Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Book excerpt - Programming your cycles

Ok the last week or so has been a lot of serious opinion type talks and it's time to switch gears and actually talk about some training. Notably, let's talk about programming your phases for the strong-15. So that way there's no confusion about what you should be doing in that regard.

Programming - Where all the fuckin’ up starts

The biggest reason why guys training cycles get short circuited is because of ego.  


The truth is, for most lifters, they don’t want to walk into the gym and use “normal” weights.  Normal being relative, of course.  

They want to be the king in the gym.  If they have a 600 deadlift they want to deadlift 600 every week.  So when they program in the phases they always program way too high.  Then they get into week 5 and wonder why shit is starting to feel heavy.  It’s because they refused to acknowledge that they really aren’t all that and a bucket o’ chicken.  

People often have trouble coming to grips with their own mortality and inferior abilities.  Programming in numbers is just another example of this.  

It’s not until you overcome this that you can actually move past what you are capable of now.  

That’s another sentence that you probably need to read a few times if you have been frustrated with your training.

Proper Programming - The 85-93-100 rule

Programming for success is not difficult if you adhere to the rules above concerning training philosophy.

So why does everyone have so much trouble understanding what to put in for a max when they start their programming?  

Ego is the number one problem.  

Put your ego aside, program in a nice little goal for phase 3, then program 85% of that for phase 1 and 93% of that for phase 2.  

That’s it.  It’s that simple.  

But people fuck this up constantly.  

Let me quote Ed Coan (again) about how to approach your gym lifting....

“ I always leave the heavy ones for meets. They don't mean shit in the gym and I'll end up overtraining. That's what I used to do when I was younger, but I could get away with it then. Overtraining is really common in powerlifting, just like bodybuilding.”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a guy say “I hit X amount in the gym before the meet, but I missed it on meet day.  I don’t know why.” I would give this book out for free because I’d be rich and retired, banging Adriana Lima.  But I’m not, even though I really really wish I were.

You only have so many big ones in you over the course of a training cycle.  And I’m not talking about your sex life.  Don’t be the guy that competes that is always talking about what he hit in the gym but missed at the meet.  Be smart in your programming and reap the rewards.  

If you don’t plan on competing, the rules still apply.  You’re still trying to get as strong as possible.  So put your ego aside and program in a way that sets you up for success.  The truth is, you never have to take an absolute max attempt in the gym, to get as strong as possible.  In fact, it’s probably counter productive in some ways.  It takes longer to recover from these kinds of attempts, it poses a higher risk for injury, and you’re only doing it to demonstrate strength.  

You don’t need to demonstrate strength to actually get stronger.  

Momentum -

Each training session should build on the next, and each phase should build on the next one, until you are at peak strength.  This will not happen if you are training at damn near max weights week in and week out.  At some point either your strength will fall off for a while, or your body will give you a nice dose of forced rest in the way of an injury.  Either way, both of these things curtail training progress.

So let’s show how Joe Lifter should do this.

Joe Lifter is good for a 405 squat.  He knows this either because.....

  • He squatted 405 just recently, and training has still been going good.
  • He squatted 90% of that (365) for a triple.  This is a fairly good indicator of being good for 405.

Joe is smart.  He knows 405 would be a REAL max, so he just plans on hitting 415 in the next 9 weeks.  So he plugs in 355 for phase 1 (85%), 385 for phase 2 (93%), and 415 for phase 3 (100%).  

Joe busts through each phase, gets stronger and more confident.  Easily goes 355, 385, 415 on testing day after a short deload.  Takes a few days off, decides to go for 425 on his next go round.

Successful lifter is successful.  

Now, Matt Douchefag on the other hand thinks he’s good for 405.  Even though he’s only done 385 as a real hard grinder as a single and that was months ago.

Matt Douchefag plugs in 415 for phase 3, 385 for phase 2, and 365 for phase 1.  

Matt Douchefag wonders why everything feels so heavy just a couple of weeks in, stalls in phase 2 and starts missing lifts.  Matt Douchefag sucks, and so does his planning and programming.  Matt Douchefag doesn’t know how to leave his ego aside and plan appropriately because he thinks more of his lifting than he should.  
Matt douchefag should get beaten to death with an AIDS shovel because he wastes his time and my time, by asking me why his training failed when I’ve covered this on numerous occasions.    

In essence, be Joe Lifter.  Don’t be Matt Douchefag.  

TNATION| Atlas Speaks: An interview with Ed Coan.


  1. this is was perfect

  2. Excited for the book. One thing I've been wondering about that is relevant to this: I've been running Press, Deadlift, Flat Bench, Squat for months now. If I wanted to sub-out any of those movements for variations (i.e. Incline, Deficiit Pulls, Pause Squats), but I've never done a cycle or spent much time with any of those movements, how do you recommend determining the training max? Because I train alone, I'm certainly intersted in options that don't involve having to take a true max attempt, lol.

    1. I train alone for the most part as well. So that's not really as much of an issue as you think.

      You can work up to a solid triple then do a guesstimate from there. Or you can just work up to a really solid single and do it from there, or even program in what you got. There is no harm in programming slightly lower than what you can do. In fact, for a lot of guys, this yields great results.

  3. I know you are a 3 days a week kind of guy. But will this book have ideas for using your strong 15 say in a 4 day template. I will be training with guys after may who train upper / lower / upper / lower style on monday tuesday thursday friday. Was wondering how you would approach plugging in your programming with that in mind.

  4. Hey Paul,

    What if Matt Douchefag actually did squat 405, but that was 3 months ago, and since then he's done some dieting and pushed conditioning harder?

    1. Is Matt Douchefag good for 405 right now then?

      I think we both know the answer.

  5. Good timing as I've been stalling on my bench progress, only thing I'm doing heavy singles for at the moment. I don't think my problem is starting too heavy, its that I ran too many monthly cycles of +5lbs which means maxing out too often. Only question, how long did It take you to realize this stuff 100% and apply it to your training? When is the last time you pulled a Matt?


    1. A very long time ago. I realized pretty young how important it was to start light and build from there. This was one of the things I didn't make mistakes with early on.

  6. OK, I recognize that what you have here makes perfect sense when competing, or at least when you are trying to peak. So my question is, how would this change, if at all, for someone only concerned with their baseline or walking around strength? Personally I can't remember the last time I maxed out on a single, but I am constantly trying to hit a PR for rep maxes in the 3-8 range.

    I recognize that progression is important, but the way most people prescribe progression in weight training it becomes a tautology - if your not lifting more each week you are not getting stronger. Wow, what an insight; if I can't lift more I am not stronger!

    On the other hand I completely agree that your performance cycles and that you can only be at the top of your game for a couple of weeks when using a peaking method. So I guess the real question is whether it is better to build strength better for the long run by running multiple peaking cycles taking two steps backward then three steps forward repeatedly, or if you would do better some other way such as some sort of non-linear or variation of the "chaos and pain" version where you self regulate. I am trying a bit of both to see which I like best, but any opinion, or anecdotal evidence is appreciated.

    As I know some of these things depend on how advanced a lifter is, if it is any help I am an intermediate stage lifter in my mid 30's with 3 yrs experience with lifts in the 350, 450, 525 range based off 3 rep maxes at about 195lbs with a long term goal to get to 400, 500, 600 at 200lbs.


    1. Jim - Great question.

      This part of training is mainly for strength peaking.

      When you are not peaking for strength you should be striving to increase your base in both strength and size, without getting fat.

      This is where the big-15 program comes into play. Medium to high reps that don't beat you up as bad as the 90% stuff, and do a better job of increasing your lean mass.

      IMO training for mass to get to that next stage of big should involve the constant of trying to set new rep PR's, but NOT in a low rep range. A minimum of 8 for upperbody and 10+ for all lower body work. Deadlifts can still get a triple I suppose but the fact is, the deadlift is not a great lift for building mass (that's a whole nuther discussion).

      99% of the bodybuilders on the planet will tell you that higher reps build mass. Stan Efferding, the strongest raw guy walking around at the moment, made that distinction in my interview with him. And if you have seen any of his vids you will see that Stan hits high reps hard and close to failure when doing his bodybuilding. This is how your offseason training should look.

      Get big, not fat, and break rep PR's until it's time to prepare for strength peaking, then switch gears and reap the rewards.

    2. Paul, do you feel the strength peaking phase has any use for the non-competitor?

    3. Over the long run, what I'm working towards are the "What constitutes strong?" type lifts. I'll probably never get there, but that's the long term goal.

      And as with you and many others, I want to be walking-around strong and look the part too, while maintaining and occasionally pushing my athleticism. So I've always wondered if strength peaking blocks really had any use if I'm not entering a powerlifting comp where I need to display the 1 rep strength.

      Appreciate your advice.

    4. Jeff - My goals are to be "what constitutes strong" as well. But you can't get there by training all out all the time.

      Everytime you run through a successful mass phase, you should get stronger. The second thing you do is, you increase your potential for absolute limit strength (your 1 rep max). A bigger you is a stronger you.

      So basically, while I am not training for a meet or not doing something specialized, I am generally trying to get bigger overall and/or get in better shape. Both of these things are needed in order to reach those "strong" standards.

      So during the "offseason" you should be pushing the reps hard, eating good quality food, building more on your "walking around strength" otherwise know as your "foundation", and staying in condition. It's during these strength blocks that you push towards a peaking of absolute strength.

      What the absolute strength cycles do, is cash in on that potential of the bigger you. Then you end up stronger, and when you go back to mass training, you are using heavier weights for reps than you were before.

      these things tend to cyclical. Get bigger, then get stronger. Rinse and repeat. Some people will say do both, but I have always found just going hard after one seemed to suit me best.

    5. Thanks for the thoughtful reply Paul. Exactly what I was wondering about.


  7. Paul,
    I'm a new follower, and I am just wondering how you ran 5-3-1? Just the simple crap.

    Also, whats your normal conditioning?

    Finally, is your steady state just walking?

    1. 1.

      2. There is no such thing as "normal", it varies on what my goals are at that time.

      3. Always.

    2. I'm going to give myself a "search bar, noob" on this one. Thanks for the response though.

  8. hey paul, how do you feel about frequent training with very high volume for a block or phase month and then drastically raising intensity to a peak while lowering volume (dual factor periodzation?). i know you advocated low volume one day per lift a week building up momentum. but how has the other method work for you? and do you believe it only has its place for intermediate guys?

    1. I like higher volume/more frequency during specialization stuff. Like trying to focus on "bodyparts".

      Advanced guys don't need to train the powerlifts often to progress on them, so I don't know why they would. The squat, bench, and dead are not technical lifts to that person anymore. It's not like Oly lifting where technique is the be all end all until you quit. In powerlifting or bodybuilding it doesn't take a long time to develop the technique to properly squat, bench, and pull.

      this is why all of the strongest guys I know, don't train that often. I think this is something intermediates and beginners can do with success but I not really strong advanced guys. I also don't know why someone would want to. I don't want to live in the gym.

  9. makes sense, i always wondered why you know, i assume once u start warming up and rampign up to the top heavy sets for an advanced guy it must be hard to recover from and enough volume already before you reach the singles

  10. Paul

    How do you train the deadlift while on a fat loss diet?


    1. Joe - If I am really trying to get lean I will drop back to training twice a week total, and I usually squat one week and deadlift the next. This works very well.

    2. I shouldve been more specific. With regard to sets/reps and % 1rm?


    3. Just kind of varies what I want to do. Usually I keep it light and hit some reps. I don't worry too much about building a big deadlift when the calories are low and conditioning is high.

  11. Hi Paul,

    Just curious... what if Joe Lifter misses? I am sure it will happen eventually (maybe not). Does he redo the cycle or cut 10% and go again?

    I am on week 2 of strong15 and purposely set myself some low numbers to see where I was at, I took what I thought were easy first lifts and took off about 10% off bench and squat and about 30% off deadlift as I coming back from about 2 months of a buggered back (Been doing RDL's but nothing from the floor).

    Everything is feeling really good, I am still challenged and try to explode through all the movements. Really enjoying it and after a few years of max or no training and gear every week its a nice change from walking around like I just got into a car wreck, I feel like all my sessions (only 5) have been +10%. I have a meet planned for end of May (raw) and will start the Big15 after that and see how that goes. Looking forward to the new book as well.

    - Jason

    1. That depends on WHY he missed.

      Did he miss because his technique was off?

      Did he miss just because he had a bad day?

      If it was either of these, come back at it in a week or so. If it's just not there, I personally would concentrate on getting bigger, then coming back at it later.

  12. I have a question that's sort of related to Jim's question. When it comes to mass training, do you still consider progression in weight important? I know you've done DC (hell, I'm pretty sure you posted on too) and you know as well as I do that there's a big focus on progression in reps and weight. So let's say you're doing BTN presses for 8 reps (which regarded as the minimum reps for upper body stuff), how would this work exactly? If your goal is to get 10 reps, and you hit 10 reps on Monday's session, would you up the weight next time (which would be next Monday) you're hitting BTN presses?
    I'm just sort of curious how your method pertains to DC stuff (obviously it's different because you aren't advising people to do rest pause which is a different matter altogether).

    1. LOL this is something I am addressing in the book as well with a new revamped mass program (still based around the big15 with some changes).

      I stay with the same weight. This is what I always liked doing and it works. I just stay with that weight until the reps get high enough that it really isn't making a difference.

      What I mean is, what's the difference in 16 and 17 reps? Not much, if anything.

      But 8 reps to 10 reps represents more than a 20% jump in repping strength.

      So what I have done and do is, I stick with a certain weight after the first couple of weeks and keep trying to break that rep PR.

      So like so.......

      week 1 - PBN - 185x9
      week 2 - PBN - 185x11
      week 3 - PBN - 225x7
      week 4 - PBN - 225x8
      week 5 - PBN - 225x10
      week 6 - PBN - 225x11
      take time off or continue....

      The only thing that would change during this time is the overwarm up set. So I would warm up maybe to 205 the first week, then 225 the second week, then 235, 245, etc. But the back off would stay the same, and I would constantly try to beat reps with that weight.

      In the original I did it in two weeks waves, but I honestly feel that just sticking with the same weight for the majority of the cycle and building reps and breaking rep PR's against that backoff weight is better.

  13. Thanks a ton, Paul, makes sense now. Interesting approach for sure, looking forward to the book, I'll definitely be getting it. Especially looking forward to your section devoted to beginner training, gonna be training my little brother next year and I want him to take as much advantage of his noob gains as possible.

    Completely unrelated, but I figured you'd appreciate this considering your What Constitutes Strong? post:

    Looks like this guy's already there. And surpassed it somehow.

    1. That guy is a beast.........bench pressing. There are a lot of guys that are great at a single lift. The WCS standards are there to be strong as fuck in every way. I have no idea what he squats or pulls. Nevertheless he's a stupid sick bencher.

  14. Hi Paul and greetings from Finland (sorry if my english sucks). First of all I must say that I have found the best training tips from your blog.. So thanks and keep up the good work.

    I have used the programming you wrote about in "Developing your raw bench - part 3". Well actually I managed to fuck up the programming because I based the calculations on the real one rep max (around 365lbs at the time)and not the 93 percent. Even though the calculations were a bit off I increased the one rep max bench up to around 385 lbs(175 kilos).

    So what would you recommend if wanted to increase the bench to over 400 pounds? Should I start the cycle from the beginning and calculate new weights using 385lbs and 100 percent (0,80 x 385, 0,85 x 385 etc.)? I also considered the other two pressing routines you showed but this first one seems to work really well. Any tips are welcome.

    1. 400 * 93% = 375ish. Program it with that and go from there.

      And congrats on the bench PR!

  15. Hi Paul, quick question. Hoping I'm not to late to ask.

    So I'm kind of new to this strength-15 spreadsheet. The values I put in come to for e.g. 200.2 or 300.6. Plates are standard, so would I just round up the first value to 200 and the second to 301?