Here's our Questions and Answers no.4
Quick question. For most loading schemes is it ok to ramp up to a crisp training max for that day then say drop down to your loading pattern for the day; 3×5 @ 80% or 6×3 @ 85% etc.? Or is it too taxing on the nervous system. Take the classic example of a natural subject doing four sessions per week. Could someone do it for their four main lifts or would you recommend cycling this overwarm up activation style to only one or two sessions per week?
Very few people can do that. Veeeeerrrryyyy few. First, they need to be very dopamine dominant (extroverted, risk-takers, highly competitive, love the excitement and trying new things, etc.), then they need a big bone structure and naturally super strong tendons (big head, big elbows, big knees, big hands, wide clavicle, large hips) and also a naturally high level of testosterone (or be enhanced). If someone doesn’t possess all three of these elements, he cannot max out at every workout for more than 3-4 weeks out of a 12 or even 16 weeks period.
Look at the Westside Barbell Crew; the guys training there all have a very thick structure, they are extremely competitive (borderline insane) and likely dopamine dominant and they are likely using anabolics (by Louie’s own admission). Yet they only max out twice per week, and when they do they only attempt 3 heavy lifts per session. Their max-out sessions are not unlike a powerlifting meet, where they plan 3 heavy attempts (the last one resulting in a PR) which they do after a progressive warm-up. They don’t do the typical max-out session where you might do 5+ lifts above 90% to find out your max.
If a crowd like that, that has everything going for them when it comes to strength, can only max out twice per week, why would you be able to do it more often?
Furthermore, on the day they max out they don’t do anything else for that lift. You are talking about maxing out 4 days a week then doing more heavy work for the lift of the day?! Unlikely that you can handle it, sorry (but very few people can).
It is possible to max out 4 days per week and then do heavy work for the lift for about 3-4 weeks (2 for some people). Years ago I designed a system called “the layer system” in which you only trained one lift per day, but used various methods for that lift.
I rotated the methods but it could look something like this:
A. Ramp to a 1, 2 or 3RM
B. Take around 85-90% of that maximum and do 3 cluster sets of 5-6 reps (clusters are sets where you rest 15-20 seconds between each reps, re-racking the bar between each)
C. Take around 65-70% of the maximum and do a 5-4-3-2-1 rest/pause set (5 reps/rest 10-15 sec/4 reps/10-15 sec/3 reps/10-15 sec/2 reps/10-15 sec/1 rep/end of set), 2 or 3 sets were done
D. Use between 40 and 50% and do 3 sets of 3 explosive reps
That was an amazingly effective system, and you did work up to a max 4 or even 5 times a week. It produced extremely rapid results but was designed to be a short term “blitz” program, not to be followed for more than 4 weeks. Those who tried either plateaued started to have aches in pains or began to feel like crap.
I understand that working up to a maximum is fun. Especially when you lift in a crowded gym and you think hitting your max impresses other people (unless you are doing something really impressive and unusual, it doesn’t), and I also understand using the maximum of the day to evaluate how much weight to use for your “work sets” later in the workout (a very Bulgarian-ish approach). But unless you are genetically gifted, there is no way you can thrive for long on such a program.
You will eventually get injured, your form will gradually degrade, your testosterone will crash (maxing out is a huge stress and increases adrenalin and cortisol which decreases testosterone) and you will eventually start to have depression-like symptoms.
I would actually like to tell you that this approach works well because I personally like to train like that. But every time I have tried, and I’m someone who is fairly gifted for training and who can handle a lot of training stress, I crashed after about 2 or 3 weeks.
I have been training for 4 years now. Crossfit started my fitness journey. I’m currently a Level 1 Coach, weightlifting certification, and Crossfit kids coach. But, I been slowly falling in love with PowerLifting. I am trying to maximize my lifts and still be able to run a decent mile. If that makes sense. I have been following “The Brand X Method” which is really good. But, I am a student and love learning from other teachers. Again, I really appreciate your time coach. I been experiencing plateaus on the big lifts. Deadlift, Squats and Bench. I’m around 425/405/275. My big goal is the 300 club on the bench but I don’t know proper technique.
Question 1: On Benching what should my back be doing? Squeezing the shoulder blades or spreading them?
Question 2: Rest Days, how many do I need during the week?
-Patrick (PJ) Marcellais
Answer by Christian
Dude spreading your shoulder blades is by far the worst thing to do. First, for performance as it greatly increases the range of motion, but also for shoulder health because it will make your shoulders move up (toward the ceiling) when pressing which will created a nasty overload of the shoulder joint and can also contribute to creating an impingement.
Your shoulder blades should be retracted and, more importantly, STAY retracted when you are pressing.
But that’s only part of the story; the lats also have to be engaged. When you set up to bench imagine that you are trying to bend the bar in half. That will have your elbows more tucked in and your lats contracting hard. Then, when you lower the bar you must pull the bar down with the back, not resist it with your chest, arms and shoulders. So, the whole backstays super tight and you imagine doing a barbell row to bring the bar to your chest.
By rest days do you mean days without benching or days without training? If you mean days without benching that is a complex question because it depends on many things:
- What does the rest of your training look like (for example, if you are doing tons of overhead work it will diminish how much bench pressing you should do).
- What are your skill and strength levels on the bench press
- Do you have shoulder injuries or are you prone to getting them
- How old are you and how well do you recover from training
For example, if you are doing any kind of overhead work (you mentioned Crossfit, so if you are doing a lot of snatches, jerks, push presses, thrusters, kipping pull-ups, dips) it will decrease the amount and frequency of bench pressing you can handle.
If you are highly skilled in the bench press (I assume that you aren’t from your shoulder blades question) you can bench press more often because it will be less traumatic to your shoulders. But on the other hand, the stronger you are, the more traumatic bench pressing becomes! So, those who can handle the most frequency are those who are highly skilled, but not yet super strong.
I have benched as much as 5 days a week (not all of these days being hard) but that also meant doing very little another pressing for the upper body and putting my deadlift and squat on maintenance.
I find that pressing three times per week, with two bench pressing workouts, seems to be best for most people. It would be two bench sessions and one overhead session. Different methods would be used on both bench sessions (heavy and speed one day, volume on the other one).
If you are young, have perfect technique and not yet super strong, you might be able to press three days a week. But then you should reduce overhead work to a minimum, if not take it out completely.