Thursday, December 13, 2012

More wrong and brokeded programming.....

I'm going to answer this question in sections because it is long, and it is rife with all of the mistakes that so many of you make in programming.  Especially you noobs.  

I've poured over your e-book several times, and I'm somewhat at a loss for a couple questions. I'll include the backstory after the questions to help frame where I am in my progress. Long story short, I had my first power lifting competition at 40 years old in October 2012. It was a great learning experience, learning both what not to do for programming and some of what to do. In the process of getting ready for the meet the lift I was most confident in went backwards, and the lift I was least confident in started making strides. So I'm not sure what would be reasonably sane, yet challenging increases over the year.

In the e-book you gave an example for a "good" lifter who goes for a 10lb increase cycle to cycle. Would that be the same for bench and deadlift? or does it vary? The cycles are so long that a mistake would be very costly time-wise.

Answer - 

The cycles are long?  Compared to what?  Being in a POW camp?  It's 9 weeks.  A 3 week acclimation period based on low percentages of your opener, and then 6 weeks of peaking.  That's not long.  Guys used to do 12 and 16 week cycles.  

Second, if you program properly, you shouldn't be making mistakes.  A mistake being that you missed a lift, or failed.  That should NEVER happen in a properly programmed cycle.  If a mistake was made, then someone completely dropped the ball on all of the information I have presented about properly programming.  Namely, PROGRAM LIGHT.  

More on that in a minute......

The Strong-15 cycle is 11 weeks, 9 weeks of work, deload, and meet/test week. In the book, you made reference to testing at the end of each phase to see where you are. How does that work?
How do you set some reasonable goals a year in advance when you are still learning how you respond to training?My First Meet and Training Backstory.

I don't have a testing week for the new strong-15, where you hit X number of reps to make sure you are falling into ballpark range.  I felt like as the cycle wore on, those days might end up subtracting from the peaking part of the cycle because they were very taxing.  You want to walk into the meet feeling 100%.  Not beat down from training.  

Second, I don't really set year long goals.  I set phase goals.  Every 6 weeks has a goal.  If I am smart, I hit them.  If I am not, I don't.  It's really that simple.  The weights won't lie to you, and neither will your body.  I may have an idea of what I want to hit in a year, but generally I program small, and crush shit.

After a year and a half of training starting with just the bar and working up to some respectable numbers, I decided I wanted to test that in a real contest. I've done some video meets but the rules are pretty lax on that so it didn't really prepare me for the real thing. I was running Wendler 5/3/1 for a while and made some good progress. When I hit a 405lb squat, I was feeling my oats and thought "hey why don't I run Smolov and turn this into a 5 plate squat". Yeah. Stupid. Got through the loading phase and made a 445lb squat--about 2" too high. I repeated the 445lb squat, and maybe got to 1" too high. And then things fell apart shortly after that. The accumulation phase I was cranking out the reps, most of which were too high until the fateful day when I did 405 5x5 and my body told me it was enough. My squat strength went backwards with a vengeance, and I was 2 months away from competition.

Well you got it right, and you did what every noob does.  "Hey I got a decent lift, this special routine will really take me up a notch!"  The problem with those, is that it's not sustainable.  You end up right back at your baseline strength in a few weeks or months because the volume and intensity can't be kept up.  It's not a smart way to train, and not a smart thing to do unless you can time it up for a meet.  

Now the cool part here is, what happened after the 445 squat??? 

OMG you went backwards!!!!!  I think I've only written about this "falling off the cliff" about eleventy billion times. 

When you have a huge upswing in strength, there is a huge backswing after.  The body can't sustain that forward momentum without getting blown back a bit after the supercompensation curve.  

Are you guys reading this, and taking it in?  

Through that training stupidity I learned two valuable lessons:

When something is working, don't change it
If you don't hit depth you didn't make the liftI needed to rescue my squat, and train the bench and deadlift for the meet. A friend of mine told me about your short-cycle program, and I plugged in numbers thinking I would reclaim the 445lb squat, increase my bench by 5lbs, and keep my deadlift in front of my squat. I had time for a short break where I learned the paused squat, and some of the other assistance work I would be using. Too my horror, I could rep out squats for days in the 300lb range, but once I hit 400lbs I couldn't get out of the hole. I had to change my squat numbers with 2 weeks left of work in the short cycle and eat some humble pie.

Meanwhile my bench programming was going strong, and I was really surprised how well my bench responded to the Strong-15 style training. The deadlift was going well too, except I couldn't lift the last single of the cycle.

So you tried to "reclaim" a squat that was too high anyway, and one that came from a very advanced peaking cycle, that shot you backwards very quickly shortly after?  

Not smart.  

What should have happened there is, used the first few weeks and programmed the squat REALLY low, to allow the body to recover, and then you could have seen a decent rebound in the squat.  The dead was obviously still programmed too high if you missed a lift at the end of the cycle.  

The results?

I did 7 of 9
1100lb total first time out
385lb Squat (missed the opener due to nerves and losing my balance)
245lb Bench (missed the 3rd attempt, and a 79 year old veteran of the sport told me why--it wasn't the strength)
470lb Deadlift PR
No more stupid stuff or shortcuts.I was the only one in my weight class, so winning that doesn't really mean much. However, I did accomplish my first meet with an 1100lb total after only 1.5 years of training. I also learned that both the bench and deadlift seem to like the Strong-15 style training a bit better than the 5/3/1 style training. I also learned to not let the bar sink into your chest on a paused bench--just hold the bar in contact at the ready until you hear the "press" command. Thanks to Smooth for that.

Shortly after the meet I had surgery, and chose to do the Big-15 program when I was allowed to start training again. First heavy sessions were hard, but the second heavy sessions were just fine. Now, I'm in the process of trying to plan out my year of training and wanting to come up with reasonable numbers and progressing toward those numbers.

Plan 6 week cycles.  Not a year.  Congrats on the deadlift PR.  

Notice what happened with his squat there?  385.  So even though he programmed too high in the squat, he backed off JUST ENOUGH to allow the baseline to almost return.  If he had backed off even more, he probably hits 415 or so.  

Are you guys kind of getting a feel for this now?  No one is a special snowflake.  I see these same things happen over, and over, and over again.  

My goals are:

Reclaim the 445+ squat in competition where it means something
Turn my good-for-265 bench into a 300lb+ bench
530+ on the deadliftI think these goals are reasonable for a year's worth of training, maybe even conservative. However with the long cycles of the Strong-15 program, I might have to ditch the second meet I was thinking about including to reach them.

So everyone asks then, "how should I program?"  

Using your everyday max, or 90-95% of it.  CRUSH FUCKING WEIGHTS!  Do you guys feel me on this?  That means, when you pick a weight to program in for a max in your cycle it should be 90-95% of your EVERYDAY max.

You should be crushing shit like Godzilla in the middle of Tokyo on bathsalts every god damn week.  If you miss one week, your fault for letting your ego control your dick (or vag).  

I'm already working and actually DOING a new program designed around the strong-15 based even more on these principles and as you saw last week, a 405 front squat easily using no more than 225 and 275 in training.  Think about that.  That's 68% for my heaviest work sets.  

The other part that I've come to realize is, your bench, squat, and pull should not be programmed using the same method across the board.  I know this sounds obvious, but everyone does it.  They throw around percentages across the board for each.  This does NOT lend itself to optimal results.  I came to this conclusion looking at not only my own training, but the training of the best guys in the world for quite some time.  Even if they were genetically gifted for a lift, they always found the proper range for those lifts, that gave the greatest return on their investment.  

I've only started scratching the surface on this with 365.  I will be letting you guys know what I'm doing the more I test it and apply it.  I don't just come up with training programs that I pulled out of my ass but never used.  

BE SMART in your programming.  Crush weights and go into the top of the strength cycle confident and cocky about what you plan on hitting.  


  1. I only wish I read your book before I screwed up. I didn't really know about it until after the stupidity with Smolov.

    I admit it, I'm hard-headed, and am still a little confused. So the Strong-15 is 11 weeks (9 weeks progressively heavier and 2 weeks relative break)--and you mention 6 week goals. I totally get how the 6 week goals work for the Big-15 program, and I can sort of see how it works for the short cycle. How does it work for the longer Strong-15 9 week cycle?

    PS: long cycles were in comparison to 5/3/1 (monthly) and definitely the beginner/intermediate programs.

    1. It works the same way. The first three weeks are nothing more than an acclimation phase. Then 6 weeks of meat and potatoes. Just like I wrote above.

    2. Thank you for taking the time to answer my question.

  2. "The other part that I've come to realize is, your bench, squat, and pull should not be programmed using the same method across the board."

    This is a very tantalizing statement, and something I've often wondered about. Can't wait to hear more.

  3. I'm def in one of those lulls. I haven't lifted seriously in ~2 months. Life/work just really kicking my ass. Also was having pretty severe internal conflict as I've shed pounds and felt strength diminishing. I know it's just part of the process but it's still a mindfuck.

    Finally starting to get the bug again and I'm pretty excited. I'm switching from low bar to high bar squatting for a while, going completely beltless.. between that and the time off, my programmed maxes for 5/3/1 are going to be so low. And I'm looking forward to it. When you wrap your head around what it is this accomplishes, there's something exciting about going into the gym KNOWING everything is going to be light and that you're going to destroy it.

    1. "...there's something exciting about going into the gym KNOWING everything is going to be light and that you're going to destroy it."

      I LOVE that feeling. I'm doing 5/3/1, as well, and have not failed to hit rep PRs every week. A guy offered me a spot on bench yesterday; I turned him down because I was only at 85% of my training max...and hit 12 reps for a new rep PR.

      Feels " Godzilla in the middle of Tokyo on bath salts..." Hahaha...I love that one.

    2. Yeah plus I've never really high bar squatted before, so learning a new movement is going to require low programming as well. My best squat is 500, though now I'm guessing it's in the mid-400s. I'm used to most of my squat sets being in the 350-385 range with some top sets of ~400. I full expect my high bar squat sets to be in the mid to high 200s. A year ago this would have depressed me severely. But I'm pumped to learn a new skill and I expect my high bar strength will approach my low bar standards even as I'm repping out 275 or whatever.

  4. Same thing happened to me on smolov when I ran it a couple of years ago. If you time it properly (peak), you can make it work for a meet but it's hard to balance your bench and dead training. There are simpler and more effective ways to do things but it takes a little bit of screwing up to realize it (or you can trust those who know more).

    I regret making the same noob mistakes as this guy but in a way, I'm glad that I made them early on and actually learned from them (seems like he did too). This stuff takes time to understand and accept because we all start out thinking more is better and we overlook the smaller but more important details. A few years ago I wouldn't have understood a lot of the points you are making, but now I can relate to them. It makes perfect sense to start light, to have a 3 week acclimation period, the whole 80% day and +/- 10 % day is insanely true and I could go on. All the points you make and are driving home are TRUTHS that come from time under the bar unlike 98% of the shit out there.

    If people listened and grasped these points off the bat then they would be way ahead of the game but most people just can't accept this stuff. They will either keep making the same mistakes or just quit and be the "I gotta get back into it.." guy.

    Keep it coming Paul, these posts are extremely helpful in my training and I really enjoy reading them.

    1. Some survival skills I learned before lifting did help somewhat:

      1. Try new stuff, but if it isn't working stop it.
      2. A thick skin and a good sense of humor go a long way.

      I am very much a noob, with 1 meet and not even 2 years of lifting cred to my name. I'm a quick study, and won't be repeating that mistake. I'll probably make new ones... But that's part of life and learning.