Focus on Sustainable Training Programs?

Whenever I listen to people critique a really hard training program, the issue that very often comes up is that “this type of training is not sustainable”. I’ve heard this with regards to Smolov, John Broz, poliquin, the training program that the bulgarian weightlifters used etc…

I also recieved the same criticism for the program I followed when taking my bench from 135 kg to 150 kg, which was based on the idea of concentrated loading (do a massive amount of volume to the point of over-reaching, then lower the volume and reap the benefits of being able to train at higher intensities)

Basically, the argument is that one shouldn’t do the program, because it can’t be done in the long term or year round, and that it would be better to focus on training optimally and recovering for each session.

If we are to trust the fitness/fatigue curve, it doesn’t really make sense to recover fully for EVERY single session. Fitness can still increase while we’re accumulating fatigue. Of course you shouldn’t go to the point of chronic fatigue. If you can get more sessions in for the squat, bench and deadlift, however, that could more than double your yearly workload.

My point is: Even if you can’t sustain a certain workload throughout the entire year, it doesn’t mean that a program with that workload can’t work for you.

I realize that I am still not really experienced as I’ve only done one bench meet so far, so I would like the opinions of some more seasoned powerlifters who have done numerous meets. As long as the program isn’t completely stupid, and as long as it’s geared towards the lifts you’re trying to increase, is it OK to over-reach from time to time?

I agree that such loading can work well, as long as it is cycled properly. High frequency training has worked very well for me so far. Planning is key.

that was the whole basis of training pre - westside.

you had an offseason, maybe squats four sets of 8, twice a week, with as heavy as you could go, (Paul Jordan) or deads 4 sets of 8 John Black, the off season work, all over training to a degree, then a followed by a twelve (usally) week peaking cycle, going from 8s or 5s down to singles or triples,

offseason guys like Hatfield never did proper power squats, did OL high bar stuff, and he squatted 1,008 narrow stance single oly weighing around 260.

there were many variations, but they were basically very heavy bodybuilding programs until meet time rolled around.

and you had guys looking like Wilson (100 pd dumbell curls) Estep, Cash etc

before Sheiko and Westside guys lifted some very big weights…both on and off the stuff

I believe the body can adapt to a lot more than we all think. The only limiting factor that I can see is injury when it comes to training, with recovery being next. I’ve been practicing the high frequency approach and have found a lot more success with it than other forms of training. I didn’t jump straight into high frequency, it was slowly built up over time as my body adapts to it. Today, I am squatting 4 days on and 1 day off, and I alternate between benching and military pressing every other day. My squat days consist of either working up to a daily perceived max and back off sets of 1-3 reps around 85% range or just going into the gym and doing a lot of sets of 1-3’s of 80-85% range (same goes for bench and military press except every session is a max session with back off sets).

To give a perspective of my results, I hit 405lb squat (parallel) at around 200lb bw a few months ago before I began cutting. About 2 months ago, I decided to ditch the parallel squat and opt for full ATG squat. At that time, I got a max of 365lb at around mid 180’s. Today, I was able to hit 395lb ATG squat weighing in at 174lb and it is my third squat session in a row. I plan on getting 405lb next week.

The biggest regret I have when I started out was being afraid of the overtraining boogeyman. A lot of people jump into the conclusion that they can’t do this or that without even trying. It is my conclusion over the years that people have become weak-minded. No one wants to work hard to achieve what they want. In a game of powerlifting, how will you ever catch up to someone who’s already ahead of you if you’re doing the same thing as everyone else? (ignoring PED’s/genetics, etc) You train smarter, but you also have to train harder.

The problem with this high frequency stuff is people think you need to be under some kind of magic pills to reap its benefits. I don’t know where that chain of thought stemmed from but it’s definitely wrong. Granted, there’s probably a limit that most of us can do before it truly becomes too much but how do you know what that limit is without even trying?

Will this be sustainable in the long run? I don’t know but I will keep doing this until my progress stalls. The fact that I am gaining strength despite losing fat makes me excited for what is possible if I eat a surplus diet while doing this form of training.

*credit to John Broz for introducing this, by the way

“Not sustainable” means “most people can’t run it back-to-back all year round and make big gains”

Most people can’t run Smolov for squat and bench simultaneously over and over as their sole lifting regimen and continue to make great gains. Most people would see better results by running the high volume routine periodically, and would need to limit the number of times in a year that they do a multi-week super-high volume routine.

Of course, “high volume” is relative to the athlete; see the recent online article by Kyle Keough “Turn up the Volume” for a good discussion on this.

I, too, loved doing the Broz-style squatting 6x/week (or 7 if I had the time) and I was making great gains on it while I was doing it for an entire semester, especially at the end where I put 35 pounds onto my ATG in just 3 weeks (my squat is still low, btw). I felt like I could keep increasing the weight for months to come and easily put on another 90 pounds in 3-4 months, but that’s only will constantly increasing the volume, probably working up to about 2 hours of squatting a day to keep seeing progress. I believe that it could theoretically be sustainable physically, but only for people who absolutely dedicate their lives to the sport. But I needed to stop. I never once felt over-trained. Rather, I couldn’t keep up with the time commitments that the training required. Could you say I lack dedication? Yup. I don’t feel like squatting for 90 minutes a day and then still needing to bench likewise 3x/week, deadlift regularly, and keep up with keeping the shoulder girdle balanced. Throw all this onto commute time to and from the gym and the time needed to eat and sleep adequately and you’ve taken up a huge chunk of your day. This is great if you do this for a living, but I’m a full-time student on top of this.

Basically, for me this type of training was not sustainable because it consumed too much time and I can still get GOOD results by spending a lot less time.

[quote]shffl wrote:
how will you ever catch up to someone who’s already ahead of you if you’re doing the same thing as everyone else?

Agreed. For me, doing the extreme volume stuff was largely about catching up to the other powerlifters my age at the gym. I realized that in order to get where they are, I would have to do the same amount of work that they have done, but I didn’t have time to wait around for full recovery or I’d never do it since they began powerlifting from age 15 or so, whereas I started lifting at 16 doing mostly bodybuilding stuff, and I wasn’t training for powerlifting untill I was 19, when my bench was still 225. it then took me more than a year to go to 250. After I’ve done the high volume stuff, it went from 250 to 275 in a matter of weeks (it probably has more to do with technique improvement and neural efficiency than actual “gains”, but still I was very pleased). I then did a period of more intense work, much closer to my max and I was benching in the 300s way sooner than I realized I would.

You have a point about time commitment. I struggle with the idea too because my time freed up recently but when I start full-time work (currently a grad student), I won’t have the amount of time as I do now. I believe it is possible if everything was structured perfectly. Some sessions may last too long (such as days of heavy squats and bench) and I think I would just split those into two different gym sessions on the same day. That’s pretty much what I did today. I hit a new PR of 395 on squat this morning, and on the evening I went back to the gym and scored my 310 bench PR.

I don’t think it should take up to two hours a day if you play around a little with the intensity and frequency. My daily volume is pretty low but overall volume for the week is moderate to high. On a short time basis, I’d probably ramp up to max of the day, then back off sets with 1-3 reps but pick a weight where resting time is 1-1.5min. I like to keep my volume for a total of 10-15 reps for back off sets per day. So 10-15 reps, 5-6x a week is around 50-75 to 60-90 reps total. It shouldn’t take too long. If anything, it’s my mobility work before and stretching at the end of the workout that consumed a lot of time.

By the way, for the shoulder girdle balance problem, I pretty much struggled with shoulder pain throughout my early lifting history. I bench once a week and I’d get shoulder discomfort. Now I’m benching heavy 2-3x a week and my shoulder never felt better. What I did was include a lot of rows and chin-ups. My benching days will end with heavy rows, and my military press days will end with heavy chins. At the end of each upper body session, I would perform high rep supersets of tricep pushdowns and face pulls. Never had a shoulder problem since the inclusion of above into my training.

Hmm, interesting that your volume is as low as it is. How do you set up your week?

And with the shoulder girdle bit, I was just saying that it takes up even more time to do all the rows, chins, and facepulls. I, too, have found that my shoulder feels a lot better with more frequent benching! Although it kills my elbows…

My volume is low because of my current diet. I still plan on shedding some unwanted fat. If I was to consume a higher caloric diet, my volume will be a lot higher.

My typical week is somewhere along the line of:

Day 1: Squat ramp to max + sets of 1-3 reps
Day 2: Squat 1-3 reps sets only + Heavy bench + Rows
Day 3: Squat ramp to max + sets of 1-3 reps
Day 4: Squat 1-3 reps sets only + Heavy press + Chins
Day 5: Rest
Day 6: Squat ramp to max + 1-3 + Heavy bench + rows
and it goes on…

I like that weekly set up, but why no pulling?

There is deadlift but it is so infrequent that I did not list it. I do deadlift once about 2-3 weeks. The reason is simply because I recover terribly slow from deadlift especially if on a decifit diet. I feel like ATG squat has a pretty good carryover for deadlifts but I can’t confirm it yet until the next time I max. If I have the choice, I would perform deadlift twice a week but at a rather low volume (ie. 2 days of 5x1 @ 90-95% 1RM)