As with my last article, my goal is to give you a glimpse into what I did and how I felt while beta testing Dave Tate’s Strong(er) Program. Unlike phase one where things went well for me, phase two turned out to be a lesson on how not to do things. As I refer back to my notes, there was one major issue that Dave needed to correct, but there were also many things I did that only exacerbated the problem. It’s my belief that if I hadn’t had the experience and passion for training that I do, I most likely would’ve quit. In turn, this leads me to believe that this is one of the biggest reasons Dave states that this program isn’t for beginners.

Phase 2

As with phase one, phase two comes with everything laid out for you. There are three parts to phase two—phase 2.1, transfer to strength; phase 2.2, maximal strength; and phase 2.3, recovery.

Phase 2.1

This phase introduces max effort and dynamic effort work. This four-day split reminded me of the basic protocol that I followed when I was utilizing the methods popularized by Louie Simmons and Westside Barbell. The lower body max work has a twist and is something I’ve never tried. I don’t want to ruin the fun, but it definitely takes some willpower to do it with success.

Final notes: This phase turned out to be good for me. I enjoyed getting back to the 1RM work, and it was a welcome change from phase one. I benched over 1.6 times my body weight on the close grip bench press. This wasn’t my best, but it was very good considering my elbow problems and weight loss. I used Shelby Starnes for nutrition through this phase. My lowest weight was 169.6 lbs. That marks over a 16-lb drop in weight since I started his program in phase one.

This is where I usually add some of the email correspondence Dave and I had regarding the particular phase. However, after reviewing my emails, I realized that I had very little contact with him during this time and what I do have really won’t help.

Phase 2.2 is a completely different story…

Phase 2.2

This is where I believe you’ll appreciate the whole “beta tester” concept. Not only was I helping test the Strong(er) program and reporting to Dave so that he could make any necessary changes, I was also doing things that probably weren’t very bright. Hopefully, I can spare you some problems (unless you’re like me and need to learn things the hard way).

As I wrote in part one of this series, I’m not a big fan of a writer who pads his work. I like to get to the meat of the subject. However, there are times when the topic holds enough importance that it’s necessary to get a little wordy. This is one of those times.

Let me start by sharing a revelation I had—nutrition is a very important part of training. While I’m certain this isn’t a whopper of a statement to those of you who’ve been around for a while—and I’m more certain this’ll be something all of the “basement gurus” enjoy laughing at—I’ll risk the ridicule by those I don’t know in hopes that it reaches those who’ve yet to really pay attention to this concept.

I tend to be a person who gets “locked in” to an idea. This isn’t a bad thing until I get so locked in that I’m unable to identify when I need a change. Dave writes about this kind of thing in his book, Raising the Bar. (Do yourself a favor and read it.)

I stated before that I had hired Shelby Starnes to handle the nutritional part of my training. This wasn’t required because Dave lays out the basics in every phase of the training. I simply wanted to go the extra mile. I finished my time with Shelby at the end of phase 2.1 and decided to hire Landon Evans to take his place.

Note: After much thought, I’ve decided not to go into detail concerning the difference between the two. I will say that there is a huge difference between these two men, and I believe Landon Evans is an untapped talent for those of you who are looking for a nutritional guide.

Landon was amazing and I think phase 2.2 would’ve been more successful for me had I listened to him. He wanted to increase my caloric intake to match the training. I said no. The other problem is that I was still following the cardio protocol prescribed by Shelby. This in itself wasn’t a bad thing at all. In fact, I still tend to follow certain ideas he presented to me. The problem was trying to do that much cardio, including HIIT, while I was working on a maximal strength phase. Jim Wendler has written that you can’t serve two masters—which was exactly what I was trying to do.

While Dave prescribed “Cardio: Reduce to three times per week for 20 minutes at a moderate pace,” I was doing 30 minutes plus and adding in HIIT as well. I admit that wasn’t the brightest move ever, but I was very locked in. The combination of my conditioning work, my low caloric intake, and something that needed to be addressed on Dave’s end created a recipe for disaster.

To be honest, I’m still locked in to conditioning and dieting to get lean. However, I’m now on phase three, which is the concept of the phase, and so it’s working quite well. But that’s for the next article. Let’s move on.

RK: I couldn’t hit five reps for two sets again. I got four and three. Has anyone else on the program struggled with hitting the prescribed reps?

Dave: Reduce the percents by five percent. I’m willing to bet I will need to do this for everyone.

I have never asked Dave if he dropped the percentages for the final draft of phase 2.2. However, because his comment eluded to the fact that I was missing reps due to the percents being too high, I kept right along with my diet and conditioning. In fact, I was doing quite well even into week five.

So I was making gains and setting PRs. If you look at the volume of what is prescribed and compare it to what it was in week one, you’ll see that it’s less than half. This made me feel like I should work harder, so I kept pushing the HIIT. The problem was that I wasn’t seeing the signs and I was still posting gains.

Here are a few of my notes from the following training sessions:

·          Elbow is killing me. Haven’t had this problem in a while.

·          Feeling very slow today.

·          Too heavy and elbow is hurting again.

·          Really rounded back on squats. Weight felt like a ton.

·          Stiff, sore, and tired.

So I asked Dave…

RK: I’m 1.5 weeks out from finishing phase 2.2. I’m brain dead and ready for a change. Yesterday was DE bench only, and it wore me out like I did an entire training session. Despite feeling lethargic and unmotivated, I’m still posting gains every time I do a ME day. I just hit a 20-lb PR on front squats today.

Dave: You should feel like crap, beat up, and mentally drained at the end of this phase. But you should be at your all-time strongest. This is where we want you to be going into the next phase.

So I kept pushing things. I thought I was doing great because Dave said I should feel like I did. The problem was that Dave didn’t know how hard I was pushing the cardio.

There’s a wall that one tends to hit when one goes full steam for too long. Some of you might have come across it before. It’s the wall that stops you from doing the simple things and gives no hope of making any gains. Mine was so big that I started going backward. I was supposed to be at my “all-time strongest,” and the day after that email, I was literally at my all-time weakest. I have never felt so beat up in my entire training experience. Everything fell apart.

RK: The last couple of weeks have sucked. I’m to the point where I don’t want to finish this phase. I’m not usually a quitter, but I only have DE days and ME bench left and I’m at the breaking point.

Phase 2.1 was great for me. Phase 2.2 started well minus the percentage issue. There were eight weeks in phase 2.2. I set it up to take a ME attempt on the regular squat, the trap bar deadlift, the safety squat bar squat, and the front squat. The plan was to beat what I did in the first four weeks during the second four weeks.

These are the results.

·          Trap bar dead increased 35 pounds.

·          Safety squat bar squat increased 15 pounds.

·          Front squat increased 20 pounds.

·          Regular squat decreased 25 pounds.

·          My bench increased 5 pounds per lift until last week when I decreased 10 pounds on a 2-board press. I’m supposed to do a ME regular bench in the next couple of days, but I don’t think I even want to try it.

RK: I’m depressed, angry, frustrated, and done with this phase. I need a 10-day to two-week deload. I don’t know what happened, but here are some random thoughts.

·          Four days per week is too much for me.

·          This phase is two weeks too long for me.

·          I’ve been dieting since November and weighed 168 today. Possibly too long on the diet?

Any suggestions?

Dave: Ride it out, but the diet for this phase will make it very hard to do. This is why there are no diet guidelines at all. The expectation is that people will gain some weight (calorie surplus) to help aid in strength recovery. There is little cardio as well to help aid in recovery. I’m seeing this as the biggest reason, but if you eat for a week (to restore glycogen) and rest before you max, you may be surprised. After phase two (without diet), you should be carrying an extra two to three percent body fat, be beat up mentally and physically, and be deconditioned and ready for a deload.

I strongly feel this is needed for a few reasons:
1. The diet break is needed if you follow phase one through three and four.

2. Strength is your base for everything so we sacrifice body fat and conditioning to bring it up.
3. This allows you to go into a diet phase bigger and stronger than ever.

We may need to drift off in something like extended tension training with four high carb days per week for four weeks before hitting phase three. Let’s see how you feel after this week and what your final maxes are.

I can’t tell you what I lifted for my final days. I remember it being so bad that I refused to log it and that my log book took several “flights” around the gym. Looking back on my notes, problems started to arise after the first week of this phase. That first week was extremely hard due to the percentage being too high—which Dave had us correct. While I can’t speak for what happened to the other beta testers, I believe this was the beginning of my downfall. This wasn’t because of a couple of bad training days, but because I wasn’t giving myself the proper calories and rest needed to be successful in this phase. The signs were there, and I was even prompted by Landon to increase my calories, but I chose to ignore everything and steamroll ahead.

I don’t know if someone else would have had the same problems. I can only relate my experience and invite you to pay attention to what is going on. It may sound trivial, but it’s important to remember that Dave designed this program around four training protocols, and this one is for strength. (I write that more for myself than I do for you.)

Final thoughts

Recovery took a lot longer than I expected. In fact, it took almost all of phase 3.1 to feel normal again. (This will be discussed in part three of this series.) I did have a few medical issues that needed to be addressed, which may have hindered things, but (in my eyes) they weren’t the main issues. The main issues were pushing too hard and not fueling my body correctly.

The thing I’m most happy with is that I didn’t quit. I’ve seen many of those around me quit when things got tough or didn’t go their way. I refuse to be beaten. I pushed forward and did what needed to be done to get back on track. And that, I believe, is what “extraordinary resolve” is all about.

Are you strong(er)?