Next Four Weeks

For the last 6 weeks I was on family leave from work, so other than keeping my infant son alive and my beautiful wife happy, I was actually able to train with regularity and success, largely unhurried.

The results were very positive, at least with regard to my Squat, Bench, and Press.  Never before have I hit these kinds of numbers:

Squat 260x 5 reps x 3 sets

Bench 185x5x3

Press 130x5x3.

And my body weight at 180 is 15 pounds heavier than where I started the year and other than snugger fitting clothes in the butt and shoulders, barely noticeable, as my waist is the same.

My pulls are not that great right now. I’m only using the double overhand grip on the deadlift and reset to ensure better technique. I’ve been going up very slowly on Cleans for a while now too. And chins are still good, but as I weigh more now, they are a little harder. I seem to have difficulty breaking 10 on set 2 and 3 still.

In any case, as I’m now back at work I’m trying to not drive my self into the ground.

My new plan to adjust back to a 40 hour work week is to reduce the frequency and volume of my workouts while still trying to push the intensity higher.

Workout A: 

Squat x5

Press x5

Cleans 3 reps x 5 sets

Weighted Chins (optional) 5×3

Dips (optional) Mx3

Workout B:

Deadlift x5

Bench Press x5

Squats 5x3x80% of Workout A

Chins (optional) Mx3

Weighted Dips (optional) 5×3

Some notes here. I’m a little dubious that this will be enough volume either overall or on the lifts, but we’re going to try.  I’m also going to try to get in the chins and dips as much as I can, because I think they will help not just with aesthetics but also keeping my press and bench press inching upwards. I can’t spend that much time at the gym though, so always a concern. Yesterday (Sunday 4/9) I hit 265×5 on Squat, which is a rep PR, but I also have a suspicion that had I done 2 more sets I’d have done a more productive session.

Sunday 4/9

Squat 45x5x2, 135×5, 175×5, 205×3, 235×2, 265×5

Press 45x5x2, 65×5, 85×3, 105×2, 120×5

Clean 140x3x5

I’ll try this next week and see how 270 goes. If it is obvious this is not enough squatting, I’ll add 2 back off sets at 90% of the top set on Workout A. As in all things, if you add something in, you must take something out.  If I do that, I will likely drop dips from Workout A and chins from Workout B.

Regardless in four weeks we’ll evaluate where we are at. Plan A is to add back a third day of training, in a heavy, light, medium (HLM) set up. That might look like this:

Workout A (Heavy):

Squat 5×3

Bench 5×3

Deadlift – singles, doubles or triples at a heavy weight, 4-6 total, so 3×2, 2×2, 1×5.

Workout B (light):

Squat 5x3x80% of Workout A

Press 5×3

Chins Mx3

Back Extensions 10×5

Workout C (Medium):

Squat 5x3x90% of Workout A

Push Press 3×5

Clean 3×5

If things are still going well in four weeks, but time or recovery is still an issue, I might “run it out” from there, and continue with the original two day template but take those top sets from 5’s to triples, from triples to doubles, and doubles to eventual singles.

If things are just completely in the dump after 4 weeks, I’ll do a hard reset on all lifts and start a true linear progression over again.

Option planning:

Best case – go to HLM after 4 weeks

Null case – stay with two-day template but run it out to max singles.

Worst Case – hard reset for a new linear progression

Training Advancement

Burn this into your skull: there is no amount of weight that qualifies you as not a novice.

If you have never trained with weights, or you are coming back from a layoff of a month or greater from regular training, you are functionally untrained.

If you are able to add weight to the bar on a workout to workout basis, you are a novice.

If you are able to add weight to the bar on a week to week basis, you are an intermediate. Virtually everyone who is not considering competing in a strength sport like powerlifting, weightlifting, or strongman, can A) get to the intermediate level of advancement in about 6 months, and B) doesn’t need more complicated programming than this.

If you are able to only add weight to the bar on a month to month basis, you are advanced.

If it takes you many months to add more weight to the bar, you are in an elite class of competitors in a strength sport.

Training advancement is about the rate of progress possible and the complexity of the programming needed to achieve it, NOT the amount of weight you lift.

Further, if you’re using a method that does not add load as fast as you are capable, you are leaving progress on the table. This is inefficient, and the root of all frustration in the gym. In other words, it makes no sense to use a more sophisticated approach when a simpler one will do.

Stress and Adaptation

Stress is any demand imposed upon the body.

Adaptation is how the body responds to the load imposed by the stress.

In the case of strength, when a stress is imposed, the body adapts by building more muscle and making bones more dense. This allows for heavier loads to be lifted later on. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, the gains in strength compound over time, and are so expensive to the body, that they persist longer than other trained qualities like speed, aerobic capacity, etc.

Training is applying a specific stress to cause a specific adaptation. So when we strength train, we are imposing a specific stress (lifting weights) to cause a specific adaptation (getting bigger and stronger).

The amount of stress will depend upon your ability. The rate at which you adapt will depend on the overall amount of stress in your life and the ability to recover from it.

Compared to adaptation, stress in the gym is simple!

Stress in the gym to get stronger always comes down to how much weight did you lift and for how many repetitions. Once we know that, the next time we can do a little bit more, and on and on, until that linear progression can not work anymore.

Adaptation, on the other hand, is where your writer has always screwed up. To get the most out of a training program, you have to eat enough and sleep enough.

For both eating and sleeping enough, enough usually means more than you’re willing or sometimes able to do.

“Enough” sleep means 8+ hours a night of high quality sleep.

“Enough” for food could mean upwards of 6,000 calories a day. It doesn’t always mean this, but it could.

As if that weren’t enough, it also means surrounding yourself with positive people, minimizing stress in your working life and relationships, and eliminating outright toxic stress, all of which get more difficult as we age and require a lot of time and effort to achieve.

In the next post, we’ll cover training advancement and why so many people screw it up.



Why Strength Training is so important

There are a couple of very simple reasons we want to make strength training the cornerstone of exercising.

  • Strength training accumulates over time.
    • Strength training is a lot like a mutual fund; staying invested in it means you’ll enjoy compounding interest over time. If you do a little strength work often over the long haul, it will add up to a better quality of life for longer, and you’ll fade more slowly than peers, too.
    • Like investing for retirement, the more boring the plan, often, the more successful.
  • Strength Training makes everything else easier to do.
    • Strength is the most general adaptation for the body.
    • If you can lift a 100 pound weight five times today, and the next time you lift, you can lift a 110 pound weight 5 times, then the 100 pound weight has gotten easier to lift than it was before.
    • It should be no surprise that if you deadlift, say 200 pounds, a 180 pound power clean might not be possible, but if you deadlift 500 pounds, that 180 pound clean would feel trivial.
    • The same basic principle applies to everything else. If you are a runner, and your squat improves from a low weight to a higher weight, you should run faster and more efficiently, because you can apply more force to the ground.
    • Like all things, this is subject to diminishing returns.
  • Strength training provides the greatest return on investment.
    • We can improve strength as a quality for the longest time with the least amount of resources invested.
    • Adaptations for strength persist the longest before they become detrained, and the higher your level of strength the less they detrain over time.
    • One does not have to become very strong (like anywhere approaching world class) to reap a lot of benefits from strength.
  • Strength training is easy to measure.
    • Barbells and plates make it easy to know exactly how much stronger you are getting over time.
    • Because there are fewer variables to control for, it is easier to adjust training appropriately.

For all of these reasons, it’s the right place to start.  It is not that training other qualities is not important; it’s that training strength, for the untrained, detrained, or novice, will lift the other qualities higher, in less time, than any other quality.

Exercise versus training

Probably the most important thing to remember is that there’s exercise, and there’s training, and only some of the time is exercising considered to also be training.

Anytime your body is doing a physical task, that can be exercise. That could be walking, or carrying in groceries, or Crossfit; the activity does not matter.

Training, on the other hand, is about performing specific activities to achieve specific results.

There is nothing wrong with exercise, and there’s nothing wrong with training. Where people get confused is mistaking one for the other.

Never confuse movement with action

Health and fitness work the same way; Health is a the absence of illness and the presence of well-being, while fitness is the ability to do a specific task.

More simply put:

You Exercise to Stay Healthy


You Train to Become Fit


Exercise is largely for today; training is largely for some later time, like a competition. Exercise is broad, general, and with in reason, the more variety you’re able to include, the better. Training must limit the means you use to just the most appropriate means to achieve the goal.

There’s a balance to be had between the two; and certainly, if you’re just sitting on your ass now, any exercise is a good thing. It will promote better health, which is a good and worthy thing to have. However, it isn’t the same thing as training. Training is the process by which we actually get better at a task.

Coming up in the next post:

We’ll cover strength training’s importance for the average person.