T Nation

Help with Program Design to Become Contest Ready

Ok, so I’m naturally strong, but I have been training for powerlifting for a limited time, mainly because I literally couldn’t afford a gym membership for 2 years ever since moving back to my home town, before that I had 3 months where I trained powerlifting while doing my Kettlebell and Pilates course. (I had no idea what Pilates was, but every second phone call I had from a potential client was asking for it. Then I read up on it and it seemed awesome, ‘full body, bodyweight exercises focusing on the core’ then I went to do the course and realised I signed up for a course that had really really good theory attached to some seriously meh exercises, I mean it’s basically a course in crunch variations and some other fancy shit.) I have a serious base of fitness from years of martial arts and surfing, but naturally my body actually favours strength.

I’ve managed to get a gym contract now, and I’ve been going regularly (3-5 days a week) for the past 6 weeks. In that time I went from being 204lb, in ottermode from focusing on my surfing the past 2 years basically, doing some kettlbells and tyre flips in my back yard for some cross training, to 222lb (10% bodyfat), having regained all my strength and then some. Loving it. But now it’s time to stop mucking about and get on a proper program. I have been reading strength training articles on T-Nation for the past few years, and a little look into where my weaknesses lie and how most programs are structured I realised I’d need something a bit more tailored to my specific goals than what Madcow would be able to offer me, and I also need it to be flexible between how many days I go to the gym. The least I go is 3 times a week, but sometimes I want to go 5 times a week, purely because I just plain LOVE training, and it’s a sanctuary from life’s problems for me.

In any case here is my numbers:
Deadlift (my speciality): 230kg (506lb)
Squat (a few issues here): 170kg (374lb)
Bench (HELP!): 100kg (220lb)

Also I can do 1 arm rows with 60kg (132lb) for 7 sets of 5 reps each arm, with limited twisting of upper body, but all my pushing exercises are WEAK. To get into the top 10 in raw nationals (South Africa) in my weight category (105kg and under), if I had to compare this year’s results to my current strength, I know I can do this. The person who got 6th (results are posted only till 6th place on their page) had a total of 600kg, Squatting 200kg, Benching 150kg, and Deadlifting 250kg. I’m 100kg off from here, and I basically just started training.

Now I need to do this and I need to do this fast because I don’t know when qualifiers are but I want to in the very least qualify, I’m not exactly sure what numbers I need to qualify because the website isn’t exactly clear on that. I know where my problems with the squat and the bench lie, and I can still benefit from newbie gains there. For bench it is basically everything about the lift. I can barely do dips without a nerve firing through my triceps on my left arm. I trained it out by doing some bench-dips and now I’m on to standard bodyweight dips, but I still can only do limited amounts of them. 3 sets of 5 kind of thing. I fixed up my stabilizers in my shoulders by doing dumbbell bench press as an assistance exercise to standard bench pressing. I also upped the volume quite a bit. I kept the intensity up by doing a combination of ramp up sets and drop sets, upping the weight strategically, hitting a close to maximal weight, at least 90% of my 1rm, often 95% and sometimes the full 100% (whenever I do the 100% lift and succeed with good form I try for a new PR), then I drop the weights and increase the volume, aiming for sets of 5 at 80% of my 1rm, till I can’t complete 5 reps anymore then I drop down to 60%-70% and do my reps as fast as possible. I don’t train below 60% much if at all. For my squats I have 1 major problem, and that is whenever I get past 85% of my 1rm it starts turning more and more into a goodmorning, and that isn’t exactly lower back friendly. I think too much sitting in front of the computer has kind of killed my glutes.

As for deadlifts, when I go beyond 90% of my 1rm my lower back rounds SLIGHTLY. I’m managing to train it out quite effectively by putting myself on a raised platform and doing my deadlifts from a deficit. Again I blame the sitting on the computer. So I want some specific glute work, I want some specific work on dips, and I feel the program must include most major ranges of motion. Madcow would be perfect if it weren’t for a few things. Firstly it has no dips, and I’m pretty much 100% sure that not including that range of motion while I’m already tight in that direction isn’t a good thing, secondly I don’t like that it keeps the 5 reps throughout it, I function better with a more piramid structure, as the weight goes up the reps go down, and after I’m done with my maximal lift drop sets work wonders. This has always allowed me to work at and over 90% of my 1rm while still doing a large volume of work. But at this point I’m kind of on information overload and I need focus. I know I can just pick a program and stick with it and I’ll get results but I want something that allows for my personal training style. Piramid sets combined with some specific assistance work to train out weaknesses, and while being flexible enough to account for varying amounts of training days a week. The 100% guaranteed days are Monday Wednesday Friday with Tuesday and Thursday being optional training days for me. Ok that was a crazy mind dump but in any case this is how far I’ve come now I need someone without ADHD to come help me here.

Welcome … That was entirely too long to offer constructive responses to every point you made haha. Pick a meet and figure out how much time you have to prepare for it. Until then just pick a program and follow it, they all work.

1 Like

Everything below is in the spirit of helping.

This is an attitude you need to change. Trying to do anything quickly in powerlifting rarely ends well. Kudos on the drive to succeed but you need to be realistic to have any real hope of longevity, which is often a key factor in determining success. Very few people are Greg Panora or Chuck Vogelpohl.

By this time I’m aware I’m coming across as an arsehole. I’m being honest because I want to help.

Those are OK (but not special) numbers for a guy at 165 lbs. For 220 lbs, they need a lot of work. So this:

May not be as accurate as you would wish. Again, not saying this to criticise, just to let you know where reality is.

Taking into account that you’ll be using a stiff bar, no wraps, walking your squats out and benching with a long press call you’d want to have something like 200/140/250 or a total close to 600 kg as a good starting point to work from, so pretty much what Mr Six got.

Adding 100 kg to your total is a significant undertaking. A year and a half or so at your stage is probably a realistic timeline depending on consistency, absence of injuries, etc.

Opinion only, but you need to decide whether you’re training to perform better or to feel better. Performance requires training and recovery, so it is possible five days a week would be less than optimal. If that was the case, would you train less to perform better? Or would enjoying yourself be more important? No right or wrong answer, just very important to figure out. I’ve seen a fair few people who fall far short of their potential because they simply don’t have the discipline to stay the hell out of the gym when they need to recover.

So why don’t you?

See my comments about how many days you train. By the sound and content of your post you’re inexperienced so whatever you might like to think you don’t have a personal training style.

This is what the vast majority of people who consistently progress have learned:

  • you’re not special
  • the basics work
  • spend most of your time building strength, not testing it
  • consistency trumps everything
1 Like

Ok sorry this post was made at 1am while I was a bit wired from some crazy stuff that happened an hour before. I should have specified what I meant by fast. A year and a half is fast for this in my book. People train for 10+ years to get to the top. I don’t have 10 years for this for various reasons. Also I tested strength mainly to get to a point where I know where to work from.

I have a few imbalances I want to correct: Lack of ability to properly forward-rotate the shoulders, like in dips. I believe this came from two factors, the sport/training methods I’ve used in the past, and the fact that I have broken both of my collarbones as a kid and I think this affected my shoulder-mobility.

Secondly my glute recruitment. Basically, my not-in-a-manic-state translation of the above tangent would be:

I want to do Madcow 5x5, but I notice two exercises that I feel I need are not in it: Dips and Lunges. How do I program in dips and lunges without messing up the program’s effectiveness?

Short answer, I don’t know because I don’t know Madcow 5x5 very well. General rule of thumb: if you’re going to do a program, do the program and don’t add or remove stuff.

That said, dips and lunges are excellent exercises so you could probably get away with adding them. I understand Madcow does incorporate weighted dips, so I don’t see why you couldn’t do bodyweight dips for higher reps instead. You could probably sub out some of the ab work for lunges too.

Madcow does not include lunges because you are squatting 3x per week. Any additional stimulus to your quads/legs will likely interfere with your recovery sooner rather than later.


Yea well that is kind of exactly why I don’t know what program to use, because Madcow doesn’t really suit me, or my goals.

Here is a rep and exercise scheme that I think will work better for me, I just need to know how much of my 1rm to work with for each:

Instead of 5x5 for each exercise, how about a rep scheme like this:

5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 for my main 3 lifts, and 3x5 for my assistance exercises.
I find that after hitting a decent single, my neurological system is primed for higher reps. I normally use 90% of my 1rm, 95% if I’m feeling extra strong that day. I don’t know what numbers to use for the other sets though.

And instead of only using squat, bench, overhead press, rows and deadlifts, I want to include the following exercises:

Lower body/posterior chain exercises:
Squat, lunges, deadlifts

Back/biceps work:
Bent over row and 1 arm dumbbell row, weighted pull ups.

Pushing exercises:
Bench Press, overhead press, dips.

Main focus will be on the Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift, with the other exercises being used as assistance and for building balanced strength.

Since my Squat and Bench Press is the farthest behind, it may benefit from being done twice a week each, with day focused on each specific lift, but with a lighter day included.

Here is an example training week:

Monday: Squat focus.
Warm up with kettlebell swings and lunges, but only enough to get my system running without producing any fatigue. Say 30 swings with 20kg, and 2 sets of 5 lunges per leg with a medium weight.
Do 5,4,3,2,1,2,3,4,5, starting at a lighter weight, peaking in the middle, then lowering the weight for each successive set.
Bench press 3x5 with medium weight, focus on explosive speed.

Wednesday: Bench focus.
Warm up with 30 kettlebell swings, followed by 2 sets of 5 overhead presses or 2 sets of 5 dips.
Bench 5,4,3,2,1,2,3,4,5, same principle as squat.
Squat for 3x5 with medium weight, focus on explosive speed.
do 3x5 of either overhead presses or dips (depending on which I used for the warm up, do the opposite one. Alternate which comes first each week.)

Friday: Deadlift focus.
Warm up with 30 kettlebell swings, followed by 2x5 of bent over rows.
Deadlift 4,3,2,1,2,3,4
Do 3x5 of 1-arm dumbbell rows and 3x5 weighted pull ups.

This is something that will work for me, the main question is the loading parameters. What % of my 1rm should I be using for each set? Or in the case of the assistance exercises what % of my 5rm if that’s more applicable.

For no more than 1 week a month I might do 5 days in the week, in which case the Tuesday and the Thursday will be used to focus on weak points. For instance if I find I have a specific sticking point I’ll use a controllable weight, and do isometric holds at different parts of my lift, focusing on and just above and below the sticking point. If I find that my squat has too much forward drift in it I’ll use the opportunity to do some overhead squats and front squats. If I find my lower back giving in for deadlifts I might use the opportunity to work directly on my core, for instance with ab wheel roll outs. But this will be the exception rather than the rule.

I have one main concern though, and that is the fact that I don’t just powerlift I’m also a surfer. Right now that isn’t much of an issue since this is the off season for surfing but when winter hits I’ll inevitably wish to surf. This is a high-endurance activity and it goes directly against my strength gains. How much surfing will I be able to do (hrs per week) without jeopardising my strength? For those of you that have never surfed, there is a lot of paddling, some beatings, and a drop of full body acrobatics. The intensity of the exertion varies throughout the session, there are times where it’s as intense as can be (when you end up in the impact zone of multiple waves at around 2 stories high), times where it’s like light cardio (paddling) and times where you rest completely, along with 30 second full blast bursts (actually riding the wave.) And it’s for the very reason that surfing goes against strength gains that I am saying I want to do this ‘fast’ (as in I can’t skip multiple seasons of surf for this, I can let go of one but I have other goals too. The fact that all the powerlifting competitions happen in winter really irks me.)

I got into lifting and training in general to improve my surfing, but then I fell in love with powerlifting from the time I did my first deadlift. There was something immensely satisfying about seeing the faces of 300lb juiceheads when I walk up and make them look weak. (Because lets face it they are.) I know I’m not strong in the grand scheme of things, but in the little microcosmos of my local gym I’m the strongest guy when it comes to deadlifts and squats (which is just sad in my opinion considering the size of some of these guys) and normally the only thing they can beat me at is bench press. Not surprising since it’s pretty much 90% of their training, their spotters help them, and they are not bringing the bar all the way to their chest. Which again, is just sad. This is why I want to get to nationals and compete, so that I can measure myself up to some REAL lifters. The reason why I need to get to a certain point fast is because I want to be ready by qualifiers. I don’t have to have put on the full 100kg but I’d like to have at least put on enough to go through, so say 2/3rds of it. Since I’ve only been in the gym for the past 6 weeks and my form on bench and squat still needs to be primed. I know for a fact I can add 30-50kg just by fixing my form and training out my imbalances from not using certain ranges of motion, without actually having added any real ‘strength.’ And since I also just learned that I may actually use a belt in raw powerlifting (what gives?) I know that right there is a few untapped kilograms right there. I won’t be using a belt when I’m training though, not until a month or two from meet day (and only then so that I can learn to use it correctly in the first place), because I want to rely on my core for stabilization and not some tool.

When I squat the weight feels light, but I’m not used to the position with the bar on my back and just getting more used to it and getting the motion fluid will probably make it possible for me to squat 200kg. With bench I know exactly where my weakness is and dips is solving it quickly. 90% of my 1rm is getting easier and easier and I can actually rep it out now, chances are my 1rm isn’t 100kg any more, but I’m not testing it till I have no trouble cranking out a set of 15 dips.

Dude, you need to shorten these posts up. Noone has the time to respond to all of that. Is your goal to be a stronger powerlifter or do lunges? You are not an exception to the principles that have helped thousands of lifters before you. You don’t need a special program, especially at your level.

1 Like

In my personal experience doing a set or two of lunges before either squatting or (especially) deadlifting resulted in improved form at heavier weights, while neglecting them has resulted in me not being able to hit even 90% of my 1rm without losing form. It’s the most effective way for me to activate my glutes before those lifts that I’ve found. When I don’t do them my back wants to do all the work that my glutes are supposed to do. My squats turn into goodmornings and my deadlifts end up with a rounded lower back.

That sounds like a warmup, which is fine. You can do pretty much anything to warm up as long as it doesn’t tire you out for your main work.

Ok then, I mainly meant for as a warm up not a work set. I just want to fire all the right systems and get myself out of any brain-fog from serious life stresses. Main question though, for each set in my main work, which I plan on doing in a 5,4,3,2,1,2,3,4,5 format (something I find way more effective than 5x5, mainly because I can load the bar much heavier while still doing a lot of volume, actually finding the second half of the ‘pyramid’ easier due to the lowering weight while my neurological systems are primed from the heavy single than the first half.) what % of my 1rm should I use?

I can’t really answer that because I’ve never heard of anyone training that way. Check out Prilepin’s table… I don’t use it but you might be able to calculate something for yourself there.

That is kind of strange because I got the idea from reading several (almost every single one) articles on strength training on T-Nation. It got to the point where I got information overload but my ideas are slowly going from a liquid to a solid state. Prilepin’s table is a useful one for the loading ranges thanks!

But yea the main principle behind this rep scheme comes from two things. The fact that ramp up sets prepare your body for a maximal load, and a maximal load stimulates the nervous system so that lighter weights can be moved faster. That combined with the fact that pretty much every program either trades off volume for intensity or intensity for volume, I’d like to keep both high but in such a way that recovery is possible. There is just too much work to be done in too short a time for me to stick to doing a single rep range throughout my workout. I need speed work, I need loads over 90% of my 1rm, I sure as heck can’t move 90% of my 1rm for 5 reps and recover by my next workout, etc. Also I have a limited amount of muscle I can afford to put on, and the way my body works I flippin look at a weight and it starts growing. If I was a bodybuilder this would be a huge asset but since I’m more interested in powerlifting this is a small problem. I can only gain another 4kg and still be in weight category, and I don’t have much fat left to lose, probably about 3kg. Heck if I rock up at competition day with a full stomach I’m already only 2kg off from the cutoff weight.

I don’t understand how people have the patience to read this kind of stuff.

To the OP: just pick a program and do it. You don’t know enough about training to write your own program, and the way things are going here doesn’t sounds good at all. The 3 day sample program on Sheiko’s site would probably work well for you, and I believe it has dips and lunges. If it doesn’t, you could substitute any other tricep work for dips and leg press for lunges.

If your glutes aren’t working properly then do this as a warm up: 2 sets of 20 for each leg of leg raises lying on your side (like you are trying to touch the ceiling with your leg), focus on using the side part of your glutes. Then 5 sets of 5 glute bridges with a 3 second static hold at the top. Try to externally rotate your hips throughout the movement (like pushing your knees out when you squat) and squeeze your glutes as hard as you can at the top.

1 Like

And don’t forget that it takes a long time to get anywhere in powerlifting. You are not going to be some kind of overnight success story, and imagining that you will be will only lead to disappointment. The guy who totaled 600kg last year might be totalling 650 or more this time, just do the best that you can and eventually it will be something good - if you stick with this long enough.

1 Like