For long term success, smart athletes stack blocks of training one after another, focusing on recovery and executing good reps. Instead of focusing on a weakness for a short time to shore it up, many people I know use an unplanned, flavor of the day method. This methodology completely fails to prioritize any specific strength/skill work and can be compared to a vehicle just spinning its wheels with little traction.
Why Should You Listen to Me?
1. I was weak and I needed to be stronger if I was going to be competitive with my peers physically.
2. I was skinny and emaciated and I wanted to look like I thought a “Ranger” should look.
By the end of that first year, I back squatted 405, deadlifted 455, bench pressed 265 and strict pressed 170. Not mind-blowing. Anyone willing to put in the work could do the same. Guess what? I achieved these results without injury and while working 10–12 hours days attending various Army schools and training events. The way I was able to keep plodding along in making consistent progress in my strength training was a combination of patience, periodization, and prioritization.
Patience aka Developing Your Body not Your Ego
Be patient! I cannot stress enough the importance of patience in developing strength! If you want to have any long term success in strength training, you need to be patient in how quickly you progress the load you’re putting on your body. This probably sounds like an obvious statement but when you’re only squatting 185 for 5×5 and your friends are repping 315 it can be severely tempting to allow your ego to get the best of you. I would encourage anyone who wants to become significantly stronger than the average population to check their ego at the door when they enter the gym. The gym is for developing your body not your ego!
But What About Gains Brah
The major issue with ego lifting is that it forces most people to go too heavy too quickly. Strength development begins at a load of 60% of your 1RM so even though 60% of 270 is only a measly 160, if your programming calls for 5×5 at 60% stick to that shit! Speaking from experience, the people that train patiently are more consistent and their slow strength progression builds over time until eventually they are stronger than the people they used to feel inferior to in the next rack.
Crack open any textbook that covers physical development or training methodology; one of the introductory chapters will be dedicated to one subject: periodization. It’s extremely well known in the fitness industry from strength to endurance sports, but such a tried and true, non-sexy concept it gets very little love from clickbait-ey writers. Despite the lack of provocative headlines, periodization HAS to be a part of your plan for long term success. Periodization works because the human body responds to physical load by supercompensating. The body actually prepares for a greater workload than what it just moved. This pattern continues for weeks, after which the body needs a deload week to recover from the long term fatigue. What proper periodization generally looks like is some form of Base, Build, Peak. In strength sports you might call it a Volume, Strength, Power sequence. If you are preparing for a competition, that provides a good date to plan around for the end of your training period. However, if you don’t have a planned competition to prepare for the ideal length of a full training cycle is around 16–18 weeks. I have laid out my current training plan below as an example.
NOTE: This training plan is specifically tailored to MY training goals. The timeline and rep scheme can likely be replicated with some success but the exercises are specifically tailored to my needs as an athlete.
Volume Exercises: Front Squats (Beltless, Paused if Possible),Strict Press (No Wrist Wraps), Deadlift (Beltless, Speed Pull), Push Press (Beltless, No Wrist Wraps)
WK 1: 4×10 @ 55%
WK 2: 4×10 @ 60%
WK 3: 4×8 @ 65%
WK 4: 4×7 @ 70%
WK 5: 5×5 @ 75%
WK 6: DELOAD 5×5 @ 50%
Strength Exercises: Front Squats (w/ Belt),Strict Press (wrapa), Deadlift (w/ Belt), Push Press (Beltless, w/ wraps)
WK 1: 5×5 @ 80%
WK 2: 4×4 @ 85%
WK 3: 4×3 @ 90%
WK 4: 4×2 @ 95%
WK 5: DELOAD 5×5 @ 50%
Peaking Exercises: Front Squat, Strict Press, Deadlift, Push Press, Back Squat (Max Only), Bench Press (Max Only)
WK 1: 5×2 @ 90%
WK 2: 4×2 @ 100%
WK 3: 4×1 @ 105%
WK 4: 3×1 @ 105, 106, 107%
WK 5: DELOAD 5×5 @ 50%
WK 6: Max!!!
In the U.S. Army we often say: if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. This means limited resources must be reconciled with massive demand. In training, we have unlimited performance demands. Everyone wants to be able to squat 800 and run a 4 minute mile. Unlike Captain America or Wolverine, the normal human body has very limited resources to repair damage caused by training. Your body can’t quickly repair itself from too much different micro traumas. This increased recovery time decreases performance in successive training sessions and the trauma resulting from training will be lessened. Since the body has less training trauma to recover from, physical adaptations occur at a glacial pace. In English that means, you trained so hard that you were too sore at the next session to train hard enough to continue to improve. Not a good formula for long term success!
Focus instead on building up one area at a time. By limiting the amount of trauma and training stimuli you expose your body to you can achieve rapid improvements in concentrated areas. I utilize this principle to inform my compound movement selection when I plan out a training cycle. I select my compound movements after basic video analysis of my max effort lifts (because the goal is getting better at those lifts). Seeing a video of the lift makes it clear where the weakness in the movement lies. For example, when back squatting I shoot my hips up out of the hole which indicates I have weak quads (preach). To fix, I have incorporated front squats as one of my primary compound lifts this cycle.
If this seems concept seems basic and simple, it’s because it is! However, I see many of my friends and acquaintances failing to attack their weaknesses in this manner. However, if you can apply these principles to your training and follow some sort of a focus planned for a 16–18 week block you will see substantial improvement. Each year. Long term success in athletic performance has to be thought of in years if you want to achieve anything that truly puts you a few standard deviations above the average person. Good luck, trust the process.