How to use variety in training.
REALLY USEFUL INFORMATION AT THE BOTTOM. Rest isn’t.
The Westside Barbell method has created numerous world champions in the sport of powerlifting. Correspondingly athletes and coaches, that use the Westside Barbell foundation for coaching their athletes (Such as Joe DeFranco of Westside Barbell For Skinny Bastards fame) find that they too experience the benefits of the protocol.
The Westside Barbell method takes its roots from the Soviets. The Soviets thanks to their extensive research have found that, variety and volume builds strength, power and skill. So to make this simple to understand, let’s break down these two words;
Variety – Doing something that mimics the movement pattern, but with slight differences either with the apparatus (normal barbell, thicker barbells, kettlebells), elevation (pulling off blocks or on blocks), tempo, etc. Yes, weight is variety too. It’s also the most easily manipulated variable.
Volume – The increase or decrease of total work (repetitions per week) at a particular % range.
Now, this is a blog that’s designed for people who want to learn, not people who want to debate. Or actually it’s designed for a guy that wants to rant about his thoughts but nobody wants to listen to, so don’t get into the intricacies of debating the actual meaning of the word. I’ve seen people naming the snatch balance to drop snatch and suddenly calling it heaving drop snatch. If this is the amount of emphasis you guys place on names, wrong site to be reading.
I’m interested in the intricacies of the movement. Not the name. If you’d like to argue semantics, kindly find a hooker as you’re clearly not getting laid enough. Or get a puppy, to keep your life somewhat worth living.
Now here’s the theory in idiot man’s terms. I can’t remember all these complex words so you’ll have to contend with the lack of scientific terms. I look at it like this;
If I’m building a square house (an athlete), I won’t just build one wall (one portion of the skill).
I’ll build all four walls together. By building four walls, they’ll meet at the corners and become a solid stable structure. If I build merely one wall, if the evil wolf (competition) comes along, he’ll huff and puff and blow my wall away. If I build all 4 walls, he’ll have a much harder time blowing my walls away.
Dr.Richard Schmidt of Motor Control Laboratory in UCLA used this example. If a quarterback throws from distances of 10, 20 and 40M, he’ll have no problems throwing 30M because his brains have guessed the wiring pattern required to execute the movement properly at 30M. (Quoted from Pavel)
In weightlifting, if a weightlifter snatches 100KG every day, he’s basically training his brains to be good at snatching, 100KG. He might be hopeless in snatching 80KG even, but once 100KG comes, he’s beautiful. Try 105KG and he’s worthless again. But if he trained at 100KG for 2 singles, 95KG for 2 doubles and 90KG for 1 triple, and goes back up to 100KG and attempts a double, this candidate might be a better person to hit 105KG wouldn’t you agree?
Also, when you mix higher weight and lower weight and wave it, you prime your nervous systems for more power at a lighter percentage. Once your body is moving better at a lighter percentage, you can try adding the higher weight and…..hit a PR! You’ve seen this in Ilya Ilin’s snatch video where he misses 194KG snatch or something 6 times, drops to 170, 180,194 and makes it. Then hits a 196KG which I’m assuming is his PR on video. This technique works. The only reason you refuse to use it, is because you think you’re wasting your energy at a lower weight. No, you’re only wasting your energy, missing at a higher weight. That’s another chapter though.
This works hey, as research has shown that athletes that vary their stimulus tend to perform as well, if not better than those that consistently practice the same thing. Now once again, let’s keep in mind perfecting your technique, and lifting heavy weights isn’t the same. Yet you need both, which is why the Chinese methodology doesn’t have accurate loads pre-planned for the year, month or week. They combine it.
So..that’s the concept…application?
Now with the concepts out of the way, and you gaining certainty that I might know what I’m talking about, let’s proceed to application once again, using WSBB as an example.
The numerous powerlifting bars they have, creates the various stimuli that they require to train their competition lifts. Now WSBB seems to use a combination of movement and muscle when programming their lifts. What I mean by this is, they practice varieties of the movement, portions of the movement where they are weak at (eg, floor press, board press, pin press) and at the same time, they find for weakest muscles to give them some hypertrophy work and drill more movement pattern in. Very similar to the styles where gymnasts would train. They may want to develop an Iron Cross, so they may use isometrics, presses to develop strength, and then work back on position, etc.
Now right about now, you’re wondering why we don’t use various barbells in weightlifting. There’s a “split” of variety where we CAN mess around with. Then there’s some we cannot mess around with.
Let’s call them, “messable” and “unmessable”.
That’s why, standing on a pair of kettlebells doing squats, isn’t going to raise your squat. You just mucked with the unmessable. How do you determine which they are? Honestly, experience and a bit of science.
You want variations that duplicate the MOVEMENT of the sport you’re competing in as much as possible. I’d say, that means don’t change things like the balance because you’re going to compete on flat floors. Change things like the tempo, the rest period, the % 1RM, the reps, the sets. Let’s say your weakness is hip extension, find movements that focuses on a hip extension. RKC swings (no not that crossfit swing, that’s too slow), glute bridges, sumo deadlifts, broad jumps.
The experience part, I can’t help you there. I still haven’t fully grasped the full concept of choosing variations yet. I think it’s a lifelong process.
Why don’t weightlifters change bars like powerlifters?
I honestly have no concrete idea.
Changing the barbell type, may work, but I’d imagine once you switch the way the load balances on a Olympic barbell with longer barbell, you might have a bit of work to do regaining that balance.
I honestly think one of the reasons why various barbells haven’t been manipulated in weightlifting is because most of the countries that kick ass in weightlifting are in Asia and Europe. These are countries whose cultures are less diverse and somewhat less capitalistic than the English speaking countries. I think the idea of manufacturing different bars for the purpose of profit will sink in with Eleiko. They choose instead to go with other variations and keep the barbell as unmessable with.
One thing that seems to be the case is, if it’s to do with strength, you’ve more space to play. With skills and power moves, it’s a little trickier. I tried throwing an American football, for 2 weeks once while playing rugby. Moved back to the rugby ball, and anyone would’ve sworn I’ve never played rugby in my life, so I’m still learning. The spin is much faster on an American football that changing to a rugby ball made my hands slip constantly especially when wet.
Strength built through time and volume
My coach has said, strength built through repetitions and time, is better than strength built through failing. What he means by this is, when you go through your cycle, without a single miss and all the efforts stay within the desired RPE, you’ve built strength that will last. If you’re constantly having to rework the load, AFTER you fail a lift, instead of estimating how the lift will be and adjusting prior to lifting, you’re just telling your body, “Ok, you can miss and then we’ll go lighter”. Realize your competitions, don’t have that option?
If you think you’ll fail, don’t take the attempt. Unless, you’re peaking. There’s a time to fail and at your preparation phase, that isn’t the time. Preparation phases are just as its name suggests. PREPARE. NOT max out!
Training =/= maxing out.
Admittedly, I do fall prey to the temptations of maxing out, quite often.
REAL USEFUL INFORMATION
Now so how do you put it into your training???
- 1. Determine Cycle Time
There’s a theory that says, 6 week cycles are the best, there’s a theory that says 4 weeks hard, 1 week easy, 1 test is the best. Some cycles blablabla….there’s too much research into what the best cycles are. I’ll say this though, most of the people out there reading this, don’t need to concern themselves with such cycles. “You’re aren’t going to be an elite athlete…”, and I quote the finisher from Dan John “regardless of what your t-shirt says”.
If you’re snatching 160KG, jerking 200KG, then there’s going to be some need for this determining what cycle periods are best but chances are, you’ll know by the time you hit such numbers.
I personally think that the 6 week cycles to be easiest to use. 4 weeks of building load, 1 week of tapering and retest then deload and get ready for cycle 2. I’m assuming that people don’t compete that often and are doing this for the love of the sport, so in 1 year, you’ve 6 opportunities to get stronger or build a foundation to get stronger. This is after deducting holiday periods, family, work, real world problems.
There must also be a period for deloading to keep the body healthy and happy and your mind active. When I say deloading, for the common person I mean playing a different sport, letting your gainz go to temporary sleep, fixing your imbalances and flexibility problems, etc. I say after three, 6 week cycles, take a 10-12 day deload before coming back. During the deload period, play some games, work on flexibility and mobility, learn about a religion, vote, castrate a monkey, kill a camel, whatever.
Btw, if you improve at a minimal rate, every year, you average 6KG to your snatch and 8KG to your CNJ, per year, in 5 years, that’s 70KG to your total. That’s NOT bad at all if you think about it. Say you start programming like this, and your current total is 230KG, 100KG snatch, 130KG CNJ. In 5 years, you’d have a 130KG snatch and a 170KG CNJ.
That’s hardly a bad deal especially if you’re only training an average of 75 minutes a session, 3-4x a week, 180 weeks instead of an elite’s, 2 hour long, 9-12 sessions per week, 250+ weeks in 5 years training volume!
Wait, 3-4x a week? What? How can I improve like that?
You see, unlike top level athletes, you must consider recovery, boredom, family, money, blablabla. You may have heard stories of Chinese athletes, whose parents pass away and yet its hidden from them for months. Now you start judging the Chinese system and the Chinese people saying they’re inhumane. No they’re not. They’ve a purpose that is so huge (The nation’s pride and millions spent on the athletes) that each athlete needs to be kept in tip top condition. Such a large mental stress would certainly cause problems to the athlete’s performance.
However, if you’re not in these athlete’s shoes, and you’re constantly bombarded with reality, how do you think training 9-12x a week is going to do to you? And if you’re surviving on creatine, nitric oxide and caffeine through the workout, perhaps you should quit your job and train full time as you clearly got your priorities upside down.
- 2. Determine “same but different” (SBD) exercises and time frame.
I’m not naming it SBD cuz I want to be credited. I just can’t think of a simpler term than that and I’m all about simple. I’m going to say this. If you take pleasure in excessively intricate things, you’re going to have a hard time finding your zen and calm energy which is required for life and sports.
- During this cycle, determine what your SBD exercises are going to be.
- Then determine the time frame.
I like using 4 sessions on one SBD exercise because I’ve the attention span of a puppy on a diet of coke (or a castrated monkey).
- Practice main movement, but only at 50% for 2-3 doubles.
The plugging of the main movement at 50%, is in theory, to build explosive power while giving it a rest, yet not completely resting it. This is why I don’t believe in pure periodization. So let’s see what it looks like in a program.
- 3. Plug the mofo iN!
- Hang snatch + Overhead Squat (2+2)(Repeat 3 sets between 85%-90%) (SBD)
- Snatch pulls to 110% max snatch staying 1” off the floor (4 sets of 4) (SBD)
- Panda pulls to 100% of max snatch (5 sets of 4)
- Power snatch to 40% of max snatch
- Kettlebell overhead press in squat position (2 sets x 8 reps)
- Front Squats with 3 seconds pause at hole (3 sets x 3 reps @ 75% FS squat 1RM) (SBD)
- Sumo stance deadlift from 2” block, (3 sets x 3) (SBD)
- Romanian Deadlifts, (3 sets of 6)
- Hardstyle KB Swings (2 sets x 20 reps)
- Ab-Wheel Rollout (1 set x 15 reps)
- Cleans from block + Push press (3+1) (SBD)
- Back Squats (3 sets x 3 at 88-90% 1RM)
- Clean pulls (100% of clean max, 4 sets x 4 reps)
- Power clean and jerk to an easy 1 rep max.
- Chest supported rows (3 sets x 8 reps, 4144 tempo)
Now once you analyse the results after a few cycles, you’ll be able to see which exercises are useful for which problem and continually progress.
The cool thing is, with more and more experience, you’ll also see which exercises benefit you the most. As you change your training program, say you snatch three times a week instead of once or twice, you’ll also have more variety of movements to use. Say, you could select 3 exercises with the most transfer to your snatches based on experience. Perhaps, use the hang snatch + OHS complex once, a block snatch the second time and normal snatches with pause below the knee. Very much like what Pendlay shows in his videos.
This is merely ONE way of using variety. There’s a ton more. You could use same main, different assistance. Different main, same assistance. You could even use, different main and different assistance provided you can log them down. You could vary the weight (which you must), the tempo, the repetitions, the amount of sets, the percentage of load on SBD exercises. Whatever.
If you get confused, go back to this example;
If you throw from 10 different distances, you’ll essentially be good at, at least 11 different distances. It isn’t the exercise selection that elites use that make the magic. It’s how they CHOOSE the ones that benefit those fellows most. RECORD the variations and results.
Now Bulgarian methodology of maxing, I still believe that’s your nitrous oxide button. Once you use your nitrous oxide, you need to refill it. You’re also talking about a methodology that MANY have tried but only few have succeeded. You keep hearing about success stories because rarely do people talk about failures (unless it’s US vs North Korea).
Rarely do you get a coach that failed to produce with that athlete, talk about that athlete. He/she will go back to the drawing board to better it, but they won’t usually talk that much about it. Human nature.
A step further
Another benefit to note about rotating exercises regularly but keeping the movements same. Ido Portal covered this well in his video, improper alignment. If you take his video word for word, and then realize it doesn’t apply, then you’re a fucking moron. But seek deeper understanding routes through his video and you’ll see. By training with variety, not only do you minimize the potential for error because your brain has already calculated subconsciously, how to achieve a movement. The other huge benefit is, the avoidance of injury. Cycling different movements creates better neural connections and to a certain extent, some “transferable” hypertrophy. I despise the word functional because its been broken by annoying fitness gurufucks. If you have a shoulder problem, go narrower in the snatch. You might find you learn something about your body, and your joint doesn’t hurt!
About Ido Portal…I think he’s a former capoeira/gymnastics artist. He went beyond the typical understanding and started learning into movement functions and the biologies involved. VERY interesting stuff.
I learned about him via Dan Carnahan, a good guy that’ll help you if you ever drop by Kirkland crossfit in Seattle. Dan’s a guy that visited me here in the Cayman Islands and we spent 10 days learning from each other about training. He gave me a better understanding of crossfit which allowed me to understand that, basically all crossfitters are looking for is generating power, and getting back into that position to regenerate that power over and over and over and over again.
Notice that’s, exactly what weightlifting is? Only we do it once, powerfully with no concern to regenerating that power within a short amount of time. We don’t have a chance to mess up. Which is important for crossfit too. I think. I don’t know why, but I just think it’ll make me sound a little more zen.