Progressive Weight Training - Spread Out The Effort
Modulating progressive weight training frequency:
“…do one single thing with all your heart.”
Guess who?? Lee Priest stands 5-6 and in the off season weighed as much as 285 pounds. He was a savage power trainer and notoriously indiscriminate eater when seeking to add size. He would routinely eat an entire bucket of KFC chicken in a single sitting by himself. Progressive weight training yielded world record strong results in all his upper body lifts.
When stagnation sets in, one excellent way to tweak progressive weight training progress is to alter the session frequency. How many days a week do you devote to progressive weight training? Many of our power compatriots are strength training as little as once a week – and getting fantastic results. Most power trainers are using two-day or three-day power splits.
Once weekly day 1 squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, arms
Twice weekly day 1 squat, bench press, triceps day 2 deadlift, overhead press, biceps
Thrice weekly day 1 squat, leg assistance day 2 bench, arms day 3 deadlift, overhead press
Every progressive weight training regimen, no matter how effective, eventually runs out of results. No problem, label it “effective” and put it back into the arrow quiver of battle-tested, proven-effective routines for use again at some point in the future. The hardcore pro has dozens of battle-tested strength routines ready to roll out when needed.
The real transformational pro anticipates stagnation before its onset; attuned and experienced, the hardcore sense stagnation. When the logjam forms, you need respond with dramatic contrast to whatever you it is you are currently doing. Mild, subtle changes are insufficient to give the body the physiological jolt needed to reignite progress.
When looking for ways to reinvigorate training progress one of our favorite progress-stimulating tricks is to “stretch out” strength training. At one frequency extreme, all the lifts are done on one day. Totally appropriate and totally effective.
At the other frequency extreme, a little bit of lifting is done every day. Totally appropriate and totally effective. No one training frequency trumps all others. Pros know all training frequencies are equal. To say that five days of weekly strength training trumps one day of training is like saying a screwdriver trumps a socket wrench.
Our training group gathers once weekly on Sunday morning. We work through squats, bench presses, power cleans, deadlifts, overhead presses, curls and triceps. No other training is done during the week: train the body as a whole – then rest the body as a whole.
Once-a-week strength training is an effective strategy that elite powerlifters have used for decades; sometimes out of necessity, sometimes to create dramatic contrast needed to dynamite stagnation. Ultra-minimalistic frequency, i.e., power training once a week, is unquestionably a valid arrow in the big quiver of battle-tested progressive resistance training strategies. But it is only one arrow in the proven-effective quiver.
Every progressive resistance strategy (no matter how result-producing) has a shelf life. That includes ultra-minimalistic one-day-a-week power training. What to do when the once-weekly well runs dry? One excellent progressive weight training strategy used to create maximum contrast to training once weekly is to train a little bit (nearly) every day. Super-short daily sessions that last no more than 15-20 minutes…
Tuesday bench press
Wednesday power clean/deadlift
Thursday overhead pressing
Friday arms (biceps/triceps super-setted)
Saturday wild card – pick one lift for extra attention
In each session, take the appropriate number of warm-up sets before hitting a “top set” of (typically) 1-8 reps with a “periodized poundage.” After a single top set, leave. Each week for 10-12 weeks, a predetermined top set poundage is attained, slightly more than the previous week. This is known as a periodized strength cycle.
Monday: hi-bar back squat; take 2-3 warmup sets concentrating on technique and explosiveness. Work up to a single 3-5 rep “top set” effort. You are done. Leave.
Tuesday: bench press; after 2-3 warmup sets, top set 3-5 reps; reduce poundage. wide-grip paused, rep out; reduce poundage again, narrow-grip bench press touch & go style. Rep out, push until another rep is not possible.
Wednesday: start with explosive power cleans, 2-rep sets. When the velocity slows, segue into deadlifts. Work up to a top set of five deadlift reps, use crisp, clean, no-grind technique. Use a controlled lowering. You are done.
Friday: biceps and triceps. allot 15-minutes. Alternate biceps with a set of triceps. Favored biceps exercises? barbell & dumbbell curls, seated and standing. Tricep exercises; dips, nose-breakers, triceps presses, pushdowns.
Saturday: wild card day. Pick a core lift (or body part) that you feel needs extra attention. Hit it again - but hit is differently, i.e., change the reps, alter grip widths, alter stance width.
Sunday: off from any progressive weight training.
Six months later: here is what was hidden under that 285-pounds of KFC chicken bulk. Lee Priest weighing 225. The best built short man of all time, hands down. No one else is even close.
Every day one main exercise is attacked. An entire session can consist of 5-sets. Any session duration variance is due to the relative strength of the athlete. A beginner needs only 2-3 sets to get to their top set. Stronger athletes need a lot of sets to get where they are going: a good lifter might perform warmup sets with 135x10, 225x5, 275x3, 315x, 345x1 and 375x1 before hitting the session’s top set: 405x5. Our friends squat 1000. You can imagine how many sets that takes. It takes a lot longer for the advanced man to train than a 3-set beginner.
If you are able, if you have the situation, if you have the inclination, this is a very cool way to train: you have one or two lifts per session to focus on. Everything is attacked fresh. In long workouts the lifts done at the end of the session always suffer.
This “little bit everyday” approach allows the athlete to attack each lift each day with physical freshness, a single-minded focus and purpose: squat and leave, bench press and leave, deadlift and leave, overhead press and leave, knock the hell out of arms and leave. What could be simpler and more effective? Do one single thing with all your heart.
I like to flush out my one-lift-a-session workouts with some “non-conflicting” minor exercises done in super-set fashion, i.e. hit the major lift then immediately hit a minor exercise that hits the muscles on the opposite side of the limb or torso.
I might super-set 2-3 sets of barbell rows with my first 3-4 bench press warm-up sets. I seek to make my barbell rows “reverse bench presses” by using an identical grip width and a mirror-image motor pathway. I alternate pulldowns with overhead presses, again using an identical grip width and attempting to create a mirror image motor pathway. Hams and calves are slipped in between squat warm-up sets. These tiny exercises don’t stretch the session length or compromise that day’s featured lift.
I like to hit 2-3 sets of leg curls and calf raises in between my first three squat warm-up sets. I do sets of pulldowns between my initial sets of front presses. When doing press-behind-the-neck I will switch to identical grip width (to PBNs) pulldowns behind the head. Super-settings biceps and triceps is a natural.
On the other hand, if pushed for time, skip these minor exercises: they are desert. The meat and potatoes are the main lifts: if tired, dragging, unenthused, drop the minor exercise. Squat and leave. Bench and leave. Power clean and deadlift and leave. Overhead press then press-behind-the-neck and leave. Hit arms and leave.
Your job, your focus, everything is dependent on your ability to exert 100% of your attention and energy on the main lift of the day: push up poundage-handling ability in these core lifts, it automatically converts into lean muscle mass increases. If you are able, if you have the time, if you have the situation and motivation, the one lift per day approach is a surefire progress stimulator
For a while…
At one of the Olympia’s Dorian won, I was backstage as the contestants were waiting to be called back onstage. These men had squeezed every ounce of water and fluid out of their body in preparation for the show. The bodybuilders were exhausted and on the verge of collapse. I saw Lee leaning on a table, just trying to gather himself before being called back onstage. I stopped, his physique was compact and perfect. I was totally gob smacked. He happened to look up at me. I said, “Those are the most incredible forearms and best relaxed arms I have ever seen.” Despite exhaustion bordering on collapse, he looked at me, smiled and said, “Thanks Mate!” We shook hands with sincerity. When these exhausted men were called back onstage, they instantaneously morphed into inflated statues, perfectly tanned, perfect hair, perfect white teeth, smiling like maniacs. Lee always placed low because of his height. The photo captures the mind-blowing physique I saw backstage at the Olympia that night. Lee was no one-trick pony, he had incredible legs and a great back. Critics call attention to short arms, saying it destroyed his symmetry. No man under 5-8 could (or can) stand up to Priest in a body part to body part comparison.
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 multiple 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.