Training Components of Strength to Decimate Weaknesses in the Big 3

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Training Components of Strength to Decimate Weaknesses in the Big 3

You have been there. I have been there. We all have been there.

Of course, I'm talking about the place of disappointment after you've trained religiously and worked hard for a PB...only to get the bar moving before it suddenly stops half way (before the successful completion of the lift) and then ultimately fail.

It's the place that you dwell in for days or weeks after failing a new max; you start questioning what went wrong in your training or nutrition. You even start questioning if you are at your genetic limit.

Well, the good news is: with the exception of diet (which will be discussed in another article), I will show you how to address your training in a unique, but extremely effective way.  It's arguably more specific (to the individual) than the actual powerlifts themselves; and you will NEVER have to visit 'that place' ever again. You read that right -- you will never fail a PB attempt again. 

Am I the creator of it? No, but the man who I recently had an in-depth conversation with could be attributed to its inception. The man I talk of is sadly no longer with us, but yielded unprecedented levels of strength and intelligence. His name is none other then Dr. Fred Hatfield, or the legend of him is known as 'Dr. Squat'. If you don't know who he is, you should!  He lifted in excess of 460kg on the squat in his mid 40's and was still improving before he decided he had achieved all he had to. Fred never published specific work on it beyond his earlier books, but he ensured me that this is the way the athletes of the future will train.  Who knows, maybe this article will be the progenitor of it...

Enter.... COMPONENT BASED PERIODISATION.

Take a look at the graph below, we will use the bench press as a typical example:

component based periodisation graph

The bar is lowered (and so the force decreases), then the bar is lifting upward with as much force as possible.  Now, mechanics aside (as technique and biomechanics are outside the scope of this article), the maximal force produced on a very basic level is purely based on how many muscle fibres are contracted that can contribute to the lift.

Here is where the graph is relevant: the final recruitment number (and so force) is dictated by the amount that is instantaneously recruited at the start of the lift (start strength), and then how many more fibres are gradually recruited (accelerative strength). Makes sense, doesn't it? Keeping the initial fibre on, and further recruiting more and more to exert more force.  Acceleration occurs due to force being exerted onto a mass (Acceleration = Force / Mass).

So what does this mean for the actual lifts?

Well, let's take the example of a lifter who 'pops' the weight off his chest, but then it slows down about half way up or higher, until it gradual stops and he fails to lock the weight out and so fails the lift.

So, according to the graph, the lifter managed to turn on a large amount of fibre at the start of the lift (start strength), but failed to keep recruiting more fibre and so the bar decelerated (and so the accelerative strength angles on the graph were getting smaller) resulting in a lower Fmax. So the weakness in this case, was accelerative strength.

How is this addressed?

Well, there are two ways to view this.  A lifter typically recruits an amount of fibre as a ratio/percent of his total fibres. So we can:

1.  Teach him to recruit more of what he already has (skill, neural adaptations)

-OR-

2.  Develop more mass so even the same percentage of recruited fibre yields a larger amount of absolute fibre required (structural, hypertrophy adaptations).

So what is best solution of the above? The answer is BOTH! 

We build the muscle responsible for the acceleration of the lift WHERE it matters (in this case, the Triceps are ultimately responsible for locking out the bench), and then we teach this muscle to recruit more and more throughout the full lift.

As studies have shown, distributed loading of multiple skills is not as efficient as specific skills, and we know how important transference of skills between training blocks are. 

Therefore, a very effective training system would follow:

In this particular example, we would train the close grip bench press exclusively for a volume block (to yield the greatest hypertrophy on the weak muscle; triceps).

Following this, we can now address the lifters ability to keep fibre 'on' and further recruit more and more fibre as the lift progresses (accelerative strength).  This is done via the means of bands and/or chains. There is a synergy which is created; not only are we addressing his weak skill, we now have more muscle to do it with, resulting in a large improvement (or at least, potential) of the lifters Fmax.

The final stage is simply lifting purely with the competition lifts with very low volume but with heavy intensities to translate the new muscle/skill to the actual lifts.

As a guideline of each block:


Take note. This is only scratching the surface, but this sequence and the unique addressing of the weakness are what will drive success indefinitely.

It works. Ever wonder why people do conjugate/West Side principles and either hate it or love it?

THIS is the reason for the divide: Those that need accelerative development will improve to no end. But for those with good acceleration and poor start strength, all of the banded work with WSBB would be harmful to these lifters; it would further damage their start strength (bcause bands and chains make the start of the lift easier).

Another example of why this is important:

Lifter 'X' fails his deadlift at lockout.  He then trains rack pulls to work exclusively on his lock out. But guess what, he struggles to lockout because his start strength is good (initial recruitment) but the accelerative strength is bad (further recruitment), therefore rack pulls are, by very nature START STRENGTH! They won't help him much (the weak muscle is working, but even then, it is far from optimal).  The movement he should be doing is banded/chained deadlift.

I hope this assists in addressing weaknesses and helping choose more optimal variants in your next training block. This IS the way forward. If you don't take my word for it as a national bench press record holder, then at least take the man who squatted 465kg word for it!

Until next time...

Aaron Hull

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