Much of the training and articles I have seen lately are about incorporating volume into training. For many, this seems to be a new idea or phenomenon. As a beginning lifter in this sport, about 5 years ago I read an article that had a simple concept in it, “If you want to be successful, do what the successful guy did”. Pretty simple and self-explanatory right? Monkey see monkey do (monkey poop all over you). If your goal and ambitions are to become a lawyer, you are not going to ask a construction worker the aspects of becoming a lawyer. You ask a lawyer about their process, where to start, and how they got started. With the online presence and technology today, it is very, very easy to find a quick answer to a problem. But, is it the answer for you? What I really want you to get out of this article, and take away from what I am writing is, please educate yourself, not just on training systems and periodization, but how the human body works. Learn how to critically think through problems in your own training, or others you may be helping or coaching.
Become a Critical Thinker
With such a huge online and tech based world, I think the biggest thing we are lacking is critical thinking, and it is preventing many lifters from becoming instinctive lifters. If you look at all the great lifters today, Dan Green, Jay Nera, Jeremy Hamilton, Sam Byrd, Eric Lilliebridge, Nate Davis, Jamie Lewis, and Laura Phelps- Sweatt (some of my favorite lifters and guys I have looked up to; there are tons more!). There is one huge underlying factor in their training; they know what works for them and how their bodies respond to training, and what tweaks they need to make in order to get stronger. This takes years of learning and experience, but it also takes a lot of knowledge on how to train. When reading some of these athlete articles and training logs, always take it with a grain of salt.
Understand the basic principle of their program, the guidelines, and understand why they feel it is best. Don’t just grab their exact training log workout and see if you can do it. At that point you’re no better than the guy who is bringing his flex magazine into the gym doing Ronnie Coleman’s back routine, and wonders why he is not getting bigger or stronger, why he is incredibly sore all the time, and then quits within a month. In most cases you are not ready to handle a program that “they” are doing. Just like track and field or any other sport, you’re not physically prepared enough to handle the workout that a professional, seasoned, experienced lifter and athlete is doing.
The other huge factor is genetics. Today, most people disregard genetics, the new message is: Hard work beats talent. I have been fortunate enough to be around some ridiculous athlete’s from track and field, basketball, and football, and have seen some incredible things. The sad truth is, some guys are just meant to be bigger, faster, and stronger than you. So, always take that into account before jumping into somebody else’s program and trying to do it exactly how they do it. In most cases it’s not going to work. If you wanted to learn how to play the guitar, I’m sure Jimmy Hendrix would go over notes and cords first, not start teaching you the riff of “Along the Watch Tower.” So, educate yourself first, know your body, and be honest with yourself in terms of where you are in the sport, where you are in your training, what your overall goal is in the sport, and make progress that way. All the great lifters before you, and before us, have all done the same.
Train with Volume
Volume is becoming a hot topic, for good reason. This is your conditioning as an athlete. For some reason, I think in powerlifting, there seems to be a big disconnect. We view powerlifting differently than all other sports, but it’s not. It’s the same as football, track and field, basketball, you name it. You have to be in shape in order to play! This is where volume comes into play for powerlifters. Louie Simmons recently said in an interview, “How tall is a pyramid? As tall as its base. You’re only going to be as tall as your base is.” That’s true in training; if your conditioning sucks, your strength and power are going to be exposed. Why? Volume is your ceiling for strength. Increasing your volume and work capacity is allowing you the potential to become stronger because it’s moving your strength ceiling higher. 5k runners are not going to have a very good marathon time, but if they want to start running marathons, what are they going to have to start doing? Run more miles and longer distances, not just go bang out a marathon. In turn, all of a sudden their 5k times become faster and less taxing on their bodies.
Finding how much volume will work for you is one of those, “Paying your dues” thing. You really have to see what your body can handle, and what it’s going to be able to recover from over time. Like I said, a lot can go into that; how long have you been training, what’s your experience with certain lifts and loads, and your genetics. Good coaches are able to increase or decrease that depending on how the athlete is progressing. And that’s where becoming an instinctive lifter comes into play, because when is “enough, enough?” Look at Dan Green and his program. Three days a week, I believe, he is performing a leg exercise of some type from squats to dead’s. Heavy block pulls, sumo and conventional. Deficit pulls after that for sets and reps, and then squatting other days of the week with deadlifting after each. Front squats and back squats, multiple sets of multiple reps. Think about how much volume that is, and how much work he is doing each and every workout/week. Dan has progressed and increased his work capacity so much over the past two years, that’s why his lifts keep going up and up and up and he hasn’t seemed to hit a stalling point. It’s tough to find a happy medium between volume and intensity that will work for you. It depends on where you are in training; getting ready for a meet, or a few months out. If you hit a stalling point, this is where being an instinctive lifter and critical thinking come into play. Why did I hit a plateau? What am I doing wrong in training? Is it form? Is it frequency? I think in most cases it’s adaptation of the body. Your body is getting so accustomed doing the same thing all the time, it eventually starts to get easier, therefore, not allowing consistent progress and strength gains. I believe incorporating a little lighter load and more volume work to increase your work capacity is what does the trick, and then all of a sudden you hit a few PR’s. But, you have to know WHY you hit those PR’s, what was the reason? That’s what makes great lifters and great instinctive lifters able to make constant progress in this sport. What works this year, may not work next year, it’s a constant evaluation process.
Changing lifts may help and give great results, but then they may start to taper. You then incorporate a different type of exercise for the same muscle group, and all of a sudden, PR. So, be open, critical think through stalling points and plateaus, understand training and what goes into it, do not just choose a side (linear/progressive/block systems VS conjugate). You will become a better lifter and make more progress in the long run.