I was asked once about what my “training philosophy” is. It was an interesting question and really got me thinking, what do I believe is important in training? And why. I’ve boiled it down to four key aspects. These aren’t the only factors in training but they’re the ones I think are the most important to a good training plan and the primary ones I take into account when developing my own training and that of my athletes.
The first, and most important factor, is longevity.
One thing I believe above all others is that if you want to be successful in powerlifting (or most endeavours for that matter) you need to be consistent and work at it for a long time. The very best lifters almost universally have long careers. 10 years or even more is not uncommon. You can’t expect to train for one or two (or even four or five) years and reach the peak of your physical potential.
There’s no amount of short term progress that can beat out the results of a decade or more of consistent training. I don’t care how much weight you can add to your squat or bench in 6 weeks after running some fancy program.
That’s why longevity is the most important consideration for me. Even if a training program isn’t that good if you do it for long enough it’ll net better results than an awesome plan done for a short period of time. I’ll take a 70% plan done for 10 years over a 100% plan done for 1-2 years every time. I believe wholeheartedly that it will produce a better lifter in the end.
So what does longevity actually look like?
For me this means ensuring the training I write for myself and my athletes will allow us to continue lifting hard and productively for a long time. It has to be enjoyable but it also has to be geared towards “long term” goals and often that means sacrificing immediate satisfaction for big gains in the future.
For starters it has to be fun. On some level you have to enjoy what you’re doing. Lifting has to balance in with work, family and all other interests. It should add to your life, not take away from it. If you’re not excited about training, if you don’t actually WANT to go to the gym eventually you’ll quit. You’re just not going to keep doing something you hate for 10-20 years. So your training has to reflect that, it has to get you excited about going to the gym day in and day out.
However, let me be clear, this isn’t an excuse to just do whatever you feel like. Lots of silly exercises or ineffective training plans can be hand waived away with a simple “well I enjoy it so…”. You can justify just about anything that way and that’s not the point. Sure you have to enjoy the process as a whole, but if you want to become the best lifter you can be it’s going to be hard work. Hard work isn’t going to be fun all the time.
This is where the concept of sacrificing short term pleasure for long term progress comes in. Sometimes you need to buckle down and grind through the stuff you don’t like now so you can realize the results you want later.
I’ll use an anecdote to illustrate my point. When I first began training for powerlifting I found I had a knack for deadlifting. When I grabbed a bar it was just natural for me to stand up with it. My “program” (if it could be called that) consisted of coming into the gym and pulling a max single every week, then I went home, that was it.
Now this was fun as hell! And for a while it worked. Each week I’d add 5-10 pounds over my previous best and hit it. But eventually I ran into a wall, I could get 385 but for the life of me I couldn’t pull 405. I tried 4 weeks in a row before I realized it just wasn’t going to happen with the way I was approaching it.
What I ended up having to do was take 6 weeks to back down and build up to it. In that time I used weights between 275-315 and increased the number of reps I could do. I did goodmornings and hamstring work to build up the muscles needed in the deadlift. At the end of the 6 weeks I went back and smoked 4 plates.
Would it have been more fun in the short term to keep maxing out? Sure it would. Maxing out is fun, doing volume and accessories is boring. But ultimately it wouldn’t have been as effective. By delaying gratification and taking some time to do what I needed to do instead of just doing what I wanted I ended up seeing better progress. That in turn was more fun than being stuck at the same weight forever. The results kept me motivated and enjoying what I was doing. That was 10 years ago and I’m still deadlifting, my best right now is 760.
The stronger and more experienced you get the longer these periods of delayed gratification have to become, and the longer that list becomes of stuff that isn’t that fun, but will benefit you long term. This is the stuff you need to do.
Maybe you don’t like mobility work, but you need it. Too bad, do it anyways. Maybe you just want to lift heavy and don’t want to back off the weight and work some volume, but you need to. Too bad do it anyways. Don’t want to deload? Don’t want to warm up? Don’t want to do accessory work? You guessed it, too bad do it anyway.
Of course, if you’re happy being stuck in a rut, then by all means, skip this and just keep doing whatever you feel like. But if you want to go as far as you can you need to learn to suck it up and do what is required, not just what you like.
Finally, I believe good training has to promote health if it’s going to allow for longevity. Nothing sidelines careers faster than an injury so a good training plan should minimize that risk. Now obviously competing at a high level in sport is never truly a “healthy” activity, it involves pushing the body to it’s absolute limits. But that doesn’t mean injuries should be accepted as inevitable.
This piggybacks off the previous point. A good training plan has to be focused on producing the best results in the long term and that may mean sacrificing small PRs in the immediate future so that you’re healthy enough to set bigger PRs down the road.
This could involve periods of time where you lift lighter to allow for recovery. This might be short like a deload week, or it could be a longer “restoration phase” after a particularly gruelling training program has concluded.
This could mean taking an “offseason” where you reduce the weights and focus on building muscle, correcting imbalances and building a base. This period might also include less squat, bench and deadlift and instead focusing on specific exercise variations like high bar squats or incline bench press to help alleviate chronic overuse injuries that can occur from focusing solely on the contest movements. For newer lifters this might be as little as 4-6 weeks while for more experienced lifters it could be 20 weeks or even more.
This could mean packing it in early if a training session is just going terrible instead of pushing through it and hurting yourself.
This may even mean taking some time away from a lift and seeking treatment to allow an injury or nagging issue to heal fully.
In the short term these strategies won’t net you any PRs. In fact a lot of the time if you don’t back off and keep pushing full steam ahead you might be able to drive you numbers up right now, in the short term you’ll end up stronger.
Eventually however, this strategy will run you into the ground. You can’t go full throttle forever and sooner or later wear and tear, burnout and injury will force your body to stop. These forced setbacks can take a very long time to bounce back from and while you’re struggling to claw your way out of the hole you’ve dug the lifter who backed off and is healthy will be able to train productively and surpass you.