~ 15-20 minute read
Not another self-proclaimed “best way to build strength program” you may be thinking.
However, my goal isn’t to be the BEST way to build strength, yet more of another approach to a classic, well proven strength method, while putting my spin on it.
If you prefer not to understand the WHY behind my strength method, then here is the WHAT & HOW.
This is an overview of a 4 week cycle of Rob’s Strength Method for ease.
One of my favourite strength building programs that I have followed over the years, has been the Wendler 5/3/1 strength program. I have used this template alot and has been one of the key methods for building my foundational strength.
This classic strength protocol was created by Jim Wendler in 2008 and is a strength program based around a cyclical system using a simple yet effective approach to strength training
This strength program is a 4 week cycle system, based on increasing loads over 3 weeks with a deload week* on the 4th.
Week 1 sees you building to 85% of your max for 5 or more reps
Week 2 builds you to 90% of your max for 3 or more reps
Week 3 then peaks you to hit 95% of your max for 1 or more reps
Week 4 then allows the body to have a form of rest and builds you to 60% to grease the groove and allow the body to recover, while still maintaining tension throughout your body
*What is a Deload week?
A ‘recovery’ week using lighter loads based off your programmed %’s, but still focusing on the movement pattern to keep you sharp at executing your desired lift
When you train based off %’s, working off of a true 1 rep max can be detrimental to your progress because you are basing all your training loads off of a weight you hit when you may have:
This then takes the presumption that every time you train you need to be in the same headspace and physical capacity that you was on that day
An example would be if I based my deadlift training numbers off of a competition lift (see below) and expect to be in the same physical and mental state every week
So as a form of auto regulation you can base all your number off of a training max, which tends to be 90-95% of your best lift
With Wendler’s program you can choose to work off 90% and then progress from there week on week, which means you can be a bit more confident with your lifts
Now if you train using a linear method, I always recommend basing your numbers off of 90% and building from there. This will then take into account the slightly different athlete that may be turning up to the gym on some days due to unforeseen circumstances and still then have a high chance of hitting your numbers
My reason for adapting the program was because I would sometimes turn up to the gym after a poor night sleep after becoming a father, and then because it’s, for example 3’s week, I had to build to 90% of my current max and then hit a minimum of 3 reps.
Not only was this sometimes off putting and made me want to postpone the session to a later day, which would then ruin the flow of the rest of my week, I also felt it didn’t take into account the man I was on that particular day
My question to myself would be, “Is present Rob the same 100% that he was last week?”
If not then i’m pretty screwed because for example, an 80% Rob turns up to the gym trying to hit his 100% based numbers….
This may end badly, either with missed reps or worse an injury due to pushing beyond what I’m capable of on that day, due to trying to hit an arbitrary and not wanting to potentially take an additional rest day
But aren’t all % based programs just that? Turn up, hit your %’s and then move on?
Well, life isn’t linear, so I try not to focus all my training around a linear approach
Yes % training clearly works and it is based off the understanding that strength gain is linear and for a beginner, this can definitely be the case.
As an advanced or even an intermediate lifter you can’t always get away with the linear approach
I found with not only myself but also with clients, that lifting based on who you are that day, rather than that one time when everything was just right, has helped:
Now I’m not saying the linear approach is wrong because there are many years and examples of where it works, however, I like to train based on the person I am on any particular day and then hit %’s based off of my present self.
This is a form of AUTO REGULATION
Auto regulation (AR) is about being present in your lifting and potentially modifying variables during a workout based on feedback you get while building up in weight on your strength lifts
This can be, but not limited to:
What AR is not is, being a bitch about lifting something or being worried about a slight bit of breakdown. It is also not just going into the gym without a plan and just ‘going off feel’.
AR is how you execute your program based on your performance.
This does then mean you need to be more present in your lifts, but guess what…. We should be. Too many just go through the motions expecting to just improve and when it all stops they don’t know why.
AR can be quite tricky to navigate if you are new to lifting because you may not have the same awareness of your body and what feels right and wrong or where the limit is, when something right starts to go wrong.
However, with my strength method, it gives you clear targets to aim for in your lifts, week on week and gives you some wiggle room. However, it does come with its own flaws.
When I first started following my own strength method, I found myself testing rather than training
What’s the difference between testing and training? I recorded a podcast on this topic with my co-host Ash on our Lunge & Lift channel (see below links)
I initially tried to always max out my Build to a Heavy X for the day and I found I was always overreaching (essentially testing) rather than building (training).
This was classic ego lifting. Focusing more on what I was posting on social rather than the focusing on the lift itself and evaluating after each lift.
Ego lifting definitely has its place, but probably not in every session in my opinion.
So to get over the testing vs training mindset, I gave myself some parameters of 5% either way off of my previous numbers.
5% is based on you feeling pretty much the same as previous weeks. It does not take into consideration if you are ill and still trying to hit your numbers. You may still be able to hit them but you may need to ask if its worth it or not, since recovery will be in the tank.
My strength method, takes the principles of 5/3/1 but focuses on intensity at the lighter loads and auto regulate at your heaviest load. This can be used on any of your main compound lifts for example
(Back Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, Front Squat, Strict Press, Push Press etc)
Build to a Heavy 5 reps for the day (this will be around the 85% range if you know your 1 rep max)
5 reps @ 85% of your heavy 5 reps for the day
7 reps @ 75% of your heavy 5 reps for the day
60 seconds MAX reps @ 65% of your heavy 5 reps for the day (with a minimum of 9 or more reps hit)
Build to a Heavy 3 reps for the day (this will be around the 90% range if you know your 1 rep max)
3 reps @ 85% of your heavy 3 reps for the day
5 reps @ 75% of your heavy 3 reps for the day
60 seconds MAX reps @ 65% of your heavy 3 reps for the day (with a minimum of 7 or more reps hit)
Build to a Heavy 1 rep for the day (this will be around the 95%+ range if you know your 1 rep max)
1 reps @ 90% of your heavy 1 rep for the day
3 reps @ 80% of your heavy 1 rep for the day
5 reps @ 70% of your heavy 1 rep for the day
Perform 3-5 sets @ 50% of Week 3’s Heavy 1
WEEK 5 & BEYOND
If you do not know your 1 rep max, then going through this cycle once will give you a great foundation to work off week on week and you can just build to a conservative heavy X for the day.
This is where training based on who you are on any particular day comes in to play. You can give yourself a target range based off the previous week that you want to aim for rather than a set % number.
This not only takes away the stress off if you are not feeling 100%, but it also takes into consideration if you’re feeling like an absolute boss, had a great night sleep and need some structure so you don’t test yourself unnecessarily and keep yourself in the building phase rather than testing.
If I hit 100kg in week 1, when I get to week 5, I now have a target to work off of. I then give myself a range of 5% either way of 100kg to base off who I am that day presuming that I am not completely beaten up due to a cold or something.
I start lifting on day 1 of week 5. I have given myself a target range of between 95kg to 105kg
This then means as I approach the top set I can see how it feels and where I want to take my weight increases too
How does it feel cues
Here is an example of a 8 week cycle based on a back squat with numbers hit
Build to a Heavy 5 reps for the day – 100kg
Build to a Heavy 3 reps for the day – 120kg
Build to a Heavy 1 rep for the day – 140kg
Perform 3-5 sets @ 50% of Week 3’s Heavy 1 – 70kg
Build to a Heavy 5 reps for the day aiming to increase on Week 1. Target is to be within 5% each way of Week 1 (Hit between 95kg to 105kg)
Build to a Heavy 3 reps for the day aiming to increase on Week 2. Target is to be within 5% each way of Week 2 (Hit between 114kg to 126kg)
Build to a Heavy 1 rep for the day aiming to increase on Week 3. Target is to be within 5% each way of Week 3 (Hit between 133kg to 147kg)
Perform 3-5 sets @ 50% of Week 7’s Heavy 1
Warm up sets I find are individual to the athlete and tend to differ session to session.
Warm up sets are not supposed to be performed with the attitude of, lets get to my working weight as soon as possible. Warm up sets are supposed to be methodical. You perform the same mental cues and routines as you would for a top set.
The idea of a warm up set is, by the time you get to a working weight, you feel primed and ready to attack the weight as you have been the whole way up.
A tip I like to give is, if a weight didn’t feel good, don’t just disregard it and move up anyway. Perform the reps again, work out why it didn’t feel right, maybe you was in a slightly different stance to normal, or you hadn’t braced properly?
Don’t think, I don’t want to waste energy on these lighter sets so I’ll do as little as possible to get to my top set so I can give it my all.
An issue with this attitude is that, most of the time your body will not be ready to essentially go from 0>100 without increasing the risk of injury.
Warm up reps may not count to your Build to a Heavy number, but they count for
Don’t skip your warm ups because it may come bite you in the a$$ later on *talking from experience*
Knowing the best warm up weight jumps come with experience. Its finding just the right increase that your body doesn’t feel too much of a jump but also not doing a small jump where it essentially feels pointless.
Warm up jumps tend to differ per individual, however a common trend is the bigger your lift, the bigger the jumps you can make, however you will also find, someone with a bigger lift, even though making bigger jumps, will be so particular with their warm up sets and they will not be afraid to stay on a weight for a couple of sets to make sure it feels good before jumping up.
HOW DO YOU BUILD TO A HEAVY?
As you warm up, you should hopefully have a target in mind. This means that as you approach that weight you can start to really analyse how things are feeling and where you want to aim for.
If you have no idea, then I tend to recommend stopping when either
As with the warm up sets, experience with a lift and how things feel give you a clear insight into what a ‘HEAVY FOR THE DAY’ really is.
Don’t be disheartened though if you feel you sold yourself short and you may have had an extra 5kg for example. This just means you have more of a chance of smashing it the next week.
WHY DON’T YOU DO THE 60 SECOND MAX REPS ON WEEK 3?
I don’t like to do a max reps on the heavy 1 week because your central nervous system and mind will be taking an absolute beating that week, so we are better off pushing your top number rather than focusing on the volume.
The 60 second max reps is a mental challenge that you can give yourself every 2 of 4 weeks, so make sure you give it your all in those 2 sessions.
HOW LONG CAN I DO THIS PROGRAM FOR?
This can be done for as long as you want. It takes into consideration both, pushing intensity and also, backing you off before you overreach too much.
So recovery will be the aim of your game and also managing your accessory work to allow for peak performance.
I utilise my strength method amongst others and balance accessories to account for the load and stressors on the body, to build my athletes up rather than just break them down.
The goal is to build strength for life, whether that’s for a set competition or just to have more general foundational strength, like when you want to carry shopping bags in to the home in one go rather than multiple trips
Thank you for taking the time to read into my strength method. Please be sure to share this if you think it will help anyone looking to get strong or if you have had success with it.
Be sure to tag me on Instagram @RobStubbsPT #RobsStrengthMethod
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