Phase-Specific Training Strategies

by tffitness on October 19, 2016









A lot of lifters have a tendency to assume that the only difference between strength and hypertrophy training comes down to the amount of weight on the bar (and how many reps you can lift that weight for). While there’s a kernel of truth in this assumption, if you really want to be as good as you can possibly be, you’ll need to become a bit more nuanced in your approach. Here then, are some additional tactics to consider when you’re training for strength and muscle development:

Exercise Selection:

When strength is the goal of the training phase, your exercise selection will obviously be biased toward the movement(s) you wish to be stronger on, and to a lesser degree, “assistance exercises” designed to shore up weaknesses for those movements. As a powerlifter, a strength block will prioritize the 3 competitive lifts, plus a few close variants of those lifts, such as (perhaps) close grip bench presses, pause squats, and block pulls.

If you’re not a powerlifter, it’ll still be beneficial to select a small handful of lifts that you’ll use to monitor your ongoing strength development. Perhaps it’s front squats, pullups, and military presses. Basically, I’d recommend monitoring 1-2 lower body movements, and one upper-body pulling as well as one upper body pushing movement.

By “strength,” here, I’m referring to maximal strength, so whatever exercises you select for this phase, they need to be amenable to low-repetition training and testing. Save the kettlebell swings, pushups, goblet squats, and rows for hypertrophy training phases.

When training for hypertrophy on the other hand, you can still use barbell drills of course, but it’s also a good time to break out the dumbbells, kettlebells, cable drills, and bodyweight exercises. All of these are good choices for higher-rep, longer time-under-tension efforts. Also keep in mind that hypertrophy development is largely about accumulating large workloads, so exercises that facilitate greater range of motions tend to work well in hypertrophy phases.

Number Of Exercises:

As a rule, you’ll tend to do fewer exercises in strength training than you would during hypertrophy phases for at least two reasons:

1)    Strength training is more specific (to the movements you seek to become stronger in), and this precludes the use of a lot of variety. Hypertrophy training is just the opposite — here, the goal of training is variable in nature — you’re now looking for overall muscular development.

2)    In strength training, you’ll be using heavier loads, which necessitates more warm-up sets and longer rests between work sets compared to what you’d use doing higher-rep sets. This limits the number of exercises you can reasonably perform in a single session.

Exercise Order:

No matter what your current training objective, a standard rule of thumb is to do your most important exercises first (in the week, in the workout, etc.).

Powerlifters and weightlifters will typically do their competition lifts (or close approximations of those lifts) first in the workout, followed by less similar exercises, regardless of training phase. Bodybuilders on the other hand, often train their most poorly developed muscles first in the workout, and then gradually progress to stronger bodyparts.

Regardless of your goal or circumstances, you should follow suit: do what most important, not what you like doing the most, first, while your energy is at it’s highest. If you’ve got a nagging injury that will benefit from a particular “pre-hab” exercise, do that first, before anything else. If you’ve determined that your pullups are particularly unremarkable, do those first (and often for that matter). And if you’ve for ginormous quads but no junk in the trunk, maybe you initiate every workout with hip thrusts.

Overloading Priority:

Regardless of your training goal, it’ll be necessary to progress your workloads from week to week. With that said however, there are a few phase-specific differences to consider:

When training for strength, peak tensions (read: more weight) take priority over everything else, including training volume. If you pressed 175 for 5 sets of 4 last week, you should be lifting at least 180 this week, even if your total reps need to drop as a consequence.

On the other hand, when your training objective is bigger muscles, total workload should take precedence over bar weight. Sure, you’re better off using more weight each week if possible, but mounting research strongly suggests that as long as you’re lifting at least 60% 1RM, and you’re taking your work sets to, or close to failure, you’re training in an optimal manner for hypertrophy development.

Lifting Tempo:

I often quip that the difference between powerlifting and bodybuilding is that in powerlifting, you’re trying to find the easiest way to lift the weight, whereas in bodybuilding, you’re looking for the hardest way to lift a weight.

Now of course, the differences between training for strength and hypertrophy aren’t quite that clear-cut, but an important point gets made: lifting tempos vary according to training goal. When strength is the target, you’ll use the easiest eccentric tempo that allows good control and maximal stretch-shortening cycle, followed by the fastest possible concentric phase.

Hypertrophy can be effectively developed using the tempo just described, because the exploit the mechanical tension component of muscular growth. However, if you only use training methods that involve maximal tensions, you’re missing out on a lot of untapped growth — slower tempos should also be used (probably in separate cycles) for their ability to create metabolic stress, which another important precondition for muscular growth.

Warmup Strategy:

The general principles of warming up are well known, but I’d also like to make a simple suggestion for phase-specific warmups:

When using high-rep sets for hypertrophy purposes, by all means use similarly high-rep sets for your warmups. If that fatigues you for your work sets, no worries — the resulting metabolic stress are actually a key mechanism for growth. So if your work sets are sets of 10, all of your armup sets can be 10’s as well.

When training for strength however, the goal for your work sets is maximum tension, not fatigue. So here, conserve your energy by doing the smallest amount of work during your warmups that will still serve to prepare you for your top sets.

If I’ve missed anything here — if you have your own phase-specific strategies that we should know about — please chime in with your comments below!

CT_graphic FB 160825b








[click to continue…]


getinstantshoulderpainreliefbyadjustingyourbenchtechnique2661Ever notice how when an exercise hurts, it’s more likely to be the first exercise in the workout? Think about it — if you’re a powerlifter, your bench is more likely to be a source of pain than say, rows or triceps extensions. If you’re a weightlifter, your snatch is more likely to hurt than a clean pull or a squat. Not always mind you, but more often than not.

Why is this? I have a few ideas:

• Typically, your first exercise is your most important exercise (which is why you’re doing it first after all). Your most important exercise, by definition, probably has more miles on it than less important exercises. More wear and tear = more pain.

• Your first exercise probably gets the lion’s share of your energy, especially compared to your later exercises. And obviously, exercises that you attack with more energy tend to lead to more joint abuse than exercises you do later in the workout, with less energy.

• Finally (and this will be the basis of my argument here), earlier exercises get less benefit from warm-ups than later exercises.

I first started playing around with this idea when I was having some knee pain during squats (always the first exercise for me), and Dr. John Rusin suggested that I try doing a few sets of high-rep leg curls before squatting to basically fluff up the hamstrings and lube up the knees in a way that doesn’t irritate them.

Worked like a charm. I’m a skinny 57-year old, and the other day I squatted 315×5 with no pain.

Concurrent with my knee issues, I’ve also been experiencing some relatively minor but chronic shoulder pain, while bench pressing (again, always a first exercise for me). So last Friday (see below), instead of following up my bench presses with military presses and chins, I decided to follow my military presses with chins, and finally, bench presses. First totally pain-free benches I’ve done in weeks. I’m fairly convinced that the military presses and chins served two purposes — they warmed up my shoulders in a manner that didn’t irritate them, and also, they served to increase my upper back and shoulder mobility prior to benching.

Now of course, the only criticism that you might have about this suggestion is that you’ll be training your most important lift last, when you have the least energy, so I have two thoughts for you in that regard:

1) Good! If an exercise is causing orthopedic issues, you should train it with less energy!

2) Who knows, maybe you’ll profit from putting your back burner exercises on the front burner once in a while?

3) Even if you have less energy, won’t it be a relief to finally train your favorite movement(s) without pain, or at least with less pain?

I’m not submitting that this simple tip will solve all exercise-related orthopedic issues, because it certainly won’t. With that said however, this idea has a solid track record, and besides, there’s really very little downside to trying it, right?

Let me know if you’ve ever tried this yourself, and if you did, how it worked for you. I’m honestly curious to hear from you!

The “BIG 3” Clinic with Coach Charles Staley!

Just a quick note to let you know I’ll be teaching the finer points of the squat, bench, and deadlift on November 6th in gorgeous Tucson Arizona — hope to see some of you there, we’re going to have a blast! Here’s more info:


This Week’s Training

[click to continue…]


3 Best Practices For Better Deadlifts

October 4, 2016

Hi, my name is Charles and I like to deadlift. No, I’m not really in a support group, but I do admit my addiction to pulling heavy weights off the floor. And I’m pretty good at it I guess — I pull a bit over 5 wheels consistently as I near my 57th birthday, and I weigh less [...]

Read the full article →

A Model For Upper Body Training

September 28, 2016

This week I thought I’d lay out what I consider to be an example of what I would consider to be a “smart” upper body training schedule for the “average” person. Now by “average” I simply mean that I’m not talking about someone who’s a competitive athlete, but instead, a lifter looking for improved mass, strength, [...]

Read the full article →

Training Tactics: How To Determine Your Best Bench Press Grip 

September 19, 2016

On any type of pressing, grip width can have a substantial effect on how much weight you’ll be able to lift, and this is especially true when it comes to the bench press. In this article, I’ll show you a super-accurate, super-practical way to find the grip that will allow you to lift the most [...]

Read the full article →

Watch Me Dump A 375-Pound Squat!

September 13, 2016

On Monday I was gearing up to do some heavy singles on squats, and something weird happened (see video below): I worked up to a 365 single which felt just like every other heavy low-bar squat I’ve ever done — maybe even better actually — so I loaded the bar to 275 with the idea of [...]

Read the full article →

Acute Versus Chronic Training Mistakes

September 7, 2016

Today I’d like to discuss a couple of different training errors that don’t seem like errors because they don’t negatively impact the workout where they occur. In fact, you could make all 3 of these mistakes during the same workout, and you could still have a great session. Instead, the mistakes I’m about to mention [...]

Read the full article →

The Eccentric Side Of Pulls — How Should You Lower The Barbell?

August 31, 2016

Although it’s only natural to focus mostly on how you actually lift the barbell during deadlifts, the way that you lower the bar has a significant impact on the benefits (and drawbacks) you experience from this excellent exercise. Unlike most other resistance-training movement, when it comes to the deadlift, you’ve got a few different options [...]

Read the full article →

5 Great Truths That I Keep Coming Back To

August 21, 2016

One of the biggest challenges for people interested in continuous growth is the ability to temper open-mindedness with a healthy dose of skepticism. If you’re too open-minded, you end up falling for all sorts of ridiculous ideas; if you’re too skeptical, you close yourself off to new, potentially useful approaches. Over my 30-year career in [...]

Read the full article →

When Good Workouts Go Bad: 5 Damage Control Tactics

August 16, 2016

I often remark that effective training is a lot like the game of golf — a sport where you’re only as good as your worst shot, not your best. Similarly, when it comes to successful resistance training for strength and/or body composition objectives, you’re only as good as your worst workouts. Look — we all [...]

Read the full article →