In the world of strength and conditioning, countless schools of thought exist regarding how to structure and periodize programming for strength training. And within structure and periodization, there are even more ways to alter volume and intensity within a certain wave. As coaches, it’s our responsibility to understand general adaptations to strength training, but it’s an even bigger responsibility to formulate and apply it appropriately to the client that we are working with.
Most strength training programs come in the form of a template over many weeks or months, with specific phases to work on particular qualities like hypertrophy, endurance, strength, power, etc. The biggest issue with these long blocks of training is that most of them are based on a one-rep max of a certain lift. This means the client will max out the lift one time, then use percentages to dictate the flow of training over each wave or phase. The problem is that the one-rep max was just a moment in time, one day where the client was able to express maximal strength in that exercise. While it is known that top-end strength can ebb and flow depending on where the client is within the block, the more important factor is that the client’s own life ebbs and flows more than training does. Programming the entire training block at once doesn’t take into consideration the individual.
For example, most clients that we work with at Central Athlete are NOT professional athletes. This means that they spend 40-60 hours a week working somewhere else. That time is much more substantial than the 5-10 hours of training they do per week. So it is not realistic to expect a client's one-rep max to hold true through weeks and months of training because the time they spend at work/with other stressors will affect their training performance more than their actual training time. For this reason, we handle programs a little differently at Central Athlete.
One thing that all of our coaches have adopted is a more “fluid” programming approach. We do this by designing a long-term program for each client, but only deliver about one week at a time. This allows for communication between coach and client to help direct how training will progress moving forward. This allows for “life” to happen; the client can refrain from unnecessarily pushing through training, causing more stress and resulting in less recovery for their body and nervous system. This process is called autoregulation, and it is a vital component for optimal long-term success. Autoregulation allows the coach and client to make adjustments in volume, intensity, or duration to unload the nervous system and allow for more recovery. This, as with all things, comes with balance. While coaches should respect the client’s stressors and be able to adjust and adapt accordingly, a lot of the progress made in strength training is through doing things that are hard and uncomfortable. This is why the coach/client relationship is crucial for open, honest communication to determine whether training should be adjusted or pushed through. This fluid approach also allows the client to really focus on the week ahead of them, and for adjustments to be implemented if needed.
Another way to strength train more sustainably is through the use of rep maxes. Rep maxes are how I specifically drive and progress training with my own clients. This is executed by spending a wave (typically three to four weeks) training a specific rep max (10s, 5s, 3s, etc.). This allows the client to focus on strength training in a way that’s a little more submaximal, while still utilizing proper progressive overload week to week. This is also beneficial because it’s more realistic with the clients that we typically work with, where there’s really no need to test one-rep maxes often, if at all. They will still go through phases of accumulation and intensification into more maximal contractions, but the idea is to execute it in a way that takes into consideration the individual and the longevity aspect of strength training, something that is often overlooked.
Every human should be able to strength train in some way, and every human should be able to strength train for as long as they want. One-rep maxes do give the most insight into a client’s maximal strength, but unless that specific client is a strength athlete or requires the need (or want) to load up an exercise as heavy as possible, what’s the point? Again, the one-rep max is just a moment in time, a snapshot. To base months of training off of a moment in time is, honestly, lazy, and does not take the individual (and their life) into account. The utilization of a fluid programming approach and rep maxes together can help formulate a plan that a client can sustain over weeks, months, and even years. And that’s kind of the point, right?
If you’ve ever hit a plateau in your training, become frustrated, hurt, or simply stopped enjoying training, reach out to one of our professional coaches for a FREE strategy session. See how we can implement the right training, nutrition, and lifestyle plan to fit your goals in order to become the strongest version of yourself.