An area that is vastly misunderstood in my opinion when it comes to training for any strength sport. Admittedly when I started I went by books, magazines and tips from friends and even up to now I'm still learning despite having read countless pieces of literature.
I'm not talking about individual exercises (e.g. Arnold press, zydrunas press, etc) as you can get that from muscle and fitness magazines, fellow athletes, professionals, personal trainers, and even other gym rats. I'm going to give an insight into the strengthening program.
Anyone can go to a gym, lift weights and will enviably get stronger, but not everyone knows how to have a hollistic approach to training (I.e. when to integrate power training, speed work, strength work, how much to lift when to lift, etc) to improve your overall ability.
So let's take it back basics, how many reps should do:
-Muscle Hypertrophy (bigger muscles): 8-10 reps
-Strength: 3-5 reps
-Power: 1-2 reps
How long does it take to see improvements:
Soft tissue adaptation:
- 6-8 weeks (to see intramuscular changes under a microscope)
- 12-16 weeks to see physical changes (improved 1 Rep Max (1RM), visual changes)
What to train:
The 3 S's
- Keep it Simple to prevent loosing interest and track of your ams and progress.
- Keep it Specific to your goals. For instance if you have squat in your competition, just squat, don't train different variations of squat (SL squat, weightlifting or powerlifting squats, etc), for improving your log press use the log don't use the bar variations as it requires a different technique, etc., etc. The research/literature heavily supports this aspect of strength training. Of all 3 points this is most important of all.
- Fnally keep it Smart. Understand your weaknesses and how to change or strengthen those areas. Ensure you seek professional advice whether it through a physiotherapist, strength and conditioning trainer or biomechanical specialist depending on the area of concern.
When to train:
This is the aspect of strength training I see everyone struggle with. Mainly, because this is where all the secrets lie, with regards to making affective progress. This part isn't something you can put on a one page article in a magazines. Books never quite give you enough information and everyone is different due to multiple factors e.g:
- body proportion
- performance enhancing drugs
- areas of weakness
- previous medical problems that have secondary implications (arthritic knee reduces knee flexion putting increased pressure on back , hips and ankles)
When it comes to strength training there are 3 prime areas you need to train; strength, power and speed/CV. Once you know this, you then need to know when to integrate which part at what stage and how long you should train those areas for.
Before you even begin working on your goals you need to do a 1rep max/personal best week where you go through all of your lifts and work put the maximum weight you can lift. In my opinion stick to your goals (I.e. max squat, deadlift, bench for a powerlifter and max log lift, deadlift, dumbbell press, speed of yoke run and stones for strongman). Also ensure you have you lifting technique refined as this shouldn't change through out the routine.
Now you have your numbers, write them down and get them up somewhere where you can see them regularly to remind you of your goals.
Overall your looking at a 12-16 week program. 16 weeks being the maximum amount of time before you try your 1RM/personal bests (PB) again.
In this article I will use the squat exercise to show progression.
% of weight required to improve each aspect:
- Strength: 80-90% of 1 RM
- Power: Up to 50% of 1RM (This depends on exercise, as weightlifters work into higher percentages but only possible due to their technique).
- CV/speed: up to about 20 % of 1RM (This will depend on you aim, as in most strength sports this is the conditioning aspect and usually only require short burst activity of 30-60seconds)
Remember that being strong doesn't mean your powerful and being powerful doesn't mean your strong. So they are 2 different aspects of training and will require a lot of work for you to get the link between these 2 right.
The first 4-5 weeks are heavily strength orientated and are about 50-60% of the work, power training is 30-40% and your CV is <10%. In these 5 weeks you will find yourself getting slightly breathless, a little lethargic but should feel stronger.
You need to separate your workout and always do the strength aspect first as your energy levels will deplete throughout the work out as you get more tired both neurologically and physically.
For squat/leg day (powerlifting squat):
Warm up 2x10
Work up to your 5RM (Should be about you 80% of 1RM)
5 sets of 5reps (5x5)
- Box squats/ Box jumps/ squat jumps
Work up to 3x3 working on explosive aspect of the lift.
(30% of your 1RM)
Working up to 3x8-10 RM
- Leg press
Sets of 15-20RM
Same routine but working on 5x 3RM on squat (90% 1RM)
Explosive aspect working up to 50%
This is the aspect of the workout where you start to improve your cardio, boost your power. You start to ease off your strengthening a bit but keeping to 80% of 1RM. You also start to increase the amount of reps/cardio work you do towards the end of the workout and boost your number of sets.
This stage of the regime, resistance bands and chains are a great way of boosting power and strength and working on your weak aspects.
(start to increase the power training element)
working up to 5x5RM but incorporate band work.
A key point regarding resistant bands they need to be 30+% of total weight. (E.g. 80%RM is 100kg. Total bar weight should be 70kg or less and the band should make up the rest total.)
- Box squat/ Box jumps/squat jumps
5 sets up to 50%of 1RM sets of 2-3 reps
Working up to 4x 10-15 RM
- Leg press
4 sets 15-20 RM
Pyramid sets are effective
I used to use Single leg work leg press
4-5 sets of 5 RM using resistance bands, chains and paused squats
- Box squat/ Box jumps/squat jumps
5-6 sets of 2 reps using 50%RM
- Box Lunges
- Hack Squat or Leg press
This section you start to ease off the strengthening aspect as your probably starting to feel fatigued, and boost the cardiovascular and speed. For 2 weeks your going to ease of both strength and power
5x5RM (80% 1RM)
(Try using bars like a safety bar, spider bars, axels, etc)
Can try reverse band squats
Followed by rep set where by reduce the weight by 50% and do as many reps as possible.
- Box squats
5x3RM (involving resistance bands, chains etc.)
Body weight until fatigue
- Leg Press or hack squat
4 sets of 15-20
4-5 sets of 8-12 reps
- Box Squats, Box Jumps, Squat jumps
4 sets of 8-12 reps
3-4 sets until fatigue
- Leg press
3x 15 reps
The week after, you do your 1RM week again followed by a rest week. Then repeat the process with your new totals.
As you can see, its not an easy process to work out and it can be as easy or as complicated as you want it, to be honest. A lot of the time its difficult to keep up with what you need to do, so keeping a diary or plan is a good idea as you’ll need to take this program and apply to all aspects of the training regime.
A challenging aspect of all training is repeating the same exercises over and over again but you can give yourself some variety by changing what type of bar you use as long as it doesn’t deviate your technique too much.
As shown you always start with your strength and power exercises first and then finish with repetition work.
Like with any program there are multiple variations but this is what the literature suggests and I used to progress my strength rapidly and what took me from local strongman to worlds strongest man competitor in 3 years. Admittedly it didn’t always go to plan and follow the program, as some weeks I was physically tired or had muscle strains which meant I had to ease back off my program and sometimes completely change it for 1-2 weeks.
When you go backwards or find it difficult to hit your numbers don’t get disheartened as this is a vital part of development. Although you shouldn’t overtrain, its important to push yourself and give your system a shock to prevent it being stuck in its ways.
In strongman your always put in a position where your competing using kit you have never seen before, different diameters, lengths, widths, lifting angles, etc. So having a varied program is important but ensure the basics are maintained and don’t spend too much time on working accessory muscle groups.
Hope this helps and gives you an idea of how to train for strength.
On a final note I just want to say that my knowledge of Strength and Conditioning is purely from the books i have read and the journals i have read along with my experience training specific to Powerlifting to Strongman. The men and women that are specific strength and conditioning coaches are far far more experienced than I am as they direct their focus at pure training where as my focus is Physiotherapy based.