In Part I of this article I introduced you to the struggles of trying to progress if you’re already an advanced lifter and how specialization is a way in which we can work around this.
Now that we know WHAT specialization training is and WHY it is an effective tool, we now move forward on to HOW to implement this training methodology in to your training.
When I use the term “Blitz-Cycling” in the title of this article I do so because it sounds really cool and will grab your attention. But, coincidentally it’s also a good way of defining the best way to structure specialization training:
Blitz – during a specialization block we focus a huge amount of our training resources on improving one specific part of our performance, anywhere from 75-90% of our total weekly training volume. We throw everything we have at that chosen facet to improve it while doing the minimum possible to maintain the rest of our performance
Cycling – however, we cannot do this for too long as we will desensitize to the effect, even though the stimulus is incredibly strong. In fact, the way this works is that the stronger the stimulus, the quicker the adaptation/desensitization. So we can only “blitz” a certain characteristic for 2-4 weeks generally speaking.
This means we must shift our focus from training block to training block to keep the system effective. The important thing is that two subsequent blocks don’t crossover, for example doing a Military Press followed by a Bench Press specialization block.
By cycling our focus we are always specializing on something that has been on maintenance mode for AT LEAST one block, meaning it will have had time to re-sensitize to the training stimulus.
Now, if there is an area that you wanted to focus more on, or improve to a larger degree, that’s fine. Not all your training blocks need to be the same duration. You could also run some blocks more frequently to give them more focus. To use myself as an example, since I’m a complete bro (and also because I’m training for a bench-only competition and potentially transitioning to equipped benching) my current blitz-cycling structure could look like this:
Bench Block 1 – 3-4 weeks
Pendlay Row/Deadlift Block 1 – 1-2 weeks
Bench Block 2 – 3-4 weeks
Front Squat Block 1 – 1-2 weeks
You get the idea….
I’m still giving the Bench Press JUST ENOUGH time to re-sensitize to the stimulus and allowing my joints and soft tissues to recover while spending as much time focussing on it as possible. To aid this I could also focus on a different bench press variation in each block to alter the stimulus from block to block so it doesn’t get too stale, i.e.
Block 1 – Reverse-grip Cambered Bar
Block 2 – Reverse-grip Axle/Straight Bar Bench Press
Block 3 – Competition Bench Press
Important Programming Consideration
Remember when we use a specialization approach with our training we DO NOT do more overall work. It’s not about doubling the workload for whatever we want to focus on and keeping everything else the same (go back to my example in Part I). We are simply REDISTRIBUTING our volume so that 75%+ of it is assigned to our target and the remaining volume is evenly split amongst everything else, just enough to keep it ticking over.
If you don’t obey this principle then you WILL burn out and likely die a slow painful death while being resigned to Aqua aerobics classes, as it is all your now fragile, broken body can handle.
So with that being said, how should you structure your super cool, advanced blitz-training program?
Best Structures for Specialization Training
Hypertrophy – Body Part Split
With the body part split you will be focussing on 2 muscle groups at a time. If you focus on more muscles than this at once then they don’t end up getting enough workload for it to count as a true specialization block. It’s important that you split up the muscle groups so that the same muscles aren’t getting worked (indirectly) in subsequent blocks.
What I mean is, if you pair Chest + Biceps (Block 1) and then Back + Triceps (Block 2) then Biceps and Triceps are being worked directly in one block and indirectly in another block. Remember, specialization only works because you blitz a muscle group/lift etc. and then give it MINIMAL workload in the interim. So if you’re going with a body part split my preference is usually to go:
Block 1 – Chest OR Shoulders + Triceps (since most compound pressing movements hit the chest and shoulders to some degree there’s no need to spec both per training cycle in my opinion. Just pick the one that’s weakest and focus on that)
Block 2 – Quads + Hamstrings
Block 3 – Back (Lat or Upper back emphasis, depending on weakness) + Biceps
Block 4 – Tibialis Anterior and Fore-arms (kidding…..)
Yes, this is basically a Push/Pull/Legs split, but if I advertised it like that then I may have scared some of the bros away. But this is the split that best satisfies the criteria of specialization training and eliminates any cross-over/interference effect between blocks.
This is in fact an awesome approach to use while you’re in a calorie deficit. The reason being that the stimulus on the target muscles is often so strong that you can make some small gains in muscle even while in a calorie deficit. Not only is this awesome from a physiological viewpoint but nothing is more mentally motivating than seeing yourself improve in muscularity during a fat loss phase, it certainly makes the torturous dieting easier to tolerate.
Strength – Lift-Specific Approach
This is the most obvious and possibly simplest use of this system. With a lift-specific approach you will focus most of your efforts (75%+) on ONE lift that you want to improve.
Now, please ensure that the lift you use is a big compound lift. If someone emails in saying their tricep kickback spec block didn’t do anything other than give them crippling tendonitis then I’m going to have some form of coronary episode.
So to avoid anyone making me die even younger than I intend to here’s a reasonably exhaustive list for you to pick from:
Barbell Squat variations
Barbell Deadlift variations
Barbell Bench Press variations
Barbell Overhead variations
Olympic lift variations
Loaded Carry variations – yes, you can do a spec block on loaded carries, and YES, it does make you a bad-ass. You should especially do this if you train in a busy commercial gym…
Once you have chosen your focus lift the simplest method to assign the correct workload is to assign 3 workouts per week to it and then 1 to the other lifts you want to put on maintenance. There are a couple of ways that I like to organise this, which I’ll outline below.
Option 1 – Range of Motion
Here you focus on strengthening a specific part of the range of motion with each workout for the main lift so it would look like:
Workout 1 – Bottom Position/Starting Strength, i.e. Deficit Deadlift
Workout 2 –Mid-range Position, i.e. Floating Deadlift to Knee
Workout 3 – Top Position, i.e. Block Pull above knee
Workout 4 – Maintenance work for other lifts
Option 2 – Contract Type (OCTs)
This is often my preferred method as I’ve had huge success implementing the OCTs system with my lifters especially from an injury prevention standpoint. With this method each workout would focus on a different contraction type:
Workout 1 – Eccentric Focus (tempo work)
Workout 2 – Isometric Focus (pause work)
Workout 3 – Concentric Focus (normal lifting)
Workout 4 – Maintenance work for other lifts
Option 3 – Stimulation Type
With this third option we aim to stimulate a different physiological response from each workout. So we have workouts aimed more at neurological adaptations and then workouts aimed more at structural adaptations. This can have a Westside-esque feel and look like:
Workout 1 – “Max Effort”/Supra-max work (GTO desensitization, teaching lifter to grind/strain)
Workout 2 – “Repetition Work”/Sub-maximal (Hypertrophy)
Workout 3 – “Dynamic Effort”/Speed work (improving lifters speed/acceleration/intent)
Workout 4 – Maintenance work for other lifts
For Athletes/Sports – Concentrated Loading
I don’t want to dwell on this one too much because as it so happens Mr.Thibaudeau has written a rather good e-book that covers this whole system in-depth which is available here:
Buy it. It’ll make Chris feel all warm and fuzzy inside and nothing does that… except for Honey Crullers.
Concentrated loading refers to focussing on one physical attribute per training block, i.e. speed, power, endurance, hypertrophy. Now this approach CAN be used with lifters, you could have subsequent training blocks focussed on
Block 1 – Hypertrophy
Block 2 – Strength (Building strength, 80-90% range)
Block 3 – Max Strength/Peaking (90%+ range)
Block 4 – De-load/Rehab/Pre-hab
But this system really comes in to it’s own while training athletes and those who compete in non-lifting sports. A concentrated approach (where you focus primarily on one physical capacity per block) is best suited for athletes who compete in sports that don’t require them to excel in many physical qualities at once, say for example, a sprinter, wide receiver or goal keeper.
An athlete that has a need to be more “balanced” in their abilities will benefit more in most cases from a concurrent approach (focusing on several physical qualities per block).
So a concentrated loading training plan for an athlete may look like:
Block 1 (Post-season) – Main Focus – Strength, Secondary Focus – Anaerobic conditioning (10-20% of workload)
Block 2 (Pre-season) – Main Focus – Power, Secondary Focus – Anaerobic conditioning (20-30% of workload)
Block 3 (In-season) – Main Focus – Speed, Secondary Focus – Anaerobic conditioning (30-50% workload)
So there you have it, Blitz Training 101, beautifully presented by yours truly. I hope you found these articles useful and make sure to eagerly wait on the edge of your seat in a state of cat-like readiness for what may come next…….