Back To The Drawing Board!
By Chris Manrodt 

Are you just getting started in Powerlifting? Have you heard about lifting but aren't sure what it really is? Are you interested in playing a sport, but need to get bigger, stronger, or both to crack the starting line-up? This section of the Strength On-line Page is devoted to helping the beginner. A lot of the lifting information out there is written for folks who compete regularly in Powerlifting meets, or who have a several years of lifting experience. I will attempt to make this column humorous and interesting as I try to shed light on the basics of successful, injury free lifting.

Have you ever felt so frustrated with your lifting that you didn’t even know what exercises to do?  Ever gotten so sick of missing the same weight in the same lift that you wanted to kick the bar? Have you ever bombed at a meet, or lost by 200lbs to the next-place lifter in your weight class, and then wondered what the heck you were doing there? Frustration, adversity and setbacks are as much a part of competition as getting that trophy. When I was a kid, my grandfather used to tell me that success is a poor teacher. .  To see what I mean, you don’t have to look any further than the police blotter on the ESPN website filled with stories of America’s most successful athletes unable to cope
with life in society. Well, let’s take a look at what happens when setbacks occur, and what can we do to overcome them, learn from them, and make a step forward toward a better result.

         A case in point: 1999 was not a good lifting year for me. I set my best lifts of the year in February, and then I went backward at three subsequent meets. After a dismal meet in September, I redoubled my efforts to make a better total, and had some progress last fall. By early January, I was setting all kinds of PR’s for reps, and I was rapidly approaching a PR total at our State Championships here in Minnesota. But, two weeks before the meet, my boss sent me packing on a two-week, sixteen-city, business trip from hell. By the time I got back, I had lost almost ten pounds, and I was asking myself, why am I lifting? Why am I putting myself through all this muscle soreness,
constant training, regimented diet, and long hours in the gym? Well, after taking a step back and looking at my priorities, my health, and my love of the sport, I came to this conclusion: No matter what happens in life, I still want to exercise. And if I am going to exercise, would I rather lift weights that just about anything else. I will have more fun if I can have goals to strive for. And what better goals to have than hitting some personal bests in my favorite lifts? And how can I count my lifts as PR’s if I don’t do them in front of the strict judging? 

         So, that’s when I set out to rediscover training and really improve my lifting. The key to overcoming adversity is to learn from my mistakes.
So I started at the top. What are the basic principles of training for strength? Here’s how I see it:

1) One must train with heavy weights in order to force super-compensation by the body. This is the training effect required for  muscular gains that improve strength.
2) Strength is the product of three components: Muscle size, muscle coordination, and rate of muscle fiber recruitment.
3) Strength training requires focus on all three components of strength. You must train for hypertrophy. You must train for muscle coordination (form), and you must train for central nervous system development to produce the most force in the instant it is required.
4) The training effect is only accomplished when conditions in the body are right for adequate recovery. This means plenty of 
a) Sleep, 
b) Food, especially protein,
c) relaxation, and low stress,
d) Nutritional Supplementation,
e) and Active Rest activities to keep your body “in shape.” (sometimes called GPP, cross-training, or doing “light days.”)
5) Individual differences in genetics, leverage, recovery, and dedication require that training regimens be tailored and constantly updated. The training effect is reduced in the body is not forced to adapt to constantly changing stimuli.
6)Your training goals dictate your training methodology. You cannot simultaneously train for a marathon and a powerlifting competition, and obtain optimum results in either one. The human body cannot adapt to stressors that have conflicting endpoints (slow-twitch vs. fast twitch, different metabolic pathways, etc.)

         After I listed the basics, here are the conclusions that I came to. The real benefit of training experience is that you can avoid mistakes. However, the most common mistakes are hard to avoid if you are not getting good coaching. If you are an un-coached lifter, like most of us, then each time you start a whole new workout plan there will be some inevitable learning as you go through it. Therefore, it you train 3x3 for one cycle, then switch to Westside Training for 10 weeks, and then do an Ed Coan periodization routine after that, you will have learned nothing. Each of these routines is completely different, and training on any one of them requires a fair amount of learning. Can you achieve the 6 principles above with each of these methods? Probably. Will you make gains the first time through? Maybe. Will you get the most out of the program the first time through? Most likely, No! 

         There are no secrets to lifting, but there are certainly plenty of pitfalls. If you want an example, read my article in the archive about my Westside experiment.

         In February, I went back to periodization for two reasons: I had good success training this way before, knowing what works and what doesn’t. And secondly, I could train this way without much coaching. While I believe that Westside may be more optimal in the long run, I was wary of trying to take on so much learning with my morale as low as it was. I started by going back to Prillipen’s table of reps and sets by percentage. I then set up a simple program for my bench and squat that looks like this:

WEEK  % of Goal Weight Sets x Reps Comments
1  70% 2x8
2 71% 2x8 Or just 70% + 5 lbs
3  72% 2x8 Or 70% +10 lbs
4  75% 3x6 I added a belt for squats this week
5 77% 3x6
6 80% 3x6
7 85% 5x3  I started using knee wraps for squat, wrist wraps for bench
8 87% 4x3
9 90% 3x3 Full gear, but loose
10 95% 2x2 Full gear tight
11 100%  1x1 Done at the meet, or take the week off to rest.


         For me, it was easiest to do squats and dead lifts in the same workout, to keep my lower back from getting overworked. My training split looked like this:

Monday Wednesday Friday
For weeks 1-6 Squat

Romanian Dead lifts 2x15

Leg Curls 3x10
                   Chest-supported Rows 3x8

Standing abs with Pulley 


Close grip Bench 2x8
                                      Incline DB Bench 2x8
                                      Tricep Pushdowns 2x12
                                      Curls 3x12
                                      15 min of Cardio

(see below)
For weeks 7-10 Squats

Dead lift 1 set

Rows 3x8

Standing Abs

                                      Close grip Bench 1x10
                                      DB Delt Press 2x10
                                      Lying DB Triceps 2x12

         For my deadlifts, I used the following cycle:

Week Weight Sets x Reps Comments
7  Goal – 70lbs 1x6 You may want to take smaller or larger
jumpers depending on your best lift.
These were about a 85% lift for me the
first week.
8 Goal – 55lbs 1x5
9 Goal – 40lbs 1x4
10 Goal – 25lbs 1x3
11 Goal 1x1

         Ok, I know what you are thinking: “Two lifting sessions per week? That’s nuts!!” Well, actually I found that because I was hitting my squat and deadlift in the same session, I was able to make gains with only two workouts, and it was nice to be able to go to the gym each session and feel fresh. Sometimes less is more, especially if you are not able to get all of those recovery conditions together that I listed in principle #4. 

         Also, the cross-training workout was never a cakewalk. During the first three weeks, I did continuous tension, super-slow training using Hammer Strength®  machines. I did a single set on each machine training my whole body in a circuit with very short rests. I then repeated the circuit once. I knew that this would not help my total very much, but this type of training is helpful for improving body composition, and also helped me to build up work capacity for the 3x6’s and heavy reps that followed. It also allowed me to train to muscle failure with light weight, so I was getting more hypertrophy without placing additional strain on my joints. Before you string me up, I should say that I am not a believer in HIT. I just added this in for variety and to take some emphasis off the heavy iron I’d be so focused on. It really helped me to do
some bodybuilding early on just to overcome the burnout of the last year.

         During the remaining weeks of the cycle, my cross-training usually consisted of either a fun workout with weights or a few hours of manual labor helping my brother move into his new house. When I was in the Gym, I did Power Cleans, Leg Presses, Lat Pulls and some type of shoulder press. Each session ended with 20-30 minutes of cardio. I also played community league softball on Friday nights. To be honest, I believe that the biggest reason that I PR’ed my squat this cycle was that I spent three consecutive weekends on weeks 4,5, and 6 lifting heavy boxes for a few hours. What can I say, my brother used to work for a major bookseller. They should add the “china barrel box of paperbacks” to the events at the next World’s Strongest Man contest!! 

          I freely admit that this is a basic program, but this column is geared for the beginning lifter. The bench routine is almost pure Ed Coan, without the extra shoulder workouts. The squat is similar, and I admit that the assistance exercises are right off the Westside top ten. But the goal was to pick some simple exercises that would help the most without sacrificing whole body parts. And speaking of beginners, my brother added 60 lbs to his squat and dead, while adding 45 to his bench in this cycle. This was only his second powerlifting cycle, and really his first where he was using strict competition form for his work sets. It’s a good thing I am back to being excited about training. It may not be long before he catches up to me!!


For more information on getting started check out the archives section here on Strength Online or drop by the Q&A forums.

  Reproduction of this article, in whole or part, for any purpose other than personal use is prohibited without written consent. Copyright ©2000 Chris Manrodt.