Having coached many competitive powerlifters for the last 3-4 years, I've noticed common areas in the realm of training and recovery that many strength athletes neglect. Either the importance of these areas have not been stressed enough by their coaches and the environment they lift in, or the athletes fail to see the impact it plays on their powerlifting performance.
Powerlifting is unique in that it revolves around performing lifts that would be otherwise used as a form of physical preparation in other sports. The squat, bench press and deadlift are all lifts that are commonly used in sports like football and hockey to increase upper body and lower body strength. As a powerlifter though, your success depends on your strength on these big 3 exercises.
As a trainer and coach, there are many things I've gotten wrong in the past. This series will cover topics I've been wrong and misinformed about, how I changed my stance, as well as how my practical recommendations and advice have evolved over the past months and years in light of newer information.
I wanted to create a program for myself that incorporated Olympic weightlifting exercises once or twice a week without sacrificing time on bodybuilding and powerlifting movements. What initially started as a simple training split, developed into a well-rounded program for general strength, hypertrophy and athleticism. This program is by no means beginner-friendly; it requires you to have at least some experience with compound exercises (bench press, squats, deadlift, dips, overhead press etc) and Olympic weightlifting movements (power snatches, power cleans). In this blog post, I will do an overview of the whole program and highlight the details and nuances of each training mesocycle.
- MONDAY (Full body): Olympic Lifts w/ Front squats, Abs
- TUESDAY (Upper body): Chest, Back, Biceps
- WEDNESDAY: ACTIVE REST
- THURSDAY (Lower body): Lower body with quadricep/squat focus
- FRIDAY (Upper body): Shoulders, Chest, triceps
- SATURDAY (Lower body): Lower body with posterior chain focus, Back
- SUNDAY: Rest
- Weeks 1-3 is considered a high-volume hypertrophy block
- Week 4 is an active rest/deload
- Weeks 5-9 is considered a strength block (with Week 9 being a back off on volume (not a full deload)
- Weeks 10-12 is a power and conditioning block
- Unlike a typical bodybuilding bro-split, frequency is moderate - high to ensure muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is kept above baseline for each body part throughout the whole week
- The moderate-high frequency done in this program is also good for motor learning/technique-acquisition and improvement, as well as neuromuscular efficiency (with the exception of the Olympic lifts, which I will address in the final section of this post)
- Quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings are all being hit 2-3 times a week throughout the whole program
- Chest and triceps are being hit at least twice a week
- Back and pulling movements are being done at least twice a week
- Shoulders (specifically the lateral head of the deltoid) are only being hit once a week, but it should be noted that the anterior (front) and posterior (back) delts are stimulated on other days via pulling and pushing exercises anwyays
- Ab exercises are included in the program at least once a week
Placement of Rest Days
- Rest days are placed strategically to mitigate muscle soreness (delayed onset muscle soreness - DOMs) and ensure adequate muscle recovery
- Wednesday's rest day is to ensure the lifter is recovered before 3 back-to-back sessions (Thursday, Friday, Saturday).
- Monday is definitely the most technique-intensive day out of the whole program, therefore adequate muscle recovery (reducing DOMs) must be made during Sunday's rest day in order to reduce injuries and increase skill acquisition.
- Adequate rest in between 2 sessions that stimulate the same muscles (eg: Chest is being stimulated on Tuesday, then again on Friday. Wednesday and Thursday gives a chance for the chest to recover; right when MPS of the chest drops back to baseline on Thursday, Friday's session will increase it once again up until Sunday/Monday)
- Lower volume works requires less time to recover from (Thursday's posterior chain work is pretty low volume, therefore the posterior chain can be worked again on Saturday without any decreases in performance)
- Spacing muscle groups out evenly throughout the week is essentially taking advantage of the Stimulus-Recovery-Adaptation curves of each muscle (concept taken from NSCA, Dr. Yuri Verkhoshanksy and Dr. Mike Israetel).
Training Variables (Volume, Intensity, Frequency)
- Week 1 starts off easy; volume ramps up every week, adding a set to most exercises will keeping the weights the same
- Volume peaks at Week 3 (Week 3 should be brutal, you should be sore)
- Since Week 1 is fairly easy, Wednesday will be an active rest.
- Weeks 2-3 will be much harder and more taxing, therefore Wednesday will be a full rest (no lifting/little to no physical activity, but do stretch and foam roll)
- More unilateral work (1 legged RDLs, Bulg. Split Squats, 1 Arm Pulling etc) in order to eliminate muscle imbalances and improve balance/coordination
- There is more isolation and arm exercises (Biceps, leg extensions, rear delts etc) compared to Weeks 5-9
- Muscle snatches and muscle cleans are used for the first 3 weeks to build up the shoulder musculature and to practice technique (bar acceleration, triple extension) in preparation for power snatches and cleans.
- Snatch grip deadlifts with slow eccentrics are used to practice lat activation and increase hamstring hypertrophy in preparation for the conventional deadlifts in Weeks 5-9 (strength phase)
- Weeks 1-3 are important for dialing in technique and setting a good base for the strength and power phases of the 12-week program
- The focus should be on work capacity, and volume. Do not worry TOO much on weight progression, stay within 8-8.5 RPE (What is RPE? This is covered in the FAQs at the end of this overview) for most compound movements. Feel free to go to failure and apply a supersets/dropsets to isolation/accessory exercises.
- Again, Week 3 should be very high volume. It should feel brutal and you should feel beat up.
Training Variables (Volume, Intensity, Frequency)
- Overall all weekly volume is decreased in the strength phase because the intensity is increased
- Squat frequency goes up from 2x/week to 3x/week (Monday - Front Squat, Thursday - Back Squat, Saturday - Pause Back Squat)
- Deadlift frequency stays at 1x/week, but stiff legged deadlifts are introduced in Thursday workouts
- Focus on weight progressions through the weeks (eg: Week 8's 4x5 should be heavier than Week 5's 5x5 sets)
- Volume drops on Week 9 in preparation for the power and conditioning phase in Weeks 10-12
- Frequency of Power cleans increases from 1x/week to 2x/week (more practice!)
- The focus shifts from dumbbell work into barbell work so you can handle more weight (Dumbbell RDL's into Barbell Stiff Legged Deadlifts, Incline Dumbbell Bench Press turns into Incline Barbell Bench Press)
- A switch from muscle snatch and cleans to power snatch and power cleans
- If you cannot get a hold of a glute-ham raise machine, do weighted lower back extensions
- Conventional deadlifts replace snatch grip deadlifts (again, so you can handle more weight)
- For triceps on Fridays, I recommend any of the following compound movements: 1) Close-grip bench press 2) JM Press 3) Dips 4) Lying Tricep Extensions (Rippetoe variation)
- The main focus for Weeks 5-9 is to move heavy weight while still maintaining proper form (however, one should always seek technique improvement)
- Stay within 8-9 RPE for compound exercises in Weeks 5-8. Stay within 7-8 RPE for Week 9.
Training Variables (Volume, Intensity, Frequency)
- Volume is very low to keep fatigue low. Low fatigue is the best environment to express and practice athletic characteristics such as power, speed and strength
- Intensity should be high, you should be moving very heavy weight (>85% of your 1 rep max) for a few reps and sets
- Frequency of the main lifts do not change
- Conditioning exercises can be done by feel, the sets and reps written down are very rough, do what feels good. Stop when you notice a large decrease in your speed and effort
- This power and conditioning block focuses on a lot on heavy lifting, mixed with explosive power movements
- Introduction of medicine ball exercises are good for working on rotational power (transverse plane of motion)
- Box jumps can include any variation of your liking, normal box jumps, rotation box jumps, depth jumps etc.
- Snatchs and/or cleans can be substituted by power snatches and power cleans if your snatch and clean technique is not yet up to par
- The main focus of Weeks 10-12 is lifting close to your one rep max (stay within 9-9.5 RPE), being explosive in your power movements (medicine ball slams, jumps, sprints) and anaerobic conditioning
- Because there is at least one day of Olympic weightlifting exercises in each week of the program, athletes do not have to worry much about losing their athletic ability while trying to build muscle
- The periodization (sets x reps over the span of the 12 weeks) provided in the program is rough and very general. Feel free to change training variables to fit your priorities/goals.
- The main focus of this program is the training split and phases.
- Exercises can be substituted in but try to stick with the main themes of each day (training-split)
- Again this program is not intended for beginner-lifters. Some experience with barbell and resistance training is recommended.
- A high volume block transitioning to a higher frequency block is a concept I've taken from block periodization an a concept I've used from Greg Nuckol's newest hypertrophy article "Grow Like a New Lifter Again"
- Lots of variation in exercise selection, useful for program adherence and training many different movement patterns
- Higher frequency of compound lifts will be beneficial for muscle hypertrophy and strengthening of the nervous system
- Speed of exercise execution varies, wide variety of exercise tempo (Eccentrics, pauses, explosive/power movements)
- Rest days are strategically placed to improve performance and to fit the stimulus-recovery curves of each movement/muscles
- This is a GENERAL program for size and athleticism and like all general programs, this program may not fit the needs of all sports.
- Olympic lifting movements are not trained frequent enough in this program so do not expect large improvements in form. Lifters looking for a program to specifically improve their Olympic weightlifting should look elsewhere. Here are some to get you started: Catalyst Athletics - Breaking Muscle - Pendlay - Russian Approach (via All Things Gym) - Dan John
- Although this program does include the powerlifts (big 3 compound exercises), it does not prepare you for a powerlifting competition. Lifters looking for a powerlifting-specific program should look elsewhere. Here are some to get you started: GC Strength & Conditioning Individualized 12-Week Program & Coaching - Candito Training HQ - Sheiko Powerlifting Programs (via Joe Skopec) - Connor Lutz Training Template - Juggernaut Method - 5/3/1 - Cube Method.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
I've always wanted a barbell to myself, I did not like the inconsistencies of training with several different barbells week to week (not to mention bent barbells). I decided to get the 20kg Again Faster Klokov Bar as a high-quality, general use barbell. This bar is great for Olympic Weightlifting and for compound exercises.
Retail Price: $355 Canadian ($400 after shipping + taxes)
Price was one of the most important factors when deciding whether or not I should buy this bar. $355 was much cheaper than other barbells of the same quality. In comparison, the 20kg Pendlay Bearing Olympic Barbell is $530 (USD) and the Rogue Olympic WL Barbell is $715 (CAD).
As you can see, the AG Klokov Bar is cheaper by a large margin.
It is hard to find a bearing barbell south of $500. Bearings is the mechanism by which the barbell sleeve is allowed to spin. Bushing barbells are generally cheaper because of the cheaper manufacturing costs. Both needle bearings (which are better than ball bearings) and bushings are used in the AG Klokov bar, making the sleeve spin smoothly for snatches, and clean & jerks, yet durable enough for everyday use. The quality of the bearings and the sleeve spin may not be as great as Eleiko or Werksan barbells, but is a huge upgrade from bushing barbells usually seen
PSI and Bar Whip
The AG Klokov Barbell has a PSI rating of 264,000, which apparently is 30,000 PSI stronger than any other Olympic Weightlifting barbell on the market. I've had this barbell for a week now and have done several different exercises with it, but I haven't lifted heavy enough to test out how much the bar can handle. If it can handle the weights that Dmitry Klokov puts up, it is definitely more than enough for us mortals.
High Bar Squatting 225lbs: There is a bit of whip at the top of the movement compared to normal gym bars, but very subtle.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quugw_xmOOo Judging by this video, there seems to be noticable whip starting from 140kg/308lbs onwards.
My favorite part about this bar. There has been reviews saying the knurling on this bar is inconsistent. I'm not sure if they mean the knurling is inconsistent from bar to bar, or inconsistent on different spots of the bar. Nonetheless, I love the feel of the barbell, the outer knurling is not too aggressive; it feels like how a high-quality olympic lifting barbell should feel. I also like the fact that there is a passive centre knurling, which aids in keeping the bar on your back during a high bar squat, or during a front rack position. Another thing I find useful is the knurling ring marks. There are 2 sets of knurling marks, one for the IWF and one for the IPF; this makes it easier to establish a grip width and be consistent with it especially for lifters who like to perform the olympic lifts as well as the power lifts.
Product Specifications (via Again Faster website)
"• Meets all IWF weight and dimension specifications for Men's and Women's bars
• Weight Tolerance +0.1% / -0.05%
• Dual knurl marks that meet both IWF and IPF specifications for knurl mark spacing
• 264,000 PSI Ultimate Tensile Strength
• 5 needle bearings per side
• High strength steel bushings are set both inside and outside the bearings in the collar
• A screw lock cap with two internal retention rings secure the collars
• Finish: Hard Bright Chrome
• Collar Band: Men's = Blue | Women's = Yellow
• Shaft Diameter: 20kg = 28mm (IWF spec) | 15kg = 25mm (IWF spec)
• Length: 20kg = 2200mm | 15kg = 2010mm"
Its a nice feeling to touch a new barbell, this bar feels really good in my hands and really good on my back. It feels very straight and very sturdy. Labelled as a "competition barbell", this bar would be perfect for anyone prepping for an Olympic weightlifting meet. Although this bar performs well when squatting, bench pressing or deadlifting, I personally, would not use it to prep for an IPF Powerlifting meet. The whip of the bar (especially when squatting and deadlifting heavy) is not ideal for Powerlifting meets as it will give the lifter a false sense of strength in training. The lifter will be guaranteed tears of sadness and shame after being stapled to the floor by IPF-approved Eleiko powerlifting barbells.
Overall, I would highly recommend this barbell to competitive athletes and weightlifters or any trainee involved in general strength training.