Friday, September 13, 2013

Texas Volume Training

Texas Volume Training
Is This the Ultimate Powerlifting Program?

     After years of powerlifting – although I haven’t competed in almost a decade, I still train the powerlifts hard and often work with powerlifters who need to boost their totals – I have come to the following conclusions about training for the intermediate to advanced lifter:[1]
Matthew Sloan squatting
     Most lifters can increase their squats the most by using a fairly high amount of volume, and frequent training.  2 days per week should be the minimum amount of squatting, while most will get even better results by at least 3 days per week.  Recently, some lifters have been experimenting with taking a more “Bulgarian” approach, and squatting almost every day, and getting good results (Nick Horton’s programs over at “The Iron Samurai” would be good examples of this kind of training).  Also, programs such as the “Smolov squat routine” have worked wonders for quite a few lifters that I know, or that I have talked to – I don’t personally use Smolov squat programs, but I have used similar routines with several powerlifters that I have worked with.  All of them are pleased with the results the more frequent training brings.
     Most lifters do well on the bench press with a moderate to high amount of volume, and a moderate amount of training.  I don’t know many lifters who need to bench press more than 2x per week – in fact, I think twice-weekly training is the ideal way to train your bench press.  Unlike the squat, it’s a bit easier to overtrain your movement pattern on the bench press, and – also unlike the squat – the bench press is not a lift (either biomechanically or for injury prevention) that suits itself well to such frequent training.  With 2x per week training for the bench, most lifters also do well by only actually bench pressing on one of those training days.  One day can be devoted to some derivative of the bench press (dumbbell benches, board presses, incline bench presses, weighted dips, etc.) while the other day can be devoted to the lift itself.
     Most lifters can increase their deadlift the most by using a fairly infrequent training scheme combined with high-intensity, as long as they are training the muscles that are used in the deadlift more frequently.  There are –and have been – exceptions, of course.  Bob Peoples – who was built for the deadlift like no other[2] - could not only “get away” with frequent deadlifting, he actually thrived on high-intensity (near-maximal loads) 4 to 5 times per week.  However, I think that even lifters who are “built” for this lift would do better to train less frequently than that.  Although, I am probably mechanically built for the deadlift better than the other lifts (I am in no way built for the bench press, but I am as strong of a squatter as a deadlifter), I seem to do the best when just working my deadlift hard once-per-week, and training with near-maximal percentages at that.  Here is the kicker, if you will, however: I would probably need to deadlift more frequently if I wasn’t squatting frequently during the same time period.
C.S. hitting a few reps with 430
     In brief, that is what I feel like is the current “best” paradigm for a raw lifter who is advanced enough to benefit from this kind of training.  However, now let’s see what such a program may actually look like.  Keep in mind that there are actually myriad programs you could use under the guise of 3x weekly volume squatting, 2x weekly bench pressing, and 1x weekly high-intensity deadlifting.  What I offer here is something that I have been experimenting with, and something that a few lifters I work with have been using.  So far, the results have been good.  Also, what I present here is open for change when needed.  (Look at this program as your “template”.  Your template should rarely, if ever, change.  However, the variety within the template can change as frequently as the lifter needs for it to do so.  Think of the great powerlifting programs of the past – Westside, Sheiko, Bill Starr’s 5x5.  Lifters who train using any of these programs never change the template itself – Starr’s 5x5 is always a H-L-M program performed 3 days per week, Westside is always 2 dynamic effort days with 2 maximal effort days each week – but there is a ton of variety that can be built into the program.  The program I present here should be seen in the same vein.)
Texas Volume Training – T.V.T. for Short
     You may be asking yourself, “Just why the hell has Sloan decided to call this program ‘Texas Volume Training’?”  Well, the reasoning’s fairly simple.  For one, the squatting portion of the program is awfully similar to the “Texas method” popularized by Mark Rippetoe, and used by a number of powerlifters.  I like the Texas Method, not just because I’m a native Texan myself, but because it’s similar to Bill Starr’s H-L-M programs, but it allows for a bit more flexibility.  I won’t get into all of the Texas Method details here, but basically you train three days per week on a full body program.  Day one is devoted to volume training.  Day two is a light, “recovery” day.  And day three is devoted to working up to a max set on your major lifts.
     For another, this program uses a lot of volume.  Although it doesn’t use the same amount of volume as a “Smolov” or “Sheiko” routine, it is more voluminous than most lifters are accustomed to using.  In that regard, this program is definitely more “Russian” than “Bulgarian” (as opposed to, say, my recent posts on high frequency strength training or Ditillo-inspired training – those would definitely fit more into the “Bulgarian” camp).  It would have been fine for me to call this Texas Russian Training, but I realize that would be a bit too oxymoronic for most (especially Texans), so TVT it is.
     Here is the “template” for this program.  It’s fairly straightforward.  After I present the training template, we’ll discuss some details to make it work.
Day One – High Volume Squatting, High Volume Upper Body
Day Two – High Intensity Deadlifting
Day Three – Recovery Squatting
Day Four – Off
Day Five – Maximal Squatting, Maximal Bench Pressing
Day Six – Off
Day Seven – Off
     Day One should be the toughest training day of the week.  You should be training with percentages and volumes that don’t make you look forward to the training day.  For starting out, I recommend a minimum of 8 “working” sets on squats and whatever bench pressing exercise you choose.  I think 10 to 15 sets should be even better.  Do a few warm up sets, then commence with 10 to 15 sets of either 5 reps, 3 reps, or 2 reps on the squats.  Use a weight where you know you can get all of your sets and reps, but a weight that’s still tough – between 75 and 85% of your one rep maximum is probably ideal, depending on the reps.  When you are finished with the squats, you probably won’t feel like performing an upper body pressing exercise, but do it anyway, and use the same set/rep scheme that you used for squats.  If you’re weaker on your upper body exercise that you’re used to, that’s okay.  You’ll adapt.  It may take a couple of weeks, but you’ll soon be utilizing weight that’s comparative to what you were previously using when not squatting before benching.[3]
     If you feel like it, you may add a couple of assistance exercises too.  A little bit of triceps, shoulder work, and/or abdominal work is okay, but don’t go overboard.
     Day Two is your sole deadlifting day of the week.  And, yes, you are going to be sore on this training day, and there is a good chance before you start the session that you will not want to deadlift.  Do it.  Your body will adapt to the training.  (As the Bulgarians say, “Your body becomes its function.”)  Also, you may be surprised at just how strong you are on this day, despite your soreness.  Despite using the same muscles (or at least some of the same muscles) for deadlifting that are used for squatting, the muscles are “challenged” in a different manner, and the bar path is entirely, wholeheartedly different, which is one reason that lifters are often able to deadlift a lot the day after squatting a lot.  (If anyone has performed one of the Sheiko programs, then you know what I’m talking about.)  Also, and this is perhaps entirely unscientific, but it could be that the squatting on the previous day actually neurally enhances your deadlifting capabilities on this day.  I have personally broken some of my deadlift records the day after I had a big squat session.  When this first happened, I was a little surprised (especially considering how blasted sore my ass often was the day after squatting), but I eventually accepted the fact that that’s just “how it is.”
     For this day, you have a couple of options depending on how you prefer to train your deadlift with maximal loads.  You can simply work up to a max triple, double, or single, or you can do multiple singles with 90-95% of your one rep maximum.  I prefer the second option – at least for the majority of the sessions.  When you are finished deadlifting, then add in an assistance exercise or two.  Deficit deadlifts, high pulls, power cleans, power snatches, are all great complimentary exercises for your deadlift.
     Day Three is your “light” squatting day.  Work up to about 80% of whatever weight you used on Day One, and perform a few sets of 3 to 5 reps in the squat.  You should feel good when you are finished with this session, better than when you started.  (And, once again, yes, there’s a good chance you will be really sore before this workout.)  This workout really does aid in your ability to recover – not just from Day One’s squatting session, but from the deadlifts too.  Remember this: it’s always better to recover by doing something, than by just sitting around and “resting”.
     Day Four is your first off day.  You should be happy – especially for your first week or two of training.  Enjoy the day off from lifting.  (An “off day” should always be taken because you need it, not because you want to take one.)
     Day Five is your “maximal lift” day for squatting and bench pressing – this is probably the best day to actually perform the flat bench press, instead of some derivative.  Work up over 5 to 7 progressively heavier sets of 5, 3, or 2 reps until you hit your max weight.  Occasionally do some singles – about once every 6 weeks should suffice.  If you have performed a Bill Starr H-L-M program (or one of my H-L-M programs on this blog), then you know exactly what this day should look like, since it should almost mirror the “heavy” day on those programs.
     The last two training days of the week are “off days”.  On these days, make sure you eat plenty of food – good carbs, good protein, good fat – to prepare yourself for the next high volume squatting and upper body days.

     In future articles on “Texas Volume Training”, I will focus on some of the nuances of making this work, as well as specifics on each of the powerlifts.  Perhaps I will also do an article on how to make this work if your goal is simply to get as big as possible.
     If you have any questions, please feel free to email me or add a comment.

[1] Let me add right off the bat that this program is geared toward lifters who are at least considered “intermediate.”  If you are not squatting or deadlifting double your bodyweight, and bench pressing 1 and ½ times your weight, you have no business attempting this program.  Instead, you would be much better following one of my H-L-M programs, or any program recommended by Bill Starr.  Also, this program is for “raw” lifters primarily, or lifters who compete with minimum gear.  If you use a lot of gear – double or triple ply suits and shirts – then, to be honest, you would probably be better off following the programs of Westside Barbell or something of similar ilk.
[2] Probably the only lifter with a greater “deadlifting frame” than Bob Peoples would have been Lamar Gant - Gant’s arm-length (combined with his short torso) bordered on the freakish.  He was a deadlifting “machine” to say the least.
[3] I’m not going to get into all of the details here, but I believe this is one reason the Sheiko programs are so effective: you are doing more than one exercise each day, and you are forcing your body to utilize a lot of force, despite the fact that you are more “winded” than you think you should be on a powerlifting program.  There’s also just something about this kind of training that adds mass fast.  In fact, that may be one of its drawbacks for lifters trying to stay in a weight class.

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