In part two we discussed the variables available in strength programming. In part three we will put the information into practice and create a strength program designed for a hypothetical strength athlete.
Our hypothetical athlete will be in their 20’s, injury and chronic disease free, and be able to devote as much time as necessary to their training and recovery. Our athlete is a powerlifter that has run a proper novice linear progression and has gained considerable muscular bodyweight and strength. The goals are to increase the squat, bench press, and deadlift to compete. Our athlete has been identified as an intermediate athlete and adapts roughly within the period of a week. We will utilize the Texas Method for inspiration.
The microcycle for this athlete will be a week’s period of time. The mesocycle will be four week blocks but primarily concurrent training focusing on hypertrophy, strength, and skill practice simultaneously. Specific four week blocks will be introduced prior to competitions to prioritize strength and ability to demonstrate strength. The macrocycle will be very simple with offseason and competition variation.
While novice athletes can adapt from a single workout and recover within 48-72 hours, intermediate athletes require multiple sessions of stimulus and increased complexity to address the longer period of time for recovery and adaptation. To address this, an undulating periodization throughout the timeframe of a week will be utilized. Because intermediate athletes are not advanced and do not require multiple weeks to create adaptation, a linear increase in load between weeks will be sufficient.
Next to address is: overall stress, systemic recovery, and frequency of sessions. A frequency of three to four sessions per week is probably optimal with maybe five a possibility if designed well. We will utilize three for this example. Session one of the week will be the most difficult and stressful because the athlete is most rested. Session one will be focused upon accumulating volume. Session two will be moderately or lightly stressful and alternate between accumulation of volume and display of strength with high percentage lifts (intensity). Session three will be lightly stressful and focus primarily on intensity. Four rest days per week will provide adequate recovery for our early intermediate athlete and his moderate ability to recover.
* Systemic recovery that is more negative, fatiguing, will be noted with (-). The more “(-)“ the more fatiguing.
The current overarching structure allows the first session to provide the necessary stimulus to drive adaptation. Session three tests whether the stimulus was adequate by challenging the athlete to display their strength at a higher intensity level as well as provide skill practice at higher loads. Session two alternates between a stress stimulus and display of strength every other week.
The primary movements selected to improve the athletes goal of a bigger squat, bench, and deadlift will obviously be the squat, bench press, and deadlift. The overhead press will be selected as the first secondary movement given its range of motion, ability to load, and carryover to the bench press. The squat being the most technical, heavy loaded, and important will often be performed first while the athlete is the most fresh. Movements of similar musculature will be spread apart in the session as much as possible. Primary movements will be performed before secondary.
Next we must select the frequency of our primary movements. In this example the squat will be performed twice per week due to its importance and ability to create whole body strength. The bench press will be performed twice. The overhead press will be performed once as a secondary lift to the bench press. The deadlift will be performed once per week due to the nature and difficulty of recovering from large loads that the deadlift permits. The primary lifts will be spread apart throughout the week to provide the most recovery between movements that utilize similar musculature.
Secondary lifts will be selected based upon the specific needs of the athlete. There are thousands of options that can be selected here but let’s assume typical weaknesses for the average powerlifter competing without supportive gear. Our lifter has difficulty at the bottom of the squat, off the chest of the bench press, and maintaining thoracic extension on the deadlift. Our secondary movements will be pause squats, Spoto presses, and Romanian deadlifts. The tertiary movements will be selected based upon their ability improve specific movements patterns or muscle groups. Chin ups, dips, and incline dumbbell presses will be selected. Our intermediate athlete will respond well to the introduction of a variety of movements but movements will be selected for a purpose without random variation. Muscle confusion is not a consideration and is not valid.
Low repetitions sets will be selected for their ability to create the most strength. The number of sets will be kept low to allow high intensity loading and minimal requirements to systemic recovery. Two sets of three (2x3) to start will serve this purpose. Moderate intensity with 3-5x5 will be utilized as an excellent balance of hypertrophy, strength, and sports practice to accumulate volume. 1-2x8 will be utilized for secondary movements weighted closer to hypertrophy and lower in set numbers according to importance. Low intensity secondary or tertiary movements will be performed for sets of 8-20 repetitions skewed towards hypertrophy, endurance, or simply because they are difficult to load. Specific repetition numbers without indicated set numbers will be utilized for tertiary movements and can be performed in any configuration. For example, chin ups will be designated as 50 repetitions. The athlete can perform the 50 repetitions as 5x10, 10x5, or any other combination. As the coach we only care that they are completed. This allows the athlete to accumulate additional volume between work sets throughout the session, improving workout density and therefore improving time management.
Our program looks like this:
Now we must determine the intensity of the lifts to be performed. As previously discussed we can use load, percentage of maximum, velocity, rating of perceived exertion, or repetitions in reserve. My preference is to utilize a combination. For the simplicity of this article, repetitions in reserve (RiR) will be utilized. RiR is an estimated measurement of how many more repetitions the athlete or coach thought could be performed in a given set. If three repetitions were performed but five actually could have been done, RiR is two. It is my experience that for 5x5, a RiR of two to four provides and adequate stimulus without being overwhelming. For 2x3, RiR of one to two is adequate. Secondary movements that are only performed for one to two sets can often be pushed to a RiR of one. Movements that are safer, performed with higher repetitions and lower loads, can be pushed to a RiR of zero to one.
Rest periods according to technicality, intensity, velocity, and importance must be established. Five to ten minutes is required for heavy 5x5. Three to ten minutes is required for heavy three’s. Since the secondary movements are less important they require less time, three minutes will be adequate. The athlete can perform tertiary movements designated only with a repetition number with as much rest time as required, we care only that they are performed. In some instances rest periods can be kept artificially short to stress the metabolic and endurance components of the muscle. We will utilize only a single minute for incline dumbbell presses.
Our strength program now looks like this:
Finally we need to address indicators and measures of progress. As the indicator of progress we will utilize the completion of all 5x5 and 2x3 repetitions for a given lift. If the athlete completes every repetition of squats for the week then next week the load will be increased. Increases will probably start around ten pounds per week but eventually slow to five pounds per week. The measure of progress is how well we are increasing the one repetition maximum. Completion of heavier five’s and heavier three’s each week essentially guarantees that the one repetition maximum is increasing. In part four we will further explore this relationship.
Our strength program is now complete and ready to utilized by the athlete. In part four we will discuss how we can convert RiR into percentages of maximum and the adjustability that affords. In part five we will discuss how to adjust the program and how to adapt it as the athlete advances.