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Are You Training Too Heavy?
If you can t rain light er, t heref ore f eel bet t er and have a lower chance of get t ing injured, would you consider it ?
I learned a lot over the last 13 years of incorporating every type of training there is: high-repetition bodybuilding-type training, strip-set style training, 5 X 5, all heavy singles…I spent time training under my own programming, as well as the direction of Rick Hussey, Brad Heck, and Al Caslow. All these types of training can benef it one in some way. Some are better than others, but all will work. I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not done those types of training. You can learn just as much f rom what doesn’t work as you can f rom what does work. Because my emphasis is on powerlif ting, I’ll touch brief ly on the type of training that I did under Rick Hussey and also what I did under Al Caslow. While training at Big Iron Gym under the great Rick Hussey, most of my training consisted of heavy singles and doubles. T hings were switched up and we did do dif f erent rep ranges, but the majority of the training was heavy all the time. Training like this does work, but f or me, I f elt like crap all the time. A heavy squat workout will leave you in pain and f eeling down f or days af ter you complete the workout. Training heavy on the bench didn’t help my recovery either, so basically I f elt beat up the entire training cycle. As we got closer to the meet, this was just enhanced. You can’t doubt the methodology though because the results are undeniable. T his methodology produced some of the greatest lif ters that powerlif ting has ever seen. Many of the records under Rick still stand, and Shawn Frankl was the best multi-ply lif ter who ever came out of Big Iron Gym (2630 pounds at 198 pounds and 2715 pounds at 220 pounds—enough said). When Al Caslow started training my deadlif t, I was skeptical. Under Rick, we were in the 85–90 percent range almost all the time. Under Al, it was much less. I started training under him when my pull was at 633 pounds. Most of my training numbers were in the 300- to 400-pound range. Upon receiving my template, my immediate thought was, “T his is too light. T here isn’t any way I’ll get stronger using such light weights.” My exact words were, “I need to handle the weight I’ll be lif ting.” Al said “Just try it out and see what happens. It’s just one training cycle.”

Because Al is one of the most intelligent and good-looking lif ters I know, I went against my judgment and began training as he had instructed. I ended up pulling 672 at my meet. Granted, I didn’t bench because I bombed, but it was still a 39-pound PR. Needless to say, I was sold on this type of training.

Over the last three years, Al and I have changed up the routine quite a bit. No matter how good a program, things need to change so that you continue progressing. T he body will adapt, so it’s optimal to change small things here and there to address def iciencies. Much of the work is done in the 60–80 percent range with a twoweek period of 95–100 percent with low volume f ollowed by three weeks of down weeks. Since I began powerlif ting, I’ve always been in gear. From the f irst day I stepped into Big Iron, I had gear on. Because I got f irst at the 2013 Arnold f itness expo, I didn’t need to go through the qualif ying meets to be able to attend, which gave me a window of opportunity to do some stuf f that I had never done—raw training. I got the bug to squat 600 raw. I had squatted 525 pounds f or three reps in training a f ew months back, so I f igured that with some training, 600 wouldn’t be out of the question. Because I had never done my deadlif t training raw either, I decided that I would pull raw with a regular bar. I based my training of f a 600-pound raw pull and got to work. Most of the weights I used during my working sets were in the 350- to 450-pound range but high volume. I had decided that I was going to squat raw, bench shirted, and pull in my suit. I didn’t want to lose my technique, so I pulled about every other week on squat day but in f ull gear. My heaviest work sets were 510 pounds f or two reps on deadlif t day, and I worked up to 585 on squat day. T he rest of the working sets were much lower. Five weeks out, we did a max or near max pull. I was anxious to see how the pull was going to go because this was the lightest I had ever went during a training cycle. I walked into the gym on that Wednesday and the atmosphere was a little dif f erent f rom it normally was. T he crew’s mindset was a little more f ocused and a lot less chatty. I brought my headphones that day, which I usually do on heavy days, I try to be very laid back and have as little intensity as possible f or the majority of the training cycle but not on max day. I couldn’t get through the warm ups f ast enough, I wanted to pull heavy so badly that it was eating away at me. My f irst moderately heavy weight was 675. What a joke. I knew it was going to be a good day. T he next weight I called was 730. T his would be a 5-pound PR f or me. Smoke show! T he next weight I called was 750, a number that I had missed the last time I maxed out. I had to go to a special place f or this one. T he last time that I maxed out on deadlif ts, my dad had just happened to come in to watch me, which he never did. I have a picture of him and my grandpa shaking hands on his wedding day. I just kept looking at that picture and envisioning the lif t over and over again. My suit was set, and my hands were chalked. I walked up to the bar, and I pulled that shit like it was 135 pounds! OK, maybe not 135, but it f elt pretty damn easy! I knew that I had more in me, so I called f or 765 on my last attempt. I tried getting in the zone f or this one, but I think I ended up getting too amped. We jacked my straps similar to what I do on squats. I walked up to the bar and tried but just didn’t have it. T he weird thing was it didn’t f eel like I missed because of strength, just bad positioning. I’m not the type to make excuses, so I will say right now that I wasn’t strong enough to get it plain and simple.

T he rest of the weeks on this deadlif t cycle were down weeks, which were needed even though the weights didn’t f eel heavy while doing them. I could f eel it the next f ew days though. It was like I was back at Big Iron!

Let’s f ast-f orward to the meet. I always open very light, something I have no doubt in my mind that I can hit. I opened with 672, which was very easy. I opted to go with a meet PR on my second attempt, which was 722. T his, too, was very easy. I was f eeling very strong that day, strong enough to hit what I missed in training—766 pounds. I went up to the judge table to verif y that I could take a f ourth attempt, to which the judge replied yes. Instead of getting greedy, I went with 749.6 on my third attempt, which would be a huge meet PR and a tie f or my best ever. You can probably guess what happened—I got it! I walked up to the table and called f or a f ourth. I could do this because it was a record f or that f ederation. Because there was only one lif ter ahead of me, this meant a very short break in between lif ts. Luckily, Putt Houston was helping out with the meet and bought as much time as possible in between the last deadlif t of the meet and my f ourth attempt. Even with all the bar cleaning, bar placement on the platf orm, and tightening of the weights, I still only got about a f our-minute break. I knew that f or this lif t to go right, everything had to be perf ect—my straps, the chalk on my hands, the belt tightness and placement, and support f rom my f riends, f amily, and, of course, my dad. One of my best f riends and team mates, Cameron Richeler, said to me, “Remember where true f ocus lies.” T his was in ref erence to a quote f rom X-men—“I believe that true f ocus lies somewhere between rage and serenity.” I went to a dif f erent place. I took everything I had and pulled that shit of f the f loor. It was an amazing experience, and everyone was standing f or it. You’re probably wondering what that has to do with training too heavy. Well, I’ll tell you. I went through my logs and training templates and added up the weight f rom all the working sets. I then went through everything and added up all the reps f rom the same sets. I took the weight (106, 865) and divided it by the number of reps (234) and came up with 456 pounds. T his means that the average weight used f or my training cycle was 456 pounds. If you take what I pulled in the meet (766) and divide it by the average weight used f or working sets (456), I was working on average at about 59.5 percent of my max. If you were to base that percentage of f the Westside methodology, I would be training with weights that are speed weights. Keep in mind that the weights I was using included chains, def icit pulls, pull f rom blocks, and f our-second negatives. Obviously, I wouldn’t be able to do 766 pounds using a f our-second negative. However, my point is that weight shouldn’t be the only f actor when you’re determining what numbers you should be working with. You can make gains with weights that are way under your max.

T he other aspect you’ll want to consider is that I’m an advanced lif ter and know the gear very well. Not many people would be able to put on a suit and do almost 250 pounds more than their heaviest raw work set, but I think that the majority of lif ters train heavier than necessary to make gains. I’ve done it both ways—lower weight and higher volume and higher weight and lower volume. I can tell you that I f eel ten times better training with lower weights. I f eel like I’m f ar less likely to get injured this way as well.

My squat training isn’t a whole lot dif f erent f rom my deadlif t training. It’s lower weights f or the majority of the training cycle with a couple heavy weeks f ollowed by down weeks. My f irst workout was 330 pounds f or six sets of f our reps. I had just squatted 860 at the Arnold about a month prior to this. Let me tell you that squatting over 500 pounds less and f inding it to be dif f icult is a very humbling experience. It really puts into perspective what the raw guys are doing out there. Needless to say, I continued on despite the discouragement that the day brought. Af ter about eight weeks of training, the Saturday came that was our “max day,” which meant a squat at an RPE10 (rate of perceived exertion). An RPE10 means that there aren’t any reps lef t in the tank. An RPE9 means that there’s one rep lef t in tank and so on. T he only thing I don’t like about RPE is that it’s hard to guess what the weight will be, so sometimes you’re doing a f ew sets just to get to the weight of perceived exertion. On this day, I did my f irst rep at 560, which was very easy. I went up 20 pounds to 580. T his, too, was very easy. I checked the video though and it appeared as if I was a tad bit high. On my third attempt, I called f or 600, the number I had been training f or. I had the greatest wrapper of all time crank the shit out of the wraps. I decided that I would have him call me up so that there wasn’t any doubt on my depth. I walked up to the bar and smoked it! It was a great f eeling to know that I could take of f the gear and be a decent lif ter raw. I ended up only squatting 600 at the meet due to errors in my set up and descent during the squat. My stance was closer to my geared stance, and I came down slower than I would in gear. T hese two things together made f or a tough raw squat. I ended up bobbling my second attempt, which was 600, and I had to retake it on my third. I ended up getting and leaving a little on the platf orm, but that’s power lif ting. I went in and added up all the weights f or the squat just as I did f or the deadlif t. I took the total weight lif ted (550, 580) and divided it by the number of reps perf ormed (138). It came out to 402 pounds. T he heaviest I squatted was 600 pounds, and 402 divided by 600 is 67 percent. T his means that the numbers used on the squat were a little higher but still a very low percentage of what my max was. T he exercises used were pause squats, close stance squats, wide stances, and chain squats, which are very dif f erent f rom a competition squat, but the same principal holds true—weight shouldn’t be the only deciding f actor when doing your programming.

T he next time that you’re f iguring out what weights you should use, think about my training. T he average weight used during my work sets on the squat was 402 pounds, 198 pounds less than what I did in a meet. T he average weight used during my deadlif t training was 456 pounds, 210 pounds under my deadlif t at the meet. Challenge yourself , both mentally and physically, by doing movements that are hard. Sometimes the hardest part of this type of training is overcoming the mental barrier. Using hundreds of pounds less than your best can be hard, but it will be worth it.

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