Before starting a strength training program, we all look for that perfect program that will work. Realistically all programs will help you improve your strength but if you stick to one program, you will plateau or even regress your progress. Our body will adapt to the stress placed upon it, once your body fully adapts there is no more room for improvement, that is why you should cycle through different programs to prevent plateau.
I want to share with you 3 strength training programs that I have used personally and with clients. I like to blend and cycle through these programs to prevent a plateau. It is great to have multiple options for programs to keep training from becoming boring. Who wants to do the same workout over and over again?
What is Strength Training?
Strength training is not only meant for athletes like football players, basketball players or powerlifters. Any person can improve from a strength training program.
Whether your strength goal is to lift 500 lbs or be able to lift your kids you can benefit in a strength training program to increase your overall strength as much as possible.
What movements are involved? Mainly when we program for strength we use the big 3 movements, Squat, Bench and Deadlift. But you don't necessarily have to focus on the big 3, this is where a regression and progression happen. Instead of Squatting under a bar your goal could be squatting a heavy kettle bell or squatting body weight, instead of benching you may want to be able to do body weight push-ups or instead of deadlift you may want to be able to lift heavy boxes and move them around, you get the point.
Power movements are great but you can also change it up based on your goals. The programs I have listed below are made for powerlifters, crossfiters, olympic lifters and other athletes, but if those are not your goals you can still use them and change up the movements. Remember these are Strength Training Programs that anyone can use and it will help improve your strength no matter what your goal is.
Sets and Reps? A strength training program uses lower rep ranges (3-8) compared to higher rep ranges (12-15+) that bodybuilders use. This is because lower rep ranges lets us use heavier weights and when we want to increase strength, we want to be able to lift heavier weights and use progressive overload. For powerlifting, we may go down as low as 1 rep to 3 reps because the goal is to lift as heavy as we can.
Before we get started with conjugate, some might be thinking that it's not meant to be done by raw lifters, "it's only supposed to be for multiply lifters." When we hear the word Conjugate we can honestly say we think about Westside Barbell and Louie Simmons. Yes most of his athletes are multiply wearing suites and wraps and all that. But the concept of conjugate goes beyond equipped lifters and powerlifting (this is another topic). Raw lifters can also utilize this method when done and applied properly. Every training program will work for somebody, the coach has to know when and how to utilize it.
Louie is not known worldwide because the shit ONLY works for multiply powerlifters. Since I left in '05, his popularity has increased tenfold. Meanwhile, multiply powerlifting has substantially decreased.
-Dave Tate (EliteFTS)
I might be biased because I went through the conjugate periodization when I first started powerlifting, I saw huge gains and fell in love with it. But noting that as a beginner, we will have huge gains due to the body adapting to the new stimulus you put it on and your body's nervous system catches up to the stress placed upon it (SAID PRINCIPLE) especially when you implement Max Effort Days.
As I learned through reading and coaching others, I would not start with a conjugate program because this program requires maximal efforts and plenty of variations. A beginner needs to understand how to use proper technique and by putting them through maximal efforts, they will not learn and it will increase the chances of injury and potentially no gains.
What is conjugate?
Conjugate consists of Maximal Effort & Dynamic Effort days. The program calls for a consistent rotation of exercises every 1-4 weeks.
Each 4 week cycle consists of 4 days where Mondays are maximal effort lower (squat/deadlift), Tuesdays are maximal effort upper, Fridays are speed/dynamic effort lower, and finally Saturdays are speed/dynamic effort upper.
Maximal effort days prescribe reps of 1-3 on different variations of your main lifts. These variations change every week, and every cycle you are required to beat the previous week's numbers.
Every cycle has 4 weeks where you will attempt 1-3 rep max on different variations of your Squat, Bench and Deadlift every 1-4 week (See sample below). The variation changes every week because of the Law of Accommodation. To simply explain this, when you master a movement your progress will stop, to avoid this you must switch things around. It's good for your body to adapt, but you do not want it to fully adapt.
"...your body will hit a wall. Your body is saying 'I know all your tricks, I know exactly everything you do and I am prepared for that.' So you have to use the shocking principle."
Speed days also have different variations for each lift. Instead of performing 1-3 rep max, your intensity will wave from 45%-55%. Your cycle will begin at 45% to 55% and back down to 45% on the 4th week.
Lower body days - 8 - 12 sets of 2 to 3 reps.
Upper body days - 9 sets of 3 reps.
Accommodating resistance can be used during dynamic effort days, bands and chains are the most common tools used.
Special Exercises (Accessory Work)
Special Exercises are calculated based on how much you lift. Most of the volume from this program is put in the accessories. Here is where we attack your weakness and fix your problems. 2-5 Sets of 5-15+ has been used for accessory work. Performing high repetitions and high volume will increase blood flow to your muscle and tendons which promotes growth and recovery.
Note: Training maximally all the time is as bad as training minimally all the time.
*For an athlete who Squats 400lbs, Bench 315lbs, & Deadlifts 400lbs*
Undulating Periodization is a program where your workout's intensity and volume vary every day or every week from light, medium, and heavy days. This periodization can be used for goals such as hypertrophy, strength or endurance and for beginners to advanced athletes.
This is a great program to help manage fatigue. Throughout the week, each day of training affects the next training day. Undulating volume and intensity will help prevent accumulated fatigue that affects your progress with all lifts and prevents one lift from suffering while the other improves.
In the video below Chad Wesley Smith talks about the 2 different types of undulating periodizations, he uses Alternating method and High, Medium, Low method.
*For an athlete who Squats 400lbs, Bench 315lbs, & Deadlifts 400lbs. The 3 week sample below uses Chad Wesley Smith's High, Medium, Low method.*
There is nothing complicated about linear progression. It is exactly how it sounds like, you progress linearly.
Every week or training day you will increase the intensity of the exercise 5lbs or 5% of the weight you are working with.
If you are a beginner and you do not know what your numbers are for each lift a good starting point will be 70% of what you think your max is and rep out 10-12 reps while adding 5lbs or 5% each week. As the weight increase your rep range goes down from 10-12 to 2-3. This program can go on for however long you can until you cannot add weight on the bar or once you get to the 2-3 rep ranges.
A good example of linear progression workout is the 5×5 technique. You perform 5 reps for 5 sets every week until you cannot perform 5 reps anymore.
Here is a sample of a beginner linear program:
*For an athlete who Squats 400lbs, Bench 315lbs, & Deadlifts 400lbs. This sample increases intensity by 5% each week, you can progress 5lbs a week instead of 5%.*
As you can see, these are just a few strength training programs for athletes. There is no one program fits, you can combine and take something from each program and apply it to your own strength, hypertrophy or general training program. A good coach will take in consideration each concept and technique to help his/her athlete reach their ultimate goal and more.
The reason why there are a lot of different training programs out there is because every person will respond to these techniques differently. Do not stick to one program and expect to progress, your body will hit a wall and ultimately regress instead of progress. Listen to your body and adapt accordingly.