1. I deadlifted 550 pounds last weekend. It went up smooth. A little too smooth. Here’s the video.
2. This is a recollection of how I trained this past summer. You’ll find out not only how I trained the deadlift, but also how I juggled barbell strength training, bodyweight gymnastics training, and tricking. I’ll also lather on top how I came to train the way I trained.
3. This isn’t a short essay, so you might want to find the hyperbolic time chamber. By the time you finish reading this in there, you’ll only lose one Earth day.
3a. You can skip to the sixth heading if you want the waffles without the syrup.
4. Maxing out is like being in a car on the free road. You’re told to push the pedal to the floor, but you think about what might happen. Will the car rumble? Will there be a speed bump?
5. Usually there are rumbles. Rattling. Bumps. But this time? Nothing.
6. Maybe I’m bragging. I could have deadlifted more. I only need to hit 615-630 to have a triple bodyweight deadlift at a height of 6’4”. So yeah. Humblebrag. Maybe. But the humble is real because I’m still trying to understand how I pulled 550 pounds.
FIRST, THE EXERCISES I DID…
7. I haven’t back squatted in months. I haven’t benched in a year. I don’t train for powerlifting.
8. I pull from the floor with different grips. Wide(r) snatch grip deadlifts being my go-to. They work the upper back more than conventional pulls (ahem, “X” physique wizardry, ahem), which is a biggie for me. More on wide grip deads here. And 90% of the time I did Romanian style snatch grip deadlifts.
9. I pull snatch style for the same reason I front squat: less load on my body. My snatch grip deadlift training weights are a lot less than my conventional deadlift training weights. There’s more range of motion in snatch grip deadlifts, and the wide grip taxes the smaller muscles of the upper back. Lo and behold, you’ll always conventional deadlift more.
10. By training the snatch grip deadlift, I get a solid stimulus with less central nervous system destruction. I train my lower body, but also save freshness face for tricking or whatever else drops into my lap. At least, in theory …
SECOND, UNDERSTANDING THIS CRUCIAL DIFFERENCE…
11. Exercise selection was my first adjustment. Second was programming. In order to understand how I ended up where I did, let’s take a historical tangent.
12. James Smith, also known as The Thinker, was my mentor when I interned with the PITT football team. He worked with the skill players. Buddy Morris worked with the bigs. (Below are snippets from memory, so I hope they are accurate.)
13. When I was an intern, it was the start of the off-season. James’s athletes rarely trained above 85% of their max. Most training was around 70%. The emphasis, for the skill players, was more on sprinting. Strength training was all about accumulating work … if you didn’t know better, you’d think his athletes were slacking off under the bar.
14. There was a value on strength; don’t get me wrong. But, for the skill players, there was less value in using the maximal-effort method to build strength. For most team sport athletes, a maximum muscular contraction akin to a 1RM never happens during sport.
15. You might recognize the max-effort method from Westside Barbell, but it comes from Zatsiorsky’s three ways to achieve maximal muscle tension:
- Repeated-effort method: lifting a non-maximal load to failure or near failure
- Max-effort method: lifting a maximal load (>90% 1RM)
- Dynamic-effort method: lifting a non-maximal load as fast as possible
16. Achieving a maximum muscular contraction is different than getting stronger. A fourth, less talked about, category of training is the sub-maximal effort method.
- Sub-maximal effort method: lifting a load lighter than a max for sub-maximal number of repetitions
17. The athletes maxed after a few weeks of sub-maximal training. (Skill guys only maxed on the bench. Maxing the squat wasn’t worth the risk. Maxing the bench wasn’t either, really, but sometimes giving a group of 18-22 year olds something to show for their work is important.)
18. Monday they were told to work up to 90% of their max. If they felt good, they went for a new max. A lot of them felt good. A lot of them set new maxes.
19. If they weren’t satisfied, they tried again Thursday.
19a. Two maxing sessions in such short times? What gives?
20. James said that sub-maximal training can build strength, but it’s common to de-train the neural bits and pieces that go into expressing maximal strength—rate coding, inter-muscular coordination, intra-muscular coordination, and other things I pretended to know about.
21. A lot of people are quick to underestimate their strength upon first maxing after not maxing for while. Once the neural bits and pieces wake up, strength jumps … hence maxing twice in one week with the potential to do better the second time around. (And a lot of people did, indeed, do better the second time around.)
THIRD, CHOCOLATE CHIP BULGARIAN COOKIES…
22. Sub-maximal training is usually considered the old school Soviet method, and it’s usually contrasted with the old school Bulgarian method.
The majority of the Soviet training was centered around 75-85% of a one-rep max for about 50% of all lifts, and 20% are done at 90-100%. The Bulgarians trained mostly at 90-100% max. Circa-max weights are 90-97%.
- Westside Barbell
23. I did my share of Soviet style training, but I also Bulgarian style of training. Matt Perryman’s Squat Every Day is a good read.
24. Bulgarian style training interested me because I was out to juggle lifting, tricking, and whatever else summer threw my way.
25. My thinking = if people can learn how to squat every day, why can’t I learn how to do whatever at a high frequency? If someone can squat Monday and squat Tuesday, why couldn’t I squat Monday and trick Tuesday?
26. This is my chocolate chip cookie theory. You’re “baking” things into your being. Much like chocolate chips become one with a cookie once baked, you become one with something you do often. I wrote about this theory + movement here.
27. The upside of daily max training = using a low(er) volume for starters. The downside = the mental toil of vacillating to a sweet spot weight every day. It took me longer than expected, and it’s why (I’d guess) those that use a more Bulgarian approach tend to be minimalists. It’s easy to say: snatch – clean and jerk – squat. That’s your training. Find your daily sweet spot, give each exercise the effort and attention it deserves.
28. I’m not an Olympic weightlifter. I found maxing squats and deadlifts daily to be too time consuming, too physically draining, and too mentally draining.
FOURTH, KNOWING AROUSAL… (NOT THAT KIND OF AROUSAL)
29. Training daily teaches you how to be emotionless in effort. You can’t train daily if you’re consistently blowing an o-ring. I learned how to train heavy, but not necessarily psyched. Heavy-but-not-psyched training is what I call stoic training. Wrote about it more here.
30. At first, stoic training was framed against near-maximum training. How heavy can I lift while keeping my breathing in check and, all things considered, not really trying?
31. I started to think about the opposite end of stoic training—not the high end, but the low end. There’s climbing to a high end of performance without effort, but there’s also a low end of performance without effort.
31a. In other words, what are you capable of with little or no warm-up? What can you do an hour after you’ve rolled out of bed? Without coffee?
32. So we enter a triforce of categorization:
- Your resting (low stoic) function—things you can do with little stress damage.
- Your alerted (high stoic) function—things you can do with mild stress damage.
- Your amped (psyched) function—things you can do with high stress damage.
33. In other words, your resting function is like how much damage you can hit for on your Basic Attacks. Your alerted function is how much damage you can hit for on Super Attacks. Your amped function is how much damage you can hit for on your Limit Breaks.
33a. Or something …
34. So think on two levels (holy pun, Batman!): you have your Overall Level. Then each of these attack thingies has a level. There’s a correlation between the two in that your Overall Level dictates your Attack Level potential. But it’s also possible to Level Up your Attack Level underneath your Overall Level’s ceiling.
35. So you’re Level 50. Your Basic Attack Level is 35. You can improve your Basic Attack Level to 40 and still be Level 50. Same for Super Attack Level. But your Limit Break is always tied to your Overall Level.
36. A lot of people Level Up fighting bosses. Big enemies. Creatures that can only be killed with Limit Breaks. Creatures that do a lot of damage to your HP.
37. My strategy is different. It’s about boosting your Basic Attack and Super Attack Levels to their maximum ability given your Overall Level’s ceiling. Benefit here being that you can kill lesser enemies without as much effort, and lesser enemies do less damage to your HP, which means that you can fight more often.
38. Or something …
FIFTH, THE ANTIFRAGILE, RANDOM, TALEB LOVING PART
- Smith – Accumulate easier work
- Smith – Retain maxing skills by semi-maxing
- Bulgaria – Bake abilities into you
- Me – Learn how to train closer to your ceiling with less effort
40. Once your Overall Level is high enough, you need to think about how you function under the ceiling. I’d rather have Level 40 abilities available at all hours of the day, rather than Level 60 abilities available only once every week. This is what makes high frequency training go round. It’s not about getting better in absolute terms, but rather learning how to tap into your abilities more with less stress baggage.
41. So think Goku in super-gravity. You have the level of gravity (100 times Earth), which is the first factor. Then you have what you’re capable of under those conditions, which is the second factor. It’s not about being “just O.K.” in 100 times and then moving onto 110 times. It’s about mastering 100 times. It’s not about absolute. It’s about relative capacity in a certain state.
42. Consider this accumulating easy work. Go to the gym Monday, train. Go back on Tuesday, train. Wednesday, train. If you can’t repeat the training with the same effort, it’s too hard. You’re trying to make your body function as if an advanced environment were commonplace.
43. At some point, you need to boost the overall gravity level because absolute defines your ultimate ceiling.
43a. Once you adapt to a dose, how do you encourage further adaptation? A random larger dose.
44. This gives two ideas:
- Gradually increase your ability to do meh emotionless work. Master 100 times, move to 105 times, move to 110 times.
- Introduce a random shock. Go 150 times one day, only to return to 100 times the following days.
45. The shock is just enough to get the body worried. When you push the absolute, you have to respect stress and adaptation.
SIXTH, THE PROGRAM … (FINALLY!)
46. I invented this whole philosophy, right after I stole the Even Easier Strength program from Dan John.
46a. I ran a 6-7 day Even Easier Strength mutation by adding in 2×5 days on called for rest days.
Mon (1) 2 x5 Tues (2) 2 x 5 Wed (3) 5-3-2 Fri (4) 2 x 5 Sat (5) 2 x 5
Mon (6) 2 x 5 Tues (7) 6 Singles Wed (8) 1 x 10 Fri (9) 2 x 5 Sat (10) 5-3-2
47. Even Easier Strength is everything I just wrote about wrapped in one program. It’s high frequency. You “bake” a low stoic ability into your body with the 2×5 days. The 5-3-2 days work up to a heavier weight to keep your nervous system on its toes. This is the “high stoic” day.
48. Accumulate decent work. It’s all about the work.
49. The 6×1 day is your psych day. The goal is to set a new max or die trying. This is the “random” high stressor.
50. Going into this, I estimated my deadlift max to be around 450 pounds. I don’t remember ever pulling more than that.
51. On my 2×5 days, I used either 225 pounds or 275 pounds. 80% of the time it was 225 pounds.
52. On my 5-3-2 days, I usually worked up to 365 pounds. Maybe, once or twice, I went to 405 pounds.
53. One month into the program I was surprised to see myself pull 455 pounds with ease on a 6×1 day. Two months into the program I was surprised to see myself pull 500 pounds with ease on a 6×1 day. Three months into the program I was surprised to see myself pull 550 pounds with ease at Camp Nerd Fitness.
53a. I was surprised with the 550 pound pull because, just a week before, I failed to pull 500 pounds.
54. I trained front squats the same. My 2×5 days were almost always at 185 pounds. My 5-3-2 days were up to 275 pounds. After month one, I front squatted 335 pounds. After month two, I failed going for 345 pounds. I upped the 2×5 weight to 205 pounds for month three. After month three, I failed going for 345 pounds again.
55. Other logistics – upper body barbell work = weighted dips, weighted chin-ups, and sporadic barbell rows. None done with much care or effort. Upper body “other” work = planche training, lever training, gymnastics ring work, handstand work. Most of this training didn’t follow the Even Easier Strength template.
SEVENTH, THINGS FOR YOUR BACK POCKET
56. I got stronger. Dan John always talks about random freak strength gains on this program and The 40-Day Program. I now believe him.
56. I wrote about some of my experience on The 40-Day Program, too. Here’s one, another, and a third.
57. I’m not sure I remember what it feels like to have fresh legs. I think this is what high frequency training does. It allows you to transcend the physical and enter the mental. We often think we can’t train because of some 48-hour rule or whatever. But sometimes it’s just getting real: yeah, your legs aren’t 100% fresh. Big deal. Go do the work. You can do the work.
58. Warm-up. You’ll always feel better after the warm-up.
59. This isn’t the best way to juggle activities if you want to truly prioritize a sport. I’m a mediocre trickster and I only dabble. If I wanted to be uber special super great tricksterman, I would do things differently. But for my purposes, it works.
59a. If you want to trick, check out the tutorials.
60. I wouldn’t train like this year round. I’m looking forward to the day when my legs have a chance to feel normal. I don’t even know what normal feels like, to tell you the truth.
61. Be a goonie. Do your own experiments. Fight for something that matters. I was afraid to drop back squats for years because a lot of people say that back squats are the key to a strong deadlift. I can say, six months beyond back squatting, I’ve never felt stronger in the deadlift.
62. The big take away = know the different between your Attacks. Focus on the repeatable attacks. Too many people hinge their worth on weekly Limit Breaks. You can’t do a Limit Break every attack. Limit Breaks are volatile. Your Basic Attacks and Super Attacks? Those are your worth. Master those and you’ll kill the right enemies and get enough consistent EXP to Level yourself to the moon. And guess what? That ticks your Limit Break higher.
63. As Mike Webster once said:
“So you have to tinker with it, lift enough to stimulate growth and strength gains, and do it in such a way that you can recover and adapt before your nerves forget all about the fact that they had to lift something heavy a few days ago. You can try and track every little thing, or you can just work hard, lift in an appropriate rep range with a weight appropriate to that rep range, and let your body figure it out, because it’s smarter than you anyway, and we’re still trying to figure out how it all works. You just need to put together a reasonable schedule, be consistent with it, and accept that some days you will feel like crap and feel weaker and still blow it out of the water, and some days you will feel great and miss lifts you got last time with ease. Don’t stress over it, just stick with the weights, eat and sleep good, and you will get stronger. It’s a process, and it takes weeks, months, and years rather than days and hours. So consistency, rather than training to the point where you have failed with a given weight, and rather than gotten one more rep with five pounds less, is what will make you grow. Go to failure or don’t. Just make sure you leave the weight room knowing you’ve done something in there, and chances are you’ve done enough.”
Photo credit: bgolympic.org