Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
This week’s blog post is a little different. Since our theme for the next while is intermediate/non-new folks at the gym we’re giving away a strength training block targeted at intermediate gym goers/ resistance trainees. If you are a beginner that doesn’t mean this isn't for you, however, there will be a bunch of assumed context and knowledge, as well as the plan isn’t really designed for you and you could likely benefit a lot more from something beginner specific.
This is going to be a mix of the rationale behind the choices in the program as well as a demo of how it should work.
Firstly the program is on Google Sheets, the link is above. The sheets are protected so please go to ‘File’ and hit ‘Make a copy’ to get your own copy.
The idea of this program is that you complete the sessions every week for 6 weeks, and the additional datasheet will track your numbers and build graphs of your performance over those 6 weeks.
I picked 3 sessions per week, as this is a pretty commonly manageable amount of training, and personally, I see a lot more success and long-term adhesion to 3 sessions/week than I do 4.
Exercise wise we have a bunch of compound lifts, and competition variations if you’re looking to use this with plans to compete in powerlifting, it’s perfectly viable for that. Selections were made with a minimal amount of kit in mind, dumbbells and barbells, and if you have a rack to squat and bench in, you have the ability to set up chin-ups and dips.
Exercises have a top set that you work up to, at a given RPE (use the chart at the top for reference, and if you’re unsure, stick rather than twist). Once you fill in your top set weight, the sheet will give you the drop set weight, or repeat set weight to use, and then the amount of sets is based on how they feel.
This idea of autoregulating volume can be very strange for people, but once you use it for a bit you get the hang of it. You’re essentially doing sets on a fixed rest time until either the new weight is as hard as the top set weight, or the top set weight gets one notch harder on the RPE scale.
‘But Will! Won't that take ages?!’ Not if you stick to the rest timers, no. You may find you likely undershot your top set if when you drop 5-7.5% you’ve hit drop set number 7 and there’s no end in sight. That’s fine, either call it or see how deep the rabbit hole goes, then consider that undershoot next time you do that session.
Also, I find that a lot of people go pretty heavy on the social aspect of the gym, which can cause the rest period to creep into the 5minute+ range, which we’re aiming to avoid by setting the timer.
Whilst we don’t encourage program hopping and bleat on a lot about consistency if you do take on and try this program please get in touch and let us know your thoughts, and if you finish it entirely we’re offering a free 60-minute consultation call to review how it went and go through your results with you, and see what we can learn about how you might want to consider planning more training going forward.
If you’re also a coach reading this and just have questions or want to lift stuff from the sheet/program, just ask! We’re happy it’s helpful.
Estimated Reading time: 4 minutes.
In my last post about my return to the powerlifting platform. I posted my planned pivot out of that block. The Pivot went well, fatigue dropped, sore things got a lot less sore.
Then I ran another developmental block, so I figured I’d post about that and how it went.
The goal of the block was to explore some meme variants, get another block of drama-free strength training in, and see if I could reverse grip 3 plates. For no other reason than the meme factor of doing it.
The Microcycle for Dev Block 2 was as follows.
Front Squat x5@8, Drop 5%
Reverse Grip Bench x1@8, x3@8, Repeat till x3@9
Bulgarian Split Squats 3 sets @9
Trap Bar Deadlift x5@8. Drop 10%
Paused Closegrip Bench x3@8, Repeat till x3@9
DB Overhead Press 3 sets @9
SSB Squat x1@7
Reverse Grip Bench x1@7
Sumo Deadlift x1@7
From my previous training, I’ve really never managed to do a great number of sets on lower movements. Even while I was just doing more hypertrophy-style training, I really struggled to get past 4 work sets at a higher intensity. Having had my main block going into my last competition being to test out minimal effective dose stuff, I averaged 1-2 drop sets per week.
In this dev block, I aimed to see what volume was like at a couple of breakpoints. I also kept upper volume minimal with repeats, though I’ve never had issues with upper volumes ever.
Along with me not really having the time to train for hours, I need to keep sessions pretty concise. Here are a couple of tables regarding fatigue % drops.
I’ve already written about them in depth here.
But TL;DR higher % drops take longer, and equal more total volume on average. Whilst being auto-regulating.
I’ve picked out 15% total volume for the week between my Front Squats and Trap bar Deads. So we’re going in pretty low, but remember I’m not very accustomed to this.
I chose an SBD day on the third day, to limit my total volume, and also to see how it works. I’ve never done one in a block before and they seem fairly popular now, with the rationale of sports practice (doing all three lifts on the same day).
I also decided to play around with measuring bar speed and using it to help make some decisions through training. Overall my training priorities went something like:
Pain lead. If something goes past a 3/10 on the pain scale, we call it.
RPE. My own perception of how performance felt.
Average bar speed on the app. If I couldn’t decide based on how it felt, I’d watch the video and decide based on the video and the measured speed.
Let’s look at some top sets from week 1.
Reverse Grip Bench x1@8 120kg 0.27ms
Front Squat x5@8 110kg 0.46ms
Trap Bar Deadlift x5@8 200kg 0.42ms
These singles are technically week 2. I did my first-week session in a warm-up room at a comp, so I didn't get vids.
SSB x1@7 150kg 0.41ms
Sumo x1@7 180kg 0.23ms
Everything looking fine. No massive drops post-pivot. Though the variations are really different, so it’s hard to tell even versus my pre-comp block.
Now let’s compare them to the peak week of the block, week 7.
Reverse Grip Bench 1@10 140kg 0.13ms
Front Squat x5@8 125kg 0.38ms
Trap Bar Deadlift x5@8 230kg 0.38ms
SSB x1@7 170kg 0.41ms
Sumo x1@7 210kg 0.27ms
Overall a very good block for increases.
+30kg on the trap bar deadlift is the most notable.
+30kg on the sumo deadlift
+10kg on reverse grip bench
+15kg on front squat
Going forward I’m going to pivot out and hopefully decrease fatigue a bunch.
My rough plan to get towards my next competition looks a bit like this.
Given that I don’t know when in November the competition is yet, I think my next development block will be another more exploratory block, aimed at progressing some less specific work.
Hopefully, you found some of this information useful, and if you’re keen to see how things go and how I develop things, stay tuned, and I’ll post the new dev block construction and implementation.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes.
We’ve talked previously about how varying your training lifts, especially if you’ve had extended periods of doing very similar things. With that in mind, I’m going to talk through some of my personal favourite variations for the squat, bench, and deadlift. There are likely a few in here that you’ve heard of and done before, but hopefully, there are some wildcards you’ve never done. I highly advise working them all in at some point, assuming that they’re all paint ree for you!
Starting off with squats
I typically use front squat with a lot of people, of all experience levels. One of the main issues folk encounter with these is gripping the bar, if you can’t get a full clean grip, I typically fall back to either a cross grip or using lifting straps to get a pseudo full grip position.
Frost squats are excellent in any rep range, highly challenging to your erectors to maintain an upright position and with essentially zero room to lose position and just grind through, you typically will just drop the bar
Safety Squat/Shoulder Saver Bar:
The SSB is another great squat variation, especially if you’re one of the folks that get irritated shoulder quite easily from the combo of bench training and trying to crank into a lower bar position squat often. Specifically, though, try to aim to use one that has the handles and plate sleeves lined up in the same direction.
See the picture above, the weights are slightly in front of the centre when the bar is resting on the shoulders. At some point, someone decided to make a version of the bar where the handles and weights are offset like the one pictured below.
This kind of removes one of the biggest benefits of the bar (the other being shoulder comfort, which is 100% there still) but when the handles and plates are forward of centre the pads are essentially trying to round you over forward throughout the lift, and you have to constantly remain upright and really push back into the pads, which I think is a great ‘feel’ cue for regular bar squats.
Lastly, I think I’d have to pick paused squats.
While paused squats might sound pretty basic and a fairly common staple, I think there’s a reason for that. You really can’t understate how helpful the pause can be for giving the lifter a split second to think about their cue on the reverse. It takes a significant amount of practice and time under the bar to even be able to process cues once the ‘oh God this is heavy’ sets in.
The key thing is to make sure folks aren’t just loosely hanging on tissues at the bottom of the pause, and are actively maintaining an isometric effort. Which can be an issue for very mobile people. You want folk holding on tension at the bottom during the pause, then powering out.
Bench press variations
Close-grip Incline Bench:
I like this for a few reasons, firstly I don't think enough folk use incline as a variant often enough, leaving a bunch of pecs undertrained. Secondly, due to the angle, you typically get a much deeper tricep stretch in the bottom position than you would on a flat close grip. I also like that it gets you used to pushing the bar facewards, which not doing can be a fairly common technical issue in a competition bench.
I imagine you’re starting to see a theme here.
I like paused benches because not only do you need to pause the lift in competition, so you might as well get used to it. You can also benefit from the pause from a technical standpoint. Much similar to squats, that brief period of time for you to think about your cue and execute it can do wonders.
Reverse Grip Bench:
The forbidden grip.
Read from the Book of the Dead unearthed from Hamunaptra, or assemble all five pieces of Exodia. However you personally unlock the forbidden grip is up to you, the main thing is I really like it as a bench variation.
The main reasons why I like it, once you get over how awkward it feels at first, are that if you ever have shoulder bother, it’s a lot comfier typically due to the more internally rotated position. You may find that in times of regular benching causing pain, the reverse grip is fully pain-free and lets you keep loaded.
It also hits the triceps and shoulder pretty well, though like everything your mileage may vary, but I highly advise trying it out. Very much make sure you have side spots in place though, as the first few times till you feel out how to grip it and where it will sit in your hand it can get pretty wobbly.
Opposite Stance Pulls:
So if you’re a conventional puller, take some time, a cycle or so pulling sumo, and obviously, the reverse if you’re a sumo puller. Taking some time away from your competition stance can be very helpful, it gets you out of the pattern you’re used to, and might have some niggles in, and lets you still load up. Specifically for sumo pullers, where you typically shorten the range of motion by a decent amount, going back to a bigger range in conventional can really help build up some muscle that’ll carry over to your sumo pull.
Low-handle Trap Bar:
I really like a low-handle trap bar deadlift. It gets you into a very low position and puts the legs and glutes through a large ROM, whilst allowing you to keep a decent torso position. For pretty much all non-powerlifters, trap bar is what I’d consider their main movement. I just find it easier to get folks loaded up on, with minimal technical proficiency required.
I’ve always called these stealth deadlifts because we had the idea that they could be their own variant when we used to do dumb stuff like try and get a session in late at night in my parent's garage, so we were literally trying to make minimal noise.
I like these as the controlled lowering and touchdown of the bar is a really good way to get people to feel what the tension and pressure they’re trying to create at the start of the lift should feel like.
Hopefully, you give some of these lifts a try! If you do please let us know how you get on in the comments.
@atsapprioved on all social media.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
One of the reasons a lot of people will choose to work with a coach is that they can act as an objective pair of eyes turned onto the medium to long-term plan, as well as help construct that plan in the first place. I’ve written before about the nature of having a plan and how to build one if you’re just starting out but as our first post in this newly themed content arc eluded to, if you’re not a beginner any more sometimes you can get lost in the great swampy middle.
Let’s give an example of what this might typically look like. The person in question might be a year or so into training, and they started off by completing the Couch to 5k plan through the app of the same name. They got through it and ran/walked their 5k. They worked hard and pushed themselves and not that elation of accomplishment has passed, now they’ve had their chill time and now have their eyes set on a 10k.
There are plenty of training plans out there for training for a 10k, some even borrow the handy marketing title of Couch to 10k, though I’m not certain they’re produced by the same people. This person embarks on training for this, but a month or two into the plan, things are really dragging, and they’re barely even halfway through (this might not be the actual timeline, grant me some poetic licence.) They get demoralised at their distance from the goal, and their lack of immediate progress. Then they start skipping sessions, usually with a perfectly valid reason, like working late or helping family, or date night. They still keep training, just inconsistently, then they start picking up little injuries/sore bits, and before long they chuck the whole thing entirely. Not to say that they go back to sedentariness but they bail on their target of the 10k/Beach body/sporting competition, whatever it is.
If you aren’t working with a coach the only person reminding you and keeping that long-term goal in mind is you. It can be hard to differentiate between what is a failing of the plan to get to that goal, and what are just bumps in the road that suck when you’re the one executing that plan. It will always feel worse to you. I’m sure most people reading this who work with a coach have either sent a filmed lift, or been mid-session and just finished a set that felt horrendous, and your coach says something like ‘That looked great! Let’s add 5 kilos’. You’re not sure if they’re delusional and didn’t just witness you fighting for your life, or they just weren’t paying attention.
It’s likely because, to an outside observer, it did look very manageable. You just experienced it differently from that. This is where the water gets really murky (throwback to the swamp reference). If you are training/working towards things by yourself, you need to try and find an objective measure to judge things with that you have minimal control over. To decide these moments where you’re not sure if it’s the correct level of difficulty, or if you’re actually falling behind/backwards on the plan, there may need to be some adjustments.
We’ll cover some specific ideas for objective measures when doing self-lead training in a later article. We’re just here to talk about the importance of long-term vision.
Another important benefit of long-term vision and planning for athletic performance and fitness is that it helps athletes avoid injury and overtraining. When you have a clear long-term vision and plan, you can structure your training in a way that gradually builds up your physical attributes over time. This gradual approach can help prevent injuries and avoid the negative effects of overtraining. Most of this comes from not always hammering things really hard, sometimes your training session wont be a world-ender, you’ll just feel pretty ‘meh’ and that’s fine. If you’re constantly pushing through things that really should be red flags for you not to, you’ll likely end up injured and/or overtrained.
We’ve talked about this before in our posts relating to goal setting, but physically writing your goal down, writing your plan out, on paper, has reals significance in helping you stick to it. It’s very different when every day you see a little post-it note or photo stuck somewhere, that little reminder of what you’re working towards when things feel gross and you’d much rather chin it off.
The one good thing is that as with the smaller goal chunks we’ve talked about before, completing bigger and longer in the making goals will subsequently fortify you for further goals that may be hard to achieve. Which is another large benefit of pursuing health and fitness related outcomes.
Less practical takeaways this week, but hopefully you found something of use in the ramblings.
As always find us @atsapproved on all social media.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
As we cruise into April our content angle will be pivoting into more intermediate to advanced-level content for more seasoned fitness enthusiasts. What better way to kick that off than to cover some common things to investigate and potentially try if you find yourself and your progress plateauing and getting stagnant.
Firstly, consider that it may be time to change up your program/routine. Regardless of what you’re training for you’ve likely constructed some sort of training plan to aim for a specific target. Whether that be a certain performance, competition, or improvement in a certain physical quality. If you have been using the program without change for close to or over two months, it may be time to review some of the data you’ve gathered and see what’s happened.
On the flip side, it could be that you’re changing programs too often and not allowing enough time for progress to appear.
If you’re taking notes (you should be) look back at your last 8 weeks of training and see if you can find any trends emerging. Here’s a chart from a client’s program review.
Deadlift x4 @8 RPE
This is the weight they used for their deadlifts over the last six sessions of this program. The pink line is just a trend line, which can be handy if you have a broad spread of data to see if overall it was good or bad.
Like this one, which is drop sets on a bench press exercise
Stuff all over the place, though overall, slightly positive.
In this specific case we’re pretty sure that after week 5/6 in a program, we start to plateau and then get worse, we figured that out just by running one program for 10 weeks to see what happened.
I encourage you to look at your training data and see where things were going well, and where they were not going well, make some notes about each, and then change things up for a bit to try and re-sensitise yourself to training. Changing sets/rep schemes, changing exercises, changing the days of the week you do particular exercises on. If Monday has been a squat day since time began, try swapping it out to Wednesday, or wherever you deadlift. Similarly, if you’ve always done your pacing medium-long distance runs on a Monday, try swapping them out with your intervals.
Next up, consider swapping your exercises. Most programs have some amount of variation baked into them, all the way from Crossfit at the extremely high end, to Bulgarian style at the extremely low end of the variation. For most people though, I imagine the answer is probably somewhere in the middle, and if you’ve started to stall out on stuff, it may be time to consider swapping some things out. This may also be wise if you’re starting to pick up little niggling pains consistently on specific exercises. Soreness kind of goes hand in hand with hard training, but consistent pains are usually a red flag worth paying attention to.
If you’re training for strength, consider changing to a different bar, adding pauses, or even a specific tempo for exercises. Even a change in stance or grip can be enough variety to keep things moving in the right direction. If you’re training for hypertrophy/physique-based improvements and your normally scorching incline dumbbell bench press pump has faded into obscurity, perhaps try swapping out to another variation. Machine presses, barbell bench, and even increases ROM pushups.
If you’re training for aerobic-based things, like distance running, or a specific quality in your sport, consider changing up the equipment you use or the method of hitting your aerobic training. If you’re currently crushing the pavement miles, consider doing some off-road stuff, perhaps even beach based if you have access to one. Mix in more inclined running or swap up running entirely for swimming or some other method of getting the heart rate up.
Thirdly, this one might sting a little, perhaps consider that you may not be recovering enough for your current training. Adaption (getting better) only occurs after recovery from any particular stress, and if you’re just hammering the stressors too much, or too often, or both, you just might stall out, even though you’re working hard.
I saw this poster on a bus stop in New Zealand while we were over there and it made me laugh, as this is pretty dead-on training advice, just on some random bus stop. I had recently heard someone use the analogy of plants with regard to training and adaption. Just because a plant is growing well with how much you water it, or how much sun it’s currently getting, doesn’t necessarily mean that doubling the amount of either of those will be better, or even positive at all. So yeah, maybe consider training one less day, or having a look at your sleep and nutrition.
Speaking of nutrition! That’s going to be our last little stone to turn over in this post. If you have been consistently in a calorie deficit for aesthetic or sport-based reasons, constantly cutting to make weight, or just hammering a deficit to try and get as lean as can be without maintenance breaks you may wish to discontinue that, at least for the short term.
Being in a calorie deficit can be a strain on your resources for recovery. Whilst normally performance impairment will mostly come from how harsh a deficit you’re trying to run (don’t run large deficits, just take your damn time.) if you run even a moderate one for long enough it’ll start impacting things. Look to take a break and just maintain stable body weight on a slightly higher amount of calories, enough so that you feel like you have plenty of energy, and keep adding until you see steady increases, then pair it back a little. You really want to try and see how much you can get away with for maintaining, whilst remaining in a stable weight range (your body weight will fluctuate day to day, that’s normal). It’s also worth looking into your specific macronutrient breakdown. If you’re lifting, how much protein are you taking on? Is it enough to support your recovery? If you’re training for aerobic performance, how are your carbohydrates looking? Are you doing anything about intra-session nutrition? Possibly look into gels or electrolyte/carb drinks for consumption through your longer sessions.
Hopefully, some of those points sparked some ideas to follow and look into your own training. If you’re keen to see how our more intermediate content plays out, follow us on social media, or sign up to our newsletter. Find us @atsapproved on all social media.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
For our last blog post of the beginner season, we will discuss some tips and tricks on keeping your exercise habit trucking. How do you keep things going once you’re over that initial couple of weeks, even a month of consistency, and the reality is setting in that this is a (hopefully) lifelong process that you’re committing to?
Firstly, start small! Don’t try and do too much too soon. You see this play out on your social media every year. Folk try to kick off about 3 different new year’s resolutions at once, they want to exercise, lose weight, read three books a week, and do Duolingo every day. It never works out, best case scenario they might stick to one of those, but more likely than not it’ll all come crashing down after a few weeks. It’s just too big a change all at once. Aim lower, start with amounts of almost trivial change, and build up from there.
Schedule your exercise. Pretend it’s just like any other appointment, even if you don’t work with a PT or coach, pretend it’s a work meeting. Try to make time for it at a place in your day where you never have any other conflicting activities if possible, and no, Netflix doesn’t count. We recently sent out a goal hierarchy worksheet to our newsletter subscribers that helps you do this exact bit of admin, so if you’re interested in that please sign up below.
Find an activity you enjoy. Exercise really doesn’t have to be boring or tedious. There are thousands of ways to exercise and finding one that jives with you might take a bunch of experimentation, but it’s worth it in the long run. There’s everything from hot yoga, dance classes and swimming, powerlifting, CrossFit, kayaking and everything in between. Think about things you enjoy and try to look for exercise classes or structures that are based on or include that thing.
Mix it up. One thing that can really tank motivation after the initial surge is the tedium of the routine. This is why I advise mixing up your workouts or activities. Even better, is to save the variety one for when things are really starting to get boring, and then sprinkle them in. Like having a break glass in case of low motivation button, keep them for emergencies only, and that way they keep their restorative powers.
Create accountability. This isn’t just limited to exercise, but a super easy way to hold yourself accountable to stuff is just to tell people that you're doing it, then they’ll typically ask about it most times that they see you, and that small inkling of pressure can help spur you on. Some people find having a PT or a gym buddy a great help for this reason. You build a routine together, and there’s an expectation that you’ll be turning up, which can really help you get in gear and get to those sessions you really don’t want to go to.
Reward yourself. Celebrate your exercise-related accomplishments. A small caveat, probably don’t celebrate with a calorie-dense meal out, as that will likely pull against your overall aims with exercise, however, some self-care activities such as a spa treatment, or buying new workout clothes are excellent rewards for exercise accomplishments! You want to try and think of things that will compound your motivation and desire to exercise, not subtract from it.
Track your progress. Somewhere in the back of a cupboard I still have the first workout my friend in school wrote for us both to do back in 2006/7. It can be incredibly rewarding to see how far you’ve come in your exercise journey, especially at times when you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere. Plateaus do happen, and we’ll be covering what to do about that in our next month of content, aimed at people already well on their way with exercise.
Please also remember that building a habit takes time and effort, you have to put both the time and the work in. It won't be a straight upward road. But eventually, it will just become part of your routine and personality as a whole.
Hopefully, you found some of these tips helpful, and if you have any comments on them, or want to let us know any tips you use to stay on track, please let us know in the comments below. @atsapproved on all social media.