Monday, March 18, 2013

Base building part 10 - Peaking

Peaking -

I get called dogmatic at times.  This makes me laugh hysterically.

If I use my own search engine and do an exact search for "works for you" and I find three pages of me writing, basically that you have to find things that work for you, and stick with them.  Make them part of your OWN training philosophy.

I don't really care what anyone writes or says about me, one of the biggest themes I constantly harp on is to be your own scientist in the gym.  Experiment and find out what resonates with your training soul.  This is because you're going to do the things you enjoy doing, and get very good at them.  This generally makes for far more productive training cycles, and also plays into consistency.

So for those that have said, written, farted, whatever, that I'm dogmatic.  Fuck you.  There.  How about that?

One philosophy of training idea that I refuse to budge on, however, is strength peaking.  It's been proven over...and over...and over...and over again.  All of the strongest raw lifters I know, and I mean 500+ benchers, 800+ squatters and pullers, will all tell you that they can't lift those weights year round.  They have to peak in order to be able to hit those kinds of weights.  If you do not believe in peaking that's fine.  My guess is, you've been stuck at around the same max weights for a very long time.  Every guy that I know, even the strong ones, that train at damn near max poundages all the time, don't improve a whole lot year after year.

I used to train this way, and while I feel that every guy has to go through those trials and learning, eventually you reach a level where there is a point of diminishing returns.  The body is not going to stay at peak strength levels year around.  I don't care who told you they can, or they have, or whatever.  They don't.  They generally short change themselves by training above that 90+% intensity range all of the time, and fail to improve very much once they get there.  If you're hitting a 550 squat in the gym, and you hit 560 at the meet....uhhhhh how good was your training?  Not very.

Base building into peaking - 

One of the things that starting dawning on me was that training should seamlessly lead right into a peaking cycle, without a lot of the ups and downs that happens with high intensity training.  I'm not talking about Mike Mentzer here either.  I'm talking training stupid heavy all of the time.

One of the reasons I think a lot of guys fight against the base building philosophy is because it can be very boring at times.  For example last Thursday I just destroyed everything I had programmed for me in the squat and dead session.  Now, if you're a guy that just goes all out on those days, which I used to, you slap on 90-100 more pounds and go to town, so you can be the big shot at the gym.  However I've really come to an understanding of just how much fatigue those type of sessions cause, and the steep curve of recovery the body must climb out of.  To me, it's not worth it anymore to give in to the +10% session, only to have days or weeks of sub par training sessions for a single good workout.  That runs counter to the method of applying consistency.

One of the things I like so much about base building and the philosophy around it, is that you are basically in an acclimation phase year round.  Never detrained, and never more than a few weeks out from peak strength.  This is ideal for everyone regardless of whether you are an athlete, powerlifting, fighter, whatever.

So how have I been programming lately to meet these needs?  That's a long fucking article, but we'll start with the true "offseason."

Offseason - 

This could be a many part article all in one but I am going to condense it for now.

Your offseason should be spent doing things to get bigger, and improve muscular areas that help increase your lifts.  Basically, it's bodybuilding.

Now you can run the big-15 to do that, and that's what I did for the better part of my training life.  However as we get older and more tread gets taken off the tires, we have to change these things in order to make our training still work for us, without killing us.

This past offseason I knew I needed to bring my quads up.  So tons of leg extensions with high volume, then high volume fronts.  Generally done at 225-275 pounds for sets of 5 for 5-10 sets all depending on how I felt.  This allowed me to hit a super easy 405 front while my leg was still not 100%.

Later when I had less pain in my quad/hip I added squats back in.  Now I'm pretty much back to 100%, though I still get some tenderness in the right quad the day after squats and pulls.  No biggie at this point though.

You should be spending your offseason working movements that are harder and more difficult than the main lifts.  For example, if you squat low bar go high bar.  Do front squats.  Do pause squats.  For deadlifts, pull off of a deficit or pull sumo for a while.  Pull off blocks every few weeks as well.  For bench, lots of pause benches and db work or cambered bar bench to increase the ROM.  If you bench wider, go close grip a lot.

Base building into peaking - 

We're going to use the strong-15 short cycle in order to peak, with a 4 week acclimation phase in front of it.


Weeks 1 - 4 acclimation base building -
Squats -
week 1 - 65% x1  60% 4x5
week 2 - 68% x1  60% 4x5
week 3 - 70% x1  60% 4x5
week 4 - 75% x1  60% 4x5
week 5 - start strong-15 short cycle

Deadlifts - done after squats
week 1 - 1x3 for each intensity 55% 60% 65% 70%
week 2 - 1x3 for each intensity 55% 60% 65% 70%
week 3 - 1x3 for each intensity 55% 60% 65% 70%
week 4 - 1x3 for each intensity 55% 60% 65% 70%
week 5 - start strong-15 short cycle

Bench -
week 1 - 80%x1  70%  3x8  60% 2x10
week 2 - 80%x1  70%  3x8  60% 2x10
week 3 - 85%x1  80%  3x3  70% 2x8
week 4 - 85%x1  80%  3x3  70% 2x8
week 5 - start strong-15 short cycle

Weeks 5 - 9 strong-15 short cycle - Base the short cycle around hitting 90% in the final week, of what your goal is.

The point of this 4 week phase is to work on being more explosive with your reps, and trying to get that work done in less time.  This means you will be essentially increasing your work capacity without actually doing more work.  Some may want to argue that point, but I don't care.  You don't have to actually do more work, to be capable of doing more work.  The point is to be able to get the same amount of work done in less time, or with less effort (i.e. doing the 4 sets of 5 is "easier" every week).

As you can see, the overwarm up method in the strong-15 method is still there, ramping each week.  You have 2 options from there.  Either run the cycle as is, meaning you base the cycle off of your actual goal, or scale it back so that you hit 90% of your goal in week 9.  In the latter scenario, you won't program the short cycle actually based on what you're going to hit at the meet, or peak for.  This leads me to believe that I will probably rework the short cycle in the future a bit, so to make it slightly more effective.  Because as everyone has found, programming lighter tends to allow for a much steeper supercompensation curve.

My current bench cycle doesn't look exactly like this because I have to incline every other week to keep my shoulder healthy.  But that is the gist of it.


  1. To help me read this correctly, let me throw out a "for instance" scenario to make sure I've got it. Using bench to keep the numbers easier, let's say I've worked up to the equivalent of 330lbs on bench using Big-15 (230x15). I would do this 4 week preparatory phase using the following weights?

    * Week 1: 265x1, 230 3x8, 200 2x10
    * Week 2: 265x1, 230 3x8, 200 2x10
    * Week 3: 280x1, 265 3x3, 230 2x8
    * Week 4: 280x1, 265 3x3, 230 2x8

    Then going in to the Strong-15 short cycle, program the bench for 300? I know, not rocket science. But curious if I should expect to shave off a couple pounds from the calculated 15 rep max going into the 4 week cycle as well.

    1. Your programming will dictate what the numbers look like. It's going to vary based on what you can hit with your everyday max and what your goal is.

  2. That's funny OP because doing box squats for low reps is what works for me. But apparently that doesn't work. please help

  3. Paul, thanks for being one of the only active resources for raw powerlifters. I am also peaking for a meet in five weeks with goals of 580-400-685 all no belt or wraps. Last summer I hit 640 DL at a my first meet in 10 years without even peaking. Since then my training has been even better than before that meet. this being my first venture into peaking, im fucking it up. I tweaked my back last week trying to pull 650. Im still doing the meet, the back thing was just a minor hiccup. Im backing off of weight on all lifts to where im just going to work up to doubling my openers 495-340-585. I guess i programed to heavy or Im letting my ego tell me what to set my goals at. Im thinking maybe my DL just isnt moving as well as i thought it was and i over shot my goal. Just wondering what you think. Just so you know i train 5-3-1 like its religion so training up till now has been on point

    1. If you can double your openers for your last workout with tremendous speed and acceleration you should be good to go.

  4. Thanks for the great article. I'm doing my third meet, this time i'm going to try a peaking cycle. For a first timer, would you recommend the short or full cycle ? Or does it not matter.

    1. Either. If your training has been on point for a while, do the short. If you need a break, do the long one and break back in slowly.

  5. Another question Paul, thanks to your advice iv now planned out the cycle and the meet. Is it advisable to take a week before starting the cycle ? I haven't found anything that has said to do it, but nothing to say you shouldn't. Thanks again

    1. I like to take a few days off, or a week off before I start meet prep, yes.