Breaking Down Your Training Program

TAGS: force-velocity curve, christian thibaudeau, Jennifer Petrosino, 5/3/1, max strength, conjugate method, dynamic effort, westside

Jennifer,

I finally stepped into training for strength—natural strength and size, not manufactured bodybuilding strength and size. I loved 5x5 and also 3 sets of 5, 5 sets of 2, 3 sets of 6-8. However, I've hit a plateau. I don't want any bodybuilding/sarcoplasma techniques anymore. Size is okay and loved, but through strength.

I'd be grateful if I could get plateau-breaking strategies. I never want to get bored. I'm training for lifetime health and progress.

Please feel free to be creative. Also, what exactly is your definition of 'deloading?'

- E

Hey E,

Okay, so first of all, without seeing your exact program or videos of your lifts, it's hard to say why you have stalled. However, if your goal is mainly strength with some size, you are looking to make neural adaptions in strength as well as elicit myofibril hypertrophy to allow for greater density of contractile units.

To accomplish this, I think you are best to develop a program that focuses on max strength, speed-strength, and strength speed. Think about the force-velocity curve (see picture). If you spend all of your time lifting slow and focusing on force (aka: strength), and you don't train velocity (30-60%), then the curve can never shift and you will eventually stall.

Also, I think your assistance work needs to be a mix of higher set, lower rep work to really focus on strength. I'd imagine that pairing a strength movement with an explosive movement may be beneficial as well. I actually do this often with my training (i.e., barbell squat jumps and safety squat bar front squats).

I would look into incorporating some speed-strength work such as dynamic squats, speed pulls, and dynamic bench. (Against straight weight, bands, and/or chains). Or you could add in things like lower and upper body plyos.

I'd also look into the Westside system. There is a reason why so many lifters make continual gains on a Westside template, and it's because the system accounts for the force-velocity curve. Thus, stalling and plateaus are avoided.

Why don't you send me your current program and videos of your squat, bench, and pull so that I can make more detailed recommendations about how to overcome your plateau.

It's all about manipulating the curve!


Jen,

Right now my program currently looks like this:

Saturday:

  • Squat 5x5 (ramped up)
  • Bench 5x5 (ramped up)
  • BB row 5x5 (ramped up)
  • 4x11 hanging leg raise
  • 2x10 back raises

Monday:

  • Squat 4x5 (light)
  • Press 4x5 (ramped up)
  • Deadlift 4x5 (ramped up)
  • 3x8 chins
  • 3x11 hanging leg raise

Wednesday:

  • Squat 4x5, 1x3 (ramped up), 1x8 back off
  • Bench: same
  • BB row: same
  • 3x12 dips
  • 3x12 curls
  • 3x15 triceps extension

I was wondering how I could implement some dynamic effort stuff into my routine, or if that's even a good idea.

-Kyle

Hey Kyle,

Your original Q&A question was: "Is total reps more important or reps per set? I was wondering if you would get the same benefits from 3 sets of 6 as you would 6 sets of 3?"

I then gave you a long answer as to why reps per set is more important then total reps.

Now, if you're going to add in some speed stuff, I think it would be OPTIMAL to use a Westside system. In a Westside system, the speed work not only allows you to account for training the velocity side of the force-velocity curve, but it also primes the CNS for max effort work later on in the weekly rotation (i.e., speed bench on Sunday would prime the CNS for max bench on Wednesday). So, I think it would be optimal to implement speed work within the conjugate system.

With that being said, I have had success in my own training with implementing speed work AFTER I have finished my working sets of the main lift. (In other words, I did speed bench AFTER my working sets of bench, speed squats AFTER my work sets of squat, and speed pulls AFTER my work sets of deads). This was when I was training four days a week—one day dedicated to squat, one to bench, one to pull, and one to close grip.

As for your own routine, I wouldn't ADD it to what you already have. However, I might dedicate one day to focusing on dynamic work and two days to focusing on progressive overload. (Squat plus bench one day, then close grip plus deads the other). This is just an idea, though. There are many ways to go about this, so if you need help setting up a program, let me know.


Jennifer,

I am trying to help my wife with her programming and was wondering if someone could point me to some good information. She has a few years of gym experience and is pretty technically sound. She is looking to gain strength but has no interest in competing or in performing one-rep maxes. Her 5RM in the squat is about 135 pounds. (To give you an idea of her current strength level). She still plans to keep her 30 minutes-a-day cardio. She has previously added weight in a linear progression as best she could, but that has started to stall. My training experience is more powerlifting-focused and in lower rep ranges, so different than what she is looking for. Thank you for any programming suggestions!

- CC

Hey CC,

I'd look into something like Christian Thibaudeau's Superhero workout complexes (six-week programming) since it will keep it interesting to her. I'm also going to bet that she will see an increase in strength just by creating a new stimulus in her body. I would suggest 5/3/1 too, but I know you wanted to stay away from the 1RM kind of stuff.

Examples of the complexes, and how they are set up, are as follows:

  1. An overload exercise (rack pull, pin squat, reverse band bench, pin bench, etc.) for 3-5 reps.
  2. Full ROM lift for strength (deadlift, squat, bench) for 3-5 reps.
  3. A strength-speed exercise (speed pulls, speed bench, power clean, push press, speed squat, push jerk, etc.) for 2-3 reps.
  4. Speed strength barbell or smith machine exercise for 8-10 reps. (Load at 20% 1RM—think jump squats, medball thows, smith machine jump squats and "throwing" benches, etc.)
  5. Explosive bodyweight exercise (think broad jumps, plyo push ups, vertical jumps) for 8-10 reps.
  6. Optional work capacity: Prowler® pushes or sled pulls-push, 1 set x 30yards.

The idea is that you set this up with a squat, bench, OH press, and DL day—with the exercises being ones that relate to the main lift. If you want, I can lay this out in detail each day. With the star complex, rest 30-90 seconds with each exercise and do four to six rounds. Ideally, I think when he wrote this that the idea was to do an upper and a lower complex in one workout, but I think that's probably much more then your wifey wants. So I'd stick to a day for each.

As far as how to progressively overload the lifts, I'll send you an email on that. Anyways, this will keep it interesting for her and will keep her from that "bulky" cr*p all ladies are worried about! Haha!

Lemme know how it goes!

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