TAGS: push, pull, cosgrove, sport, max effort, wendler, bench press, training

This article was inspired by Alwyn Cosgrove and something that he mentioned to me in passing. He was talking to me about the first time that he began weight training. Like most people, he incorporated the bench press as one of his major movements for his upper body. A couple of weeks later, he asked another lifter what else he did for his shoulders/chest. The guy responded, “Incline Press”. So Alwyn added incline presses to his arsenal. Then he read a magazine that talked about decline presses. So decline presses were done after this bench press and incline presses. Pretty soon he did every single pressing exercise known to man IN ONE WORKOUT. This included bench press, incline press, decline press, db decline press, db bench press, db incline press, push-ups, dips and various fly movements. Pretty soon, Alwyn’s workout consisted of almost 10 movements just for his chest. This took almost two hours of training and we all know the outcome of doing a workout like this; overtraining and shoulder problems.

The point of this story is this – if you are going to add something to your existing routine, you had better take something out or minimize it. You can’t expect to keep adding to your program without consequence. A good example is this: Let’s take a lifter that is doing the 4 standard days of training. He is making progress and things are going pretty well. Then he reads an article about how everyone should be dragging the sled 6 times a week or do 20 workouts a week or whatever seems to be the flavor of the month. With good intentions, this lifter takes this to heart and goes head first into this. Now he realizes that his training is suffering and his lifts are down. He has tried desperately to keep his normal training volume on the 4 lifting days, but feels run down and overtrained. Remember if you are going to push something in, you are going to have to pull something out. The push/pull idea was something that came up repeatedly during the Texas seminar. Here are some typical scenarios that you have probably seen, read about, or experienced.

Push: Heavy band training on the squat, working up to singles almost every week. This is how many people have been training as of late and has been branded, The Vogelpohl Method. Your speed and max effort day are essentially combined on Friday.

Pull: Because of the increase load on Friday, the max effort work on Monday has to be tapered down or essentially cut out. The assistance lifts on Monday can stay the same. Often times, Friday is also used as a speed and max effort deadlift day. This is usually done after the squatting. Here is a sample of this kind of workout:


Belt Squat – 4x10
45 Degree Back Raise – 3x8
Side Bends – 3x10-12
Reverse Hyperextensions – 2x15
Weighted Sit-ups – 3x5
Lat Work (can be done with any exercise) – 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps


Box Squat – 4x2 @ 55% work up to heavy single; 3-5x1 Deadlift or Deadlift Variation – work up to a single, similar to how you would on max effort day. Perform a deadlift (or a variation) every other week. Abs (any exercise)

Push: Increased volume on max effort day with the max effort lift. This would consist of doing more than 3 sets @ or above 90%.

Pull: Volume of assistance lifts on both days must be cut back. For example, if you are doing 7-8 lifts @ or above 90% on the floor press, you may not have to do another pressing exercise that day. This is because you are using the floor press as a strength builder, not a strength tester. You must also make sure that your speed days are true “speed days.” By this I mean that you are operating around 50% of your raw max. This would be 50% of your raw bench press and 50% of your box squat. Your box squat max (and thus percentage) is going to be based on what you currently train in. If you wear briefs to train in, then you would use your box squat max, while wearing briefs, to calculate your training weight.

Push: Since you are out of shape, you need to increase your conditioning level. Thus various forms of sled dragging, active/dynamic warm-up, circuit training warm-up are introduced into the training. Most people that are out of shape for powerlifting suffer from the following: inability to recover between sets, inability to perform the workout with the intended volume and exercises and are exhausted after one exercise.

Pull: Because you are adding conditioning into your training, expect the overall volume of your lifting to go down. Remember that you are out of shape so the extra conditioning will take a toll on your lifting. This is ok as the extra conditioning work will eventually allow you to perform at a higher level. The conditioning does not have to be taken to the extreme; just enough to get you to perform at a high level. Here are some examples of how to adjust your training during this time:

  1. All max effort work and dynamic work stay the same; only one or two assistance lifts per workout. Conditioning work done before and/or after workout. Additional work can also be done on off days. Here is what I used to do for conditioning work. This was done before the workout.

Sled Dragging – 30 yards x 6-8 (this was backwards and forwards) – this was done with 90lbs of plate weight. This was done with 30-45 seconds rest between each trip. I started off with one plate (45lbs) and 60 seconds rest. Remember this is a warm-up, not a workout. I really don’t care how much weight you can drag with a sled during a warm-up.

(The next series of lifts were done in a circuit fashion; 30 seconds rest between each set. I started with just 2 sets of each exercise with 60 seconds rest in between. I worked my way up to 4 sets and maintained the conditioning level with just 2 sets. This was done before every workout and really helped.

  • Glute Ham Raise – 6-10 reps
  • Roman Chair Sit-ups – 10 reps
  • Reverse Hyperextensions – 10 reps

This improved my overall conditioning quite a bit, but I fell into a trap of being “in shape” rather than “improving my total”. There is a difference. Just like there is a difference in “getting stronger” and being a better football player.

2. All max effort work and dynamic work stay the same; assistance lifts used as a circuit to improve conditioning. This would take the form of 5 exercises, with limited weight done with 30-60 seconds rest in between.

This is pretty easy as to do as you would keep the same kind of exercises and split as you normally would and just reduce the rest times and (thus) the weight. Start with 3-4 exercises in a workout and start with 2-3 sets. Remember that you are doing this because you are out of shape; there is no need to go crazy on the first couple of workouts. This kind of training should be done until you feel like you are getting in better shape. The only problem is that you are going to have to find a way to maintain your conditioning as you cannot do circuit training if you want a big total. You can do simple things like riding a stationary bike 2-3 times/week or taking a nightly walk.

Please note that when putting in conditioning, you may feel like you are getting weaker; you probably are. But in the long run (and this is hard to see for many people) you will get stronger.

Push: Emphasis on hypertrophy via increase in volume on assistance lifts or max effort lifts.

Pull: This is an area that many people have questions on. I don’t know how many questions I’ve been asked that look similar to the following, “I want to get bigger. Is the Westside program something for me?” The answer is yes, IF you do the correct things. Let’s just break it down to this; the weight training portion of the concurrent or conjugate training system (this would be the Westside Program) is based on three variables; dynamic (fast and light), max effort (slow and heavy), and repetition or repeated effort (hypertrophy and strength). So if we were going to emphasize the hypertrophy the max effort and the dynamic effort would have to be taken back a little bit. So here are some options:

Dynamic Bench Press training – This would be done every other week or every three weeks. The weeks that you wouldn’t be doing this you could do the following. These next ideas were stolen right from Joe Defranco’s Westside for Skinny Bastards Program.

  • 3-4x10-12 on dumbbell presses, dumbbell incline press or dumbbell floor presses
  • 3 x failure with your regular dynamic bench weight

Remember to do speed work at least every month to maintain your speed. Remember that the conjugate (or concurrent) training doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do everything every week. The point is to maintain abilities while increasing others. You can maintain some abilities and not do them every week. It’s not about 7 days! Please remember that. I have said this a million times, but I cut out speed bench for a long time and came back after several months to test myself. I did a workout with Todd, Matt and Dave. I was as fast as I ever was. So whatever I was doing was allowing me to maintain that ability without having to beat the crap out of myself every week. Now understand that this is just an example, but don’t think you have to do every little thing every single week.

Max Effort bench press day – You have three options with this one;

1. Perform the max effort exercise and do 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps. This can be grueling but it can work. The positives is that you are doing more reps and sets and while this rep range isn’t great for hypertrophy it does work pretty well. But because you are doing sets of 3-5 reps, understand that this overall increase in volume will have to be taken off somewhere else. Remember the push/pull? So your overall pressing volume on some of your assistance lifts may have to go down. This is a lot of stress on your shoulders. The other negative thing is that you are not teaching yourself how to strain with singles. To prevent that, every three to four weeks, work up to a 1RM on a max effort exercise. This may be enough to maintain that ability. Again, this is something that you are going to have to play around with. The point is that you are trying to increase muscle mass, but you want to keep the ability to strain with heavy weights.

2. Perform the standard max effort exercise (3 lifts @ or above 90%) and do some down work. This down work would consist of doing sets of 6-10 with a lighter weight. Percentage? I would say around 65-80 percent, depending on the reps. This would again work much like above in that you will have to label these down sets as another exercise; meaning that that they are not a supplemental or assistance lift. So once you’ve gotten done with the lift, you have essentially done TWO lifts. Holy shit, I’m confusing myself. Let’s do it in bullets so we can both understand.

    • Floor Press

405x1 (new P.R.)

  • Floor Press – 3x10 @ 265
  • Chest Supported Rows – 4x12
  • Rear Raises – 4x12

3. Perform a periodized routine after reaching a max. I have written about this many times before; here is what it consists of:

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

The basic premise on how to use this training is to max out on whatever max effort exercise you are doing and then drop down and perform a certain amount of sets/reps at a given percentage of the max THAT YOU JUST DID on the very same exercise. If you are going to choose this option, you have to limit the supplemental and assistance exercises. On this particular day, you will be doing a lot of pressing, so no extra pressing will be done. In fact, I would try to do an upper back and lat exercise between every work set. This goes for every set done over 50%. This will give you some balance to your training.

Your speed day can remain the same, but I would really drop some of the volume on speed day during the first 3 weeks of this hypertrophy cycle. Since your main focus is going to be on the max effort day, I would be sure you have good recovery for that day.

Push: You need some extra mobility work; you are tighter than a nun.

Pull: We have talked about the need for mobility work. If you are doing a lot of hurdle walk overs /duck unders then it will take some time to adapt. The first day that I did these, my hips were so sore the next day, I could barely squat off a chair. Instead of immediately scrapping these, I took that week off from squatting, did a lot of assistance work, and resumed my workouts the following week. I probably overdid my mobility work in the beginning, but many people have done this or will do it. So my advice to you; keep with it and don’t worry if you are having trouble training. It will last about a week. If you ease into this slowly, you will be fine and won’t have to take any time off.

That’s all I’ve got. I’m sure there are a couple of more scenarios that you would like answered. If you have any more suggestions, and there has to be 3 or more, I will write another Push/Pull article. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to write in to the EFS Q/A.

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