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915 - Strength Decreasing


#1

Currently on week 8 on the 915 program, feel like nutritioning is good and I get a decent amount of sleep. Still, when warming up to hit the doubles on deadlifts (195kg) I couldnt even get 190 off the floor. Its very disappointing since i pulled 195 kgs some weeks prior to starting 915, on a program with higher frequency. Also have pulled 195 on earlier occasions, and 160 kgx10. My training 1RM as 185 and I planned to hit 200

For assistance exercises I used paused front squats in phase 1, and pull-ups and ab work, but phase 2 and 3 I’ve been doing sumo pulls to help getting the weight off the floor. For the main lift I do squat stance deadlifts.

I’m 22 years old and have a physical demanding job, but shouldn’t be a factor since I’ve had that for years. Highly appreciate if you have any feedback.


#2

Not every program is best for every one. I had a similar experience as you with this program, but CTs “Bulgarian training simplified “ program absolutely blew me away with the gains in strength.

Some people need frequency, some need intensity, some need volume.

Give a different approach a try and see how it goes.


#3

Yes indeed at least you’ll have more insight on what works for you. Personally 915 worked great for my lower body, but like you I couldn’t meet the required percentages at the end for bench. My upper body needs more volume.

But your assistances seems strange. I don’t see pull-ups or abs as assistance in the program for the deadlift…


#4

All the previous insights are good, but one thing I want to mention.

Most people fail percent-based programs by using starting weights (the weight they use to base their percentages on) that are too high. I did a podcast with Mike Mahler yesterday and that’s something we discussed, specifically when talking about the Smolov plan, Paul Carter also talked about it in an article 2 days ago (https://www.t-nation.com/training/4-mistakes-men-still-make-in-the-gym) …He wrote:

“If you’re setting up training cycles using some sort of periodization, you never take your true one rep max and factor that in. You use a number for your training cycles based off something you can do even on a bad day (…) The reason to do this is because you’re going to have bad days, and it’s important to stack up weeks of productive training that don’t cause deep inroads into your recovery. If you factor in your TRUE one rep max, and you’re looking at a training cycle of eight to twelve weeks, then there’s going to be a point where you start missing the reps you’re supposed to hit. Then the upcoming weeks aren’t going to be doable and you’ll have to reassess your training cycle completely. Does this seem productive?”

This describes it perfectly. That’s also why Wendler recommends using 90% of his training max as the “base” when calculating weights for 531.

Mike did the same thing when he tried Smolov, he used 90% of his max and improve his squat significantly without ever missing (or even grinding) a rep.

People use a “max weight” that is too high. They use either a “theoretical” max, a max they hit once in their life on a day where everything went right (but they never hit it again), a weight they hit but with bad form or the weight that, according to the spreadsheet, will lead them to the max they want to hit at the end of the cycle.

This is the best way to fail.

Because you will have bad days. And doing a weight that exceeds your capacity that day will lead to recovery inroads that will prevent you from recovering and surcompensating 100% before the next workout… leading to another bad performance and further recovery inroads and it’s a downslope from there.

That’s why the “max” you use when setting up the program should always be the heaviest weight you could still hit on a bad day, with perfect form.


#5

Yes, I’ve learned this the hard way during my early training. That’s one of the most important things you said.


#6

Thanks for the replies! I got the training max from the week before, felt kind of like a bad day so I went with that. To be fair its closer to 95% of my peak 1RM so I guess it could be lower indeed. Last week of 100% for 3 set of 2 was very heavy, and I missed on the block pulls.

I do power cleans on the “light” day and suspect that it doesn’t do heck of a lot for my squat stance deadlift, but power clean gains are never a bad thing.

Oveall I like that the program requires analyzing your lifts, and have you figure out your weak points. Though I might not have picked the best assistances this time. Will report back next week when actually completing the program.


#7

BTW, when you do reps on the deadlift, do you do touch and go or reset on every rep?


#8

I do reset for every rep. I like rolling the bar towards me on heavy sets to “pre load” my lats and develop some tension, realizing it might make a more unprecise starting position. So will experiment with that in the future.


#9

Nah, that’s actually fine. The problem would have been doing touch and go since it tends to undertrain the starting position and thus not carryover as well to very low reps


#10

I’ve done 915 about three times the whole way through. If you are more advanced or high level intermediate you may find that it is hard to peak all three lifts at once. IMO if you do the program and you improve even one lift and maintain or decrease by about 2.5% in the others, you’ll likely hit overall higher PR’s on each throughout the year.

Furthermore another piece of information. I respectfully disagree with CT regarding using a “Training Max”, and I always use my true max with programming however with one caveat, which does require knowing your body well. I will modify the daily planned percentages by +5% or - 5% depending on how you feel and how form is being maintained. Also the maxes should obviously be somewhat current and not lifetime maxes that were completed a year ago when you were peaked at the end of the strength cycle whereas now you are coming off 6 months of bodybuilding. Food for thought but I really like this approach because I feel I can avoid both under or over training with this band to play in.


#11

Sounds like a solid system @Jamesliftsheavy, I dont think its too far off from CT’s philosophy either if you test your 1RM coming 6 months of bodybuilding-training. What kind of improvements did you see throughout these cycles?

I think the program gives high expectation of the results, Which also sets up for a big disappointment if the results aren’t there when you have been putting in the effort. At that point I think its important to consider what youre doing to avoid going on for years without any substantial progress.

Was however pleasantly surprised last squat workout.Even though I haven’t been doing much front squats lately I was able to hit 105kg x3 for the assistance exercise, which is as good as when I trained it as a main lift. So base strength seems to be doing ok.


#12

Actually he mentioned other people who recommended 90%. In other threads he has mentioned that you can use rep quality-crisp reps, or RPE and that you may be 5-10% under printed program targets.

I use a recent rep based max estimate, but tend to program training loads that are 5-10% under what most programs recommend, so for me, 75% 5’s, 80% 3’s or 85% 2’s are “standard” heavy enough to produce strength gains. 80% 5s, 85% 3s and 90% 2’s are “heavy” and 70% 5’s, 75% 3’s and 80% 2’s are “light” or used for a quick neurological break. (I also adjust downward for lower body movements adjusting for body weight, but it usually ends up lowering percentages by about 5%). If I go in my heavy range all the time it is counterproductive. It is no more effective than “standard” and it is harder to recover from.

On a real rep max test, I assume I can get 85% for 5, 90% for 3 and 95% for 2 (adjusted for bodyweight on lower body exercises). While I can ‘survive’ that for quite a while, it is totally unnecessary.

Personally, I can’t use RPE and can’t always use rep quality because as I ramp, I can have the RPE DROP as weight increases in ranges close to my ideal training weight. Often if I repeat a weight twice, the second set feels easier and crisper. Sometimes I will hit a weight 10% under my goal training weight and it will feel heavier than expected, maybe a 8.5 RPE, then add 5% and its back down to an 8 for another jump or two, so I can’t self regulate, but since I do fine with strength gains using weights that are within 5-10% of my capacity, I don’t have to worry. Also, I don’t vary much from day to day. I can pretty much hit the same rep max in the same lift every day 7 days a week. I won’t get stronger but I can do it, so I have to use slightly reduced percentages to get the best progress.

I read Verkhovsky original works and he stressed that ALL training percentages such as the Prilepin chart were based on 90% of a competition weight and that lifters took weeks to recover after competition. Also the Russian research showed that even if an athlete can use moderate to heavy weights every day, even multiple times per day, the nervous system required lighter training days or it got stuck in sub-optimal firing patterns/rates and never improved.

Also, I have a theory about Westside max effort training, as well as using lift variations like the Russians did. I believe that using a max effort exercise that is different from your main lift is NOT a way to allow you to train super heavy, but rather it is a way to prevent you from training too heavy. When you pick up an exercise variation for the bench press for example, like a floor press with chains, you simply will not be neurologically efficient enough to over-stress yourself for 1-2 weeks. You may hit a max, but in reality it is only going to be around 90% of a max because you have not mastered the move. In comparison, a powerlifter will be so efficient in the regular bench press or squat or DL that a 100% lift will be extremely neurologically stressful. (actually I think that Westside in effect uses max effort for different purposes. Some exercises are full ROM replicating the main lift but with a different strength curve. These prevent over-stress due to novelty of strength curve. The second is max effort moves that target a reduced ROM or portion of a movement pattern like rack lockouts. These reduce overall stress by reducing ROM but do raise intensity in that ROM. In other words, they really use Max Effort days for two different purposes and will sometimes refer to ME exercises as “testers” and “builders”.


#13

I agree with many of your points Mert especially the usefulness of prilepins table regarding strength/performance training. I must say though that most Russian programming does utilize the true 1rm done in a competition setting, however the training programs reflect a training percentage of intensity that is skewed lower i.e. sets of 2 or 3 with 80% of 1rm, sets of 1 or 2 with 85% of 1rm, etc., which then does arrive at a similar overall band in which quality training is performed ala 90% 1rm or a “training max”.

Although this difference is small and nuanced I must reiterate that I prefer to use the true current max vs a training max since I have had better results with this method. I would approximate the absolute difference between our methods at about 3% on a given day if doing the program as written however going back to my recommend band of ±5% this difference could be as little as -2% or +8% on a given day.

The problem with the training max in my opinion is under training. I would much rather adjust the program up or down in that 5% band depending on how I’m feeling than always being assured I can do the program on a given day as written.

A larger problem with the training max in my opinion is depending on the length of the cycle before the retest this training max could rapidly become outdated, meaning every single set although technically proficient could nevertheless be at an absolute intensity below 80% of the 1rm, where strength gains are to be had. As one gains strength throughout the cycle this problem becomes exceedingly exacerbated. This problem is definitely addressed with my approach utilizing the true max but with the ability to auto regulate in a band of training intensity.

You should try this method and see how you feel. Regarding over training with programming a true max firstly make sure that you don’t do too much work at or above 90% 1RM. Secondly practically speaking if one was constantly adjusting the programmed percentages down 5% on a given day that would imply a state of overreaching or strength decrease and perhaps one should consider adjusting their percentages downward 5% permanently or perhaps taking a deload, and this abates the need to retest maxes too frequently.


#14

Two points. I agree Prilepin is based on true max, but Verkhovski described in-depth the Russian method, and made it clear that when HE described a certain percentage it was based on 90% of competition max. The majority of main lifts were done for sets of 2-4 (mostly 2s) at 90% of 90% (or a little over 80%), and the majority of assistance exercises including squats were done for 4-8 reps at 80% of 90% (or a little over 70% of a true max).

Second, as for max rising during a program block or from day to day, again, with me, it doesn’t matter. I tend to do better letting my training weight increases lag behind my max ability but increasing frequency.

I was reading some old Ed Coan programs yesterday and realized something interesting. He is usually described as using linear periodization and he DID add weight linearly over a program of 12-16 weeks, but his overall relative intensity was actually wave periodization. He would hit higher relative loads on his second week of 8s than any other week in his programming. Then he would switch to 5s, but with only about a 2% load increase, so in reality, he had an intensity wave with 8s, then another intensity wave with 5s, and again with 3s (his first week of 3s was relatively less intense than his last week of 5s. Over 12-16 weeks, his weight rose, but his relative intensity stayed in the same range or even dropped a little over the entirety of the program-yet he got stronger in every cycle.

I wonder if maybe it is more important for type 1B trainees to hit a daily self regulated max, but again, let me stress that I do not believe that Westside max effort day is a true 100% relative intensity day because the novelty of the exercises prevents 100% neural efficiency on the movement. I think it is a way to guarantee that you won’t hit 100% capacity-as to your point about staying under 90% most of the time.


#15

Mert,

Your first paragraph essentially perfectly aligns with what I had stated, sets of 2-3 with 80% of a true max, sets of 1-2 with 85-90% true max ==sets of 2-4 with 90% of 90% a true 1rm. I think that this is a good thing that were seeing eye to eye here and thus I think it would be somewhat semantics to argue Russian programming principles past this point.

The second thing I want to address though is your point regarding being OK with your max being incorrect (under estimated) but instead focusing on frequency. This point needs to be nuanced to contextually make sense. For example if your goal is to get stronger then not all intensities will be able to further strength gains beyond the newbie stage and conversely if you are elite level strong then perhaps lower percentages with higher frequencies also makes sense but it is individual at this point. Generally speaking for intermediate and advanced level trainees there needs to be a lot of training performed at or above 80% of 1rm for the given exercise, which then would take into account the novelty of switching exercises, which although might utilize lighter movements or those with lesser ROM would still activate the nervous system sufficiently. That being said the trend for most successful raw powerlifters is to do a lot of specific work (i.e. squat, bench, dead) with 80% intensities supplemented with other accessory movements and variation the further out one is from competition.

Playing the devils advocate here there are also many successful Bulgarian athletes and western trainers such as Broz who frequently exceed 90% intensities and despite breaking “Russian Rules”, they perform comparatively well in competition. But the common ground is once again exceeding 80% intensity.

Since this post references CT’s 915 program upon reviewing the program you will see a similar structure, whereby the intensities frequently exceed 80% of 1rm, albeit a training max, however it tends to use much higher absolute intensities than most programming as you progress through the weeks culminating in a 115% effort for the Squat, Bench, and Deadlift, which is obviously very aggressive and unattainable if you’ve recently peaked in a strength program and are beyond the beginner stage. Note that if taking a 90% max for the programming this is more like a 3-5% strength increase in 9 weeks which is far more realistic.

All in all 915 is a great program but I would say that it is a peaking program and is not intended to be ran into itself over and over. I think that it is very great from transitioning from a hypertrophy emphasis to a strength emphasis (using a “hypertrophy” blocks tested 1rm) or sparingly, perhaps one or two times a year outside of beginners/ low level intermediates who could probably run it several times a year without problem.


#16

Absolutely correct. It is a very stressful program. All the clients I used it with had great gains the first time. But if they did it a second time they didn’t respond well and were constantly tired.


#17

Results after completing last week, hope it is of interest to you:

Box squats: felt more confident with the box squats over regular ones so chose them as main lift. For assistance I just ran regular high bar squats most of the time to get better at those. Before 915 I did 130kg without actually squatting heavy regularly, now up to 150kg without even trying too hard. Also front squats were strong as mentioned earlier. Was able to go really heavy on the half squats, felt like it was a useful exercise to be able to recruit more muscle and increase confidence under the bar. Its a 15% increase, pleased with that.

Bench press: Hit 100kg before the program (gotta love calculating percentages here), also not actually training bench presses before this due to lack of facilities. Did a whole lot of overhead work as assistance, mostly for fun really. Ended up doing 110kg which I think is okay. (10% increase)

Deadlifts: 185kg week before 915. Testing my new 1RM I jumped from 180 straight to 190 and missed that. Basically the same as before here. Only thing I know I did wrong was using way too low height to pull from on the overload (mid-shin), wasn’t really able to go heavier than on the main lift, due to being exhausted by that time. In general using heavier weights than necessary seems to not do any good here. I match pretty well up with the neuro type 3 description, which seems to support this assumption.

Attempting to pull 190 it felt like a lot was pending on my hamstrings to get the weight up (stops about an inch above the ground). So will add RDLs in the future. Other than that I dont have any spesific plan on how to reach a 200 kg deadlift. Any thoughts on this will be appreciated!

To change things up for a while I’ll try German volume training for some weeks, until I find out what to do next.


#18

I once used this progression to get my deadlift to 200 kg:

It seems suspiciously simple, but it worked very well for me. I basically ran Wendler’s 531, but just switched this progression for deadlifts.

My squat went from 155 to 170 and deadlift from 180 to 200 at 85 kg BW. I also had a minor hip injury at the end of the program, which forced me take a few additional light weeks before maxing out. But even with that setback I managed to increase both lifts by about 10 % without any considerable gain of bodyweight.