How to Improve Lift Specific Neurological Gains Fast

Hi CT,

I recently took two weeks off from training (well, not really) to focus more on conditioning and to test my estimated 1RM on the big lifts. The serious deload in training frequency and volume allowed me to do that and recover completely in between each 1RM test. I usually took 1 lower body and 1 upper body lift RM test per day and rested two consecutive days before I tested the next two lifts.

Based on the results of the tests, it’s clear that I need to improve my overhead press (its only 55% of my bench press which is bad) and back squat (olympic version) (I need 20 kg’s more for my squat and deadlift to be balanced. Currently my DL is 145% of my BS, it should be closer to 125%)

You have given specific periodization examples in your online courses for improving strength.

However, I’m curious to know what training methods (strength-skill, clusters etc) you prefer to rapidly increase strength gains. I want to dedicate one 12 week cycle to improve my strength (weaknesses) before I start my next hypertrophy macrocycle.

I was thinking on programming my strength cycle like this:

Format: Lift specific → Overhead press, Back squat, overhead press, back squat to get more frequency in for my weak lifts. Bench, rom DL are worked in as assistance lifts.

Training frequency: Every other day (8 day microcycle)

12 week cycle:

ACCUMULATION:

Day 1 and 3: OVERHEAD PRESS

A) OH press 3 x 3 using strength skill → weekly progression: one extra set and deload on 4th week (using only 2-3 worksets)

B) OH press 3 x 4 using partials mid range (sticking point) → weekly progression: 2 extra reps (so 4,6,8) keeping the same weight and deload on 4th week (using only 4 reps)

I’m only mentioning A and B because the rest is simply assistance (pressing or rowing) and conditioning (anaerobic capacity and vo2max) work. Total workvolume per session falls between 14-16 sets.

Day 2 and 4: BACK SQUAT

Same methodology as OH press days with rom DL’s and quads assistance work and conditioning for upper body. Conditioning is always one exercise. Each session has 5 exercises total.

INTENSIFICATION:

DAY 1 and 3: OH PRESS

A) OH press: Poliquin clusters: 3 x 4-5 reps with 3 RM → weekly progression: add weight only if I can stay within rep range. Deload on 4th week going to 1-2 sets poliquin clusters

B) OH press: Isometric holds: 3 x 5 reps with one 2 second pause mid range in the eccentric portion of the lift → weekly progression: add weight and do one less rep (so 5 week 1, 4 week 2, 3 week 3). Deload on 4th week going back to 2-3 x 3 reps with 10% less weight

Assistance work is limited to one exercise: either pressing or rowing movement due to neurological demand of clusters. Each session is finished with one conditioning exercise for lower body → bike sprints 10-20 sec on/1-2 minutes off to develop anaerobic power.

Day 2 and 4: BACK SQUAT

Same methodology as OH press days with rom DL’s and quads assistance work and conditioning for upper body → Heavy Farmers walks for 10-30 meters

REALIZATION:

DAY 1: OH PRESS

A) Submaximal effort: 3 x 3 adding weight on each set (starting conservatively) → weekly progression: add weight on each set if i can → testing 3RM (for estimated 1RM) on 3th week, 4th week deload

B) Assistance work: press or row functional hypertrophy: 3 x 6-8 to back off a little → weekly progression: add weight from set to set

C) High reps tricep tendon work: 1 workset of 30-50 reps

DAY 3: OH PRESS

A) Strength skill: 3 x 4 with 6RM → weekly progression: dropping one rep (so 4,3,2) and increasing weight

B) & C) are the same as day 1 but opposite (if pressing was done on day 1, rowing is done on day 2 etc)

Note: on the 3th week when retesting 1RM day 3 is taken out to allow for recovery.

DAY 2 and 4: BACK SQUAT

Same methodology as OH press days

Note: on the 3th week when retesting 1RM day 4 is taken out to allow for recovery.

It’s a long text but I want you to see that I’m not simply fishing for a program. I’m doing the work myself but I’d appreciate some feedback if it interests you. You know why off course.

Thanks Coach.

Edit: the volume might look a little low but remember I’m a type 3 who’s currently still trying to lose some body fat (moderate deficit, no aggressive approach) and I am also coping with anxiety so I need to be careful when using methods like these.

Not overly specific to your topic, but can I ask where you’re getting your ‘balanced’ 1RM percentages from? I always heard the whole “if you can pull 5 plates, you should be able to squat 4 and bench 3…” but I assumed this was bro-science.

Is there some truth to this? What are the ratios for big lifts? (if this is an exhaustive ask, it could be consolidated to maybe just the big 4 - deadlift, squat, bench and overhead press).

Happy to hear any and all thoughts on this =)

P.S Sorry for the derail

I learned about strength ratios from Stéphane Cazeault’s online courses. Stéphane learned them from Poliquin, I think.

All upper body lifts are compared to the bench press (mother lift):

Chinup: 87% (BW included) of bench press
Overhead press: 72% of bench press
Incline press: 91% of bench press
Dips: 117% of bench press

All lower body lifts are compared to the back squat (mother lift):

Front squat: 85% of back squat
Deadlift: 125% of back squat

There is definitely some benefit in using and comparing strength ratios for program design. However, IMO, they are only relevant for the big lifts because it is not as reliable for smaller, ‘isolated’ muscle groups.

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I’m not American so please excuse my ignorance but when you talk about plates what weight do you mean. For example, I read that some person SQ with 4 plates, another strives to do it with 6 plates, and so on. Obviously, in such conversations about a plate, a specific weight is meant.

Well, the course I would favor is more of a specialization approach for the first block (accumulation) where you would do the 2 lifts you want to focus on at least 3x a week (I might recommend 4).

I would actually do overhead press and squat together during that phase and do bench and deadlift together once a week.

Something like:

DAY 1 - Overhead / Squat
DAY 2 - OFF
DAY 3 - Overhead / Squat
DAY 4 - OFF
DAY 5 - Overhead / Squat
DAY 6 - OFF
DAY 7 - Deadlift / Bench
DAY 8 - OFF

During that block I would actually stick to only doing the lifts themselves, not partials or variatios. The goal is just to maximize motor learning and technical efficiency. Basically, you want to leave this block with the highest level of mastery on the squat and overhead press as possible.

I would gravitate toward the omni-contraction approach for that block as both slow eccentrics and paused lifting have motor learning/programming advantages.

The work should be submaximal due to the high frequency. I would favor a form of fixed weight progression model for 2 of the 3 days (eccentric and isometric days). The concentric day and the deadlift/bench day would use a more traditional progression model.

For example:

Eccentric day (squat/overhead)
Week 1: 3 x 5 reps with a true 4 seconds eccentric (leaving 2 reps in reserve)
Week 2: 5 x 5 reps with a true 4 seconds eccentric (same weight as week 1)
Week 3: 3 x 5 with a true 6 seconds eccentric (same weight again)
Week 4: 5 x 5 with a true 6 seconds eccentric (same weight)

Isometric day (squat/overhead)
Week 1: 3 x 5 with a 2 seconds hold at mid-range during the eccentric for squat and concentric for overhead (leaving 2 reps in the tank)
Week 2: 5 x 5 with a 2 seconds hold (same weight as week 1)
Week 3: 3 x 5 with a 4 seconds hold (same weight again)
Week 4: 5 x 5 with a 4 seconds hold (same weight)

Concentric day (squat/overhead) and deadlift/bench day
Week 1: 4 x 3 @ 80%
Week 2: 4 x 4 @ 80%
Week 3: 4 x 5 @ 80%
Week 4: 4 x 6 @ 80%

Assistance work should be minimal and low stress… one exercise for a key muscle in each of the main lift. On the spec days you can change the target muscles on each session.

For example:

Day 1 - Front deltoids & Glutes
Day 3 - Triceps & Quads
Day 5 - Upper chest & Hamstrings
Day 7 - Upper back & Pectorals

For Block II (intensification) I would hit the spec lifts twice a week. Again, together.

I would see:

Day 1 - Squat / Overhead
Day 2 - OFF
Day 3 - Deadlift and back
Day 4 - OFF
Day 5 - Squat / Overhead
Day 6 - OFF
Day 7 - Bench press and arms
Day 8 - OFF

For the squat/overhead workouts I would do one overload session and one heavy normal workout. For the bench and deadlift I would use a normal progression and plenty of assistance work.

For example…

Day 1 - Squat/Overhead overload
I would use one concentric overload (partial range lift) and one isometric overload (overcoming or functional isometric) exercise for each lift

Something like:

A. Concentric overload squat
B. Isometric overload squat
Rest 10-15 minutes
C. Concentric overload press
D. Isometric overload press

Day 5 - Heavy lifting
I would do both the squat and overhead press with a heavy loading method (but not maximal). I really like the 7/5/3 wave for that or 6/4/2 wave (two waves). With the progression approach, I mentioned regarding the 1/6 wave in my journal.

For assistance, I’d stick to 1 single-joint exercise for the weakest muscle in each lift for 3 sets of 6-8

Days 3 & 7
Here, since you only have only one main lift to do, you can be more aggressive with the assistance work.

For the main lift I would continue with the progression model from block 1:

Week 1: 4 x 3 @ 85%
Week 2: 4 x 4 @ 85%
Week 3: 4 x 5 @ 85%
Week 4: 4 x 6 @ 85%

Then one multi-joint assistance exercise (3-4 x 4-6 reps) for the main lift and 2-3 single-joint movements (3 x 6-10).

For block III (accumulation II) I would switch to a lift-specific approach to be able to do a lot of assistance work for the main lifts and get the body better prepared for the last block.

For example:

Day 1 - Squat, loaded carries and lower body
Day 2 - OFF
Day 3 - Overhead press, core dominant pressing (e.g. tall kneeling overhead press, hanging band overhead press), vertical pulling
Day 4 - OFF
Day 5 - Deadlift, loaded carries, upper back, hamstrings, traps
Day 6 - OFF
Day 7- Bench press, pectorals, triceps
Day 8 - OFF

*NOTE: the accumulation refers to the amount of assistance work. The main lift is still trained heavy AD with plenty of sets (this is the hardest block recovery-wise).

Here’s what I recommend for the main lift:

OPTION #1
Week 1: 4 sets of heavy rest-pause (4-5 reps with 1 in reserve, rest 15-20 sec, 2-3 more reps)
Week 2: 4 sets of Poliquin clusters
Week 3: 4 sets of Miller extensive clusters (a bit heavier than week 2)
Week 4: 4 sets of Miller intensive clusters (a bit heavier than week 3)

OPTION #2
Week 1: Ramp up to a 5RM (solid reps), then do 2-3 x 5 with 90% of 5RM
Week 2: Ramp up to a 4RM (solid reps), then do 2-3 x 4 with 90% of the 4RM
Week 3: Ramp up to a 3RM (solid reps), then do 2-3 x 3 with 90% of the 3RM
Week 4: Ramp up to a 2RM (solid reps), then do 2-3 x 2 with 90% of the 2RM

The assistance work is done for 3-4 sets of 6-8 (multi-joints) or 8-10 (single-joint) reps.

The last block (realization) is there to peak the overhead press and squat. During the block I recommend dropping the deadlift to get better recovery for the 2 main lifts.

Here I would go to a DUP approach for the 3 big lifts and a row (Overhead, squat, bench, Pendlay row for example). I would not include any variation or more assistance work at this point.

NOTE: you don’t have to do the row with the same heavy parameters. You can stick to 2-3, 4-6, 6-8, 8-10 reps

You would hit those 4 exercises 4 times per cycle

Day 1: all 4 lifts heavy
Day 2 - OFF
Day 3 - all 4 lifts strength-skill
Day 4 - OFF
Day 5 - all 4 lifts CAT
Day 6- all 4 lifts heavy volume
Day 7 - OFF
Day 8 - OFF

Days 1 determines the load and reps for the other days.

DAY 1 = Ramp up to a RM
Week 1 = 3RM
Week 2 = 2RM
Week 3 = 1RM

DAY 3 = 4 sets of 3, 2 or 1 rep (depending on the week) at 80% of the result from Day 1

DAY 5 = 4 sets of 3, 2 or 1 rep (depending on the week) at 70% of the result from Day 1 but lifted with maximum acceleration

DAY 6 = Multiple sets with 90% of the Day 1 result.
Week 1 = 4 x 3 @ 90% of 3RM
Week 2 = 5 x 2 @ 90% of 2RM
Week 3 = 6 x 1 @ 90% of 1RM

Then I’d take 7-10 days completely off.

You CAN add a deload week between each block.

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A plate normally references a single 45lb plate which is just over 20kg (20kg=44lb).

This gets all backwards when talking about barbell lifts because then we say “I squatted 4 plates today” we usually mean 4 plates each side… which is technically 8 plates. This has been my experience with it, but I’ve had some gym noobs think 4 plates meant 4 plates total too - which does nothing to ease the confusion.

What I was speaking of above, 5 plates means 10 total 45lb plates, 4 = 8, and so on. Sorry, gym lingo is, umm, not the most intelligent set of words lol.

EDIT: 1kg=2.2lbs, I had one too many 4’s in my reference up top.

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Coach first of all a sincere thank you. I like that you took your time to give me a detailed answer as well as a great learning opportunity.

I already have a couple of ‘short answer’ questions but I’m going to save them for later. I want to make sure that I have fully absorbed what you wrote here because I do not want to waste your time asking silly questions.

What an awesome reply. In the words of Pavel, “If you want to press a lot, you have to press a lot”.

Really interesting on the negatives as well - I actually started intuitively wanting to do slower negatives as it just felt so great for stability. I was a little concerned I might be losing reps with the method so I just started doing them on the last rep of each set. Pairing that with a day where I just do as many singles as I feel like (7-10) and my press feels like I’m receiving newbie gains again.