Written by Helena Humphries
So today I thought I'd write about my experience of programming my training. First of all, I would say that planning down and tracking your training is vital. Even if you come off your program, or can only do lower weights due to injury - keep track of this. This will help you to notice patterns of training which may be hindering your progress and help with experimentation of training.
The second and very important point I'd like to make is that training is exactly that - experimentation. Unfortunately, there have not been sufficient scientific studies to say that one way of training, for example, Jim Wendler's 5-3-1, or, what your powerlifting coach plans for you, is more effective over another. There is always individual variation in responses to training, for example, some people recover more quickly than others and one thing I have learned is the power of the mind in sports, which is also a factor affecting training. In 2016, I had the help of Sports psychologist and German IPF champion powerlifter Tamara Thomsen, who helped me significantly overcome competition anxiety, something which was implemented during training. Perhaps that requires a separate blog in itself!
It might seem like training for Powerlifting and achieving optimal results could be confusing and hard work. Yes, we must work hard, but no, it doesn't have to be too confusing! Hopefully, you can gain valuable insight into my training and experimentation, and also my thoughts on what it takes to be a strong powerlifter.
I was previously coached by former German head coach Francesco Virzi, who demonstrated the importance of volume training and how it impacted my end results. I have been training myself for the past year in order to gain experience planning my own program. Since training with Cesco, my plan has always been constructed of two macrocycles, volume (hypertrophy) and the strength block. My main macrocycles can be broken down into smaller 'mesocycles'. A mesocycle is comprised of several weeks of training, often followed by a deload phase. For example, I have previously done 3 weeks of volume training with increasing intensity over time, followed by a deload phase. This is a mesocycle. These combine together for my goal of building muscle via volume training and make my volume macrocycle.
I really like my training organized in such as way. Each mesocycle/block of 3 weeks, plus 1-week deload allows me to increase my intensity, and recover during the deload phase. Before Christmas, I actually experimented by increasing the deload weeks so I would have 2 weeks on, 1-week deload. I found that mentally when I came to lift after the deload, I was worried about the increase in weights. I wondered if I had built up enough intensity to do my lifts, however, my performance was better than expected. Therefore, I think my body responds better to have more deload phases/allowing for more recovery periods. Don't be afraid to change up your plan in such a way, or speak to your coach about this.
As the intensity increases and I go into my strength block, my training is less regimented. This is because I am not fitting into a routine of trying to build muscle, but I'm lifting heavier weights and therefore must be recovered sufficiently. My strength blocks typically contain less training, to allow for the overload on the body. During the strength block I'm beginning to see to effects of my volume training, and - usually - my once 115kg 3x5, turns into my 120kg 3x5 squat. I typically build through sets of 7, sets of 5, 3/2, and if I can, I increase the intensity until the 1 rep max is in sight! This is where I differ from my previous coach in that, if I can, I push for the higher intensity, and then throw in an extra deload week. I am more judging at the moment what I feel I can do. I see that this is a good way to improve, as I am pushing to reach my maximum potential. Only ourselves can truly feel what we are capable of.
I have found that this style of training has enabled me to increase my one-rep-maxes sufficiently, but this hasn't been smooth sailing. I have undoubtedly had injuries and, at times, not achieved my goals on the platform. I have also hit sticking points, for example, with my bench press, and therefore the training must change! At this point, I would add a few tips:- FEEL YOUR BODY. I don't mean touch yourself inappropriately in the gym! Over time you'll develop an acute sense of how stiff your body feels, do you have tightness in your neck etc. Listen to signs your body gives you. I have, in the past, ignored such signs and ended up injured. Also, if you have a coach, communication is key. Communicate all things body and training with them and they should adapt your training plan accordingly - they may also be able to recommend great physios! My final tip would be to stay committed and consistent with your training. It is okay to have periods of time away from training, and especially as Powerlifting is not an Olympic sport, we can hardly avoid this. You or your coach can modify your plan based on other commitments, but keep it up as best you can!
My current situation is that having tried this way of training for a few years I would now like to experience another way of training or build on my current style. I am also suffering from a back injury as a result of having a stiff back (more physio required!) and changing up my deadlift technique. I have decided that I would like a new coach because I would like to gain new experience and also, being able to communicate to someone who is also dedicated to helping you improve helps resolve matters. I find that there are times in training, and when I'm planning, that I'm unsure about recovery, and competition build up and having someone with years of competitive coaching is priceless at high-level competition.
I hope you found this interesting. I would love to hear your comments and about your own training/programming experiences. It would be great to turn this into a discussion on Club GWL of Facebook.