Five Things I Needed To Change as an Intermediate Lifter

TAGS: powerlifting, strength training, Elitefts Info Pages, barbell, training

As an intermediate level powerlifter I realize that I cannot train like the Elite Level powerlifters. I read the training logs of all kinds of lifters on the internet. I read novice, intermediate, and elite logs. I have noticed some things in my own training that have helped me as an intermediate. I don’t have those little initials after my name like Dave, Jim, or some of the other guys who write articles, so I won’t tell you that what I am going to say is gospel. This is just things I have observed in my own training.

What Is Intermediate?
According to the APA and elite in the 242 pound class has a total of 1890 pounds or more. A Level I lifter in the same class has a total of 1554 pounds, and a Level II has a total of 1367 pounds . Other federations may be different, but you get the idea. If you are level I or below, you are more that likely an intermediate level powerlifting. When I say intermediate I’m referring to your level of training experience. If fact I would venture to say that if one or more of these criteria applies to you, you may be an intermediate level powerlifter:

· Competed in 10 full meets or less
· Have 5 years or less of consistent training
· Have a level I total or below
· Are squatting twice your body weight or below
· Are benching twice your body weight or below

I’m not ripping on intermediates, I’m one myself. As I said before I read training logs posted by people on the internet because it gives me ideas. Here’s what I have noticed. Intermediates have a training volume that is too high or too low, and an exercise selection that needs changes.

We can’t train exactly like elites because we are not elites. When a novice or intermediate lifter tries to do exactly what an elite does, they will stop making progress. The elite has more experience and can recruit more motor units with less sets sometimes and can handle a higher training volume other times than we can.

So for Westside Training to work for you as an intermediate, you can’t do it exactly as written. You will have to make changes based on your strengths and weaknesses. But hey, isn’t that what Westside Training is all about?

You Need High Rep Work
I was in the Army for 20 years. And during my career I used to see these guys that could do a 365 bench. Some guys could do it for reps. That doesn’t sound too impressive until you consider that this is a soldier who barely weighs 200 pounds, and who runs 3 miles or more every day.

I used to watch the guys who had big bench presses, 350-400 for an Army guy is big. The thing I noticed was that every one of them could do a lot of pushups on the physical fitness test. I wondered how a guy could do a bazillion pushups at physical training (PT) in the morning and then bench in the gym heavy. I figured it was genetics…nope. It was GPP brought on by high repetition work. They did pushups at PT and benching in the gym. These morning PT sessions had the effect of an extra workout. I see this with Westside Training too. All the guys with a big bench can handle heavy dumbbells for high reps. In his article Five reasons your bench gets stuck at the bottom and what you can do about it Dave Tate talks about high rep work.

You can use high rep work to bring up weak areas in your squat and deadlift too. High rep Romanian or Dimel Deadlifts can be done, as well as band leg curls or good mornings. High reps build hypertrophy to get that size that an intermediate so desperately needs.

You Need More Benching
I have found that I need more benching than the program calls for. I just think an intermediate needs more benching. Our pecs still need to be trained along with our triceps and shoulders. Now I know that is heresy to some people, but let me explain.

If you look at Dave’s Big Bad Bench article (written for beginners and intermediates) you’ll notice that some weeks it includes a couple of 20 rep sets of close grip benches after the dynamic effort bench. Also I’ve read in the Q&A section where Coach X advised people to do 2-3 sets of heavy dumbbell benches in the 8-10 rep range after their max effort bench.
Also in a recent article by Jim Wendler called A Variation on Max Effort Training, he talks about doing drop sets after the max effort exercise. This entails using certain percentages of for a given number of sets with the max effort exercise you just did your one rep max with. You do this for 6 weeks and it looks like this

Week 1 - 4x6 @ 65%
Week 2 - 3x6@ 70%
Week 3 - 3x6 @ 75%
Week 4 - 4x3 @ 80%
Week 5 - 3x2@ 85%
Week 6 - 2x1@ 90%

Any of these techniques will give you more benching volume.

You Have to Train Shoulders
I have noticed that when people start doing Westside training, they dump a lot of their delt work, especially overhead pressing. I heard one guy state that since he started training Westside he had almost done no delt work.

Once again I think this stems from reading the training logs of more advanced lifters and seeing less delt work, and doing likewise. Also they hear elites talk bad about overhead pressing because of shoulder pain. Elites have been doing this a lot longer and those sore shoulders didn’t happen overnight. You also have to realize that elite lifters have built a much stronger foundation of mass than intermediates. Most intermediates don’t have near the mass they need to raise their totals. Remember what Dave says “You can’t flex bone.” Overhead pressing builds mass.

Don’t worry that Louie is going to send the Westside Police to arrest you. Overhead pressing is good for an intermediate because it builds vital mass and shoulder stability for the bench press. I have a much tighter bench when I do barbell or dumbbell over head presses. I had a conversation with Jim Wendler about 2 weeks ago and he said his bench really took off after the addition of overhead pressing movements. You can do this after either dynamic or max effort bench and with high or moderate reps.

Do Exercises that aren’t “Westside” Exercises
I’ve also noticed that when we intermediates switched from progressive overload, or from HIT, or bodybuilding that we dumped some valuable exercises because we didn’t see them listed in the exercise index. I used to do that crazy stuff. If I didn’t see it in an article or in a training log I didn’t do it, even if it was an exercise that gave me results in the past. How stupid id that?

There were times in the past when my bench really took off. As I look back I remember doing a substantial amount of dips. Yes, I said dips. Dips are great for the front delts, triceps and pecs. They also build up GPP. The trick is that you don’t do them super heavy with a ton of weight around your waist. You do them for fairly high reps, say 10-15. If you can’t do dips because you’re not strong enough to push up your body weight, do assisted dips with a Jumpstretch® band. This exercise serves the same purpose as doing those extra dumbbell benches or drop sets mentioned earlier.

I was doing face-pulls for several weeks and I began to sense that the exercise was becoming ineffective and needed changing. I remembered doing upright rows back when I first started training. I took a weight and did a set very strictly for 10 reps. My back delts were blasted. It worked my delts and upper back the same way the face-pull had.

I also remember in the earlier days of training I did power cleans. These built a lot of mass in my upper back and helped my deadlift speed greatly. I’ve seen guys gain tremendous amounts of weight using power cleans. These can be done heavy or light for speed. Sometimes you try to fix what isn’t broken. If you are making progress with it, keep it.

You Have to Train Your Arms
What, am I crazy? Yes I said arms. What I mean is biceps and forearms. I have had a heavy bench press in my hands and felt a tremendous strain on my forearms while pressing. The forearms and biceps help hold the bar on the correct path while pressing. You have to be able to “pull the bar apart” to bench correctly. Like Louie Simmons said in his article Overcoming Plateaus Part 2: The Bench Press, you have got to have strong forearms.

There are several ways to build forearm strength. I use a wrist roller about 2 times a week. I do it one day heavy and the other day for more reps. I also use pinch grip blocks, sledge hammer levering, heavy duty grippers, and wrist or hammer curls to build strong forearms. If you want tremendous lower arm training you need to read the book Mastery of Hand Strength by John Brookfield.

Well, that only leaves biceps. Now I know you think I’m nuts. After all, we’ve all seen some schmuck doing 40 pound curls in the power rack. Bet lets be realistic, the biceps flex while benching. When you are pulling that bar apart, your biceps are being utilized. The biceps will help you hold the bar in the correct path. I know the lats put the bar in the correct position on your chest, but the biceps are involved too. And if I remember Jim Wendler correctly, chicks like big biceps.

Remember an intermediate lifter is still laying a foundation that an elite lifter has laid several years before. Remember, “You can’t flex bone.”

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