by Don Pfeiffer (1982)
In order to reach your maximum potential in any endeavor it is necessary that you specialize on it. That is, you must focus the majority of your energy towards achieving that objective, no matter what it may be. You can’t, for example, attend medical and law school simultaneously and expect to do well at both. Along these same lines, is powerlifting, or for that matter getting to a very high number on any chosen lift. If you ever want to reach your true potential in any one lift, you’ll have to specialize on that lift at various points in your progression.
Some of the most famous lifters of all time have specialized on one lift. Bob Peoples, the first amateur to deadlift 700 pounds, used to train exclusively on that lift at times, while Paul Anderson, through the use of specialization techniques, was able to set outstanding records in the squat. Mike MacDonald, by devoting his training time almost exclusively to the bench press, has at one time held world records in four different weight classes.
Because of the demands of competition, most powerlifters are unable to specialize on any one lift to any great degree. Too much time spent on one lift can often reduce efficiency in the other lifts. Since the winner in powerlifting competitions is the person with the highest total of the three lifts, it would not be very wise to concentrate on a single lift to the point that your other lifts suffer, unless your main intention was not to win, but rather to see how much weight you could handle for a particular lift.
Powerlifters will usually specialize on a lift for two different reasons. Either they have a preference for a particular lift, or one lift is lagging behind the others. A heavyweight who can squat and deadlift 800 but can only bench 350 is obviously in dire need of a specialization program for his bench press.
Basically there are two avenues one can take when going on any specialization program. The first, and most practical method for most lifters, is to give one lift priority and place the other lifts on a maintenance program. The second method is a total specialization program whereby your work only one lift and eliminate all work for the other lifts.
When applying the first method the following rules are recommended. Let’s use the bench press as an example.
1.) Always perform the bench press first in your workouts. This will insure that you’re fresh and able to exert maximum effort for your workout. Even better would be to spend your entire workout on the bench press, and work your other lifts on a separate day.
2.) Don’t hold anything back. You must go all-out on every bench press workout. Don’t save yourself for your next workout. Every workout you should attempt to improve yourself.
3.) Reduce the frequency of your bench press workouts. Because of he increased intensity, your body will require more time to properly recuperate. For most people two bench press workouts per week is sufficient. Some of you, however, may require even less frequent work. A general rule to follow is that the stronger you get, the less frequent your workouts need to be.
4.) Reduce the amount of work for your other lifts. 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 7 reps performed once or twice a week should be sufficient for you to maintain your existing base strength level and keep you familiar with the movements.
5.) When you find yourself going stale, terminate the specialization program and return to a normal program.
Here is a sample routine based on 4 workouts per week. Monday and Friday are bench press days. Tuesday is squat day, while Thursday is for deadlifting. for the squat and deadlift you will use 5-7 sets of 5-7 reps, and will work these lifts only once a week.
Your bench press workout will be performed in a stepladder (full pyramid) scheme. The rep layout would be 10-8-6-4-2-2-4-6-8-10. Choose a weight that allows you to perform the desired number of repetitions for the first five sets. For the backside (second five sets), use the same weights but go all-out attempting to do as many reps as possible. When you can perform more reps for EACH SET on the last five sets than on the first five sets, increase the weight for all sets.
On Mondays this workout will be supplemented by 6 sets of heavy dips done for 3 to 4 reps. On Friday you will perform overloads. Take a weight in excess of your best single effort and have two spotters take the weight off the supports for you. You then lower the bar very slowly. When it touches your chest attempt to drive it upwards. Your spotters will help you lift the weight. This method will accustom you to heavier weights. You should perform single reps. 3 to 5 such sets should be all that’s needed.
For those of you who want to devote themselves entirely to one lift, the best method that I can suggest is the rest pause method used by George Irving Nathinson back in the late forties and early fifties.
Working out 3 times every 2 weeks and then taking a week off, Nathinson would perform 100 sets of 1 rep taking a one minute rest between singles. This was his entire workout. No less, no more. He would use the same weight for each of the 100 single reps.
Before I go any further, many of you are probably wondering, “Just who IS this George Irving Nathinson?”
Although he never entered any formal competitions, he was certainly one of the strongest men of that time for his bodyweight. Listed below are but a few of his feats of strength, all verified by several witnesses:
Age 14, Bodyweight 140 pounds, lifted 300 pounds to his shoulders.
Age 16, 160 pounds, push-press of 300 pounds.
Age 18, 175, push-press of 300 pounds for 8 reps. 20 consecutive squats with 415.
Unfortunately he had to give up lifting because of the demands of work and school.
There was, however, one small problem. Nathinson found that when on the program he required an unusually high amount of sleep. Up to 18 hours the day following a workout and 12-13 hours on subsequent days.
Many of you may find this program too severe or impractical for your purposes. If this is the case with you I suggest that you reduce the workload somewhat. 35 to 50 singles with a minute rest between each should prove to be sufficient.
By following the guidelines set forth in this article, anyone who wants or needs to specialize on a specific lift should find success. Bear in mind that the second method, total specialization on one lift, is not recommended for any great length of time.