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Strength Training for Beginners: How to GET STRONG Now

How to Get STRONG Once & For All: The ONLY Guide You Need

There are many reasons for why one should get strong. This is not a post about why you should get strong but how a barbell-novice should approach the task. But, first: TL;DR.

Beginner Strength Training Program

Day One:
  • Squat: 3X5 @ RPE 8 (three sets of five)
  • Touch & Go Bench: 3X5 @ RPE 9 (three sets of five)
  • Deadlifts: 4X8 @ RPE 8 (four sets of eight)
Day Two:
  • 1-Second Paused Bench: 4X5 @ RPE 8 (four sets of five)
  • Squat: 4X4 @ RPE 9
  • Deadlifts: 4X4 @ RPE 9
Day Three:
  • Deadlifts: 3X5 @ RPE 8 (three sets of five)
  • Close-Grip Bench Press: 4X8 @ RPE 8 (four sets of eight)
  • Squats: 4X8 @ RPE 8 (four sets of eight)
RPE 8 means that you're leaving two reps in the tank. Usually, this will happen when the bar speed begins to slow down. Same logic applies to RPE 9: it means you could've only done one more rep. Bench Press for Beginners

Let's Talk Strength Training

The first question is: what makes someone strong? And what causes someone to be strong? Strength can be displayed in a number of ways. The manifestation of strength that we'll focus on today is the ability to lift more weights in the gym. In specific: the Squat, the Bench, and the Deadlift. In 2014, Greg Nuckols published an article entitled "More is More" where he makes the case that "more volume" generally results in "more gains" in the weight room. Generally speaking, that's true. But there's more to it than just doing more. After all: not all volume is equal. We'll define "volume" as the total numbers of reps in a given movement. For example, if you do 5X5 for Touch & Go Bench-Press, that equals to 25 total reps (volume). Consider these different volume assignments:
  • 3X8 (three sets of eight reps)
  • 6X4 (six sets of four reps)
  • 2X12 (two sets of twelve reps)
At face value, the total training volume is matched. But we couldn't expect the outcomes in strength to be similar. In fact, in 2016, an article in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine demonstrated that there are differential effects on strength & hypertrophy depending on training loads. My only comment here is that the study wasn't volume-matched. They note that the volume for the "Volume" (moderate loading) group was substantially increased in comparison to the "Intensity" (high loading) group. Nevertheless, the subjects involved in the intensity program still demonstrated slightly greater improvements in strength over the volume group. I would be very interested in reading a study of what would occur if both Moderate Loading & High-Intensity Loading groups were matched. Although this would, by necessity, mean that the High Intensity groups would have to increase their training volume to match the Moderate-Loading groups. The inherent assumption being that if Moderate-Loading groups were to match the volume of the High-Intensity groups, their results would diminish significantly. (Or so I presume). And that's the direction we want to take next: how do we maximize high-intensity training volume for optimal results? Squatting for Beginners

Volume, Training, and Gains in the Weight Room

Most beginner strength training programs generally go wrong in one major way: they prescribe a set amount of volume throughout the entirety of the training protocol. What will generally end up happening is that after 2-3 months, the program stops working, and the trainee doesn't know what to do afterwards. The answer is simple: you need to train more. More than what you were doing before. What's happened, in simple terms, is that your body will have become resistant to training. The goal of physical adaptations in response to a training dose is to make that training "dose" (i.e. stress) no longer stressful. Or not as disruptive to your homeostatic balance. This is why programs, if unchanged, will turn ineffective. To combat this, you need to continually increase that training dose to effect further adaptations (muscle, strength, etc). There's a continued discussion about what this "increased dose" is, and how to go about it. However, as alluded to earlier, volume tends to be the best predictor of continued hypertrophy, and in turn: strength progress. Although this isn't everyone's intermediate progression model, the way that I personally go about it is to, when prompted:
  • Incremental increases in training volume
  • Small increases in food intake
What I mean by "when prompted" is: if my bodyweight stalls, or slows down significantly, I will eat more food. Similarly, if I see that my training no longer produces the desired effects, I will slowly increase the weekly volume of my programming.

Managing Fatigue & Volume

So, we understand that increasing volume overtime is going to be the main driver of long-term strength growth. More volume > more hypertrophy > more weight on the bar But all volume isn't the same. Recall that we had talked about the differences in moderate-loading and high-loading groups. Why is that important? Because just adding more "reps" won't do the job. If you're training 3x5, and to increase volume, you go to: 3x8 - you cannot expect that the end-result in strength outcomes will be similar. It won't. Sets of 5 @ RPE 8 (two reps short of failure) will generally be performed at 81% intensity. Sets of 8 @ RPE 8 will fall somewhere in the 70% range. This difference in intensity will have long-term considerations in strength development. Although, I would assume that the trainee would continue to see some progress, due to a 60% increase in volume. The results wouldn't be comparable to a trainee that performed, say: 6x4 @ RPE 8 (six sets of four reps) at (~83.7%) intensity. In the latter scenario, the trainee would be performing 60% more volume at 2.7% higher intensity. In this instance, the trainee would derive far greater results from training.

Understanding Load Management

Now that you understand how increasing training volume in a deliberate manner works, let's talk about the next item on the list: Fatigue assessment It should seem clear to you that 24 reps @ 83.7% intensity is far more fatiguing than 24 reps @ 70% intensity. In the above program, where you'd be performing 63 reps of the Deadlift, for example; maxing out on every set using the heaviest variation of the lift (belt + straps) would be foolish. The fatigue would build up rather quickly, especially since the Deadlift is usually going to be your heaviest movement. So, we have a scenario where we need to meet the following criteria:
  • Lift at a high-enough intensity to improve strength performance
  • Lift with enough volume to induce hypertrophy
  • Continually increase volume over a long-period of time to combat increased training resistance
  • Do it all without feeling like you were ran over by a bulldozer
There are two primary tools for managing training fatigue. Let's start with number one: Exercise Selection The goal of exercise selection is two-fold:
  • One: Introduce exercise variations that reduce total training load.
  • Two: Maintain enough movement specificity to have carry-over to the main lifts.
In meeting these criteria, we have three layers of movement specificity:
  • Primary: Also referred to as the "Competition" or "Main" lift. This is the primary form of the selected movement. The movement that will be tested in competition. Or the targeted movement (if not a competitor).
  • Secondary: Also referred to as "Developmental" lifts. These are movements that resemble the primary lift's movement pattern, but a form of mechanical disadvantage is introduced. This mechanical disadvantage allows for lighter loading with very high movement specificity.
  • Tertiary: Also referred to as "Assistance" lifts. These are the least-specific movements, but have the highest volume. They are typically performed in moderate-intensity ranges (70 ~ 75%) with significant volume. They are also the lightest movements. The main purpose for these lifts being to maximize hypertrophy during the training block.
Examples of Developmental Lifts are: Beltless Variations: This is where the belt is removed from the lift. This will typically cause the weight being used by around 5-10%. Paused Variations: By introducing a pause to the movement, less weight will generally be able to be used. These are also done beltless. Pin Variations: Very similar to paused variations, but the safety pins from the rack are used to "stop" the bar. Examples of Assistance Lifts are: Squats: High-bar squats, Tempo squats, Front squats. They can also be used with different equipment, such as: chains, bands, specialty bars, etc. Benches: Close-grip bench, Tempo bench, Spoto bench, Feet-up bench. And also, using chains, bands, weight-releasers, blocks, specialty bars, etc. Deadlifts: Block pulls, Rack pulls, Romanian Deadlifts, Stiff-Legged Deadlifts, Deficit Deadlifts. And as well, using chains, bands, etc. By using different movements throughout training, in particular, using lighter versions of the main lift will allow you to deliberately manipulate training fatigue while continuing to accrue enough volume to induce hypertrophy. The last piece to this puzzle is: Rate of Perceived Exertion RPE Chart by RTS
The Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is a qualitative measurement tool that attempts to quantify the effort level during a singular set. The purpose of RPE is managing the exertion of the lifter by providing a system for assessing the day-to-day, and in turn, long term fatigue accumulation. It does this by prescribing a set "effort level" for any one set in your training. In doing so, it takes full advantage of days when you are feeling great while also scaling down the weights for days where you might be feeling beat up. For example, Day 1 of Week 1, your Squat feels STRONG. The set RPE for that set is 8, and you complete 315 for a set of 5. The next week, you didn't sleep particularly well the night before. You're feeling a bit tired and the bar just feels heavy as you unrack it. You use your best judgement to identify that 285 for a set of 5 would meet the selected level of RPE 8. By training this way, you're prescribing (yourself) the appropriate dose (training stress) for what you have in the tank that day. To grind out 315 for a set of 5 while not feeling particularly well might leave you feeling sore for a few days and make the rest of your training sessions less productive.

Using RPE

Once you understand what it is, and what it's used for - the next step is understanding how to apply it. There is no simple guide to this other than learning to understand your body. At first your assessments of RPE might not be accurate, but with enough time and practice, you'll understand what your "stuff" is that day. Then, it's simply a matter of actively managing your training on a daily basis to continue to drive progress. Growth is a question of consistency. Showing up day in and day out, and doing the work. Nothing more. There are no "stretching" or "mobility" routines that will improve your training. Besides from creatine (for some people) and whey protein (if you're not getting enough protein from your diet), there aren't any supplements that will improve your results. It's just about showing up. Doing the prescribed work. Getting sleep. And doing it all over again. Day in, and day out. As far as what you should eat... Eating for Strength Training

Eating for Growth

Any serious strength trainee will soon learn about the impact of food on their day-to-day performance. More importantly, the impact of food on their strength growth. This isn't a diet or nutritional post, however, a failure to eat correctly will mean zero or very small gains. Regardless of how hard or consistently you train in the gym. This should be simple. A muscle protein synthesis response can occur once in every 3-5 hours. Therefore, you need to eat your meals at least 3 to 5 hours apart from each other. Each meal needs to contain at least 30g of high-quality protein. High quality as defined by leucine content. Animal-sourced protein is generally high enough quality. Therefore, your diet needs to meet the following criteria:
  • Enough protein to maximize daily muscle protein synthesis (at least 1g per lb of bodyweight: go for 200 if you can).
  • Enough carbs to sustain hard training
  • Fats, wherever they fall. I shoot for at least 50g.
Let's take me. If I were untrained, and starting from scratch. I would shoot for 2,700 calories to start. In the following macronutrient ratios:
  • 200g of protein (800 calories)
  • 317.5g of carbs (1,200 calories)
  • 70g of fat (630 calories)
Total: 2,700 calories. You may need more or less calories than I do (would). Adjust accordingly. This will depend on height or your current activity levels. Track your weight daily. If you are not increasing by at least half a pound per week, you're not gaining a sufficient amount of weight to increase your strength. It may be irresponsible to offer blanket recommendations like "eat 2,700" & "gain half a pound per week" - but for the most part, these assumptions would work. The people who don't need to gain weight know they don't need to gain more weight. The same goes for people who need to more or less than what is being recommended here. A reasonable person would take these recommendations and see strong results. This would have to be adjusted over-time as increases in muscle mass will result in increases in your RMR. There's also just "more of you" - and that requires more calories to maintain. A 160-lb person requires less energy than a 200-lb person. As your weight (muscle) increases, you will need to adjust accordingly.

Strength Training for Fat Loss: Get SHREDDED & Keep Strength

How to Lose Weight & Maintain Your Numbers

Manipulating your body weight is chiefly a measure of calories in, and calories out. The resulting energy balance will determine the output on the scale. This daily energy balance can be manipulated through caloric input (eating) and caloric output (activity) - and these are generally the most easily controllable variables for effecting weight change. Move less, eat more (than present-day) > increase in weight. Move more, eat less (than present-day) > decrease in weight. There are other variables that also affect caloric expenditure such as: Smaller people necessitate, and therefore "burn" less energy. We will recall this information later.

Successful Strategies for Weight Loss

In my personal experience(s) during fat loss: managing food intake has proven the more effective lever in successful reductions in body weight. Increasing activity (via cardio or otherwise) works but it's time consuming. That's important because it poses a challenge - life can easily get in the way. Consider the following scenarios: Walking 30-minutes at a light/mod pace expends roughly 140 calories. Drinking a can of coke consumes 140 calories. In a real-life situation, omitting the consumption of a can of coke would be a far more effective caloric reduction strategy. Why? Because it takes 10 seconds to drink a can of coke, while many things can interfere with your being able to complete a 30-minute walk.
  • Work
  • Children
  • Spouses
  • Traffic
  • Things that just randomly happen that need to be tended to, etc.
Depending on how much time you have on your hands, it's generally easier to omit eating something than it is to increase your activity levels. And yes, sure. You can increase the intensity rate of your activity, and therefore burn more calories in that same time window. But as a matter of practical application - I've found that, personally: eating less, rather than doing more is generally easier to adhere to. And that is the key to successful long-term body composition management: creating changes and habits that YOU can adhere to for the long run, given your personal daily circumstances. The National Weight Control Registry has enumarated the habits of over 10,000 people who've lost at least 30 lbs and kept it off for more than a year to be:
  • 98% of participants modified their food intake in some way to lose weight
  • 90% of participants exercise an average of about 1 hour per day
  • 78% eat breakfast every day.
  • 75% weigh themselves at least once a week.
  • 62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week.
Even if small changes might seem insignificant in the short-term, over a long period of time, they add up quick. Consuming an extra 150 calories a day for a whole year comes out to 15.6 lbs of body weight gain. Alternatively, expending 150 calories a day (or omitting 150 calories from your diet) can also result in a loss of 15.6 lbs of body weight. In the last 9 months, I’ve lost about 40 lbs. With a two month break. Here’s what I learned. Diet Plan for Losing Weight

How I Lost 40 lbs. In 9 Months With Minimal Loss in Strength

"Losing weight" is in itself a vacant phrase without the context in which it happened. Any time in which body mass is reduced, some of that mass will always be a combination of lean body mass and fat mass. It’s an unavoidable fact of life. When weight is gained, even if just sitting on the couch at home, some of it will be muscle. Similarly, when weight is lost, even if you do everything right - some of it will be muscle, as well. Regardless of age, amount of hours slept, protein intake, maximization of muscle protein synthesis, never missing a single rep - regardless of everything that you can do to mitigate strength or muscle loss: some will always occur. This is where strength training comes in. Strength training skews the ratio of muscle and fat mass being lost favorably. Consider these two scenarios:
  • Person A: Loses 20 lbs through caloric reduction and 45-minutes of walking daily.
  • Person B: Loses 20 lbs through caloric reduction, walking 30 minutes daily, and strength training three times a week.
While both individuals in this instance lost the same amount of weight - the proportion (and total) of fat wouldn't be the same. In the case of Person A, in achieving their 20-lb reduction, they might have lost about 10 lbs of fat. In the case of Person B, chances are that around 15 lbs of the weight lost was actual fat mass. A 50% greater effectiveness in fat loss which is the more desirable outcome. In that way, strength training plays a pivotal role during a weight loss phase by making the changes in body composition skewed to what you're looking for. In its absence, the outcome will generally be less than ideal.

First Round: Figuring It Out

During my first round of weight loss, I used activity as the primary tool for creating the caloric deficit. This meant doing an hour of cardio four times a week, strength training three times a week, and I had set my calories at 2,500. This went on from September to late October. I lost roughly 4 lbs in two months. The goal had been 1.5 lbs per week as the ideal weight loss rate. The rate was 33% of where I wanted to be at. At the time I was working 9 to 6. And I was in the gym until about 7:30. Then the commute home, shower, eat, meal prep for the next day, and by the time I was done with all of that it was nearly 10. I had about an hour left for myself, and back to bed. Additionally, I was up to an hour of cardio a day by this point. Needless to say, it would’ve been difficult to create a larger deficit with those time constraints. Adding additional activity would've been challenging. So I dropped to 2,000 calories. Suddenly, 6 lbs came off in October. In November, I dropped to 1,800 calories. Another 6 lbs came off. By the end of five months, I had dropped 16 lbs - ish. This was the end of my first weight-loss cycle. The lesson had been clear: using calories as the main control for inducing weight loss was far more effective than increasing activity. I could've introduced HIIT, sped up the treadmill & raised the incline for LISS, and added some more volume to my lifts - for what? It was just more practical to eliminate 500 calories. And more sustainable long term. Doing two to three hours of continuous activity after a full day of work during a caloric deficit can wear you out mentally. At least I felt that way. But although those first four months were challenging, I knew that with some adjustments I could scale my weight loss efforts considerably.

Second Round: Steady Losses

Second time around things changed. I was still following roughly the same kind of programming template. I walked four miles a day as my primary activity all throughout the process. For the first month, my calories went from 2,800 (to lean bulk) down to 2,000. I assumed my maintenance was around 2,500. Here’s how things played out: Weight Loss During Strength Training I lost about 25 lbs. in total. There were rough patches here and there, but for the most part, it was a steady period of weight loss. As time went on, my caloric intake had to "update" in order to remain effective in the face of physiological changes. These "physiological changes" as a result of weight loss are:
  • There's less of you, so your body necessitates less energy to fuel all your bodily functions.
  • You're consuming less food so there's less to process.
  • There are reductions in BMR due to loss of lean body mass (unavoidable).
  • There also reductions in NEAT (non-volitional activity)
As all of these changes are happening, your calories need to re-adjust to reflect this reality. Otherwise, the rate of weight loss will slow down dramatically. How much and how often your calories need to be adjusted is a matter of personal debate. Those who are patient can make smaller reductions in caloric intake over longer periods of time; those who are like me can make bigger reductions in food intake quite frequently. I try to maintain my weekly rate of weight loss around 1% of current body weight. In the last cycle of weight loss, I also set rigid parameters that I did not want to exceed:
  • 25-lb bodyweight reduction
  • MAX: 16-week duration
  • Strength loss no greater than 10%
My calories were adjusted as such: reduce by 200 calories every four weeks. Starting at 2,000 for the first month; 1,800 for the second month; 1,600 for the third month; and I stopped at 14 weeks consuming 1,400 for the last two weeks. Yes, my calories were a bit low, but we were under quarantine throughout this time. Naturally, my levels of activity were far lower than would've been otherwise 'normal'. In any other scenario, I would've consumed more food to maintain that 1% rate of weekly weight loss. Because gyms were closed and I didn't have access to conditioning equipment, I walked around 4 miles a day. And that was it, I tracked everything in an Online Google Sheets file, and remained consistent through the process. I gave myself a one-day break about once a month, but for the most part - I didn't miss any walks or had 'cheat days'.

Strategies for Successful Weight Loss & Long-Term Bodyweight Management

Tip #1: Eat Protein in Every Meal Protein is very satieting. In many occasions where I DIDN'T consume protein in a meal (particularly if it was later at night), I'd find myself constantly thinking about food, even spending an inordinate amount of time watching people cook and eat....But this wasn't the case when I actually did consume a substantial amount of protein. It would also occur that if I had some meal composed of fats & carbs without protein, I'd feel just completely out of it. Hungry, cloudy, irritable. I know you know the feeling. Time, and again I found that protein usually allowed me to regulate my hunger the best and remain sharp throughout the day. High-protein sources are also very lean, excellent sources include:
  • Fish (cod, tilapia, shrimp, canned tuna)
  • Poultry (chicken breasts, turkey breasts, ground chicken, ground turkey breast)
  • Low fat dairy (fat-free milk, greek yogurt, non-fat mozzarella cheese
They're also not as calorically-dense as fats. Which means you get to eat more food, and still be well within your caloric range...which leads to the next tip: Tip #2: Choose Volume Foods Foods that are low in caloric-density can allow you to eat a substantial amount while still being well within your caloric targets. Some of my favorite, and go-to's are (besides protein which I listed above):
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Beans
  • Pasta
I cycle through these ingredients and the ones listed above, for about four times a day. I've listed several recipes in other blog posts. Just pair one with the other in the desired quantities:
  • Sweet potatoes & Cod
  • Chicken & Potatoes
  • Ground chicken, rice, and beans
  • Chicken burrito with beans & non-fat mozzarella
  • Ground turkey breast, non-fat mozzarella, and pasta
The great thing is that they are interchangeable, and making them go together for perfect meals conducive to weight loss is simply a matter of: Tip #3: Learn to Cook There's a ton of resources out there for learning to make high protein recipes. And even turning some of your favorite meals into high-protein, volume variants. My process for learning how to make things taste good has been long, slow, and challenging: but it goes without saying that being able to make your own food is extremely helpful.
  • You can create foods you like from scratch, and adjust portions to your caloric goals.
  • It's easier to know what you're actually eating in terms of caloric count
  • It's much cheaper to make something yourself, than to buy it.
  • The list goes on.
By far the most important point being: Tip #4: Track EVERYTHING For the most consistent results, tracking all the variable inputs that go into weight loss are a must. It doesn't mean that you need to track calories, weigh foods, or live by nutritional labels forever - but if you want to be consistent and achieve predictable results, you do need to track. I would suggest recording all of the following information in a spreadsheet, somewhere:
  • Scale weight: every day, first thing in the morning after using the bathroom.
  • Measurements: waist circumference is the most valuable. Once a week before eating/drinking anything is fine.
  • Calories: Weigh your foods using a kitchen scale. Track them by scanning the label into MyFitnessPal.
  • Weigh your foods dry: On that note, weighing your foods dry will provide the greatest accuracy. Cooking methods such as baking, broiling, air-frying, pan-frying, etc will all change the water content of the food. If you weigh it dry, you have a greater probability of measuring the actual caloric content.
  • Create a chart: Using a chart to visualize your daily caloric intake, and body weight will allow you to better visualize what's happening with your body. This helps for me, tremendously.
Deadlifting for Weight Loss

Programming Strength for Weight Loss

I alluded to my training earlier, but didn't expand on it too much. I followed a training program that I outlined in my "Beginner Powerlifting Program". The only difference being that the exercise selection was less specific. During weight loss phases, I like to experiment with new exercises. During this time around, I dropped the "Paused Squats" and replaced them with "Pin Squats". For the tertiary squat movement, I went with "Front Squats". The main Squat movement remained the Competition Squat. For the Benches, I did - Competition Bench, Close-Grip Bench, Feet-Up Bench, and Touch & Go Bench. For the Deadlift movements, I went with: Competition Deadlift, Block Pulls, and Deficit Deadlifts. It can be fun to try out new movements and equipment you haven't done before. It also pulls the focus away from numbers. It's mentally challenging to see the lifts you've worked so hard to build up slowly decrease in front of your eyes. Trying out new movements can help you, in some way, shift your focus from previous strength numbers under the guise of "I'm just trying this out". Alan Thrall discussed it beautifully in this video.

Break it Apart

I would also recommend losing weight in phases. Why? Because it allows you to re-build some of the muscle mass lost during a specific stage. That way, throughout your entire journey, you can maintain similar numbers to what you started with originally, but at a much lower bodyweight. Which brings us to the conclusion. Let's outline the points made in this article:
  • You must be in a caloric deficit to lose weight
  • Rely on calories to drive the deficit, as opposed to activity levels
  • Adjust your caloric intake every so often to maintain steady weight loss
  • Choose low-fat, high-protein volume foods for hunger management and satiety
  • Strength training is critical for retaining as much muscle mass as possible
  • Try out new movements and equipment to shift your focus away from your strength numbers
  • Break it up in phases so that you can re-build your strength levels to what they previously were before continuing
And that's all! I hope this article provided you with all of the tools and resources necessary to lose weight, retain your strength, and do it all within a proven, reliable system.

Beginner Powerlifting Program: Get Your First 1,200 Total

The DEFINITIVE Beginner's Guide to Powerlifting [+FREE Program]

In this blog post, we're going to look at how to manage your powerlifting training to set you up for long-term success. We're also going to look at:

  • What causes your strength to increase
  • The different parameters that your training program needs to meet in order for your strength to continually improve
  • How this program aims to do just that.

But first - TL;DR:

The Program

Day 1

  • Competition Squat: 3X5 @ RPE 8,8,8 (3 sets of 5)
  • 2-Count Pause Bench: 6X4 @ 7,8,9,9,9,9 (6 sets of 4)
  • Block Pulls: 4X7 @ RPE 8,8,8,8 (4 sets of 7)

Day 2

  • Competition Bench: 4X5 @ RPE 8,8,8,8 (4 sets of 5)
  • Paused Squat: 6X4 @ RPE 7,8,9,9,9,9 (6 sets of 4)
  • Press 1.0: 4X7 @ RPE 8,8,8,8 (4 sets of 7)

Day 3

  • Competition Deadlift: 3X5 @ RPE 8,8,8 (3 sets of 5)
  • Touch & Go Bench: 6X4 @ RPE 7,8,9,9,9,9 (6 sets of 4)
  • Close-Grip Bench: 4X7 @ RPE 8,8,8,8 (4 sets of 7)

Day 4

  • Paused Deadlift: 6X4 @ RPE 7,8,9,9,9,9 (6 sets of 4)
  • Pin Press: 6X4 @ RPE 7,8,9,9,9,9 (6 sets of 4)
  • Beltless Squat: 4X7 @ RPE 8,8,8,8 (4 sets of 7)

What is RPE?

RPE Chart by RTS RPE stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion and is a metric best used for auto-regulation during training sessions. Its aim is to provide the lifter with a framework of designated effort per programmed lift. Rather than a strict prescription which you cannot violate, it should instead give you an idea of what your level of effort should be during your upcoming set. By assigning & managing a lifter’s effort exertion during a programming schedule, one can use RPE as a proxy for stress or fatigue management. The best video I’ve seen on the matter is by Alan Thrall: What is RPE. On the program, where you see: Competition Squat: 3X5 @ RPE 8,8,8 What it means is on each of three sets, the RPE should be 8. What I would consider a moderately challenging effort. Where you see: Paused/Pin Squat: 6X4 @ RPE 7,8,9,9,9,9 It means that the first two sets should be at RPE 7, RPE 8, followed by four sets of RPE 9.

Why No Singles?

I tend to alternate on whether or not I'll do singles during a given block. For ex. during March, 2020 through mid-June 2020 (roughly 14 weeks in duration) - I was following a weight loss protocol. Which saw my strength levels take a hit. This is unavoidable, so I wasn't too worried. When I got back, I wasn't particularly interested in during singles because....I was lifting 30-40 lbs below my previous maxes. I just focused on volume training & getting back to my previous state. However, after 5 weeks, I was able to recover my previous strength levels and again start training towards new PR's. That's when I started doing singles again. Another consideration is "meet programming" - singles are more important during a focused strength phase. A preparatory phase, if you will. If your current training plan is headed towards a meet, then doing singles is important as a skill practice & strength measurement. (Knowing where you are). However, if you're not currently training for a meet, then doing singles is not just as important. This is just part of a much bigger conversation about block periodization, something that beginner trainees not need worry about currently.

Powerlifting, Strength Training, & How to Get STRONG

There's a lot of different ways to measure strength, and many other ways in which strength can be displayed. A big part of your training career as a powerlifter will be learning to differentiate training for & displays of strength. The primary outcome of training for strength is to create physical adaptations that lead to displays of said acquired strength. Training is not the time and place to display strength. Let's run through some examples. A display of strength can be maxing out for one rep on the most amount of weight you can handle. This is not training. Why? Because it doesn't lead to adaptations or improvements. Yes, in preparation for an actual meet, say, two or three days prior to the competition - doing max singles can be considered training because at that point you're practicing for the meet. The purpose of training has changed and therefore that kind of exertion is actually considered a preparatory element for your meet. However, outside of that scenario, maxing out is only a display of strength because it doesn't lead to further adaptations. Let's unpack that.

How Do We Measure Strength?

Why is it important to differentiate between the display of strength & training for strength?? Because displaying strength is generally very fatiguing. And will most likely negatively impact your training. As a powerlifter, when you see your numbers making big jumps week after week you will be tempted to test your strength. While this is generally ok once in a while, doing it every week (or every set) will burn you out quickly. The purpose of training is to stimulate adaptations that lead to strength increases. And if something's interfering with your training - then, what good is it? Displaying your strength is fun. And it's satisfying to see you can pull 20 lbs more than you did a month ago. Or see that in 12 weeks you went from 455X1 to 515X1 @ max effort on your Deadlift. But what if that wasn't the only way of displaying strength? Consider the following scenario: 1. Someone performs a set of 5 at all out max effort RPE 10 for 500 lbs on the Competition Squat. 2. Next week, that person performs a set of 5 at a moderately challenging effort RPE 8 for 500 lbs on the Competition Squat. Did this person get stronger? The answer is yes. Although the weight on the bar didn't increase, the required effort to perform the set went down considerably, demonstrating an increase in strength. In other words, if it takes less effort to do the same amount of work - you got stronger. In order for you to train productively, you might need to forgo the gratification of grinding out sets of 5 or maxing out on a single, so that you can make continual progress over a long period. Because being able to deadlift 700 two years from now is far more gratifying than grinding out 500 next week and making the next week of pulling complete garbage. On the subject of strength increases...

Strength Adaptations & Hypertrophy

The #1 predictor of strength increases during post-novice training is going to be hypertrophy - as long as you continue training in high intensity ranges (75 ~ 85%). Since training volume is the most correlated with hypertrophy, this means that over time your training volume needs to increase. But just doing more isn't enough. Take a second to look at these examples:

  • 60 reps @ 50% intensity
  • 60 reps @ 70% intensity
  • 60 reps @ 80% intensity

In these cases, the total volume (reps) is the same, but the intensity isn't. In the first example, performing 60 reps @ 50% intensity would not contribute to hypertrophy. In any way. Since 60% intensity is generally required for hypertrophy benefits. Then comes the question of 60 reps @ 70% intensity & 60 reps @ 80% intensity becomes more complex. This is where the concept of "stimulating reps" comes into play. (For refutations of this concept: see here). Let's say that these 60 reps @ 70% intensity are performed on two different days. Day one: 1 set of 1 rep @ RPE 8; followed by 4 sets of 8 reps @ RPE 7-8. (33 total reps) Day two: 3 sets of 9 reps @ RPE 8. (27 total reps) Now let's look at the following image: [caption id="attachment_447" align="aligncenter" width="700"]Stimulating Reps [Source][/caption] In the case above, there are a total of 13 stimulatory reps on day one & 9 stimulatory reps on day two. For a grand total of 22 stimulatory reps out of 60 total reps. Let's also say that 60 reps @ 80% intensity are performed on three different days. (Frequency is a different discussion altogether). Day one: 6 sets of 4 reps @ RPE 7,8,9,9,99. (24 total reps) Day two: 3 sets of 5 reps @ RPE 8. (15 total reps) Day three: 3 sets of 7 reps @ RPE 8. (21 total reps) Stimulatory Reps & Weighted Values The average-weighted values of each set & corresponding associated effective reps. Intensity percentages were derived from Mike Tuchscherer's RPE Chart. Actual values may be different from person to person. In the above example (60 reps @ 80% intensity) using the prescribed sets and reps above, the lifter would perform:

  • 60 total reps
  • 39 stimulating reps
  • 80% avg. weighted intensity

That's nearly double the volume of stimulatory reps. And further scaling that volume into more advanced training requires an equally thoughtful approach. Simply adding more reps isn't going to cut it.

So - What’s the Best Way to Program for Strength?

At a glance, the sets and reps schemes might seem a bit odd: I do it like this because I enjoy training in 4’s & 5’s. I'm sure that if you wanted to maximize your effective training volume, you could find a way to do it while training in the rep ranges you enjoy. As long as it's above 70% (required for strength) - although I typically aim for 75 ~ 85%. The most important consideration is managing RPE, weekly training volume, and intensities. The general consensus for strength training is to accumulate enough training volume, in the 75-85% intensity range (of e1RM), during a given period to stimulate a muscular hypertrophy response. With the caveat being that all training must be done in a manner that replicates the movement pattern that you aim to increase strength on. In other words, if you want to squat more, you need to do more squatting. In this case, the assigned training volume for the main lifts is:

  • Squats: 64 weekly reps
  • Deadlifts: 64 weekly reps
  • Bench: 92 weekly reps
  • Press: 49 weekly reps

All of these lifts will be done with an intensity range that's somewhere in the vicinity of 81% intensity. This would be perfectly reasonable programming for anyone entering this style of training if coming off of active strength training. I would recommend an iteration with far less volume to someone who hasn't been actively training. If you've been doing other online blanket templates for "intermediate trainees" - you're probably going to find this style of training quite stressful, at first. The effective volume is much higher than what you'd be used to - particularly at these intensity ranges.

How to Build Muscle Consistently to Get BIG & STRONG

With all of this out of the way, as long as you perform all of the prescribed reps at the appropriate RPE (& by proxy: intensity) - the number one predictor of long-term strength development will be your skeletal muscle mass. Which will be most affected by your caloric intake. I have a simple template that I use for macros that goes as follows: Protein: 200g Fat: 70g These two are relatively constant and they come out to 1,430 calories. I will generally fill the rest with carbs. If I want to eat 2,500 calories: that comes out to 267.5g of carbs. If I want to eat 3,000 calories: that comes out to 392.5g of carbs. I started out eating around 2,500 calories to gain weight. And I am now up to 2,700. I weigh & track all the food that I eat for consistency. Although not absolutely necessary, I find that personally I tend to train the best & achieve the most predictable results when tracking and measuring all foods. I try & cook all the food that I eat although I do order fast food at times, but even then I will try to order items that meet the macronutrient profiles that I was looking for in that specific meal. For most people, offering blanket recommendations wouldn’t work, neither will using TDEE calculators or such. While useful for a general population, they can often err by overestimating your calories. This can be due to not being able to account for past dieting history or people overestimating their own activity levels. The best way to figure out how many calories you need to eat to maintain your current bodyweight is to track all of the food that you would eat in a normal week (without altering your food intake), and then tracking your day-to-day scale weight. You then average out the total daily calories after 7 days, and average out your weight. If your weight remained more or less the same, then you have found your maintenance calories. The next step would be to add anywhere from 300 to 500 to your daily calories to supplement this training program. Eat at a 3-5 hourly interval between meals & try to eat all of your calories split in 4 to 5 meals. This will ensure that you’re maxing out your muscle protein synthesis (& thereby growth). As far as supplements go: whey protein, creatine, and caffeine have been shown to reliably improve results from a training program (when compared to placebos). Take those at your own discretion.

What Equipment is Needed for Powerlifting?

The equipment needed for powerlifting will depend on what federation you compete in. Since I’m a raw powerlifter, I will list the equipment that I generally use in training:

Powerlifting Shoes

For the past year, I’ve been using the Adidas Powerlift 4. It feels extremely sturdy & secure. After one year and more than several thousand reps of squats & benches: I am happy to report that the shoes still feel like the day I bought them. I have had zero issues. And best of all: they are extremely budget-friendly.

Powerlifting Belt

It is generally recommended that you use a 4” wide and 10mm thick belt (for beginners). I used this Single-Prong Lifting Belt by Steel Sweat. It performs its job as intended. I use it for both squats & deadlifts even though people with shorter torsos might find their range of motion limited by such a wide belt (on deadlifts). Some might consider using a 3” wide belt: Starting Strength Single-Prong 3” Wide Belt. Advanced competitive powerlifters will often opt for the far stiffer: 13mm belts such as the SBD Lever Belt or the Prime Cut Belt by BestBelts.

Pulling Straps

Straps for powerlifting can aid in allowing the lifter to pull heavy weights while accruing a substantial amount of volume. Some fear the potential risks associated with alternate grips, some dislike the discomfort of the hook grip. The best option for those looking to do high volume of pulling movements without discomfort or risk of injury is to get their hands on straps. I use the IronMind Straps as do many other high level lifters.

Deadlift Shoes

In order to properly deadlift, you need to be using flat & non-compressible shoes. Many will swear by Chuck Taylors. Others will do just fine with vans, indoor soccer shoes, or other such footwear.

Training Log

Tracking your training is important. Not only does it allow you to keep tracking of progress but also it allows you to estimate future performance or observe patterns. If you notice that squatting too much above an RPE of 9 causes you to have lower performance in the weeks after, you can adjust your training. Similarly, if you notice that the more you do of a certain movement improves your performance in the main movement: you can program so including more of that exercise allows you to progress quicker in the competition lift.

How to Improve Your Bench Press: PROGRAM for A MONSTER Bench

The SECRET to Exploding Your Bench Press Numbers

In many a lifter’s careers, the thought of, “how can I bench more than everyone at this gym” has crossed their mind. Whether admittedly or not. There’s a certain level of satisfaction in being able to out-bench even your close circle of friends. In this article, we’ll explore the in’s & out’s of exploding your bench press numbers.

How to Program for A Higher Bench Press

Assuming that you’re already benching with proper technique, the next key to improving your bench press will be programming for strength. In order for you to program for strength increases consistently, you need as part of your routine:
  • High-intensity (defined by intensities between 75% & 85%) training loads.
  • Hypertrophy-inducing volume to build muscle
  • Exercises that are specific to the movement pattern targeted (in this case: the bench)
  • Nutritional parameters that support the growth of additional muscle tissue
In the beginner powerlifting program that I have published on this website, as part of the bench programming, the lifter is subjected to:
  • An average training intensity of ~81%
  • 96 weekly total reps
  • Highly specific exercise selection
  • Recommendations of a caloric surplus with enough protein & carbohydrate intake to support hard training and muscle growth.
These are parameters that will help anyone increase their bench press substantially if applied as recommended. You might notice that both the average training intensity & weekly total volume is quite high: that’s because the bench press, when compared to the squat & the deadlift, has a lower total fatigue-inducing effect on the body. For that reason, you can bench relatively frequently with higher average intensities and still recover in time for sustained progress in the lift.

How to Incorporate Higher Frequency & Intensity Programming

If you’re already training with a set program, incorporating four bench exercises might need some juggling. If you’re not already including heavy benching several times a week in your routine, I would build up to this frequency & intensity progressively. Start out with just twice a week of heavy benches. For instance:
  • Day one: Touch & Go Bench 6X4 (six sets of four reps)
  • Day two: 2-Count Paused Bench 5X5 (five sets of five)
After two weeks, try adding in an extra bench session.
  • Day one: Touch & Go Bench 6X4 (six sets of four reps)
    • Close-grip Bench 5X5 (four sets of six reps)
  • Day two: 2-Count Paused Bench 3X7 (three sets of three)
And after two weeks of this, try adding in a fourth bench session.
  • Day one: Touch & Go Bench 6X4 (six sets of four reps)
    • Close-grip Bench 6X4 (six sets of four reps)
  • Day two: 2-Count Paused Bench 5X5 (five sets of five)
    • Feet-up Bench 3X7 (four sets of six reps)
Try that out and see how well your body responds to higher-frequency benching. Try to leave 1 or 2 reps in the tank on each set. Going to failure at this level of volume and intensity will cause the fatigue to accumulate much faster. If you find yourself getting sore too often (especially after a few weeks have gone by), I would go back to three benching sessions a week. Or replacing one of the benching sessions with some kind of barbell overhead pressing movement.

Eat More to Bench More: Diet Plan for A Four-Plate Bench

With all the proper strength programming and hypertrophy work covered, what’s ultimately going to predict whether you will bench more is if you actually build additional muscle tissue. By just adding more benching into your routine, you might see some improvements as a result of technique practice or increases in locomotive efficiency: but these won’t be drastic improvements. At best you might add some 10-20 lbs to your bench. If you want to see real results with this kind of programming, you need to be steadily gaining weight. And that is: useful bodyweight (read: muscle). To do so, I’d recommend setting up your macros like this:
  • 200g of protein
  • 70g of fat
Then figure out how many calories you currently maintain at & add about 300 daily calories to that. Then fill the rest with carbs. For most of you that will be between 2,500 - 2,700 daily total calories. If that’s so your carbohydrate intake might be: Between: 267.5g of carbs - 317.5g of carbs. Split your meals into 400-600 calorie servings and eat in 3-5 hour intervals (there should be at least 3 hours between meals) to maximize muscle protein synthesis. Following the template found in this article, and eating food according to these parameters, I feel generally comfortable making a prediction that your bench should go up about 60 lbs within 12 weeks of training in this fashion. Don’t miss a bunch of sessions and ask why it’s not working. Don’t go lighter than prescribed and ask why it’s not working. Don’t skip meals or go on a cut and ask why it’s not working. For this program to work, you need to week by week, perform all prescribed reps, at the appropriate intensity, and eat in a fashion that maximizes your ability to add additional muscular tissue.

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