INTRODUCTION: PROGRAMMING VS PERIODIZATION
Since this is the first article in an extensive series on the principles of programming it deserves an introduction to two important concepts: programming and periodization. Most weightlifters, powerlifters, and strength athletes tend to confuse programming with periodization. According to Bompa and Buzzichelli (2015) periodization is defined as the structuring of training into phases to better manage training and adaptation processes. Think of periodization as the overarching scheme of progression, from being less specific with higher volumes to more specific with higher intensities.
For example, weightlifters compete in the Olympics every four years and how those four years are filled with qualifiers, Nationals, Pan ams, etc. and then subsequently mapped out with desired training adaptations is periodization. Programming on the other hand is filling in that structure with content. If a weightlifter is six months out from Nationals and needs to put on a serious amount of muscle mass the programming with determine the sets and reps, whereas the periodization dictates the sequencing of training up until the meet. Nationals, Pan Ams, Worlds, the Olympics are all scheduled for a particular day and time and these dates will not change. So, the periodized plan takes this into account, whereas the programming does change and can be modified with performance feedback, verbal and visual feedback from the athlete, and more.
Now that the programming vs. periodization confusion is cleared up we can get into the meat and potatoes of the article. All programs function off of foundational principles, think of those programs as methods of implementing (for better or worse) those principles. Stronglifts 5x5, Bulgarian method, Russian Squat Routine, Juggernaut method, Wendler 5/3/1, etc. are all methods which use or abuse the basic principles of programming. If you can come to understand the principles then you will be able to analyze any pre-written program or create your own training plan. It will not have a fancy name, but I guarantee that it will get the job done.
THE ART OF SPECIFICITY
The first training principle that will be discussed is specificity. Specificity of exercise selection, frequency and intensity of training, and duration of the exercise determines the adaptations acquired. Sets of 10 in the back squat will result in much different adaptation than near-max singles, which stems from the discrepancy in intensity and duration of the sets. Do both of these methods have their place? Well, it depends. What changes are you looking to make and where does this fit in the periodized plan? If you need to increase muscle mass to move up a weight class and you are many months out from a competition then there may be a place for sets of 10 in the back squat. If you are less than a month out from Nationals and need to become mentally competent at attacking heavy singles, lifts at a greater intensity will work much better.
TRAINING LIKE A RUSSIAN
Those differences in training transition us well into the implementation of the principle of specificity. For the sake of convenience we will create a fictional weightlifter who will serve as the example for this section. Let's say the lifter is an intermediate (3 years of experience), needs more leg strength, has decent technique, but because of leverages tends to let the hips rise too quickly from the start. The lifter is light for their weight class and could manage to put on a few kilos of muscle. After competing and missing the qualifying total for a national meet the lifter plans to compete in six months. Here a week from an example program, adhering to the principle of specificity, for six months out from competition:
Mesocycle 1 - Week 1: Focus - Muscular Hypertrophy
Snatch High Pull + Low Hang Snatch x2 - 70-75% for 4 sets
Clean High Pull + Low Hang Clean x2 + Jerk - 70-75% for 4 sets
Clean Pulls - 5x3 @ 80%
Paused Front Squat - 3x5 @ 75%
Pull Ups (Focus is on quality and full range-of-motion) - Accumulate 25 Reps
Strict Press - 3x7 @ RPE 7
Paused Snatch AK (at knee) Double - 70-75% for 4 sets
Paused Clean x 2 AK + Jerk - 70-75% for 4 sets
Snatch Pulls - 5x3 @ 85%
Block Snatch - 4x2 @ 75-80%
Block Clean - 4x2 @ 75-80%
Jerk from Blocks - 5x3 @ 70-75%
Back Squat - 4x6 @ 75%
RDLs - 3x8 @ RPE 7
Barbell Row - 3x8 @ RPE 7
This training program adheres as closely as needed to the principle of specificity. Understanding that the sport of weightlifting is competing in the full snatch and clean & jerk, from the floor, and without straps, any deviation will be moving further from specificity of sport. There is always a time to be less specific and that is when particular needs must be addressed further out from competition. The squats and pulls will develop the leg musculature and strength needed to do better in the competition lifts and the variations of those lifts (i.e. pauses and hangs) will produce a more robust training effect and focus on the technical concerns of the lifter (i.e. keeping the quads loaded to a greater degree during the pull). This will all contribute to a greater total when specificity of sport increases.
Of course this program comes with draw backs. The skill of snatching and clean and jerking competition style will most likely be at its lowest. The athlete's muscles will be very sore and damaged from the volume and the body's focus will be on muscular size, instead of muscular efficiency, which is most desired immediately preceding competition. So what would work six months out from a meet would definitely do much more harm than good one month out.
TRAINING LIKE A BULGARIAN
A training program with the greatest degree of specificity (i.e. the Bulgarians under Ivan Abadjiev) when misused will neglect weak points, increase likelihood of experiencing overuse injuries, compromise an athlete's ability to properly overload their physiology, and so on. That style of training one month or less from a meet could be exactly what the athlete needs. The intensity will be incredibly high, volume will be low, sport specificity at its greatest, and the skill of snatching and clean and jerking maximal weights will be steadily improved.
An effective training program one month out will look as such:
Mesocycle 6 - Week 1: Focus - Peaking
Snatch 5x1 @ 85-88%
Clean and Jerk 5x1+1 @ 85-88%
Front Squat 3x3 @ 83%
Power Snatch 4x2 @ 80-85%
Power Clean and Jerk 4x2+1 @ 80-85%
Snatch Pulls 4x2 @ 90%
Snatch 4x2 @ 80-85%
Clean + Jerk 4x2 @ 80-85%
Front Squat 5x1 @ 90-92%
Snatch Heavy Single, then -10% for 3x1
Clean and Jerk Heavy Single, then -10% for 3x1
Clean Pulls 4x2 @ 90%
Power Snatch 5x1 @ 85-90%
Power Clean and Jerk 5x1 @ 85-90%
Front Squat 4x2 @ 88%
The training program for an athlete one month out would not be an effective choice for the same athlete six months out from competition. The specificity is too great, the intensity too high, and the stimulus on the muscles too low. This program will ultimately alter the way that the nervous system works, but not really change muscle size or any of its endurance properties.
HOW SHOULD YOU TRAIN?
Based on the information above and what we have learned about the implementation of the specificity principle the question is: how should you train? Well, it depends. A thorough evaluation of your strengths, weaknesses, technical faults, ability to recover (stress inputs), training age, etc. is needed before you can begin creating a plan to consider those variables and address the areas which are excelling or lacking. Many of these concepts will be discussed in future articles on the other principles of programming (individuality, progressive overload, appropriate rest, variation).
Joshua is a strength coach and weightlifter located in Columbus, Ohio. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in Health and Human Kinetics and a minor in Psychology. He is currently pursuing his Master’s in Strength and Conditioning from East Tennessee State University. His interests are most consumed by human physiology and subsequently periodization, programming, recovery, and mindset.
Not only does Joshua have the education, but he’s been a competitive weightlifter for the last 3 years, training under some of the best coaches in Ohio. He has also coached many to the platform, including powerlifters, weightlifters, and recently, crossfitters. Besides directly impacting athletes through improved performance he continues to share his passion of strength through his writings, podcasts, and other social media platforms.
You can learn more about Joshua here purposedrivenperformance.com