A few articles back, I shared my reflections on how I altered my training to address powerlifting from a view of energy systems. In the article, I talked about how powerlifting is alactic with an emphasis on the alactic power side of the spectrum. In the most basic terms, this means that you will need to display maximal effort with full recovery between attempts. I also outlined the duration of time, with the guidelines that Seluyanov had written, to show that the alactic system has a cap of about seven to ten seconds. With this in mind, the bulk of the workload in powerlifting should fall somewhere in this zone.

From here, I wanted to give a few practical examples of how this could apply. Many people may already do this in their training without even realizing it. However, understanding how and why you do something can give you insight as to whether or not what you've been doing is working and possibly steer you in the right direction.

Power Versus Capacity

When considering the differences in the guidelines for alactic power versus capacity, what really will define how this is implemented is the amount of rest between sets as well as the total volume that may be performed and the intensity used. In a sport like powerlifting, we see several common applications that could fit in either end of the power/capacity spectrum.

When performing high intensity work, usually above 70 percent, most often people are training for alactic power. The rest between sets is usually longer and the total amount of volume performed is lower. With weights up to 70 percent, most people will shift toward the spectrum of alactic capacity. They usually work for a certain amount of volume and keep the rest periods shorter. While the power output may still be high, the external resistance is lower and will allow them to perform a greater amount of total work.

So, how do popular systems address this? Lately, it seems that most lifters use variations of concurrent periodization (popularized by Westside Barbell), variations of block periodization (this includes Sheiko or similar Eastern Bloc programs even though they may not completely fall into “block” periodization), or some form of linear progression. A final approach is something similar to what has commonly been referred to as “Bulgarian” styles of periodization. The approaches I want to focus on are the concurrent systems and their variations, the block/Eastern European approaches, and the “Bulgarian” influenced approaches. I'll leave out the traditional linear periodization because this includes a fair amount of lactic work in the beginning under typical setups.


Concurrent Approaches

The most popular concurrent approach is Westside. I think most readers of this site are familiar enough with the basics of this system, but in case anyone doesn’t know, it pretty much revolves around the use of:

  • Max effort: Two days are dedicated to moving the heaviest weight possible for that day in a given exercise. Rest periods here are arbitrary but usually allow for full recovery, as the goal is to move as much weight as possible. The focus is on alactic power.
  • Dynamic effort: Two days are dedicated to moving submaximal weights as fast as possible in the box squat (some variations use free squat) and bench press with or without accommodated resistance added to the bar. Rest periods are kept short most of the time, usually between thirty and sixty seconds. The focus is on alactic capacity.
  • Repeated effort: Most accessory work traditionally used in this system resembles bodybuilding. Because of this, the focus is lactic.

After examining this system, it clearly addresses the alactic energy system. However, this is contingent upon how someone sets up each training session and mesocycle. While this is a concurrent system that addresses many qualities at the same time, there can be some downfalls with it concerning exercise selection and loading.

With the way many people set up their training, they'll sometimes end up with more work in lactic zones rather than alactic zones. This isn't a fault of the system but instead a fault of the programmer. For example, let’s look at a typical max effort and dynamic effort upper day for many users of this system:


With the second template, more time is spent in the alactic zone. Additionally, movements with greater transference to the competitive lifts may be used as a greater percentage of the training. There is still some basic bodybuilding work at a lower amount of the total volume, but the majority of the work for the pressing musculature is focused on alactic efforts in movements that are closely related to the competitive exercises and can be rotated to meet a variety of needs for each individual lifter.

Bloc and Eastern European Approaches

When looking at what many have done with these approaches, there's usually a common theme of submaximal weights, limited amounts of reps in each set (most often six or less), and multiple sets to accumulate volume. The weights can vary depending on the exact approach being used. However, most programs like this usually have the bulk of the work between 65 and 85 percent of a 1RM, with smaller amounts above or below this range. The other commonality of many of these programs is that they feature lower, if any, volumes of hypertrophy-based, bodybuilding styles of accessory work.


However, these aren't universal truths. Many bloc programs are just like concurrent style approaches and depend on how the lifter programs the work. Some choose to perform higher reps per set and greater volumes of accessory work with a bodybuilding emphasis in lactic zones. This is a common misconception of the system though. Many people have confused these types of systems with traditional linear periodization, which instructs the lifter to perform higher reps in all exercises early in the training cycle for hypertrophy. The approaches of many of the block or Eastern European approaches feature lower reps per set, a larger total workload, a large variety of movements early on, and then a transition to heavier weights with a more direct selection of exercises and lower volume per session.

Of course, this all lies in how the programming is set up. Many people make similar mistakes with block systems in the early stages and focus a large amount of the work load in lactic zones. They think that these stages are to body build and that they magically transition to higher levels of strength. However, a better approach is to focus on work capacity and motor learning during the early stages while possibly including exercises to address weak points. However, keep the majority of the loading in alactic environments whether geared toward capacity or power.

'Bulgarian' Approaches

With the approaches described as Bulgarian influenced, the main focus is on working up to daily training maxes. These maxes may not be personal records or even close to maximal but they are what is capable during that particular training session. They're usually associated with Olympic lifting but have started to float in some circles of powerlifting as well. They usually feature the following:


When looking at these guidelines, it's clear that this approach focuses almost exclusively on alactic power with little regard to other systems. While this isn't a bad thing by any means, it doesn't necessarily address the needs of certain individuals. While the energy system may be correct, certain structural limitations or peculiarities may not be addressed by the limited exercise selection. The daily training maxes may not be appropriate for all lifters who are incapable of training at high intensities on a regular basis. Reasons for this could be the inability to objectively judge the amount that the lifter has in him for that day or the inability to maintain correct technique while performing lifts at higher frequencies. While high frequency training can help teach motor patterns, at the intensities used in this program, a lifter should already be proficient in the techniques and not in the learning phase. Under maximal loads (even if they are training maxes), lifters with inadequate technique will either reinforce bad habits or become injured.


While all these programs differ, many can be modified to address the needs of the alactic energy system. Others may focus completely on the system without any other work being performed. However, we need to be able to step back and look at the needs of the sport and the individual lifter.