Training vs. exercising needs to be defined first before we go further into this article. Training is the pursuit of a specific goal, such as Deadlifting 500 pounds or rowing 2,000 meters on the C2 rower in 6:30. There is a clear and defined goal that you are pursuing and either you accomplish the goal or not. One the flip side, exercising does not have a goal. You go to the gym to essentially go to the gym. You go to the gym to burn calories and feel better about yourself. There is also nothing wrong with exercising, but in this article, I will talk about the boring pursuit of training.
Now that we all know what training for a goal is, let’s discuss how specificity ties into a goal. Using deadlifting 500 pounds as our goal, let’s have our person trying to accomplish this goal currently weighing 160 pounds and deadlifting 225. What specific variables does this person need to work on to accomplish this goal? The athlete’s nutrition, specificity, variation, frequency and sets/reps all come into play in planning a cycle. I will go through each variable so you understand what it will take to accomplish this goal.
To deadlift 500 pounds there are a few traits that the athlete will need to address to make this a reality. The athlete will need to gain weight to accomplish this goal in a reasonable amount of time. Please don’t argue with me about this. He will need to strengthen the muscles involved in the deadlift and practice technique. Yes, it is very simple and that is the goal.
If the goal is to deadlift 500 pounds this means that he will need to deadlift. This might sound obvious but this is where many people mess up the process of training. Specificity means you train is as specifically as possible. This is important because lifting is a skill, technique is very important to maximize your strength. Every time you practice, if you take it seriously you will get better at your event. In this case every time he deadlifts, not only will he create the stimulus to get stronger he will also get better at dead lifting. Which means that he will get that much closer to his goal. However, the proper frequency needs to be addressed.
Based on specificity you will think that the more sessions that you can deadlift the better. Fundamentally, this is true. However, you cannot deadlift every day because you will become over trained and go backwards. This is where frequency comes into play, which is how often you can deadlift in a certain amount of time. A heavy Deadlift is very taxing on your CNS, so pulling every day or multiple times a week cannot be sustained. A good idea is to Deadlift every week, and no more than that. Every time you deadlift you should be either doing more weight, reps, or sets. If you don’t you are not creating a stimulus for your body to adapt to. If you simply fail at progressing in any of these variables, it means that you are under recovered or over trained. Meaning that you are doing too much work that your body can’t recover from. Eat more, sleep more, and train less. Remember to train not exercise. Since you can’t train that specific all the time, you need to address variation in your training.
Variation means that the athlete will create variation in his lifting to accomplish the goal. The more advanced of lifter you are the more variation while novices don’t need much variation because they are weak. If you are dead lifting 225 you are weak, so variation needs to be very limited. Our novice will deadlift once a week, and get stronger on the assistance lifts to continue to progress. A strong deadlift relies on a strong grip, hamstrings, glutes, quads, core, and the entire back. Choosing compound movements that address many of these factors is crucial so that you are doing a million exercises. A squat will address these factors besides grip so you need to Squat and you should be anyways. A strong back means that the athlete will do rows and chins. Strong hamstrings and glutes means the athlete will do GHR’s, Good Mornings, and Barbell RDL’s. Strong grip probably won’t be an issue but doing famers carries will address this factor and strengthen the “core”. The Athlete’s most important lift is the deadlift, so don’t major in the minors.
Remember the athlete is weak so he does not need that much variation. He does not need to do speed pulls or deficit deadlifts. This variety will come into play later in his training age, this is because they address very specific weak points in a lifter. Remember the athlete is weak, he does not have weak points. He would need to be strong somewhere to have weak points. If he squats, rows, chins, and GHR more weight his deadlift will go up. Plain and simple the athlete is stronger.
Sets and reps also play a role in a lifter’s career. The more advanced the trainee the more variation in sets and reps. The advanced athlete will need variation in the cycles so that he is either working on max strength or hypertrophy. Again, the athlete is a novice so he can work on both at the same time. This means on deadlifts he will do one set of 5 reps each week and add weight to the bar every week. Why fives? Fives are chosen is the middle ground between hypertrophy and strength. 1 rep is the maximal force production you can produce while 10 is a great range for hypertrophy. However, if the athlete wants to get stronger and gain weight, 5’s is a great option. 10’s doesn’t have enough force production for strength to increase, while singles are to taxing and create no hypertrophy. He will stall very early on. Why one set? Again, the deadlift is a very taxing lift, and if he does to many sets he won’t be able to recover for the next week. Just one set with progressively heavier weights will create a stimulus for adaptation and mean that he is getting stronger. Remember if he adds weight to the bar every week he is getting stronger.
For the assistance lift he will live in the 8-12 rep range for a few sets. One set of deadlifts a week is not enough volume to create a sufficient stimulus. This is why the athlete will do assistance lifts. The goal of assistance lifts are to strengthen muscles that are involved in the lift by creating a larger muscle. In this case he will do more sets and reps to create more volume which will give the body the stimulus to grow.
The athlete is currently 160 pounds, and gaining weight would clearly help him deadlift more weight. Remember his goal was to deadlift 500 pounds not have abs. Yes, he will gain fat with the muscle he puts on that is inevitable. I’m not saying he must gain 150 pounds, but gaining 30 pounds will make this goal much more realistic. This is because more muscle mass can potentially produce more power. A calories surplus will also help the athlete recover from workouts. This is crucial because you don’t get stronger from lifting weights, you get stronger from recovering from workouts. The athlete will need to be in a calories surplus to have the best potential at deadlifting 500 pounds. This is crucial as we discuss the next few variables.
Now that we have the program and nutrition principles dialed in, it’s time to talk about how much the athlete will train. For a novice, a 3 day a week program is perfect. Monday he will squat with assistance lifts, Wednesday will be a press and assistance lifts and Saturday will be the deadlift day with assistance lifts. This might sound like not enough, remember this is training not exercising. The goal is not doing as much as possible, but do the least amount possible to create progression. Meaning that If every lifts are going up in weight every week the athlete will be progressing. You then do not need to change anything just to keep on progressing.
Adding strength is not over complicated and you shouldn’t make it. However, it is not easy. Eating enough food can be hard, heavy sets are hard and resisting the urge to train more can be hard. Being stronger than you ever thought possible is pretty awesome though, now go deadlift.