T Nation

Varying Your Primary Exercises in Different Stages of Cycle

Hi All,

Do you think there’s any value in moving away from the competition movements for a while in the early part of a 14 week training cycle?

I have a program given to me now where the competition movements have been replaced with:

  1. Close grip bench press instead of competition grip, and incline close grip as accessory.
  2. High bar squat, with beltless pause squat as accessory.
  3. Deficit snatch grip deadlift, with no accessory deadlifts.
  4. Lots of accessory/bodybuilding exercises to build me up.

I’ve been lifting on and off for a while, have some muscle mass already but only powerlifting for less than a year.

This phase is supposed to go for the first 6 weeks of this training, and is supposed to injury proof me and provide hypertrophy as well as build up the stability muscles.

I’m worried (as a drug-free lifter) that my technique on the competition lifts could degrade over this 6 weeks and that the specificity is not enough.
Looking at the programs of most of the other IPF lifters, and even many non-IPF lifters I see they normally KEEP the competition movements in the early phases, just lowering the weight and increasing the reps.

Do you think there’s any value in me doing this program or should I change it to ensure the competition movements are kept at all times?

I tried something like that a couple years ago, when I went back to the competition lifts my squat and deadlift were pretty messed up (and weak) but my bench didn’t suffer. I have heard people like Chad Wesley Smith talk about this and say that not doing the competition lifts normally works better for people who have been lifting for longer and have more stable technique so a month or so doing close variations won’t be a problem in the long run. Coincidentally, my bench was by far my best lift at the time and I have been benching with some degree of seriousness for longer than I have been squatting and deadlifting.

That’s not to say that this is not a good approach in general, it seems to have gained popularity from Fred Hatfield who advocated high bar squats and stiff leg deadlifts in the offseason. But at this point, I wouldn’t recommend it for you. In my case, I’m not about to compete any time soon, currently I’m doing about 2 work sets a week on the competition lifts and everything else is variations.

Thanks Chris

I’m pretty cool with high bar squats, as low bar can beat up the elbows & shoulders which makes it hard to bench if done for too much. Also I’m good with the fact they build more muscle. Or maybe I can do one low bar day with heavy, and one high bar day with reps.

For the bench though it took me a while to switch from medium grip to wide grip and surpass my previous max, I’m scared of losing that. I’ll be happier to put the close grip as an accessory but still have a day of normal bench.

Deadlift is my biggest concern, I’ve been feeling so happy with deadlifts I don’t want to drop them and lose my form.

Disclaimer: I have been out of action for a long time.

I would first say that if you haven’t bought into your coach 100% then something is wrong.

IMO, if you’re prepping for a meet and looking to get the highest possible total, you have to be doing the comp lifts. Variations are fine as supplementary work but there is a skill element to powerlifting that you must practice and specificity is king.

If you’re 6 months out then no issues, it’s probably beneficial to take a break from the main lifts but 8 weeks out and no comp lifts? Not for me. There’s more than one way to skin a cat though…

1 Like

Yeah give it a try, its a decent strategy -those are all good moves to bring up weak points and build overall muscle

What is the program?

It really depends on if what’s holding you back are weak points or technique. If your technique isn’t the greatest, might be beneficial to get more reps in. If your weak points hold you back, then this could be a better way. Give it a shot and see. What have you got to lose?

Conjugate/concurrent method does a similar thing. I only do a “competition style” lift once every four to six weeks and it’s worked really well for me, but I could definitely benefit from more sub maximal deadlift reps.

Are you talking theoretically or from personal experience? There are people out there squatting low bar 4 times or more per week with no shoulder/arm pain, other people can only tolerate a few weeks of low bar squatting. I’m somewhere in the middle, I can squat low bar every week, I was doing it twice a week a couple months ago when peaking for a meet BUT low bar volume has to be low. For the sake of technique, I’m planning on keeping low bar as the main lift but I’m not going to get carried away with tons of volume. I can do high bar and SSB squats to make up the difference.

In your case, you haven’t been lifting for very long so technique is pretty much guaranteed to go to shit if you don’t do the comp. lifts for a few weeks. Some people may disagree, but I would strongly advise against it.

When Boris Sheiko and Louie Simmons recently met and discussed training methods, one of Sheiko’s criticisms of the conjugate system was the lack of technical development due to low volume and infrequent practice of the actual competition lifts. However, he was impressed with the many special techniques and exercises, including bodybuilding exercises. He got Kirill Sarychev doing speed bench and he posted a video on facebook of a guy doing cambered bar benches.

I’ll have to look for that. Admittedly, that is a potential pitfall, but I’ve seen more progress doing that style than I ever did using other methods.

I don’t think there’s one good answer on methods/programs. I think there are a lot of good answers with some a little better than others.

How long were you training before using the conjugate method? I don’t deny that it can work, I just don’t think that it is the best way for a novice lifter to train.

Sheiko is “specific” because you use the Competition Lifts. For variety, Sheiko adjusts the weight/load. You gotta do the lifts to get good at the lifts. Rotating intensity keeps you fresh, to allow you to keep using the lift.

Conjugate is specific because you take 3 attempts to a max single, every week. Its just like a power lifting meet. It’s specific, because you work the sets and reps (Three heavier sets of 1) that you will do in competition. For variety, you rotate exercises, to allow you to work maximally every week.

Ultimately, what’s less like a competition bench press? Bench 3 x3, or close grip bench to a new PR?

1 Like

The difference in specificity in your example is intensity vs. exercise selection. 100% specificity would be bench up to 1rm, any deviation from that in either the exercise or intensity is less specific. You don’t have to max out in training to get stronger, but you have to train lifts that are at least similar to the competition lifts. Considering that most volume in a typical westside program (if you want to call it that) involves mostly bodybuilding exercises rather than variations of the competition lifts, as well as relatively low frequency, it’s hard to argue that it is more specific than any of Sheiko’s programs.

Sheiko also programs competition lifts up to 90% for some people, and there are “skills evaluation” days, usually about a month out from a meet, that involve working up to 100%+ of your previous maxes.

For the sake of argument, I don’t use and have not used any Sheiko programs (they are designed for less advanced lifters than myself and his coaching is expensive) but I have found that not doing the competition lifts (for myself, at least) leads to unstable technique when I get back to them. At the moment, I am getting most of my volume from variations of the competition lifts, but during a peaking phase I would mostly do the comp. lifts and some close variations (long pause bench, pause squat, etc.) plus some rows and such. I don’t see any real point of totally avoiding the competition lifts unless they are causing pain or overuse injuries (like arm pain from low bar squat) but at the same time they don’t need to be the main focus all the time.

Ok! Skill evaluation! Back to The original thread. The farther away you get from compeition style lifts, the more special stuff you do, the greater the need to Evaluate the effectiveness of what you’re doing.

Close Grip inclines may have tremendous carry-over to the comp. bench. Or they could be a complete failure. Without a way to see if they are working while you do them, they could be risky. You wouldn’t want to do some crazy lift for 6 weeks, then find out a mere 10 weeks from the contest that it worked against you!

Good point about over use. It goes both ways. If low bar squatting hurts your elbows, you might need to use that style moderately. But don’t blow out the knees overworking the quads with close stance high bar squats.

1 Like

So I’ve been lifting for about a total of 9 years on and off (that’s actual time in the gym, not the amount of time since I’ve started going to the gym the first time). I’ve read a good bit on different training philosophies and methods as well as paid my dues when I was younger at a gym where there were legit old school muscleheads who would take the time to drop knowledge and had some decent coaching when I was younger as well (football coaches notwithstanding). The reason I’ll take the trade off on reps for technique vs variability is because I’m wanting to do strongman competitions. If I were a powerlifter, I’d probably do a 4-week block of higher rep training to reinforce technique every 3 months or so. Or look at doing lower intensity sets as an assistance exercise on DE day. Or any number of other ways to get more reps in. As it stands now, the one lift that I think needs the most work on technique may represent one event at any given contest. I’ll sacrifice a little bit of technique to be able to attack things from many different angles and get strong in a lot of different ways. That’s my reasoning anyways. I do agree that a method with more repetition is potentially better for a novice especially if they don’t have a coach working with them that can see their weak points and help with exercise selection to overcome them though. I also think there’s a whole different skill of learning how to strain and think while you’re doing it that you won’t get not doing ME days on a regular basis even if it’s not a competition lift. Louie or Dave Tate talks about Chuck V doing insanely heavy rack pulls just to learn how to strain. If it’s good enough for Chuck V, I’ll buy that.

Thanks all for the feedback.

As a fairly new lifter I like your points about needing to stay fresh on the technique and learn the lifts.
I don’t have my next competition booked in yet so I DO have the opportunity for hypertrophy work etc… but I think I’ll prefer to do a combination in the same program.

Regarding low bar squats- yes for me they do hurt my arms if I do them too much. I feel pain bench pressing if I low bar too much.
I could do low bar once per week and high bar once per week and I’d be fine I think. But 2x Low bar sessions would not work unless it was a 1 month block or so as the elbow pain builds up.

The program I’m doing is a custom one from a coach, however it’s not custom for me - all his clients start on the same program and work through different blocks. So in a way it’s a cookie cutter program, and having made my own programs in the past I don’t like that approach.

So I think the answer for me is going to be a compromise - include the competition lifts, but also variations so I get the best of both.

Pretty much how I have always trained. But, you can’t just pick generic variations. You have to be honest and assess your weaknesses. If your issue isn’t tricep related then makes no sense to focus on floor presses. If you miss squats because your upper back is weak it makes no sense to focus on low bar squats. So for me I have always missed squats because of upper back so I pretty much front and high bar squat exclusively in the off-season. I pretty much always miss bench bottom half way up. So lots of wide elbow flared bench and low Incline work. Deadlifts how ever I usually miss because of postioning more than anything else. So, when I do deadlifts it’s usually competition style but with pauses where I miss or slow tempo on the raising to help force keeping position.

It can be done but if you are doing variations of the moves just because you like them rather than needing them you are setting your self up for failure. During peak 6-8 weeks for me I focus soley on the comp lift to comp standards.

1 Like

Technique Training

Developing and maintaining technique is something that needs to be practiced by all athlete, regardless of the sport.

However, Powerlifters don’t employ the right method for optimizing technique. Powerlifter tend to develop strength by using the lift for the strength training exercise.

The Problem

Research and empirical data show that technique changes with each repetition as the muscle fatigue.

Thus, the last one to two reps in a competition Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift you develop poor technique.

The objective in a rep where you grind it out shifts from technique to “Get it up no matter how you can.”

Developing Good Technique

The most effective method of developing good technique is by performing single repetition with load of 85% plus of your 1 Repetition Max under the following conditions.

  1. Technique Training needs to be performed first in your program when you are fresh.

  2. The number of set of single is determined by fatigue. Once fatigue appears, terminate you Technique Training. Continuing in a fatigued state lead to and reinforces poor technique.

400 lb Squat Example

If your 1 Repetition Max is 400 lbs, performing single reps for set of 340 lbs (400 lbs X 85%)

Olympic Lifters

Olympic Lifter utilize the method prescribed above They don’ preform set of 5 to 10 reps of Olympic Clean and Jerks or Snatches.

Pole Vaulter don’t vault for reps, Baseball Player don’t bat for reps, Quarterbacks don’t throw for reps, etc. They develop their skill by essentially preforming one rep at at time: vaulting once, batting the ball once, throwing the football once.

Building Strength For The Powerlifts

Auxiliary Exercise that are similar in nature to each lift are used to develop strength.

As per your example…

  1. Close grip bench press instead of competition grip, and incline close grip as accessory.
  2. High bar squat, with beltless pause squat as accessory.
  3. Deficit snatch grip deadlift, with no accessory deadlifts.

Varying Exercises

Research show one the biggest key to increasing strength as well as hypertrophy is to constantly rotate Auxiliary Exercises.

As the research article above cites, "CIVE (Constant Intensity-Varied Exercise) is more efficient to produce strength gains…as long as the training intensity reaches an alleged threshold

This research data reinforces…

Simmons Westside Training Protocol

This method constantly employs Auxiliary Exercises to develop strength for the Powerlifts.

Auxiliary Exercises are constantly rotated.

Dr Tom McLaughlin’s Research

McLaughlin (former Powerlifter/PhD Exercise Biomechanics) research came out about the same time as Simmons’ Westside Protocol, circa 1980.

McLaughlin’s found technique was best developed with single reps with 85% of 1 Repetition Max Technique Training.

Auxiliary Exercise were used to develop strength for the Powerlifts.

Conjugate Training

Simmons Conjugate Training Protocol has demonstrated that training Limit Strength (1 Repetition Max), Power and Hypertrophy is one of the keys to increasing the Powerlifts.

Dr Michael Zourdos’ Research

Zourdos’ (Powerlifter) research found Conjugate Training which incorporates Limit Strength, Power and Hypertrophy (as Simmons found) demonstrated greater increases in strength.

This works!

Kenny Croxdale


You can get most of your volume through SSB, high bar, front squat, duffalo/buffalo bar, cambered bar, etc. If you can’t even tolerate working up to a top set every week then only use low bar for the last 4-8 weeks before a meet.

1 Like

Zourdos also uses very little aside from the competition lifts. I know a guy who worked with him for a training cycle, all he did was comp. squat, comp. deadlift, comp. bench, a bit of close grip bench and overhead press plus some barbell rows. He also doesn’t use the regular DUP setup anymore, more like “undulating linear peridization”. His standard program is a 6 day/week upper/lower split, squat and deadlift 3x and bench/assistance 3x. Rather than H-P-S as his research found better than the typical setup, you do sets of 10-8-6 one week, 9-7-5, the next, and so on until the last week before the meet where it’s 5-3-1.