Doug Furnas, Ed Coan, Fred Hatfield,
Mike Bridges, Doyle Kenady.
Many people have experienced dreams in which an extraordinary idea or concept passes through their mind. Awakening in a startled state, often excited to near hysteria, they reflect on the idea and promise themselves that they’ll write it down the next morning. Sun up, they find to their dismay that they can’t remember what they dreamed! I had such a dream once and determined not to forget, wrote it down before going back to sleep. The next morning, I read what I had written during the night and it was nearly unintelligible. The meaning of my sleep-writing has only recently become clear to me. It is an idea I would like to throw out at the weight training world.
Almost all powerlifters follow some kind of weekly training schedule that involves a light, moderate, and heavy workout. Until recently (a year or so), I used a similar schedule. Then came my revelation. Why not train heavy all the time? What possible benefit is derived from training loads that are so light that no significant overload is accomplished? The revelation came to me in mathematical form. If I trained for 10 weeks following the traditional light and heavy system, I’d get in 10 heavy workouts. These workouts would be the only ones out of the total 20 that would yield significant gains. However, if I trained heavy every 4th or 5th day, I would be able to get in fully 15 significant workouts in 10 weeks. My nimble brain quickly calculated the advantage – on such a system I would be able to make gains fully 50% above what I used to get!!!
Many questions arise.
Is four or five days enough time for full recuperation?
Is the ideal physiologically sound?
Is there any reason under the sun why I should train light?
Is there any reason under the sun why I shouldn’t train heavy all the time?
I’d like to answer the last question first.
It works and it works better than the old method! It worked for me and it’s working for the guys who train with me. But, let’s take a look at the concept more systematically and objectively.
When lifters talk about training loads, there are no magic numbers, no holy percentages – only ballpark figures that experience and research tells us are good guidelines. The critical threshold (on the average) for strength gains to occur maximally is with training loads in excess of 80% maximum. The average lifter can pump out at least 10 good reps with such a load – usually closer to 15 reps, but most strength-based lifters deal with lower reps than that. Off season training generally should involve 6-8 reps at loads in excess of 85%. Peaking cycles generally include heavy triples with loads in excess of 90% of max. Both research and experience tells us that such training loads yield the best results for strength and power. So, ‘light’ (for our purposes) means below the critical threshold of 80% , and ‘heavy’ means doing the appropriate number of reps with a weight that is heavy enough to make you fail if you go beyond the required number of reps.
Recuperation time is a variable that must be determined by the individual. There are some rather objective methods to determine whether you are recuperated sufficiently to engage in another heavy workout (blood pressure, white blood cell count, blood lactate concentration tests), but the most practical method is trial and error. Younger and smaller lifters generally recuperate faster than older and/or bigger lifters. 3-5 days is generally enough time for the in-shape lifter. The big guys sometimes need 5-7 days for full recuperation. The short and long of this fact is that if you engage in a moderate or light workout before recuperating from the last heavy workout, you are actually slowing down the recuperation process – you are not enhancing it.
Let me reiterate an important point – maximum benefit is derived from your heavy workouts, and light workouts only serve to hold you back. The only reason ever given to me for doing light workouts (besides the old standby response, ‘this is the way everyone does it’, or ‘it helps me to recuperate’) is that an overpowering feeling of guilt forces lifters to work! If they’re not in the gym almost every day, lifters feel that they’re not working hard enough, or that they’re lazy. They become overwhelmed by the need to excel and want to do everything they can to get better! Noble, but I submit, nearsighted.
When the gains begin to come more rapidly, the guilt feelings go away. The extra time spent home with the family, or out with friends will, I suspect, be a welcome relief to them, and it certainly won’t hurt in allowing the lifter to become a bit more attuned to life around him (oddly enough, there actually IS life outside the gym!)
My experience with such a system has been nothing but positive. I now love to go to the gym! The drudgery is gone. I love to handle the big weights – it’s good for my head. The guys I train with have become infected with the same kind of enthusiasm and our training sessions are ALWAYS nothing less than great! I even have time on my hands so that I have been able to sit down and write this article.
Maybe it’s an idea whose time has come.
Give it a try!