The Map for Boundless Progress: Executing the Annual Plan

We’re back with another installment of our “Map for Boundless Progress” series! Today we’re going to discuss what the next phase of the training will look like for our Weightlifters and Powerlifters. In doing so, what we hope you can take away from this article is the understanding that there aren’t really any “bad” training methods. What matters more is when you deploy them and why. 

We’ll start by reviewing our lifters’ results from their Q1 ‘21 training in relation to what our intentions were versus what actually happened. From there we’ll be discussing what that means for how we execute the next leg of our athletes’ annual training plan. Let’s start with a refresher of what our athletes did. 

What did everyone do?

Our Weightlifters began the year with an extended period of “Weightlifting strength.” We’ve found that our athletes have gotten more gains over the course of a training year if we focus on slower, strength lifts (i.e. Squats, Push Presses, Deadlifts) separately from the Olympic lifts and their variants. This doesn’t mean our Weightlifters stopped doing the Olympic lifts. We just kept the intensity and loading “flat,” opting to spend the bulk of our time on the strength lifts mentioned above. In fact, what they did wasn’t too far off from what the Powerlifters did…

We had two goals for our Powerlifting cohort. First, we wanted to spend a third of the training cycle focusing on building some muscle mass and expanding their work capacity. No, that didn’t mean kipping Pull-Ups and KB Swings; think sets of 10 in Squat/Bench/Deadlift movements along with the inclusion of biceps curls. If there’s one thing Powerlifters need, it’s the durability to withstand the rigors of heavy loading once they’re doing set after set at loads like 80%. The second area of focus we wanted our attention on? Practice. Something new that we tried this cycle was having them repeat certain workouts, opting to see if our athletes noticed a reduction in perceived difficulty.

So how did things work out for our Weightlifters and Powerlifters? 

All of our Weightlifters increased their strength lifts by 5-7% after 12 weeks. For some, that extra bump in strength even resulted in incidental Snatch and Clean and Jerk records. As we expected, however, everyone’s ability in the competition lifts looked a little less practiced. While our athletes generally appeared much stronger pulling off of the floor they were missing some of the acceleration we would want in a competition-ready athlete. Of course, we expected this. What happened with the Powerlifters, however, was a little more interesting…

The Powerlifters have had what has to be one of the most productive training cycles we’ve ever written. While the data is still coming in (this article is literally being written as they test), our members across the board are seeing 10-15% gains in (1) lift (mostly Squats/Deadlifts), but between a 4-6% increase in their totals. That’s amazing progress in 16 weeks! We should note that the majority of our Powerlifting members have been lifting for at least 2-3 years, so they’re not rank beginners. 

Now that we know how things went, what do we do next?

Weightlifting 

Mission accomplished. We set out to make our Weightlifters stronger and that’s what happened… Now what? If you read our last article, you’ll recall that it’s our preference to have distinct cycles for building strength and building competition lift performance. It’s time to transform that newly developed strength into Snatch and Clean and Jerk PRs! How’re we going to accomplish that? A focus on POWER. 

Weightlifting requires brutal strength working in concert with both finesse and speed. Our last cycle almost exclusively focused on the “brutal strength” part, so this time around we’ll be emphasizing the finesse and speed parts. Since our athletes are now exceptionally capable of pulling bars from the floor, our primary goal is to build serious top-end power and precision. What’s that gonna look like? Before we get into some of the analysis, let’s contrast workouts from our strength cycle and our current plan. 

As you can see the organization of exercises (i.e. the template) is similar, but the content of our workouts has changed significantly. These are the key differences when comparing training cycles:

We’re dramatically increasing both the volume of Olympic lifts and their variations while simultaneously de-emphasizing “slow” movements like Squats and Deadlifts. One difference that might surprise you: there will be no testing of the Back or Front Squat in this phase of training. The only PRs we really want are either in competition lift variations or the lifts themselves. Both the exercise selection and volume concentrations reflect that. You can see that we’re especially concerned with building power in the second pull. Our Snatch and Clean variations require speed to be combined with precision, fulfilling the need to train “finesse and speed” in our athletes’ lifts. 

What I hope is becoming evident to you reading this is that one of the keys to good programming is narrowing your training objectives. Even if you don’t know much about programming, one principle should be beginning to clarify itself: what you’re doing and the quantity of it are primary drivers of adaptation. The tricky part is ordering, balancing, and optimizing the organization of training to minimize conflicts and maximize training efficiency as it relates to producing measurable performance gains. Let’s take a look at what the Powerlifters have in store next…

Powerlifting

It’s always a treat when the outcomes you get are even greater than what you originally imagined. That’s exactly what happened with our first training cycle of the year. While everyone meaningfully increased their ability in every lift, there are still some takeaways from these results. Let’s go over some of the more interesting results. 

Beyond the dramatic strength increases overall, when looking at our athletes’ results something that immediately stands out is the massive improvement in one lift. Lifters who participated in this cycle typically saw a massive gain in either the Squat or Deadlift, but not both. Bench Press progress was more consistent, but still exceptional. So, what do we do with this information? What sort of training cycle should we deploy now?

Ironically, an exceptionally effective training cycle can actually make things harder when you’re charting the remainder of the year for one reason: there’s no obvious deficit to work on.

The obvious answer might be to repeat the same training cycle with some minor variations. Unfortunately, having tried this approach, we’ve found that you can just never repeat the magic of the training cycle this way. It can actually be a demoralizing experience if just because of everyone’s expectations having come off such a productive period of training. So what do we do? De-train. 

Yes, you read that correctly. Sometimes you need to regress in the now to progress in the future. Anyone who’s made significant progress over a time horizon of years will tell you that getting strong is often a two steps forward, one step back process. So why fight it? We’ll be starting Q2 with a two week transition period that doesn’t include the competition lifts. Following this? We’re gonna focus on getting jacked for a bit. 

We’re doing this for two reasons. Firstly, to “re-sensitize” our athletes to the stimuli that the primary lifts (and their variants) provide. The law of diminishing returns is a thing. As much as we’d like to, we can’t sustain training momentum by repeating the last cycle, even with adjustments. Our lifters have been doing the same or similar movements at the same intensities for months now. Secondly, this is when asymmetry and muscular imbalances can become a problem. We spent so much time performing bilateral exercises in one plane of locomotion that it’s practically a certainty that our athletes will have developed some muscular imbalances. These aren’t inherently bad, but they’re not good either and can lead to injury down the line. 

Since everyone’s made such amazing gains, they’ve probably exhausted much of the strength potential attainable from their current foundations. Rather than continuing on a more traditional Powerlifting trajectory, we’re going to switch things up and focus on some “Powerbuilding” work, aka conditioning for Powerlifters. Bigger muscles have greater potential to be strong muscles. Likewise, since we’re less worried about the competitive lifts – including more concerned with training the structures that enable one to lift – this is the perfect time to include more unilateral work to train those imbalances (and get jacked while doing it). By the time we wind this cycle down, our Powerlifters will be ready to crush it on a cycle similar to the one we just did. 

The Big Picture

What I hope we’ve been able to illustrate for you in this piece is that there aren’t really any “bad” or ineffective training methods. What matters more is when you include them in a long-term development plan. 

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