Charles is here on a weekly basis to help you cut through the B.S. and get some real perspective regarding health and training. Please post feedback or questions to Charles directly in the comments below this article.
 
Last week, an online client of mine posed an interesting question: Why not do the basic lifts more than once a week?
 
For example, when should you back squat three days a week versus using different types of squats or leg drills over the course of a week? The answer is strongly linked to the goal of the training phase that you’re currently in. Let’s unpack all of this, shall we?
 
Overhead Squat
How do you decide how often to train each major lift? It depends on where you're trying to go.
 

Goal: Increased Muscle Mass (Hypertrophy)

Key Driver: Volume, Variety 
When it comes to packing on new muscle, your total workload is more critical for success than training intensity. That being the case, there are two highly important considerations: 
 
  1. Intensity gets put on the back burner. If you’re trying to chalk up 20,000lb of squat volume, it’s a lot easier to do that with sets of 10 at 300lb than it would be to reach that number by squatting triples with 400lb. Lower-intensity, higher-rep sets are essentially mandatory for hypertrophy. 
     
  2. Variety potentiates volume, and plays an important role in muscle development. Any type of training task you perform generates fatigue, and that fatigue will negatively affect subsequent training tasks of the same exercise more than it would impair a different movement. This notion is sometimes referred to as “fatigue specificity.” You could perform more total work in a training week if you did three different leg drills (e.g., squats on Monday, Romanian deadlifts on Wednesday, and hip thrusts on Friday) than you could if you did barbell back squats three times a week. 
 

Goal: Increased Strength

Key Driver: Intensity
When your goal is strength, intensity trumps both volume and variety. Not only is variety less necessary, it is also unwanted, because as Pavel Tsatsouline says, “strength is a skill.” Specific work is fatigue-intensive, but that’s the cost of doing business when you’re trying to get stronger. High-intensity work cannot, by definition, be done at high volumes.
 
If you practice too many different things at the same time, you’ll never get good at any of them. If you’re trying to improve your overhead squat strength, you need to do lots of overhead squats with challenging weights. Sure, back squats, fronts squats, and even things like lunges might help a little, but as with any complex movement, you have to train the skill.  
 

Exceptions to the Rule

Beginners or those who lack overall strength will recover fairly quickly. As such, they can often use a lot more specificity than I’ve recommended above for hypertrophy training.
 
A veteran powerlifter, on the other hand, should use as much variety in his or her hypertrophy training as their program will allow. While a powerlifter typically won’t do exercises like leg curls, crunches, and pushdowns, he or she will often use drills like front squats, beltless deadlifts, and close-grip bench presses. These movements provide variation without being too far removed from the specific requirements of the three competitive lifts. 
 
Take-Homes:
 
  • If your goal is bigger legs, use a wide variety of effective leg-training drills spread across the training week. Same goes for other muscle groups.
  • If your goal is a stronger squat (or bench press, or anything else), you’ll need to spend more time doing that exercise, which usually translates to doing it more times per week. Assistance exercises should be variants of the exercise you’re trying to strengthen, rather than totally unrelated movements.
  • If you’re looking for increased strength and more muscle mass, train in phases using the recommendations I’ve suggested in this article. 
 

This Week’s Training:

Volume: 90,710lb (Last Week: 80,850lb)
 
Significant Lifts:
  • Low Bar Squat: 275lb x 7
  • Competition Bench Press: 215lb x 5
  • Deadlift: 425lb x 5
  • Dumbbell Bench Press: 190lb x 8
 
I’ve been quite happy with my numbers lately, and this week was no exception. Next week I plan on more of the same, plus more weight and more sets. Body composition is good and I have no injuries to report. This is how training should be: predictable, sustainable, and low drama.
 
A few notes on exercises:
  • I’ve been doing a few sets of lateral raises once a week. They feel totally useless. Nonetheless, if you don’t try new things occasionally, you’ll never really know if they have the potential to help you.
  • I haven’t been particularly progressive on calf work, but my calves are growing, albeit slowly. 
  • I’ve progressed from bent-leg toes to bar to straight-leg toes to bar.
  • I’m really weak on pull ups compared to chin ups.
  • I never feel my lats when I do any type of rowing, despite my efforts to learn more about the exercise and to perform it more effectively. I do rows anyway however, just out of principle. 
 
That’s all for this week, kids. Let’s keep showing them how it’s done!

Monday, May 9, 2016

 
Bodyweight: 199lb
Volume: 25,700lb
 
Goblet Squat
  • Set 1: 10lb × 10
  • Set 2: 40lb × 10
  • Set 3: 50lb × 10
 
Low Bar Squat
  • Set 1: 45lb × 5
  • Set 2: 45lb × 5
  • Set 3: 95lb × 5
  • Set 4: 135lb × 5
  • Set 5: 185lb × 5
  • Set 6: 225lb × 5
  • Set 7: 275lb × 5
  • Set 8: 275lb × 5
  • Set 9: 275lb × 5
  • Set 10: 275lb × 7 (Video Below)
 

 

Hack Squat
  • Set 1: 90lb × 8
  • Set 2: 140lb × 6
  • Set 3: 180lb × 5
  • Set 4: 215lb × 5
  • Set 5: 215lb × 5
  • Set 6: 215lb × 5
 
Deadlift
  • Set 1: 135lb × 5
  • Set 2: 225lb × 5
  • Set 3: 275lb × 3
  • Set 4: 315lb × 3
  • Set 5: 315lb × 3
 
Standing Calf Raise
  • Set 1: 200lb × 8
  • Set 2: 200lb × 8
  • Set 3: 200lb × 8
 
Toes to Bar
  • Set 1: 5 reps
  • Set 2: 5 reps
 
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
 
Bodyweight: 198.2lb
Volume: 14,638lb
 
Paused Competition Bench Press
  • Set 1: 45lb × 10
  • Set 2: 95lb × 8
  • Set 3: 135lb × 6
  • Set 4: 185lb × 4
  • Set 5: 215lb × 5
  • Set 6: 215lb × 4
  • Set 7: 215lb × 4
  • Set 8: 215lb × 4
 
Military Press
  • Set 1: 45lb × 10
  • Set 2: 65lb × 8
  • Set 3: 85lb × 6
  • Set 4: 105lb × 6
  • Set 5: 105lb × 6
 
Pull Up
  • Set 1: 5 reps
  • Set 2: +20lb × 5
  • Set 3: +20lb × 5
 
Lateral Raise
  • Set 1: 50lb × 6
  • Set 2: 50lb × 6
 
EZ Bar Curl
  • Set 1: 45lb × 8
  • Set 2: 75lb × 6
  • Set 3: 75lb × 6
  • Set 4: 75lb × 6
 
Thursday, May 12, 2016
 
Bodyweight: 197.6lb
Volume: 28,212lb
 
Goblet Squat
  • Set 1: 10lb × 10
  • Set 2: 10lb × 10
  • Set 3: 10lb × 10
 
Deadlift
  • Set 1: 135lb × 5
  • Set 2: 135lb × 5
  • Set 3: 185lb × 5
  • Set 4: 225lb × 5
  • Set 5: 275lb × 5
  • Set 6: 315lb × 3
  • Set 7: 365lb × 3
  • Set 8: 395lb × 1
  • Set 9: 425lb × 5 (Video Below)
  • Set 10: 425lb × 5
 

 

High Bar Squat
  • Set 1: 45lb × 10
  • Set 2: 95lb × 8
  • Set 3: 135lb × 6
  • Set 4: 185lb × 4
  • Set 5: 225lb × 2
  • Set 6: 250lb × 5
  • Set 7: 250lb × 5
 
45° Back Extension
  • Set 1: +150lb × 8
  • Set 2: +150lb × 8
  • Set 3: +150lb × 8
 
Seated Calf Raise
  • Set 1: 100lb × 8
  • Set 2: 100lb × 8
  • Set 3: 100lb × 8
 
Friday, May 13, 2016
 
Bodyweight: 197.6lb
Volume: 22,160lb
 
Bench Press (Dumbbell)
  • Set 1: 100lb × 10
  • Set 2: 100lb × 10
  • Set 3: 150lb × 8
  • Set 4: 170lb × 8
  • Set 5: 190lb × 8
  • Set 6: 190lb × 8
 
Close Grip Bench Press
  • Set 1: 45lb × 10
  • Set 2: 95lb × 8
  • Set 3: 135lb × 6
  • Set 4: 155lb × 4
  • Set 5: 175lb × 8
  • Set 6: 175lb × 8
 
Seated Row
  • Set 1: 135lb × 8
  • Set 2: 165lb × 8
  • Set 3: 180lb × 8
  • Set 4: 180lb × 8 (Video Below)
 

 

Dual Cable Low Cable Curl
  • Set 1: 80lb × 8
  • Set 2: 100lb × 8
  • Set 3: 100lb × 8
 
Lying Dumbbell Tricep Extension
  • Set 1: 60lb × 8
  • Set 2: 70lb × 8
  • Set 3: 70lb × 8
 
More on Programming and Periodization:
 
Photo courtesy of J Perez Imagery.
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