a triple based on experience since the comp. I've done 5 @ 280, so 275 is an easy triple.

Third, I'm trying to build a foundation, and to stop choking and having form collapse when I make big jumps to top set, so the answer will be ramped sets with increments that make for a more continuous experience from the first to the last.

Fourth, an increment of 30 is a know-thyself answer for Ken to get that continuous experience.

Finally, there has to be a way to improve, so I just cooked up the 5# increments based on a program my trainer gave me before the meet.

As for burning gas, this is a deliberate decision to do so. It is a trade-off to obtain that continuity as the weight increases. I say to myself, "perfect form at 185 was easy, 215 is doable so do it." Then I'm saying, "You did good form at 215, 245 is doable so do it." The gradual increases allow me to maintain a steady frame of mind as I approach higher intensity.

Then I throw in a single afterward for the fun of it. Once I hit the backoffs fatigue is becoming a significant issue so it becomes all about maintaining focus and defying the fatigue.

Hope that answers the question. Nobody ever accused me of being brief.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 26, 2013 11:13 pm 
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Yeah, that's great.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 27, 2013 12:57 am 
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Ken,

Expand more on why you want to drop percentages?

For me, even though I can create workbooks to calculate the right weight for each percentage/day, the idea of mixing in macros and math has a bit of a "take the heart out it" drain on my momentum. After all, we're lifting heavy things not preparing for the SAT. But, it's surely in my head. Somedays, the mathiness makes it more interesting, So, I go both ways

Back to you, what is your reason ?


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 27, 2013 10:36 am 
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Oscar_Actuary wrote:
pdellorto wrote:
I'm more and more convinced a good long-term goal - for me and generally for my clients - is to maximize your minimums rather than maximize your maximums.


sometimes you really come up with a gem.



Thanks.

Really, what matters most of the time is what you can do without (much) warmup, on a bad day, under less than ideal conditions.

I'd note that even guys who depend on a single personal best for competitive purposes don't aim to stay at that best level year-round. It's unrealistic, generally, and it's more important that you peak when you need to than that you peak all the time. I figure the purpose of the weights your lifting in the gym is to get better outside of the gym - whether that is on the mat, on the bench at a meet, or just moving furniture.

So I'm starting to lean heavily towards the idea that it's more important to prioritize recovery and get the most of the exercises you do than to pick up heavy stuff at the gym. You still want to pick up heavy stuff, but the point isn't how heavy you train at but what you can get out of the weights and how often you can get it done.

To me, anyway. I could be wrong. There are people stronger than me who disagree.

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