Quarantine fitness reflections about past training programs.
This whole quarantine fitness thing and weight training at home has given me some time for reflection, especially about different training programs that I've used over the years. Some programs were less than ideal, and some worked well. What really came to me was how during many years, I changed programs and quite coincidentally, staved off injury and maybe mental burnout.
I have always looked at traditional “deloads” written into training cycles as sort of a “soft” way of training, almost a waste of time. Most deload weights are too light to get any training effect, with some protocols calling for using 40% of your one rep maximum. So, if my max is 400 pounds, then my working weight is 160 pounds? Better off watching Animal Fails on YouTube than wasting my time. Oh, that would be so boring!
I structured in “volume deloads” without realizing that I was doing it at the time.
When I competed in powerlifting for a few years, I wrote my programs with cycled weights and percentages and although there are some changes that are made to a program during a powerlifting cycle, most of the cycle needs to be adhered to strictly, meaning that you lift the weights called for from workout to workout, building up to meet day.
And all that was definitely necessary when training for a meet, but once I reached my powerlifting goals, I needed to do something different to satisfy my competitive urge. I decided to try some Muay Thai boxing. When I designed the program for the weight training portion of the training, I knew I had to cut back on the volume of the lifts, but still attempt to stay strong. Weight training, staying strong in particular, will always and SHOULD always be the foundation, the cornerstone of any training program, whether you are training for running a marathon or a boxing match. I was boxing and kicking five days a week, and I dropped the lifting portion of my training to 2-3 days a week. I knew that it would be foolish to still try to squat 800 pounds and deadlift over 700 while jumping rope and doing pad work and bag work and sprints. That type of training beats you up pretty good, and recovery becomes paramount, especially when someone is trying to beat your head in!
When I trained for powerlifting, that's all that I did. I would never run when I could walk, and never walk when I could sit down. Hell, if I could lie down instead of sit, I would. I conserved all of my energy for the big lifts. Is it healthy? Not in my estimation, but training for high level competition in any sport or activity isn't usually healthy. So, I did what was necessary to reach my goals. And that's another thing; when I changed up my training, all the anaerobic threshold training whooped my butt but was a welcome challenge after all the time away from it. The first time I jumped rope for three, five-minute rounds, I was done, dude! And then my instructor told me that the jump rope was just a warmup and the real training was about to begin!
What I think happened, almost by accident, was that by switching up my training goals and reducing the volume of the lifting, I was able to reduce the likelihood of injuries and also (and this is huge), mentally it gave me a motivational boost. I'd go back to the heavy training and it would be like revisiting a long-lost friend. I'd be excited to get back to the big lifts and increased volume. I would be fresh in mind and body.
Here is a typical week of training and how I would split it up with a Muay Thai concentration:
Weight training 10am-11am
Barbell squats 5 x 2 (five sets of two) at 80% of my “everyday max”, meaning a max set of one rep that I can walk into the gym and perform any day and without gear of any type. I had been using a weight belt, knee wraps and weightlifting suit for a long time while training for powerlifting meets and I didn’t want to mess with any of that stuff at this point.
Deadlifts 50% x 5, 60% x 5, 70% 4 x 5 (all % lifts are of an “everyday max”)
Superset- chin ups and dips- 5-8 reps on the chin-ups and 15-25 reps on the dips for 3 sets with very little rest
9am sprints- 10, 20-yard sprints, 1-minute rest between sets
12pm-1pm Muay Thai training
9am-10am hill sprints. 30-yard hill, walk down and go immediately again at the bottom of the hill
1pm-2pm Muay Thai training
9am to 10am Shadow boxing 5 x 3 minute rounds of heavy bag work
10am-11am weight training
Barbell squats 50% x 5, 60% x 5, 70% 3 x 5, supersetted with 3 x 5 plyo-box jumps
Barbell deadlifts- 60% x 5, 70% x 5, 80% 5 x 3
Press 5 x 2 heavy as possible
Dumbbell hammer curls supersetted with close grip bench press (70%) 4x6 each
10am-1130am Muay Thai training
2pm -3pm circuit weight training, 2 x 12, no rest
Laterals, pushups, lat pulldowns, one arm rows
Stadium sprints or hill sprints-As many reps as possible in ten minutes.
And there you go; a full week where I was focusing on the Muay Thai but still adding in the free weights without the amount of days or volume. And it doesn't have to be Muay Thai that you are training, it can be any activity other than heavy, volume laden weight training. For instance, the same template can be used for any other sport or activity. You just need to make sure that the weights are still heavy enough for you to stay strong and not lose muscle and that recovery is paid attention to by splitting up the training with proper rest between days.
I always think about my legs and lower back when it comes to recovery. For instance, If I squatted on a Monday, I was not going to deadlift on Tuesday. Better to separate the squat and deadlift by a few days or do them both on the same day. Work them hard and then let them rest.
Your payloads during this time can stay between 70 and 80% of your one rep “everyday max”, and I would recommend not going over 85-90% very often and only for a few reps here and there if necessary.
What you really want to focus on here is the sport or activity training and not so much the weights. So, when you are thinking of your program design, focus on the exercises in the weight room that give you the best results by using the most musculature; these are the multi-jointed exercises such as squats and deadlifts, overhead presses and bench presses. There is probably not much need for triceps kickbacks (if ever needed) in this phase of training.
My thoughts are that if you keep going with heavy weights and volume for an extended length of time, you will eventually break down physically or mentally or both. Better to push hard for a bit and then change up the goals and volume. That way, you can keep training for a long, long, time. So during these strange times do yourself a favor and do your own quarantine fitness reflections and change things up a bit, make new goals and come out of this thing better than ever.
About The Author
Jim Steel has been immersed in athletics and the Iron Game for most of his life. He has been a college football player and coach, powerlifter, Muay Thai fighter and is currently a competitive bodybuilder. In 1999, Steel was named Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania, and moved up to Head Strength and Conditioning Coordinator in 2004. He is the owner of the blog basbarbell.com, and is a motivational speaker, frequent podcast guest and the author of two books, Basbarbell Book of Programs and Steel Reflections. Steel is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association.