Snapshot of Takeaway Points
- Chase speed not weight
- How to reduce elbow pain when squatting
- Russian Bench Program
This weekend I hosted Andy Bolton and he presented his world famous strength workshop. This was the second time I hosted him, and it was even better than last year. He’s like a fine wine and gets better with age!
Besides drilling technique in the big 3 power lifts his workshops are always filled with hidden gems. Little cues to improve technique or tips to make something easier. Not only is he one of the best ever powerlifters to have walked the planet, with a 550kg squat and the first man to deadlift 1,000lb (454.5kg), he is a phenomenal coach. This is actually quite rare as often the best athletes don’t make great coaches.
For those that missed it here are ten gems that I noted down from the workshop.
Partials must be followed by full range
Andy was specifically talking about deadlifts here when he explained his theory and methodology with periodisation. If you select partial deadlifts as your main exercise, then you must perform some work from the floor. Specifically, Andy recommended 3 sets of 3 reps from the floor after partial work.
I believe this to be true of any exercise using partials as it is important to restore tissue length, or at least the signalling for full tissue length. This will improve strength over the long term as it minimises injury occurrence from over utilising partials.
Chase speed not weight
I was lucky enough to have dinner with Andy the evening before the workshop and this topic came up then. Weight on the bar is not the only measure of progress. Andy loves to emphasise the speed of the bar and how the repetition feels as a result of this.
Now you don’t even need the experience of thousands of repetitions and kinaesthetic feedback as you have access to cameras and speed measuring devices like Gym Aware of Beast Technologies. Compete with yourself and your training partner on speed. Look to move the weight quicker and better instead of just upping the weight as this might just cause extra fatigue that leads to a plateau.
Go into competitions not knowing what you can lift. I see it so often with clients where I hold them back and they lift, for example, no bigger than 200kg for 8 weeks then they peak and max out at 250kg. Changing to this mentality led to me breaking a World Record and two British Records in the space of 8 months. Andy uses it and so does Zydrunas Savickas. Leave the old insecure thought pattern of wanting to lift a weight before competition as you don’t need to.
Focusing on applying effort is fatiguing
Andy is a technician and he looks at every minute detail. He doesn’t overload you when he’s coaching but focusing on the cues and applying effort can be draining mentally. He wants you to kill every repetition and ensure perfect technique is incorporated. When you think like this for each repetition then 5 sets of 5 reps is actually a tough session.
This is where you will get the most out of training as effort dictates the motor unit recruitment. If you’re not applying maximal voluntary effort into the lifting, your strength response is diminished significantly.
This is another reason I use specific pre-workout enhancers to help with my training that boost focus. Often, they improve acetylcholine output/function/uptake for the focus improvement which in turn improves muscular contraction.
Separate bench and assistance
Andy was struggling to improve his bench press, so he evaluated his programming and split his bench session and assistance work into two different sessions. This resulted in instant improvements and a bigger bench press.
The bench press is a full body lift when you take a maximal weight approach and is very technical. Considering the earlier point of how much focusing mentally fatigues you it makes sense to break the sessions up. It could allow for some extra technical work to be performed before the heavy and even a higher volume. Then you can also take advantage of extra volume for your assistance work in the second session.
Fast twitch benefits
Andy discussed fibre types in different people, and he found a correlation between someone with a higher fast twitch make up versus a slow twitch; the fast twitch person can take bigger jumps in weight selection, be this at a competition or within training.
This means the percentage spread between the first set and last set in someone who is fast twitch should probably be prescribed at a higher point. This is something that allowed Andy to play his mind games with his opponents, something he loved to do! Andy could open relatively low and but finish as high as he wanted.
Explosivity to body weight
Andy was known to be an explosive lifter. Some athlete’s, especially today, are obsessed with adding more and more mass. Andy found that he felt and was his strongest at 152kg. He jumped to 170kg as he was also in the thought pattern of mass moves mass, but it slowed him down and negatively affected his performance. Andy’s takeaway point was if you are an explosive lifter, someone who moves a weight pretty quickly or not at all, then you can go into competition lighter than your competitors and not worry.
Elbow pain when squatting
If you come out from under the bar after a low bar squat and you feel pain in your elbow(s) then it’s likely you had your elbows positioned incorrectly. To create the shelf, you want your elbows behind the bar and not underneath. Pushing them underneath leads to the weight of the barbell to now go through your hands/wrist which travels down to the elbows supporting a lot of weight. Elbows slightly further back will allow the weight to sit on your upper back and correct this problem.
Wrist wraps should be applied like a knee wrap
When you wrap your knees, you apply the wrap around the joint. This is the same thought process for when applying wrist wraps when bench pressing. Andy showed me his approach which involved going high to low to high and continuing. Going above and below in this fashion gave the wrist much more support than if you simply went around the joint.
No set thing with programming
Andy is the first to admit that his approach is a simple approach with more nuance applied to technique and the speed of the bar. There are many successful coaches and athletes that also adopt this approach, one Andy name being Ed Coan.
It’s the way Andy is used to using for himself and his clients and it produces results. He is the first to admit though that there isn’t one set approach to periodisation for strength. He said if he had access and his team all agreed to it, he would have loved to have used all the different specialist bars I have at my gym in Southampton. It wasn’t though a necessity in his quest to build superhuman strength.
It is the same with periodisation models and systems. We discussed different ideas and concepts and the main thing is that the client progresses and doesn’t get bored. If you don’t want to go in and work hard and have fun, then you’re not going to get the most out of it.
Russian Bench Program
Andy shared with us a Russian bench press program that he said Kirill Sarychev had used before. For those that don’t know who Kirill is, he is the former raw bench press World Record holder and he managed to achieve a best of 335kg/738lb. Here’s the program:
- Week 1: 5,4,3,2
- Week 2: 5,5,4,4,3,3,2,2
- Week 3: 5,5,5,4,4,4,3,3,3,2,2,2
- Week 4: same as week 3 but pause the last repetition of each set
In week 1 you perform the first set for 5 repetitions at 70% of your 1RM, then you add 5% for each subsequent set. Don’t increase the percentages, allow the volume increase week to week to give you the necessary adaptation to increase your bench press 1RM. Anyway, as Andy says, chase speed not weight!
This was ten gems from the workshop that filled with actionable content, although you can find more from the time he previously came down which I wrote about here!
We will certainly be bringing him back next year but if you see one of his workshops available in the near future I recommend you go as you will see an instant return on investment.