5 Tools To Get You Stronger

Aleksey Lovchev's 264kg World Record Clean & Jerk this past week at IWF World Championships (via All Things Gym)

Aleksey Lovchev's 264kg World Record Clean & Jerk this past week at IWF World Championships (via All Things Gym)

~1100 words ; 5-8 minute read

Its 2015, there are lots of free resources you can use (via the internet) at your disposable to become bigger and stronger. When it comes to designing a resistance training program either for yourself, or someone else, prescribing the right amount of reps and the right amount of weight is crucial for increasing strength and preventing injuries. Monitoring your progression and adjusting your training accordingly is also crucial for long-term progress.  Here are 5 tools to get you stronger!

1. 1 RM calculator

There is no better way to find your 1 rep max other than to lift the heaviest amount of weight you can, for 1 rep. However, testing 1 rep maxes to monitor your progress is very taxing on your body. The second best way, is to estimate it using a calculator. There are many different formulas used for calculating 1RM; none of which are 100% accurate. How do you know which one to use? AllThingsGym - ATG has coded a 1RM calculator that accounts for several different formulas created by fitness authors and exercise physiologists. 

The fact that this site gives you an average of all the e1RM calculations is particularly useful. Especially for those who find that some formulas are inaccurate (usually due to lifting technique, experience, male vs. female differences, etc).  

Okay you've found your 1RM, now how do you write a program based off of that 1RM?

2. Prilepin's Table

Prilepin's Table/chart was created by an Olympic weightlifting coach and sports scientist by the name of Alexander Sergeyevitch Prilpepin. Known for producing multiple world champions, he systematically analyzed the training of hundreds/thousands of strength athletes and put together a table that includes the optimal number of reps to do given a certain % of your 1RM. 

Prilepin's Table

Although this chart was created for weightlifters, it also works well for powerlifting and strength training in general. In fact, many of Boris Sheiko's Powerlifting programs are based off of this chart. 

Prilepin's Table does not account for individual differences in training age, training experience, and current training protocol, but it gives good guidelines for prescribing volume given a certain intensity.  P.S: I would include reps up to 8 per set for loads ranging from 55-70% of 1RM if this chart was used for powerlifting.

3. RPE to % Conversion Chart

Another way to regulate intensity and volume is using rate of perceived exertion (RPE) to gauge effort levels during and after cessation of exercise. In strength training (powerlifting), the use of RPE to auto-regulate training has been popularized by Mike Tuchscherer and the Reactive Training Systems. Using a scale of 1-10, a 10 RPE set would mean the lifter has put in maximal effort, no extra reps could be done and no extra weight can be added to the bar. A 9 RPE set means near-maximal effort, where 5-10 pounds can be added to the bar or the individual can execute 1 more rep. Because the values of the RPE scale are fairly arbitrary, the term "reps in reserve" (RIR) is also used in place of RPE. 1 RIR being equavilent to ~9RPE and 2 RIR being 8 RPE. This chart made by Mladen Jovanovic (@complimentarytraining), is useful in tying together the concepts of RPE, Prilepin's Table and the conventional usage of 1RM, 5RM, 8RM (as a % of 1RM) and show us how intensity, effort and volume are related.

4. Video Footage

Video footage has been my favorite, and one of my most-used tools for training and monitoring technique or muscular imbalances. Progression in technique is sometimes more effective than producing strength gains than any advanced periodized program. Utilizing various angles will help you observe different nuances in your lifting/movement, therefore it is critical to know how and when to use certain angles when filming yourself.

Side View

side view

The side view is perhaps the best angle to judge and analyze the bar path of the big compound lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift, clean, snatch, etc). Because most strength training exercises (related to strength/lifting sports) are executed in the sagittal plane of movement (mainly flexion and extension movements), the side view gives us the most information. We can analyze how close the barbell is relative to the body, if the barbell is lined up with our midfoot during a squat, and analyze the movement of our pelvis (to see if butt-wink/rounding of the lumbar spine is present), amongst other things. 

Head-on View

Front View   BLUE DOTS indicate faulty biomechanics, in this case, right knee valgus and right foot arch collapse.   GREEN DOTS indicate proper biomechanics for squatting, knees tracking outwards with the foot, foot arch is present

Front View
BLUE DOTS indicate faulty biomechanics, in this case, right knee valgus and right foot arch collapse.
GREEN DOTS indicate proper biomechanics for squatting, knees tracking outwards with the foot, foot arch is present

The head-on view can be used to identify faulty hip or knee biomechanics that can be an indicator of instability or injury. A common example is using the head-on view to look for knee valgus during squatting or jumping movement patterns or shoulder/lat imbalances during the front rack position of a front squat. 


pull up rear view

Aside from getting a booty shot for Instagram, lifting footage taken from behind a lifter is useful for identifying left-right asymmetries (in the hip, shoulders, etc) that you may not other wise see from a frontal view. One thing I look for is collapsing of either of the athlete's foot arch. A collapsed foot arch may stem from knee, hip or glute injuries/inactivity.

What angle you can capture during your training will be depend on the availability of training partners to help you film, whether you have a tripod or not, and whether you have the time or space to do so. 


5. Your Brain

Arguably THE best tool in the universe, your brain! Always think critically about what you read or hear about strength training, its beneficial to have a healthy amount of skepticism. Realize that what works for one individual might not work for another. A big mistake I spot among lifters is their inability to think about and recognize confounding variables. How will your work or school schedule mesh with your training schedule? What external stressors are you overlooking that might be impeding your progress? What are some reasons why a certain training program isn't working for you? Hows your diet? These are questions you should be asking yourself regardless of the progress you are making if you want to be the best you can be.


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