Phase-Specific Training Strategies

by tffitness on October 19, 2016

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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!

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This Week’s Training

Highlights:

• Low Bar Squat: 315×4

• Competition Bench Press: 225×2

Monday, October 10, 2016

Bodyweight: 195 Pounds

Goblet Squat

Set 1: 30 lb × 10

Set 2: 53 lb × 10

Set 3: 62 lb × 10

Low Bar Squat

Set 1: 45 lb × 5

Set 2: 95 lb × 5

Set 3: 135 lb × 5

Set 4: 185 lb × 5

Set 5: 225 lb × 5

Set 6: 275 lb × 1

Set 7: 315 lb × 4

Set 8: 295 lb × 4

Set 9: 275 lb × 4

Set 10: 275 lb × 4

Deadlift

Set 1: 135 lb × 5

Set 2: 185 lb × 5

Set 3: 225 lb × 5

Set 4: 275 lb × 3

Set 5: 315 lb × 3

Set 6: 365 lb × 3

Hack Squat

Set 1: 90 lb × 8

Set 2: 180 lb × 5

Set 3: 180 lb × 5

Set 4: 180 lb × 5

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Bodyweight: 195.8 Pounds

Paused Competition Bench Press

Set 1: 45 lb × 10

Set 2: 95 lb × 8

Set 3: 135 lb × 6

Set 4: 165 lb × 5

Set 5: 185 lb × 4

Set 6: 205 lb × 4

Set 7: 210 lb × 4

Set 8: 195 lb × 4

Set 9: 215 lb × 3

Set 10: 225 lb × 2

Seated Row

Set 1: 120 lb × 8

Set 2: 140 lb × 6

Set 3: 150 lb × 6

Set 4: 150 lb × 6

Set 5: 150 lb × 6

EZ Bar Curl

Set 1: 55 lb × 8

Set 2: 65 lb × 8

Set 3: 75 lb × 8

Lying EZ Bar Tricep Extension

Set 1: 55 lb × 8

Set 2: 65 lb × 8

Set 3: 75 lb × 8

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bodyweight: 196 Pounds

Deadlift

Set 1: 135 lb × 10

Set 2: 185 lb × 8

Set 3: 225 lb × 6

Set 4: 275 lb × 5

Set 5: 315 lb × 5

Set 6: 365 lb × 5

Set 7: 405 lb × 1

Set 8: 405 lb × 1

Set 9: 405 lb × 1

Leg Press

Set 1: 90 lb × 10

Set 2: 180 lb × 8

Set 3: 270 lb × 6

Set 4: 360 lb × 6

Set 5: 360 lb × 6

Set 6: 360 lb × 6

Toes To Bar

Set 1: 5 reps

Set 2: 5 reps

Set 3: 5 reps

Seated Leg Curl

Set 1: 160 lb × 7

Set 2: 160 lb × 7

Set 3: 160 lb × 7

Sumo Deadlift

Set 1: 135 lb × 5

Set 2: 225 lb × 1

Friday, October 14, 2016

Bodyweight: 196 Pounds

Military Press

Set 1: 45 lb × 10

Set 2: 65 lb × 8

Set 3: 85 lb × 6

Set 4: 105 lb × 5

Set 5: 110 lb × 6

Set 6: 95 lb × 7

Chin Up

Set 1: 1 rep

Set 2: 2 reps

Set 3: 3 reps

Set 4: 4 reps

Set 5: 5 reps

Set 6: 6 reps

Set 7: 7 reps

Set 8: 8 reps

Close Grip Bench Press (Pinkies On Rings)

Set 1: 45 lb × 10

Set 2: 95 lb × 8

Set 3: 135 lb × 6

Set 4: 185 lb × 5

Set 5: 195 lb × 5

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

Set 1: 50 lb × 8

Set 2: 60 lb × 8

Set 3: 70 lb × 8

Set 4: 80 lb × 8

Set 5: 80 lb × 8

Set 6: 70 lb × 8

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