Monday, February 27, 2017

Lifting Thoughts and Plans from Duane Hansen

In case you may have missed any of this, I'm putting it here. Some great layouts, general plans and training thoughts included. I would say Duane is a direct descendant of Deszo Ban when it comes to the matter of volume and frequency. It's all laid out here for you, so . . . enjoy!

Duane Hansen Five Days Per Week

Squat three days a week, power clean twice. Press (in some variety) every time you lift. Keep the reps in the 3-5 range for as much weight as you can move. Plan on a 1 hour workout, with the first half spent on squats or power cleans and the second half spent on pressing. Substitute deadlifts for squats and cheat curls for power cleans on occasion. Plan on lifting every day of the week, except take Saturday and Sunday off. Eat, at a minimum, a dozen eggs, a pound of meat and a gallon of milk every day; doing this more than once in a day will make you a god. Avoid carbs until the weekend, then load up like there is a famine coming. Sleep 8-10 hours a night and try to get in a decent nap as often as possible. Brush your teeth and wear a seatbelt.


For pressing in particular (and being strong in general), I think that the best thing to do for the abs is Roman Chair Situps (RCS) for low reps and with a lot of weight. What I did was like this:

1) Do your RCS on something like a hyperextension or glute/ham apparatus. This will let you bend way back at the bottom of the movement and sit all of the way up at the top. When I do them I try to lower my torso far enough at the bottom to be able to look at the North (just to pick an arbitrary direction) wall in the gym and then look at the South wall when I am sitting up. Working through the extreme ends of your ROM could possibly be traumatic (especially if you are not used to it), so you will need to be careful. But the idea is to have the physical skills that you need in order to move your spine through flexion and extension without getting hurt.

2) Add weight (holding it on your chest or across your shoulders) to your RCS as often as you can. I worked up to being able to do 5x5 while holding two 20kg discs under my chin. When I could do that I was at my strongest. The actual amount of weight that you use is not nearly as important as the idea of getting stronger. The best way that I have found to get stronger in a movement like this is to approach it like any other strength movement: several sets of low reps (say, 5x5) and add weight as often as you can.

3) It also helps a lot if you stretch as much as you strengthen. Frog kicks (done in the style found in the old York courses) will both give the abs some more work and stretch the low back. I have spent a long time pondering the cause-and-effect relationship here, but there is a correlation: when I was strong enough to do a few sets of 10 reps in the frog kick at the end of my workout (and, in the process, stretch and relax the muscles in my low back), I was strong and injury-free.

4) Hanging leg raises (performed like a gymnast by hanging from a bar and then touching your feet to the bar) will help a lot, too. These are almost a stunt (rather than an exercise), since you need to be strong before you can even look like you are trying to do them, but if you can get to the point where you can try to do a few sets of a couple of reps you will be strong.

Beginner Olympic Program

An entry-level OL program will consist of Snatch, Clean & Jerk and Squats. Back Squats will be more forgiving of flexibility issues and Front Squats will highlight those issues and give you some specificity, too. Start with that program 3 days/week, alternating Front and Back squats each day.

For the next month or two (depending on your needs), lift on three days/week and work on the mobility issues on the other days. If you are busting ass on both lifting and stretching, it will only take 2-3 months before you should be ready to move up. Equal time on lifting AND stretching pays dividends if you pay attention to it at the start.

Once you can move the way that you need to move in the classical lifts and the squats (3 days/week), you can start to add work on another three days/week. Assuming you are doing the basic program on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, You can add some pressing and deadlifts on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I would suggest alternating bench press and standing press from day to day and deadlifting every day following the press. Presses should be fairly strict with the index fingers touching your shoulders at the start and the bench should be with the same grip as the press. Deadlifts should be done with a clean grip and a weight that will let you knock out 10 singles with a heavy weight, but not a weight so heavy that you couldn't do it again the next day.

If you work up to that point and decide that you need more work, let me know. This should be a plan that will make you stronger and move the calendar quite a few months forward. Every time you press (either overhead or on the bench), make sure that you stretch your pecs and shoulders. Working your abs every day would be a good thing, too.

You should not jump into the deep end of the pool right away. Work into it and add more as you can tolerate what you are doing now.

I would say that 3 days/week is a good starting point. I will usually have novice Olympic lifters start with snatches and a light weight. Do singles up to a heavy weight. For a novice, the weight is too heavy when they start making technical errors. At that point back off on the weight a bit and do a few more singles with an emphasis on correct technique. Do the same thing with the clean & jerk. Finish the workout with some squats; triples in the front squat or sets of five in the back squat are good. Use enough weight to make it work and do a few sets (maybe 3). All that would be good for a single workout.

Every workout you should try to lift as much weight as you can in the snatch and the clean & jerk in good form. The Olympic lifts are much more forgiving than the power lifts when it comes to recovery. Eventually you should get to the point where your limit in the Olympic lifts comes from the fact that the bar is too heavy and not that you made a technical error; this is the point where you are also no longer a novice.

After you have been working on the 3 days/week program for a couple of months, the amount of work that you are doing each day will become routine. It should take you about an hour to get through all of that (not counting warm-up and other stuff like abs or stretching you might do at the end). Once you get used to it, you should not feel worn out at the end (tired, yes, but not exhausted) and you might start to think that you could do two of those workouts on consecutive days. At this point you can start adding in the other workout (pressing + deadlift). Start by adding it one day/week and eventually add a second and later a third day.

The work load here does not need to be tremendous. Five sets x 2 reps with 80% of your max is a good, average workout. Five sets x 3 reps with 80-85% is some hard work, but not too hard. Often for the deadlift I will do 10 singles with 80% of my max and call it good. Certainly nothing earth-shattering there, but enough to call it work. A lot of the progress you make on this program will come from the cumulative effect of all of the work that you are doing. This is different from the HIT mindset, because few of the sets or reps in this program are significant by themselves (PR attempts are an obvious exception) but all of them add up over time and allow you to put more weight on the bar as you go along.

Clean & Press

It is hard to go wrong with the clean & press as your only exercise. There are a couple of things that can help to round out this program.

1. Ideally, you should be able to clean more than you press; it should also go without saying that the weights you could squat and deadlift are more than the weight you could clean. One way to take advantage of this is to C&P up to a heavy weight for the day, then do more cleans (without the press). If you are just doing power cleans, do more power cleans after you are done pressing; sets of 2-3 reps with the top weight that you power cleaned & pressed are good.

2. Power Clean and Front Squat is another good thing to do when you are done pressing. You should be able to power clean your top C&P weight for the day and then do several front squats with it.

3. Clean pulls or deadlifts are a good thing to do after you are done racking the bar on your shoulders. Several triples in the clean pull with your best weight in the power clean is a decent amount of useful work, especially if you pay attention to good technique. I like doing 3x3 in the clean pull with 100% of my best clean for the day, followed by 3 singles (adding 10kg to the bar each set). For deadlifts I will usually just add 40-60kg to the bar and do many, many singles.

4. Hanging leg raises (pulling your knees up to your chin) is a great way to finish. This is a great way to decompress the spine and get some ab work in, too.

4a. If you do have a bar to hang onto for the hanging leg raises, you might as well do some pull-ups every now and again. It works nicely to grab the bar with the same grip as your press and pull your body up to the same point where the bar sits at the start of your press.

Just some ideas. 

Deadlift Routine 

Deadlift every damn day of the week; squat every other day. Once a week try for a heavy deadlift. Eat, sleep, then repeat
My general answer is always the same, because it works. The application of the details is the fulcrum where things either work or they do not.

If a lifter wants to be able to deadlift a big weight in the near future, they will need to practice deadlifting. The best way to practice something is to do it often. Squatting three days/week is a proven way to get stronger.

Some of the nuances in this particular case might be:

1) The daily deadlifts should be done with 80% weights. This is not the place to kill yourself.
2) The squats might be best performed as box squats (in the classical Westside style: wide-stance, ass back, no higher than a bit below parallel).
3) If an athlete has trouble locking out a barbell that they have pulled up around their knees, it would not be a bad thing to do some partial deadlifts a couple days/week from just below the knees. The bar path here does not resemble the bar path of a real deadlift, but doing sets of three reps off of boxes with your knees pushed back, your ass up in the air and all the weight you can manage will fill in any gaps a lifter may have.

Missing a deadlift after the bar gets to the knees is sad, but it is much more fixable than the deadlift that hovers around your ankles.

80% is just a starting point. One thing that you could do is load a barbell to about 80% and leave it sitting there on the platform. Every day you could wander up to it, do your 10 singles and then wander off when you are done. The clever bit would be to add 1-2kg to the barbell before you wander off. That way you will be lifting more weight tomorrow than you did today. I started a program like this with 165kg on the barbell (my best DL at the time was in the 200kg-range) and eventually I got to the point where I was doing 10 singles every day with 195kg. My 1RM at that point (when I could be bothered to test it) was much more than 200kg.

The interesting thing I found about doing daily deadlifts starting with about 80% of my max is that I could very nearly always just walk up to the loaded barbell and start lifting. I would change into workout clothes and switch my mind into workout/lifting mode, of course, but I found that I didn't actually need to warm-up before performing the series of heavy singles (even after the barbell started approaching 90-95% of what I had been calling my 1RM).

Deadlifts are an interesting lift because you start the lift with all of the weight on the floor. Either you can lift the barbell or you cannot; with a lift like the squat, you have to support 100% of the weight before you can even begin to attempt it. I got good results from this approach: lift progressively heavier weights quite often, don't warm-up too much for the effort, and work on the weak links in the chain occasionally.  

Glute Ham Raise

I am just putting this out here for general consideration:
I used to do back extensions when I was younger; this is similar to a glute/ham raise on a GHR apparatus, more or less.

What I used was a sawhorse with some carpet on the top and my heels anchored under a 2x4 nailed to the studs in my garage (also padded with carpet). The sawhorse was low enough for me to put a barbell on my back and, as I added more carpet over time, it approached a round-enough shape so I could get my hamstring muscles into the movement at the top. In the beginning, however, it was just a low back + glute movement.

Several years later I had the opportunity to use one of the first actual glute/ham benches (this was in the early-90's). The actual apparatus that was designed for this type of movement was better than my old sawhorse & carpet rig, but I seriously doubt that it was $1000 better.

A couple of years ago I bought a used GHR apparatus for $100. I use it mainly for ab work (i.e., Roman Chair Situps). I have gone back to doing back extensions on a sawhorse and really heavy good mornings when I need to get stronger on the backside of my body.

This is just my experience; your mileage may vary.

Good Mornings 

I set up for the good mornings with the same stance and bar position that I would use for the back squat. Instead of squatting down I push my hips back and bend forwards. I keep my low back arched during the whole movement and my knees will bend passively. I am trying to bend as far forward as I can without falling forwards, so to keep the bar above my feet my hips need to move back and my knees have to bend a bit. The bottom of the movement depends on the amount of weight on the barbell; I can get lower with the lighter weights but a heavier barbell will tip me forward sooner. Once I get to the bottom, I stop and stand back up. The idea is to straighten back up just by extending the hips.

The good mornings put the greatest amount of stress on you when you are at your most bent over; the back extensions have the greatest amount of stress at the top of the movement where your hips are fully extended. The combination of these two movements allow you to stress the muscles on the back side of your body at both extremes. Interestingly, the heavy good mornings will often give me all of the ab work that I seem to need, too.

Hope I didn't pontificate too much here. 

Lower Back

When you hurt your back for the first time when you are lifting, you should probably go and see an MD just to rule out anything catastrophic. After your MD tells you that you just strained (or pulled; whatever) a muscle in your low back, you should get off your ass and fix the problem.

The best way to fix it (in my opinion) is to use ice, heat (wait at least a day after the injury to use heat), stretching, drugs (e.g., Tylenol) and lifting. My experience has shown that I can lift a lot of weight through a limited ROM very soon after injuring my low back muscles. I can usually work back up to at least 90% of my pre-injury weights in under a week, as long as I am paying attention to the things I was neglecting before the injury (usually stretching in the muscles around the low back).

If you injure a muscle in your low back once, you will probably do it again some time. But, the next time around you will not be as surprised and you should be able to fix it quicker.

Bentover Barbell Rowing 

The trick is to put enough weight on the barbell so you need to heave it up like that. I have seen some people perform a set of barbell rows that had a lot of heaving involved, except that they had the barbell loaded to somewhere between 95-135 pound. My take on the barbell row is that each rep should start on the floor and finish tucked into your waist (right about at the top of your pants).

The amount of weight that you use should be heavy and you should do sets and reps with it (3-5 x 3-5). As you get stronger, you should be able to pull the barbell back into your waist with less movement required from the upper body; if your reps start looking too pretty, it is probably time to add some more weight.

Another thing that I find to be very productive when doing barbell rows is to start the movement (with the barbell on the floor, of course) with my low back less-than-strongly arched. I am not saying that you should be pulling a huge weight off of the floor while you are bent over at the waist and you low back is rounded, but if you can start with a neutral back and move it into a strongly arched position by the end of the movement, this will make things more productive. Simply, the top of the muscles in your low back and the bottom of your lats have a common origin. If you can contract the muscles in your low back very hard at the start of the movement, this will contribute to the ability of the lats to contract (and it is the lats that are doing a lot of the work pulling the barbell in at the top of the movement).   

Bottom Position Squats

Doing squats like Dan John describes (starting at the sticking point and standing up; add weight as you can) is a surprisingly effective way to get stronger. I discovered that my sticking point in the squat (front squat, in this case) was just a bit above parallel. I also discovered that I could get under the bar and set up effectively several inches below this point. A sticking point, as I understand it, is the place where your leverage decreases to the point where your muscles are not strong enough to move the bar. On either side of this, however, you are apparently stronger (i.e., the bar keeps moving). What I did was set the barbell in the bottom position a few inches below the sticking point and load it up to enough weight so that I could get it off of the bottom but it would stall at the sticking point; I would keep grinding after it stopped. After a while I loaded the bar with a medium sized weight and added a lot of bands. This allowed me to move the weight off of the bottom, but as soon as I did the band tension would add up quickly and I would again have to grind where it was stuck.

The progression that I did (stand up from the bottom, then grind against a heavy barbell off of the bottom, then add bands and grind) gave me a lot of ability to stand up. It does take some tinkering to figure out heights and weights (especially if you throw bands into the equation), but it worked really well for me at the time. So well, in fact, that I have not done it since. I might have to try these again some day.

Starting Position for the Clean

The start of a clean is different than anything else, although the similarities can be deceptive. The first thing you need to do is figure out your grip. Essentially, get you hands as far apart as you can tolerate with the bar racked on your shoulders (elbows at least as high as the wrists and more than just your index finger on the bar, please). This is where your hands will be from beginning to end; remember this position.

Set the bar on the floor and walk away for a minute. Squat down and try to get as compact as you can. The idea is to make yourself as small as you can with your heels still on the floor. Look at the position of your feet and remember this; the critical part is the angle created between your heels and your toes.

Go back to the barbell now. Grab the bar with the correct grip and set your feet at the correct angle. Arch your back and pull your hips down as close to your ankles as you can. Rock back on your heels (you should be able to wiggle your toes) and take all of the slack out of your arms. Chances are you will have to move the hips up, but make sure you do this by moving back. If you think "up" you will go up on your toes and everything will fall apart. Keep moving your ass back with your chest up until your arms are as straight as you can get them without lifting the bar off of the floor. This should be relatively uncomfortable, so just lift the bar off the floor (keeping it close, of course) and clean the barbell.

Any resemblance to this and a deadlift start is purely coincidental and probably useful, unless you happen to be a powerlifter. 

Frequency of Training 

I have found that lifts like the deadlift and the press can be performed quite often with medium weights. What I did, practically, was to leave a barbell sitting on the platform loaded to about 80% of my best deadlift and a barbell sitting on the squat stands loaded to about 80% of my best press. Every day I would go out and do ten sets each in the deadlift and the press: always singles in the deadlift and usually doubles in the press. Over time I added a bit of weight to each barbell (1-2kg at a time), but never so much weight that I couldn't ever just go out and lift the weights.

At the same time I was working hard on cleans and power cleans, jerks, snatches and squats. This training was done about every other day, often with as much weight as I could handle in the particular lift. I considered these workouts and the press/deadlift workouts to be two separate things.

Over time I got a lot stronger in all of my lifts, especially the snatch, C&J and squats. Eventually I added a heavy training session for the deadlift on the weekend, basically working up to a max single and then doing several more singles with a bit less weight (probably in the 90-95% range). When I did this, my best deadlift improved quite a bit, too.

Heavy Overhead Squatting

Loading up your body with a heavy barbell will force you to find a new level of flexibility and mobility. The trick is to use the weight to force an adaptation without snapping your limbs in half. This is a brutal, blunt-force approach, but it does work. You can also use this concept to develop the mobility that you need to rack a barbell across your shoulders (like in a clean or a front squat).  


In the snatch and the C&J, 80% of your max is the low end for productive training; your best work will be done with 90% weights and higher.

I use 75-85% of my max in the deadlift for singles quite often; 10x1 is a good workout, especially if you do them on the clock. With squats, you will get good results from using 80-85% of your max for 5-6 sets x 2-3 reps.

This is what I have gathered from years of experience.

Round Back Lifting 

In my experience, injury to the low back has come from starting a lift with a strong arch and having the weight on the barbell pull my back into a rounded position. Starting without a strong arch (i.e., a neutral or rounded back) and then pulling my low back into an arched position at the sticking point has never giving me an acute injury. You will need to have a very strong low back to actually move a heavy weight from a rounded-back posture to an arched-back posture right at the sticking point.

Essentially, low-back injuries happen when you make the transition from flexed to extended. If you are strong enough to prevent this transition you should be OK. If you have the strength and skill to move from a rounded low back to an arched low back during a slow pull like a deadlift (without hurting yourself), even better.

But, when performing a quick lift like a snatch or clean you need to start and finish with an arched lower back. The combination of speed, weight and posture here requires a solid and fixed posture. 


Things that work for me:

1. Olympic shoes
2. Your feet can go wider than you think they can without turning the lift into a good morning, but you need to work on your mobility.
3. Aim to get your hips between your heels. They may not end up there, but you should try.
4. High bar vs. low bar is irrelevant; put the bar where it is comfortable.
5. Go as deep as you can, but do not worry about depth.
6. Getting deeper is a function of how much you can spread you feet and your knees.
7. Five sets x 3 reps should be your bread and butter workout. Five sets x 2 reps is easy (with the same weight) and 5-10 singles with 10-15% more weight is heavy.
8. You need to be able to squat six days a week or twice on three days/week. If you can't do that using weights 80% or more than your max, you have some remedial work to do.
9. PL squats and every day squats are two different lifts. Train them separately and keep records for each.  

More on Frequency 

The best way is to take it in steps. A beginner will typically train 3 days a week, just like 99% of the rest of the world. The purpose of training at this point is to learn how to do the lifts correctly. In general, a beginner will miss a lift because of a technical error, not because they lack the strength to move the barbell.

An intermediate lifter will have mastered the basics of the technique and they will start missing their limit lifts because they are not strong enough to lift the barbell. A lifter at this level has two priorities: first, they need to perfect their technique and second, they need to get stronger. The best way to accomplish this is to lift more often.

When I am training a beginning lifter, I will usually have them work up to the highest weight that they can lift on a day, then back off a bit and work on fixing what they are doing wrong. Since they are not lifting weights that are really taxing the limits of their strength, they can usually do this every time they train (taking a day or two between training sessions helps, too).

For intermediate lifters, I like to see them add a training day. If they have been training on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, adding Saturday is a good choice. In this scheme, I would have them do multiple singles with 90% weights on Monday and Wednesday. The point is to be doing the lifts correctly (you should always be doing this) and working in the 90% range will make you stronger. Friday would be a lighter day, maybe 10 singles in each lift with 80% or so. On Saturday I would have them go up to limit lifts (100% or more, if they can), then back off about 10% for some more practice. The weights that they make on Saturday would be the basis for choosing 80% and 90% weights the following week.

Assistance exercises are considered anything that is not the snatch or clean & jerk. Squats are always a good choice, since the ability to stand up quickly with a heavy weight is never a bad thing. On heavy squat days, do triples in the front squat and sets of five in the back squat. Pressing and some variety of deadlift can be useful, too. The selection and loading of assistance exercises is another topic that would get me way off track if I said much more here and now.

Eventually (after the lifter has adapted to training four days a week), you can add a fifth training day. In the schedule I have been describing, Tuesday would be a good fit. Make this day similar to Friday (10 singles with 80% in each lift). Monday and Wednesday would still be heavy days, with Monday being a bit heavier (maybe in the 95% range).

When the lifter has developed more tolerance for the workload, you can start pushing harder on the heavy days. A useful scheme would be to chase PR's on Saturday, then try to duplicate those lifts on Monday for as many singles as possible. On Wednesday, try to work back up to the same weights again, but only for one single. Tuesday and Friday would stay in the 80% range; this is for the practice of perfect lifting technique and to build up the total workload for the week.

The other thing to keep in mind when you are building up the workload and pushing the heavy weight and total volume, backing off on occasion becomes important. Typically I will plan on two weeks with high volume and high intensity, followed by a lighter week. This three week pattern can be followed for quite a long time, as long as you do not let the back off weeks get to be to hard. 

Anything will work for six weeks, but only an idiot will do the same thing for six weeks in a row. Bust ass for two weeks, then take a week off. Repeat this cycle three times, then lift in a meet. After the meet, spend a week or two doing something different. At this point, go back to the beginning and do more of the things that work for you and fewer of the things that do not work. It is not easy (especially if you really learn what it means to 'bust ass'), but it is pretty simple.

Hope that helps.

On Warmups

Before I lift I do 5-10 presses behind the neck and 5-10 back squats, all with an empty bar. After that I get right into it. Most of the time I will start with lighter weights and work my way up; in my log I usually don't list much of the lighter stuff. Some other time during the day I will do some stretching and foam roller work just to stay loose enough and to help recovery a bit.  

Year Long Training Plan

When it comes to thinking about a year-long training plan, I usually keep this concept in the back of my mind:

1) Two weeks heavy + 1 week light = 3 weeks
2) Following this template four times in a row = 12 weeks
3) Four 12 week cycles add up to 48 weeks
4) This leaves 4 weeks during the year (52-48=4) to take a break.

Another approach would be:

1) Two weeks heavy + 1 week light = 3 weeks
2) Following this template three times in a row = 9 weeks
3) During week 10, take another easy week
4) This gives you 5 cycles of 10 weeks each, leaving you two weeks each year for a vacation.

Scheduling is always influenced by when the most important meets of the year fall on the calendar. Ideally you will be able to know those days well in advance and plan around them. Real life also has a way of influencing what you can get done in the gym; of course you have to work around those things, too.

My basic premise is to put together a simple plan of two weeks of hard training followed by an easier week. During the second similar three-week cycle, aim for higher performance as soon and as often as possible; back way off again during the easy week.

It is good to be able to work 3-4 of these 3-week schedules before a meet. After the meet, however, there needs to be some time for the athlete to rest and recover. Often the physical stress on the day of the meet is much less than any training day during the month leading up to the meet, but the accumulated mental stress from training added to the mental stress of competing will usually require the athlete to take some time off before they get back into serious training (and certainly before they compete again).

I have found two approaches that seem to work in this case: first, go back into the gym and do your regular training that you would do during a light or easy week. This usually means reduced total volume and weights not much heavier than 80% or so. This will keep the athlete "in the groove" when it comes to training. The second approach is to have the athlete do something completely different in their training for a while. This second approach can be difficult if the athlete wants to do something really different (like square dancing or slam poetry), but a week or two of bodybuilding-type stuff is not so bad.

In a nutshell, it helps to first learn how to train hard (and then back off) over a 3-week period. After that, learn how to work hard for a few months. After that, compete and relax for a little bit. Then start training hard again.

 Training the Press

There are a couple of ways to approach your training if you decide to specialize in the press. One constant, though, is that you need to press a lot of barbells overhead. Even if you are a naturally-strong presser and press very strictly, technique is important. You need to learn how to set up (so that your entire body is strong and ridged) and you need to learn the correct groove. The groove (or the bar path or your form; whatever) is arguably the most important for a lift like the press. When you press, you start with the barbell 4-5 feet away from your feet and there is no support (like a bench) in between. As the bar goes up, you increase the distance. What this means is that the barbell will feel heavier (because it is more unstable) as soon as you start moving it and it will feel increasingly heavier until you lock it out. The take-home lesson here is that you need to make your body strong before the bar leaves your shoulders.

After you have learned how to brace your body and push against the barbell, a good way to train is just to do a lot of singles with a heavy weight. You could do a lot worse than the 20-rep program that was stolen from Bill Starr:

Start with a light weight. Press it for 5 singles (rest about 1 minute between sets).

Add 10 pounds (or 5kg) to the bar and do another 5 singles.

Add 10 pounds (or 5kg) again and do 5 singles.

By now you have done 15 singles with some easy weight. Now,

Do several (4-6) singles; add 5-10 pounds (2.5-5 kg) to the barbell before each of these singles. By the end of this scheme, you will have done a lot of reps with medium weights and worked up to a fairly heavy single. The trick is that you should repeat this workout in a few days but start with a barbell that is 5 pounds (or 2.5kg) heavier. Over time you will start with a heavier weight and finish with a heavier weight, but you will also get a lot of practice with pressing heavy weights.

When you are working on pressing a heavier weight, you should also be working on the other things that make you strong. In general, this would be squats and deadlifts, plus power cleans and power snatches. If you can stronger with these lifts you will be stronger everywhere, including how much you can press.

I moved my press up from the 80-90kg range to 110kg in a few months. I am not naturally good at pressing, so I was pleased with this result.

My advice would be to use the 20 rep (singles) approach every other day. Practically, this means Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This is what I would do, because those are the best days to get into the gym. On the other days of the week, however, I did even more pressing. The barbell never got as heavy as the top singles on MWF, but I did do a lot of sets with a weight around 80-90% of what I had done the day before.

My thinking in training the press is:

1) the press can be trained every day (and more than once/day)
2) half of the time you should focus on just pressing the barbell (i.e., take it out of the rack, set up and press for a single rep).
3) the other half of the time it pays off to clean the barbell first, then press.
4) train the squat and the deadlift as often as you train the press. Very few of these workouts (squat & deadlift) will be really hard, but the volume adds up.

Some more ideas and experience about training the press :

a) I would leave a barbell weighing 60-70kg sitting on the squat stands in my garage; as often as I would wander past and have a few minutes to spare, I would do several singles in the press. This way I could add 50-100 more reps to the total amount of pressing that I was doing every week. This was a significant increase over the number of reps that I would do in my heavy workouts (70-90 reps). Adding the extra work with lighter weights did not seem to hinder my ability to push the heavy weights. The extra practice with pressing did seem to help.

b) It seemed to work well when I would clean & press the barbell on one day and press out of the rack on the other day. I started out by doing the 20 rep press schedule 3 days/week, followed by some decently heavy squats (usually 80-85% for several sets of 2-3 reps); the next day I would clean & press for singles, followed by power cleans for doubles and then deadlifts for singles. Over time I switched to power clean & press on the 20 singles days followed by deadlifts for singles. On the opposite days I pressed out of the rack and then squatted (maybe once/week I would work up to a heavy single in the squat, but the rest of the time it was still several sets of 2-3 reps with weights in the 80-85% range).

c) I also did power snatches several times during the week. The external rotation that you do when you snatch a barbell helped (I think) to balance all of the internal rotation that I was doing. You also can't really go wrong if you get a lot stronger in a lift like the power snatch.

d) The best assistance exercise that I found for the press was Floor Presses. This lift will make you stop at the bottom with your elbows at a 90 degree angle. If you pause at the and then press the weight back up it seems to transfer well to the press, since the sticking point in extending the arms will be when the elbows are around a 90 degree angle.

e) The next best assistance exercise that I discovered was standing incline presses.

f) If you want to press a big weight you will also need to have some seriously strong abs. I did heavy ab work every day.

To answer your last question, Nick, I would have to say that it depends. If you are pressing every day (alternating heavy and light, of course) you will probably have a pretty good idea how strong your are on any particular day. I would not plan on backing off every week, but I would certainly back off on the weight or volume as soon as I realized that this was not a day where I was able to lift that much. A scheme that will probably work is to work hard for two weeks (trying to add weight to the barbell as often as possible), then back off during the third week. This scheme is not written in stone, of course, but it does seem to help most lifters continue to make progress over the long term. 

A Program

Day 1: Squat and Bench Press
Work up to a max single in the squat, then do several more singles with 50-100 pounds less than you made. After that, work up to a max single in the bench press, followed by as many sets of doubles as you care to do with 50 pounds less than you made.

Day 2: Press and Deadlift
Work up to a max single in the press. After that, do 10 singles in the deadlift with about 80% of your max. After this, you can do all of the "other stuff" that you want to do.

Then, get back in the gym as soon as you can and repeat Day 1. Aim to lift more today than you did before. After that, repeat Day 2. Aim for a bigger weight in the press and add some weight to the barbell you are deadlifting.

Work this program hard for two weeks, then spend a week doing this:

Monday, Wednesday, Friday:
Squat - 135/2 reps x 10 sets
Bench - 135/2 x 10
Deadlift - 225/1 x 10
Press - 135/1 x 10

After that, jump right back into the original program and bust ass for another two weeks. Repeat the cycle of 2 weeks heavy/1 week light until you are strong enough.


I have found that pulling off of blocks and barbell rows are very productive things for me to do. When I pull off of blocks, I start at a height where the barbell is just below my knees. This is the position of least leverage for me, so working from here is a maximal effort at the start. Once I get the barbell above my knees, however, my leverage changes significantly: a weight I can barely move from below my kneecap to above my kneecap feels ridiculously light at the top of the lift. So what I do is grind through the first several inches of the lift and then accelerate the bar as much as I can. This results in what is essentially a power shrug at the top of the movement.

I pull off of blocks because this lets me lower (drop?) the barbell after the top of the pull. I like to use triples here, dropping the bar between reps and then resetting; straps are another useful tool here. Starting this partial lift at the position where I have the least leverage and then accelerating the barbell as the leverage improves seems to give me the best of both worlds: maximal strength and speed training. Avoiding the negative portion of the lift gives me the ability to do a lot more work without getting sore or risking injury.

I cheat like hell when I do barbell rows. The barbell starts on the floor and I use my legs and lower back to get it moving. Once it is moving I try to keep it close to my body and pull it into the crease between my torso and my thighs. If the weight is relatively light, my torso will stay more horizontal. When the weights get heavy I will finish in a nearly-standing posture. But, since I have already decided that these are rows done in a cheating style, I do not care; as long as I can pull the barbell into the crease of my hips, it is a good rep.

A good plan is to do partial deadlifts on one day and cheaty rows on the next day. I also try to do deadlifts from the floor every day, too. With these, however, I will start with a frog stance and just do many, many singles with 80-90%. The frog stance puts most of the effort on the quads (at least it does for me), so it is a good supplement for the other work that I mentioned. Following the heavy pulling with frog-style deadlifts seems to hit the yin and yang of the long-levered puller. Squatting once or twice every week (heavy and cheaty, as needed) helps, too.

The Joe Mills 20 20 

If I were going to set it up, this is how I would use the Joe Mills program (based on a 100kg lift):

75kg x 5 singles
80kg x 5 singles
85kg x 5 singles
90kg x 1
92.5kg x 1
95kg x 1
97.5kg x 1
100kg x 1
102.5kg x 1

In this example, you would be doing 10 singles in the 80-85% range and then work up to a limit lift. The important thing here is that the weight selection is not based on percentages as much as it is based progressive weight jumps. The key points here are getting in a lot of practice (10 singles, for instance) with medium weights (80-90% of your max) and then working with some heavy weights (90% and more).

If you consider a lift with a max of 80kg, 80% would be 64kg and 90% would be 72kg. A Joe Mills approach might look like this:

60kg x 5 singles
65kg x 5 singles
70kg x 5 singles
72.5kg x 1
75kg x 1
77.5kg x 1
80kg x 1
82.5kg x 1

Also, an easier day with this program would just be all of the work with the weights that you use for 5 singles; skip the progressively heavier singles at the end and the workload and intensity will automatically be adjusted downwards.

After training like this for a while, the first few weights up to 90% of your max will become routine and only the weights above 90% will be challenging. This is the result of practice and improved technical ability. At this point it becomes useful to put less emphasis on the lighter weights and concentrate on the heavier weights. In this case, your workout might look something like this (based on a max of 100kg):

50kg x a few singles
60kg x a couple singles
70kg x 1-2 singles
(all of the work up to this point is meant to get you warmed up and loosened up; it doesn't really count as productive work on it's own)

80kg x 1
85kg x 1
90kg x 1
(you should be able to work from 80% to 90% quickly and easily; missing a lift in this range should be rare)

97.5kg x 1
102.5kg x 1
(above 90%, you should be able to jump right to a weight near your limit; if you make it, try for a PR. Allow yourself a total of 3 misses or 2 in a row as a gauge of where your limit for the day actually is.)

After you have determined your top lift for the day, do some additional work with heavy weights. To keep the math simple, I plan on just subtracting a fixed amount from the top lift that I made. So, if I made 97.5kg, I would do more singles with 90kg. If I made 102.5kg I would use 95kg. 3-4 more singles in the snatch is a good number; 1-2 singles in the C&J is usually plenty.

The next time that I work up to a limit lift, it might look something like this (now based on a max of 102.5kg):

50kg, 60kg, 70kg
(again, just something to warm up)

80kg x 1
85kg x 1
90kg x 1
95kg x 1
(the last weight would be optional, depending on how you are feeling that day)

100kg x 1
105kg x 1
After that, the working weights would be 92.5kg or 97.5kg, depending on what you made.

The process would keep on going, each heavy workout based on the best you made the time before. You will not be able to set a PR every time, but you should be working close to that weight almost all of the time. Over the long run, the weights that you are using should follow a general upward trend. 

Misses and Limit Singles

A big part of the program is to know why you missed a weight. If you miss because you are doing something wrong, there is no point in trying again unless you can make the correction. Often it will be beneficial to take a lighter weight and practice doing it right; if everything is correct, then maybe you can work back up again.

Sometimes a weight is just too heavy on that day. It might take a couple of attempts to figure this out, but if it is then the best plan is to back off to the 90-95% range and do a few more singles with a weight that is manageable yet still sufficiently hard work to make you stronger.

There are also times where a lifter may be weak in a specific muscle or movement. This may appear to be a technical error, but the fix for it might not be drilling technique but rather some remedial strength work. The biggest culprits here are legs, ass (glute/ham area) and low back/abs. It will often take the eye of a decent caoch to see what is actually going on.

Another thing to keep in mind is that working up to a limit single for the day and then doing more work with a bit less weight are two different stimuli. Working up to your top weight is a skill that must be developed and the heavy weights that you handle will make you stronger, too. Working with sub-max weights (90-95%) for several singles are a strong stimulus for building strength. A good template (if you have the time) is to work up to a max single in the snatch and then work up to a max single in the C&J. After finding you max single in the C&J, do a few more singles in the 90-95% range. After this, break the bar back down and work back up to the 90-95% range in the snatch for a few singles. After this do some squats; the best stimulus I have found for making specific gains is doing as many sets of 2-3 reps in the front squat as you can manage. The second best is putting your max C&J weight on the bar and doing one set of as many reps as you can do in the back squat (10 is a good target). This basic plan can be repeated every day of the week, as long as you can recover from day to day and make progress over the long term. Most people cannot do this, so modifications must be made to make the workload manageable.  

More Deadlift Stuff

Just a thought here:

There are a couple of approaches a lifter could take here, based on the example Brian provided. The first would be to do a bunch of singles in the deadlift of the days following, perhaps something like this:

Tuesday: Deadlift 465 x 5-10 singles
Wednesday: Deadlift 415 x 10 singles

Thursday would either be a day off from deadlifting. On Friday, deadlift again, something like this:

335 x 3
425 x 1
475 x 1
500 x 1
525 x 1
540 x ?

Then on the following days, keep following the pattern:

Saturday: -50 pounds (475) x 5-10 singles
Sunday: -100 pounds (425) x 10 singles
Monday: no deadlifting. On Tuesday, aim for a top single with 530-535 pound. Wednesday and Thursday would be more singles with -50 and -100 pounds, respectively.

Another thought here; you could also do something like this:

Tuesday: Deadlift (off of blocks, starting just below the knee) - work up to a max triple. In my case, I could usually do a triple in this style with about 90% of my best deadlift from the floor; your mileage will vary, but over time you should be able to find an adequate amount of weight to take off of the bar (relative to your max DL) so that you can do some useful work.

Wednesday: Deadlift @ -100 pounds x 10 singles
Thursday: OFF (no deadlifting)
Friday: Deadlift @ -50 pounds x 5-10 singles
Saturday: Deadlift @ -100 pounds x 10 singles
Sunday: OFF (no deadlifting) 

On Monday you would repeat the cycle but this time you would aim for a top single at 525-540 pounds. 

More on Squatting

The Front Squat is an excellent lift to do, because it requires you to have enough mobility in all of your joints just to hit the positions. After that, you still need to be strong enough to squat down and stand up with a decent amount of weight on the barbell.

Back Squats are another excellent lift, for all of the reasons that everybody already knows. You still need enough mobility to hit the correct positions and maintain your posture, but it is more forgiving here than the Front Squat would be.

My personal opinion is that the lift people often call "Olympic Squats" are redundant and pretty much useless. As I understand it, an "Olympic" squat is performed like a back squat, except that the bar is placed higher on the upper back and the stance is relatively narrow. There is nothing automatically wrong with back squats performed like this, but most people will be a lot more comfortable with the bar a bit lower on their back and their feet placed wider. Squatting will always be the most productive when you move through the optimal groove for your body. If a high bar and narrow feet works for you, then do it. If you find that you have a better groove with the bar lower on your back and your feet spread out more on the platform, then do that. Find the optimal style for you and then work with it. There is nothing to be gained from trying to back squat from a posture that is uncomfortable and takes away from you best leverage. 


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