I Wasn’t Going To Write This But….
I am just so sick and tired of all the crap out there giving people “advice” on building an advanced strength training program.
You should know that you do not put together a 6-9 week scheme of sets and reps and call it an advanced program.
It is not.
I have written in detail in my guide to strength training programs article about what makes a good strength training program. If you haven’t read it yet, be sure to check it out.
But for an advanced lifter, the only way for them to pack on more size and strength is through one means: variety.
But before you get into that, you need to understand what makes someone an advanced lifter.
Am I An Advanced Lifter?
Behind the iron curtain several decades ago, the Russians were trying to determine what makes an advanced athlete different from an intermediate.
Their conclusion? It was movement.
So from this the entire Russian strength training program was based off movement. They knew that an advanced lifter would need to train the movements as similar to their sport as possible.
If you are an advanced lifter, the standard training program of training the main lifts for 5 sets of 5 reps (5X5) or 3X5 will not work anymore.
Likewise, training several core lifts with high intensity will also not work anymore.
An advanced lifter has already maxed out most of their adaptational potential. Therefore, if you are advanced, you are going to have to vary the stimulus that you give to your muscles.
Otherwise, you will make no progress.
Stimulus = Stress
When you think of stimulus, you are probably thinking about something involving pleasure (hopefully something appropriate). And you would be right to think so.
However, a stimulus can also be bad as well. You could be under distress.
So a stimulus is nothing more than a neurological reaction in your body based off of external stimuli.
In English, this means that something happens to you and you react to it in a positive way or a negative way.
What does this sound like? STRESS!
How An Advanced Program Is Supposed To Work
So you might be saying “Ok Anthony, a stimulus is a stress, but what does this have anything to do with advanced strength training programs.”
Well, training is a stress, therefore it is a stimulus. With that logic, every time you train, you are stressing your body. Your body is going to respond to this stress by adapting to it.
But here’s the thing, there is a finite amount of adaptation that your body can have. This is determined by your genetics. An advanced lifter is pretty darn close to their limit.
Advanced lifters are so well adapted to the stress of training that the typical set and reps schemes will not work.
You are very skilled when you are advanced. What you need is not more of the same stimulus, but a different kind of stimulus.
This is the goal of an advanced strength training program. It is designed to keep you making progress as you reach your genetic limit.
The Advantage Of Being An Advanced Lifter
Luckily, advanced lifters have a HUGE advantage over beginners and intermediates, technique.
When you first start out as a beginner the most difficult thing for you to do is not gaining strength. It is mastering the technique of the lifts.
This continues as an intermediate as well. Advanced lifters have put in the time and have extremely efficient lifting technique. Is it perfect? No. Nobody’s ever will be. But it is pretty close to it.
This allows you to train at a much higher intensities than lower skilled lifters. The reason lower skilled lifters are performing multiple sets of 5 reps is specifically to build good technique for your lifts.
You wouldn’t try squatting 500 lbs in your first month of training. That would be a death sentence. So what do you do instead? You train with less weight for more reps to develop your technique.
Advanced lifters have the opposite problem, they have a high degree of technical prowess. So they need to develop more specific technical prowess for their sport.
In the case of powerlifting, this means training above 97% intensity (1RM). For a sprinter, it means regularly training at maximum speed. And for a 100 m swimmer, it means swimming those 100 meters as fast as possible.
Since technique is developed, the main focus is now to build the “special endurance” necessary to maintain this technique during maximum intensity.
What Is Special Endurance?
Research has shown that as your muscles start to fatigue, your technique starts to deteriorate. Since speed is what determines the success of most athletes, and lifters, you are probably going to be moving very fast during your competitions.
Therefore, you will be performing at maximum intensity during your competition during at least some portion. Which athletes will be the best? Those who can endure the max intensity the best. Simple as that.
So special endurance is the ability to maintain and recover from this highly intense performance state.
The Blueprint For An Advanced Strength Training Program
Now here comes the tough questions:
“How can I build special endurance when I’m training above 97% intensity?”
“I thought you needed to perform a lot of repetitions to build endurance. Won’t I get injured if I do this at 97% intensity?”
Let’s tackle the first question. You can build special endurance when training above 97% by just performing a max single during your workout.
Now the second question. Yes you shouldn’t train with high reps above 97% intensity. That’s true, but not for the assistance exercises.
The assistance work will address the special endurance necessary to keep you in the game longer. The intensity is much lower so you should be really pushing the reps.
Assistance work will take care of the remaining special endurance. Especially due to the high volume of assistance work. But still nothing works better than the actual lift for building special endurance.
Remember, strength training is VERY specific.
Advanced Program Template
Let’s take a look at an advanced program template and see what it looks like.
Here’s an example 3 week program for a powerlifter:
You will probably notice a couple of things about this program. The first is the amount of reps are not listed. Why?
Because we are training around 97% of your 1 Rep Max. We are trying to build up to a single set for a max single. This builds sufficient strength adaptations for your main lift.
After the max single you move on to assistance work. A workout like this will need to accompanied by a speed workout during another training session. Read my strength training guide article to learn how.
Also the main lift is not the actual lift, but a variation of it. This is because we want to give the body a new stimulus as often as possible. But you need to make sure it is as similar to the main lift as possible.
How do you do that? By varying the main lift and rotating it every 2-3 weeks. Week 4 is a de-load so after week 4 you will start the next cycle with a new main lift. This is how you make progress.
The assistance work is going to give you most of your volume and build the rest of the special endurance that you need. You should perform as many sets and reps as possible.
If you cant do the volume listed above, then start with around 3-5 sets and work your up gradually. Also you should try to increase the weight on the assistance work week by week.
With the constant change of a new stimulus AND increased special endurance, you are literally looking at the blueprint to build a super-athlete.
It is NOT easy. It is extremely hard!
But if you want to be the best, then that’s the price you have to pay. There is a reason why most people quit before mastering something. Mastery takes diligence, patience and a willingness to fail.
If you are not ready to give it your all, then you will not become the best. No matter how much you try.
We all wish that you could stick with a 5X5 routine forever and become the best. But it doesn’t work that way. The universe only awards greatness to those who are brave enough to go get it.
If you want to be the best athlete, you now know what to do. Go get it!