Experts keep telling us it doesn’t work – but they also said the bumblebee couldn’t fly!
Every Sunday the faithful gather at Don B’s country gym. Our once-weekly strength training session consists of the barbell back squat, bench press and deadlift, in that order, done in round-robin fashion. Each man steps up in turn and does his set, this while the others spot or watch. No one is texting or tweeting or taking phone calls or having side conversations: that would be inappropriate. Each man lifts and then pays attention when the other men lift. Men lift more and take things more seriously when watched by other men whose opinions they value and respect. We take advantage of that.
Every one of the Barn Boys has a strength training plan. Each is adhering to a customized periodization schedule that is pure sophisticated simplicity. The protocol is the same for each man: work up to your proscribed (preplanned) top set. Each top set has a preplanned poundage and specific number of reps. This is true in each of the three exercises. We don’t do multiple top sets on the squats or deadlifts. One top set, then move onto the next exercise. On the bench press, the favored protocol is to work up to a top set using the lifters most powerful grip width; then reduce the poundage and perform a set of wide-grip paused benches and a final narrow-grip set, using the touch-and-go style. This bench press protocol is straight out of the Ed Coan/Doug Furnas playbook. In the deadlift, work up to the periodized poundage and rep target. Then you are done.
Everyone strength training on Sunday has a goal. Everyone has an individualized plan and adheres to it. Attainable weekly goals are established and systematically achieved. The typical periodized cycle lasts 12-weeks and often ends with the gym member participating in a powerlifting competition. Competition makes a great report card on the effectiveness of the cycle. The Barn Boys do incredibly well in powerlifting competitions; where others wilt in competition, our guys think competing (compared to strength training) is a proverbial walk in park. Why is this? Because of the way we train.
Squats are easier in competition because our lifters don’t have to squat as deep as we insist they do in training. While the rest of the progressive resistance world builds their barbell squats from the top down, we build our squats from the bottom up. In competition, the rules say the lifter needs to dip an inch below parallel. For our guys this is a reduction in depth (compared to the ultra-deep squats we do in training.) This means big competition squats. One of our 220-pound lifters recently posted a competition squat 50-pounds in excess of his best training lift. “It felt like cheating only having to go an inch below parallel.” He explained.
Our deadlifts are also always better in competition than in training. In competition there is usually a two-hour gap between squats and deadlifts. In training our lifters are deadlifting 30-minutes after squatting. The extra rest means extra poundage. The squat and deadlift, done with our strength training techniques, work many of the same muscles, i.e. erectors, abs, upper thighs, glutes and hamstrings. In a competition that extra rest between squats and deadlifts means our deadlifts are always better in competition.
Meanwhile competitors that traditionally deadlift on a different training day, find it near impossible to match their best training lifts in competition. Their deadlifts always done when the body is fresh. Our deadlifts are always prefatigued by squats – just like in real competition. Our lifters routinely set deadlift personal records in competition that far exceed their best barn deads.
Our men have all made mind-blowing gains in both performance and physique. They are the modern inheritors of a protocol with a long history. When I share this information with mainstream fitness professionals, when I tell of our incredible success, the response is one of skeptical disbelief. I get this look of bemused patience and I get the feeling that they are looking at me but not hearing me, as in, “Gallagher’s age has finally caught up to him and he is becoming delusional and unhinged.” I feel as if I’ve invented a cure for cancer and no one wants it. Don’t tell us it doesn’t or can’t work. Once a week strength training has created way too many champion lifters for far too long. And we continue to obtain real results for regular people each and every week.
The implications for normal people intent on getting the most out of their resistance training is quite profound: if life conspires to limit your available time, train once week and do so confident of astounding progress. Maximal bang for minimal time – but “it” (the totality of the transformative process) requires goals, a plan, exactitude in execution and dogged adherence in a multitude of disparate disciplines simultaneously moving through time and space.
This idea of one-time a week strength training is an option that most athletes never knew they had. Most would think, “If I can only train once a week, why even bother?” How would this approach work for a normal person? Here is a classical once-weekly training template designed for a “regular person” new to our system. I used this exact training split when working with an out-of-shape business exec a few years back. The poundage selected was what he used and is strictly to illustrate how periodized poundage increases work…
Barbell front squat dumbbell bench press kettlebell sumo deadlift bodyweight
Week 1 45 x 8 reps 10's x 10 55 x 8 200
Week 2 50 x 8 15's x 10 60 x 8 198
Week 3 55 x 8 20's x 10 65 x 6 196
Week 4 60 x 8 25's x 10 70 x 6 194
Hi-bar back squat barbell bench press barbell sumo deadlift bodyweight
Week 5 75 x 5 reps 45 x 8 85 x 5 192
Week 6 85 x 5 50 x 8 95 x 5 190
Week 7 95 x 5 55 x 8 105 x 5 188
Week 8 105 x 5 60 x 8 115 x 5 186
Poundage is listed first, then reps. These are the “top sets” done after warm-ups sets.
This entry-level periodization program worked like a charm for our out-of-shape business exec. Those new to our methods make rapid gains in strength. Note that by the conclusion of an 8-week commitment, my trainee has doubled his “jump in” poundage, essentially doubling strength levels. Bodyweight was reduced by coordinating strength training with a synchronized nutritional approach. We also cycled his overhead press and cardio…
Week overhead press (dumbbells) cardio
1 10's x 8 reps 3 sessions 15 mins @ 60% (of age-related HR max)
2 10's x 10 reps 3 sessions 17 mins 62.5%
3 15's x 6 reps 4 sessions 19 mins 65%
4 15's x 8 reps 4 sessions 21 mins 67.5%
5 15's x 10 reps 5 sessions 23 mins 70%
6 20's x 6 reps 5 sessions 25 mins 72.5%
7 20's x 7 reps 5 sessions 27 mins 75%
8 20's x 8 reps 6 sessions 30 mins 75%
The cardio training was critical. He stair-stepped upward one week at a time, morphing from out of shape into shape. He wore a heart rate monitor that allowed us to access cardio intensity. The percentage represents a blended-session average of age-related heart rate maximum. Our exec became twice as strong and simultaneously lost 14 pounds of body fat. The training goal is always synchronized with a nutritional approach. The goal is never to stay the same; bodyweight needs to be manipulated to aide in attaining our goals.
The news is even better: it doesn’t take a regular man very long to work up to a top set in any of the core four exercises. If a normal man is handling normal poundage in proper fashion, he is performing 3-4 sets per exercise. He needs 12 to 16 sets for an entire workout. Done right, it should take no more than 30-minutes to perform three exercises, from the first rep of the first set in the squats to the last rep in the top set of deadlifts, no more than 30 minutes.
If your life situation demands it, try once-a-week Old School strength training, complete with periodized weekly benchmarks. Create realistic goals. Set goals into a timeframe and create a periodized template: reverse-engineer weekly mini-goals that stress our capacities in every workout. Less can be better if less is made harder. Once a week strength training is a valid option and tantalizing progress prospect for time-pressed modern man.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.