Wednesday, February 27, 2013

More winning with lower intensities

A Facebook friend posted this article up from elitefts.  Funny enough, it was just posted a few days ago during a time which I've been writing about base building and achieving maximum strength through lower intensity training.

From that article, some of the points that really hit home and also echo all the points I've been making about sub maximal training.........(though I obviously don't agree with the CNS points)

In many articles that have appeared on this site, major focus appears to be on the development of strength with the use of high intensity training programs. High intensity programs, however, are known to be notorious for burning out the central nervous system. This, in turn, creates excessive fatigue and lethargy, which prevents continuous training. Maximum strength is the key quality to be developed, but it appears that we need additional methods for developing maximum strength. Continuous high intensity is very effective, but for the most part, it is very limited and potentially injurious, especially to low-level powerlifters, as well as athletes in various sports, particularly football. Thus, we should ask if the commonly used high-intensity programs for developing maximum strength are the best. Many of these programs are great for producing gains initially, but at what cost to low- and intermediate-level athletes? How long does one stay on such a program and with what results? If you read most of the articles carefully, you will see that most writers admit that the gains are relatively short-lived or that they would hope to get greater gains from the program. In other words, any of these high-intensity methods may not be as good as many hoped.
However, as a nation, we seem to be more obsessed with maximum intensity as though it were the only way to develop greater strength. It has become the Holy Grail of training. Maximum intensity as the main factor appears to be erroneous thinking though.

Even the Russians found it more effective to use multiple intensity zones for the development of maximum strength instead of only one intensity zone, especially the high-intensity zone. In general, they found that intensities of 50–100 percent are all effective for gaining strength. Each intensity zone, such as 50–60 percent, 60–70 percent, or 70–80 percent, are all very effective for specific purposes. The key is to determine which intensity zone will give you the greatest return for what you are trying to accomplish. For example, the 70–80 percent of maximum intensity zone is very effective when doing multiple exercises for learning and perfecting the major lifts and the assistance exercises. In this intensity zone, you are capable of doing more work, which in many respects produces greater strength in time than if you only trained with a high-intensity program. In addition, it is less taxing on the central nervous system and thus does not create any negative changes in the body.

In some of my private discussions with Bondarchuk and other top Russian coaches, they all wish that they could have been a coach of U.S. athletes. According to Bondarchuk, we have the greatest athletic talent pool in the world, but we don’t turn out world record holders like we should be able to do. He believes that the reason for this is our obsession with maximum strength!

I love this article because one thing it does, is completely cement all the things that my own body and mind have been telling me for quite some time, but that I fought against for a while.  Mainly that is, I found during periods where I was forced to train well under what I believed was optimal, I could hit PR's relatively easily when I tried.  Where before, when I was always training to get more weight on the bar, I was always tired and beat up, got injured, and/or mentally dreaded training.  The latter part here plays into the REAL CNS issues I have eluded to in the past because of serotonin levels.  NOT because of the movement you were doing.

To add to this, everyone I know has sent me the video of Ray Williams hitting a pretty easy 905 squat.  

Ray's training for squats?  700 x 5 sets of 5.  He's done some heavier sets but for the most part, his training for his squat is 5x5 with what roughly looks like, roughly 75% of his max (925ish I'd say).  I saw some footage of the RUM this past weekend and I saw some guys, who are still strong guys, that hit either what they hit in training quite often, or less than that.  My question was "how well is your training working if you're just hitting what you do in the gym?"  My answer is, not very well in my opinion.  Regardless of what you lift, if your training doesn't make you significantly stronger on meet day than you are in the gym, you need to rethink what you're doing.  If you've been stuck at the same weight for a long time, why do you keep doing what you've been doing and training in the 90+% zone?  

As Dr. Yessis noted in that article, I've not saying nor ever have said that maximal training doesn't work.  It does, and it works very well.  But it only works for a short period, and it has far more dangers and drawbacks associated with it than working on lower intensity zones that also build strength just as well, if not better.  

If names like Andy Bolton, Mikhail Koklyaev, Ed Coan, Kirk Karwoski, and Sam Byrd don't hit home with you on these principles then I don't know what to tell you.  All of the guys I am helping with 365 are moving weights they were formerly struggling with because they spent the acclimation phase of the strong-15 moving really light weights and not burning themselves out.  

More base building articles next week!  


  1. I just wanted to say I (like a lot of people I'm sure) appreciate the effort you put into sharing the things you've learned over years of lifting... I'm sure you don't make a killing on this blog, and I don't often comment online, but you should know that I, along with I'm sure a lot of other people like me that though quiet about it online, have really benefited from your effort sharing these things. So thanks Paul, and please keep up learning and sharing.

    1. Thanks man. I always appreciate someone chiming in with kind words.

    2. He's absolutely right man. This blog and your books have helped me out quite a bit as well. Thank you. -brofist-

    3. Yeah same here. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Paul...I'm still loving your blog more and more...and I know this is off topic so I apologize.

    I went to this guys YouTube page (Ray Williams) to watch his other vids. Some of the comments on this squat vid were fucking depressing. The guy makes a great lift (unfortunatey didn't wait for the 'rack' command which sucks and must have been so disappointing) and posers criticize his depth, his bodyfat...etc

    What happened to men valuing strength and achievement (it is obviously mainly guys commenting on this video). I realize the YouTube comments section is a cesspit of anonymous imbeciles...but fuck. This guy probably trained hard and diligently for years to reach this level. YEARS. Then he posts a vid and has some fuckwit tell him he squats high and is fat.

    Anyways. Rant over. Gonna go hug my Boston Terrier.


    1. The internet has both the best and worst of things in regards to this stuff. Someone like Ray can be seen by so many, then also chastised by weak and insecure window lickers who cry about things like butt wink and do WOD's.

  3. Paul, this article is right on time for me! You cannot realize how much this hits home and reinforces what I've been learning lately in my training. It's great to see someone more experienced than me sharing this. This helps me out and I'm sure its going to save me a lot of grief and probably an injury. Thank you.

  4. Paul,

    So what do you make of somebody like Broz who clearly gets results with the "more is more" philosophy?

    (I'm not just talking about Mendes, but a lot of his lesser known guys are lifting what seems like a lot of weight on other things besides the Olympic lifts.)

  5. Paul,

    So what do you make of somebody like Broz who clearly gets results with the "more is more" philosophy? (I'm not just talking about Mendes, but a lot of his lesser known guys are lifting what seems like a lot of weight on other things besides the Olympic lifts.)

    Edit: I should add that I've bought into his philosohpy and squatted every day for awhile, seeing some big gains in both technique and weight lifted but my numbers are still so low that any non-stupid program is probably going to work for me, thus I don't have an opinion one way or the other on it really.

    1. I think with squatting and some pressing you can train it pretty often however when those guys talk about working up to a "max" for the day, it's not a true max. It's their everyday max or something they still move with good speed. It's not something I'd want to do but it can be effective for some people obviously.

    2. It took me awhile to understand what "training max" actually meant when I first started doing it. Thinking about it more, the majority of the work you do in this type of thing is still under 90%. I've stopped squatting every day because I noticed that only my right calf was getting very sore all the time and so since I don't have a coach I'm assuming it's a technique issue and that it's best to back off until I figure out what I'm doing.

      I use a very high bar position and do usually go "ass-to-grass" or bounce of my calves, do you have any idea what might be causing only one side to get sore though? Is it possibly just me pushing off more with my dominant side? I guess questions like this are worthless without a video but it's kind of freaking me out. (Btw I squat like this because after a lot of experimentation it's how I find the bar is most stable on my back, so I'm pretty reluctant to change to a lower bar position.)

    3. Sounds like you are leaning to one side. when is the last time you did some split squats to test the strength balance between the two legs?

    4. I'm not sure if I'm leaning to one side or actually setting up uneven to begin with--the latter is something I've been paranoid about for a bit but I don't have access to a video camera at the moment. Split squats seem like a good idea to try and find imbalances thanks for suggesting that.

      Do you think it's probably safe to say that if I can high-bar close stance ATG squat more than I can with a low-bar Rippetoe style then I'm probably not low-bar squatting correctly? (ATG training max is an easy 285 but when I do what I think is low-bar I can barely get 205 out of the rack without falling over).

      I know you have a whole series on raw squatting so I'll just leave my question at that.

      Thanks for all your help,


    5. Technique for high bar and low bar from knee and hip extension is not the same. So if you're not alternating that along with bar placement, then yes you're doing something wrong.

  6. these base articles are the best i have ever read, im enjoying just doing 5x2-5@70% and increasing weight when they get cake knowing that my strength wont fall off the cliff if i increased and ramped every week

  7. when do you suggest going near 90% when training for a meet?

    1. Previously the last 2-3 weeks, but now I don't think I will at all except maybe on bench.

  8. I can definitely relate to what has been written here in regards to base strength...etc. I recently pulled a PB on deadlift without going much over about 80%. I rarely take a max single in training anymore or go upto the 90%+ range as I don't really see the point. I think it's much more productive to actually build your strength with either volume work or rep PR's..etc. than be the guy who constantly tries to impress other people by going for a max every session and posting that shit up on Facebook.

    On the flip side, I think there is some merit to the Broz philosophy which is the polar opposite of what Dr Yessis wrote, but one thing I think a lot of people overlook is the longevity aspect from training in that manner.

    Of course, it has clearly worked for a select few and the Bulgarian's were reknown for training like that, but I always ask myself where are those guys in 10 or 20 years?

    In my opinion, it's not the smartest way to train.

    People often overlook the recovery aspect in terms of soft tissues. Joints, ligaments and tendons also need time to adapt and strengthen overtime and it takes much longer for those adaptations to occur compared to muscle tissue. There are only so many times you can put stress on that joint before it starts to wear down, only so many time we can squat with a loaded bar across our back.

    I think it was Ricky Dale Crain who said "I knew I could get good enough, if I could train for long enough" - longevity is a big part of the picture which is another reason to think about the concept of training at a more sustainable intensity zone.

    I'll shut up now, lol.

    Thanks for sharing this Paul

  9. Williams also said he wants to work up to 5x10 @ 700 from 5x5, because there isn't room on the bar for him to do more.

    And if you look on his Youtube, his video of 800x5 has as description "Open to all coaching tips". amazing