This is part two of a three-part series.

2. Methodology of training

2.1 The principle of planning in training

As we saw earlier, recovery is essential for adequate performance. However, complete recovery after a hard day of training may last more than 48 hours, and training every other day isn’t really an option for elite performance (there are exceptions to this rule). That’s why we must alternate easy days with hard days as illustrated below.

Each rectangle represents one day. “H” represents hard days, “M” represents medium days, and “L” represents easy days. We plan a day off on the fourth day. There are many ways to alternate harder days with easier days. For example, a harder week would have more hard and medium days and fewer easy days. A week like this is usually called a microcycle.

In order to progressively increase the load in training (section 1.5), we have to plan harder and easier weeks. In other words, we plan a macrocycle:

This is the typical macrocycle—three gradual increases in load followed by an easier week. As seen in section 1.2, the load of training can be varied with duration, frequency, intensity, and density.

Over a longer period, this is how macrocycles would add up (this is slightly over-simplified):

If well planned, performance would gradually increase.

2.2 Annual periodization

You can’t use high volume and high intensity at the same time. However, both are important to maximize performance. This is where annual periodization comes in. We can split the year in different periods with different focuses.

Here’s an annual “plan” for a powerlifter with one major competition at the end of the year:

We have a deloading period at the end of the year, which is followed by adaptation training at the beginning of the next year. This period is used to rehabilitate the tendons and all connective tissues into heavy training. The highest volume of the year is then seen during the hypertrophy period, where the athlete will develop myofibrilar and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and will also increase work capacity. The rest of the year will be used for maximum strength training because this is the main goal of the sport.

An annual “plan” for a powerlifter with two major competitions—one mid-season and one at the end of the year—will be similar to the first one. However, we would have two deloading periods, which would result in two peaks. The primary peak would be at the end of the season.

Here’s an annual “plan” for a bodybuilder with one major competition at the end of the year:

For a bodybuilder, a peak represents a peak in conditioning, which is unrelated to lifting performance. So we don’t program a peak, and we see a decrease in performance as dieting is used. Notice that hypertrophic training is much more prevalent, but maximum strength training is still used as a means to promote myofibrilar hypertrophy.

3. Advanced training techniques

3.1 Dual factor theory

Dual factor theory refers to the principle that in order to increase performance, an experienced athlete will have to exceed his capacities. Training under a state of fatigue will force the athlete’s body to overcome fatigue, and he will be more resistant to higher loads of training in the future. Here is a picture that represents this concept very well:

I gave a score to each microcycle’s load. A hard day is three points, a medium day is two points, an easy day is one point, and an off day is zero points. If one was to test his/her max on the very first day and the last, the “apparent” gains would be represented by the yellowish line. However, the real performance curve is represented in green.

It becomes obvious that fatigue would really set in on the third week, which would be a very hard week (three hard days, three medium days, no day off). This is why it is very important to realize the difference between fatigue and overtraining. This is one reason why experience is so important before attempting higher loads of training.


3.3 Training twice a day

Here are three examples of very high volume with very high frequency. The upper square represents morning (a.m.) training, and the lower square represents evening (p.m.) training. (I guarantee overtraining to anyone who tries that without a progressive increase in load.)

This is the 3 + 1 method:

This is the 5 + 1 method:

This is the 5 + 1 + 1 method:

Normally, intense training would be done in the morning (train with heavy weights) followed by GPP work in the evening such as sled dragging. Doing light training in the morning and heavy training in the evening would be detrimental to the intensity of the latter.

4. A second look at overtraining

4.1 Misconceptions
There is a gross misunderstanding of overtraining in sportsmen, and this is why I decided to write a whole section on this subject.

There is no overtraining, just under-eating.”—Anonymous
Eating properly can improve recovery, but overeating has never been linked to improved recovery. Some athletes have such recovery capabilities that they have probably never even come close to overtraining. However, make them train ten hours a day at 80–90 percent intensity, and you’ll obviously see a dramatic decrease in performance. Overtraining still exists. It just takes a whole lot more training for athletes to get in that state.

I'd rather be 10 percent undertrained then 1 perent overtrained.”—Michellie Jones, World class triathlete, world champion
Triathletes, cyclists, extreme skiers, and runners are athletes using very high volumes of training. Intensity is usually not used more than 2–3 times a week. These athletes have to constantly monitor their performance and feelings in training to avoid overtraining. If you had to remember only one thing from this text, let it be figure D—there’s a gradual decrease in performance from overtraining.

4.2 Overreaching

The definition of overtraining is, “a prolonged state where training stimuli exceed the athlete’s capacity to recover.” Overreaching is about the same thing, but this state is kept to a much shorter duration.

Only very experienced athletes should ever attempt overreaching. You have to know yourself very well and be in total control of your training. I would personally never recommend overreaching to a person with a family, job, and regular social life. All these factors can bring stress into one’s life, which would go against the idea of having the total control needed to succeed in overreaching.

When the period of controlled overreaching has ended, a period of similar duration with much lower volume and intensity should be used. Overreaching can be used about a month prior to a major competition in order to create a peak.

4.3 Signs of overtraining

  • sensitive to criticism
  • tendency to isolate oneself from coach and teammates
  • lack of fighting power
  • “fear” of competition
  • lack of coordination, technical faults
  • slower rate of recovery
  • decrease in performance (10% or more)
  • prone to injuries/infections
  • insomnia
  • lack of appetite
  • sweating very easily

5. A review of some training program templates

Smolov: This is a good example of overreaching. Obviously, no one would do Smolov for extended periods of time, and this is the way it is meant to be used. The warnings that I mentioned in section 3.2 apply here—an inexperienced lifter would do more damage than improvements.

Sheiko: This is a high volume, low intensity program. The lower intensity is essential to allow recovery on high volumes of training. Sheiko is a very good example of already periodized training templates. You can use a sequence of different Sheiko programs such as 29, 37, 30, and 32. Programs 29, 37, and 30 are “preparatory cycle” high volume programs, and program 32 is a lower volume competition cycle. This results in a 17-week “program.”

Bill Starr's 5 X 5 (Madcow) intermediate: This is a very nice linear periodization routine. I’ve personally recommended this routine to many intermediate lifters with great success. The first three weeks are easier weeks. As the lifter improves his lifts, the intensity and volume gradually increases. When the load has become too high, one can “reset” the program, which therefore results in three “easy” weeks.

Bill Starr's 5 X 5 (Madcow) advanced: This is a version of the 5 X 5 program that includes a deload/intensification period after the first initial four weeks. The last five weeks use a 3 X 3 rep/set scheme that allows the use of higher intensity (with lower volume).

5. References and suggested reading

  1. Tudor O Bompa, Lorenzo J Cornacchia. Serious Strength Training. Human Kinetics Publishers.
  2. Tudor O Bompa. Theory and Methodology of Training: The Key to Athletic Performance. Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.

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