Yesterday I sat in the park listening to the Commissioners of Power podcast as they interviewed one of my favourite athletes, one who I have had the privilege of training with, Donny Shankle.
Anyone who has listened to Donny speak understands not only how motivating he can be, but how crystal clear and simple he can make the process of weightlifting seem. He strips away the waffle- where my hands should be, how many reps should I do at this weight, what stretches should I do? He replaces them with a few of his weightlifting truths.
1) Push the maximum often
2) Create a team environment
This is essentially his system, one that was learnt over time by his coaches, including the late Ivan Abadjiev. As a system it seems almost romantically perfect to me. Turn up, try and set records, try and beat everyone else, go home, eat and sleep as much as you can, and then do it again. How perfect and simple.
My issue stems from having spent too much of my life studying the science of training. Learning about periodisation, understanding maximum and minimum recoverable volumes, reading about the stages of fatigue, reading all the old soviet texts which are so heavily focused on exact %s, rep schemes, and varying exercise selection.
I love that approach to weightlifting. I love having everything calculated perfectly. It brings out a confidence in me. The logic being that if I can make myself hit every repetition, never skip a set or an exercise, monitor my fatigue, and build up my strength through various points of focus, then I can excel.
But I also love the idea of brute force. Forcing myself to lift more and more every day through maximum attempts and a competitive team atmosphere. Banging my head against a wall until I break through, only to be met by another wall and doing it all over again. In training the more max attempts you take, the more team mates play a role. When everyone is lifting at 80%, some sort of competitiveness is lost. Of course you can try and make more reps than the other person, but something about trying to lift more weight than the next person brings out high levels of performance that are so often lost in a sport that requires performance.
As a result of these two parts of my mind, I feel somewhat like a fraud. Sometimes I tell people that they need a more systematic approach, and other times that they just need to push for max attempts more and force adaptation to occur that way. But which is it?
In an ideal world I would train with the best team mates and push for max attempts every day. I find this type of training fits best with my personality. Something about competing every day with a bunch of guys really brings out the best in me. But I fear that I need some structure too. Something that satisfies the nerdier side of me. The side that enjoys things being laid out perfectly, a carefully interwoven program of exactness.
I host a podcast with Glenn Pendlay, I’m on his online team, and so it may come as no surprise that it is his programming I choose to follow. The reason is because I buy into it. I buy into everything that he programs. It is because of that that I believe it works. If you do not believe in it, you will probably fail it. You will fail it because you won’t be able to push hard enough to complete the squats because you hold some hesitation towards their necessity. You may fail because you don’t see the point in the accessory work. You may fail because you don’t want to go heavy on the lifts the day after you just deadlifted heavy.
The point is that Glenn’s program fills both parts of my dilemma. The program has enough progression and periodisation in it that I don’t feel myself worrying about growing stagnant or worrying about when the fatigue will ebb and flow. But it also has enough heavy attempts in the snatch and clean and jerk that I feel secure that I am in charge of forcing my body to adapt like Donny said.
So I’m not saying that it is the best program for you. But it is for me. I don’t have to feel like a fraud on this program. I am no longer an undercover Bulgarian lifter completing a Soviet program, nor am I a Soviet lifter testing the waters of the Bulgarian style.
If you fancy it then by all means give it a go, but make sure you are committed to it or it just may not work out for you.