One of the biggest issues I've noticed with many people in the strength and conditioning community is the prioritization of load (weight on the barbell), as opposed to technical improvements. Now, before anyone jumps in I must note that sub-maximal training is becoming more common and the idea of hitting TRUE weekly/daily maxes is starting to go to the wayside amongst more experienced lifters and coaches, but there are still many lifters out there who view getting stronger as simply adding more weight to the bar every training session with no specific undulation or periodization plan. If your goal is to simply go into the gym a few days per week, have fun and release some pent up frustration then this post isn't directed towards you- everyone has their own individual goals and nobody is on the same path in the iron game and that's totally fine, but if your goal is to get as strong as humanly possible, as well as improve your numbers on the Squat, Bench, Deadlift then this post is for you.
First off, I must note my own personal biases. I follow and preach a block periodization plan with weekly undulation (as opposed to a straight linear plan) and I strongly believe this is the most effect way to train for the vast majority of individuals in all facets of sport. I am by no means discrediting the effectiveness of a DUP (Daily Undulating Periodization) plan, traditional block periodization or the conjugate method- there are infinite ways to get stronger and by discrediting any of those methods I'd be lying to myself and to you about the proven effectiveness, as well as the efficacy of those programs.
THE VALUE OF SUB-MAXIMAL TRAINING
Sub-Maximal Training is the idea of training within the 65-85% range (% relative to 1RM) and prioritising technical proficiency over consistent maximal loading.
Training within that given range allows an athlete to focus on bar speed, repetition consistency and build confidence by almost never missing a prescribed rep in training. Not only does grinding maximal weights constantly in training increase your potential risk for injury, but it also creates inconsistencies in technique, as well as loading. If you're always adding weight to the bar without any regard for technique you will start to have subtle changes in your own lifting, as well as compromise your ability to recover between workouts. With sub-maximal training you are able to come into every session, hit the prescribed repetitions, execute the movements with a higher degree of technical proficiency, as well as leave training without feeling completely destroyed both mentally and physically.
The first step to applying a sub-maximal philosophy to your own program is to set long term goals, as opposed to short term- in particular, higher repetition sets (6-10), more emphasis on increasing daily/weekly/monthly training volume, lift variation (depending upon proximity to meet), as well as setting PRs in the higher rep ranges.
Training should be broken down into specific phases that compliment each other over the long term through the principle of "Phase Potentiation". For example:
If you are 20 weeks out from your next meet, your training cycle could be designed in the following manner:
Weeks 1-4 (Hypertrophy)
Weeks 5-8 (Hypertrophy)
Weeks 9-12 (General Strength)
Weeks 13-16 (General Strength)
Weeks 17-20 (Peak)
By dedicating the first 8 weeks of your training cycle to multiple set, higher repetition training you will be able to build a strong foundation in the long term, as well as potentiate future gains by increasing your overall potential for strength by increasing your base- "The bigger the base, the higher the peak".
Strength is driven by increases in both muscle hypertrophy, as well as neural adaptation- the more muscle you have relative to your body weight, the more potential for strength you will have in the long term as long as Rate of Force Development (RFD) is improved along with the increases in muscle mass. Which leads me to my next point...
A General Strength Block is dedicated to increasing RFD while also maintaining a high level of training volume to maintain the muscle hypertrophy built throughout the previous training blocks. Lift execution is still key during this phase of training, but the intensity will be increased through multiple sets of 3-6 reps. Setting PRs are huge here- putting 20+ pounds on an all-time 5-Rep-Max (5RM) will yield huge results when it comes time to begin peaking for competition.
Peaking is both an art, as well as a misunderstood concept amongst many lifters. Simply put, Peaking is the process of slowly tapering training volume over the course of a training block (or multiple training blocks, depending upon level of the lifter), increasing overall intensity and practising the specific movements that you will be performing in competition. A Peak will involve the highest level of specificity, as opposed to the other training blocks where lift variation is common.
A few general recommendations during a peak are that you take your heaviest lifts at specific times and that you taper in an appropriate manner while balancing the fatigue-fitness relationship.
Heaviest Deadlift 21-24 Days out from competition
Heaviest Squat 14-18 Days out from competition
Heaviest Bench 7-10 Days out from competition
The recommendations above will vary based on gender, training experience, age and proximity to career peak (for example: A smaller, weaker lifter will need to take their heaviest lifts closer to competition, as opposed to a bigger, stronger lifter who will need more time to dissipate the fatigue generated from the bigger lifts in order to peak in time and be at their best on meet day).
LIFT EXECUTION DURING EACH BLOCK
Regardless of training block, form deviation and missed reps should be kept at a minimum. Just because you're peaking for competition and performing singles doesn't mean you can all of a sudden start overshooting RPE's (Rate of Perceived Exertion) and throw technique completely out the window. Every repetition should be consistent and well executed with a priority on technical proficiency as opposed to load. If you execute a proper training cycle, set lots of repetition PRs, prioritise lift execution and save your biggest lifts for meet day then you will be very successful. Save your biggest, maximal attempts for the platform and you will not be disappointed.
PUTTING IT ALTOGETHER
Phase Potentiation, sub-maximal loading, and emphasis on lift execution, as well as repetition quality will allow you to constantly progress over the long term. Strength training is a marathon, not a sprint so setting yourself up for success in the long term is a huge benefit to the younger lifters- and even the older ones. Set goals, create a plan and execute it.
As always, if you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comment section below or on Facebook!