Time For A Change

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Guest blog by coach Robert C. Jacobs

If you’ve spent much time in the same gym, year after year, you might have noticed a few gym-goers doing the exact same thing week-in and week-out.  Without fail, someone comes in to the facility and it catches my eye that they’re doing the same thing I saw them doing last week, then a week turns into a month, a month turns in to a year and now 12 months have gone by with no change in the training program.  The same can be said for those interested in “toning;” select a favorite workout from a magazine, and repeat 3-4 days a week, with little to changes day to day.  A common trait amongst these individuals is a distinct lack of progress.  After all, the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome.

When should you change your program?  To answer this question, first allow me to share a few of the most important lessons I have learned from my coach, Charles Poliquin:

  • A program is only as good as the time it takes you to adapt to it
  • Reps are what we adapt to first
  • The Bonderchuk Rule: we respond to either Intensity, Volume, or Variation

As a general rule, one should completely change programs every 5-6 workouts, for a specific body part.  Analyzing your own past training logs can show you at what point in a given training program your performance reaches its peak.

Here’s an Example from one of my training logs from 2011:

Db bench press; on week 1 I performed 8 reps with 100 lbs. Week 2: 7 reps with 105 lbs.  Week 3: 8 reps with 107 lbs.  Week 4: 8 reps with 107 lbs.  If you were to see this trend consistently, you would want to change programs after only 3 rotations of a given workout.  By changing the program at this time, you avoid a week in stagnation, thus preventing plateaus.

Designing a program, specifically based on Neural Profile, in my practice, consistently results 8-10% greater than those prior.  Personally, I have seen 30kg of improvement on multiple lifts in as little as 12 months.  For advanced lifters, that type of progress is exponential.

Let’s look at a few more real world examples that show just how different training programs can be.

Louie Simmons, one of the most successful power lifting coaches in the world developed his methodology from weightlifting systems used by the soviet union.  In this system, one of the main training days each week revolves around maximal intensity each and every week on these days of training.  Given this maximal intensity requirement, exercises have to be changed constantly.  In his system, absolute strength is one of the most important goals, so there are few changes to intensity in his specific periodization model. However, the concepts made popular by Louie Simmons can be used be everyone to fit some very specific goals.

For a non-powerlifter, this system could be used in many different ways.  Here is one example:

Week 1: Snatch Grip Deadlift from podium; 5×6-8; 4-1-X-0; 180s rest

Week 2: Snatch Pull; 5x 5-7; X1X0; 180s rest

Week 3: Hang Power Clean from below knee; 6x 2,2,4,4,6,6; X1X0; 180s rest

Week 4: Hang Power Snatch above knee; 6x 3,2,1,3,2,1; X2X1; 180s

Powerlifting legends like Ed Coan and Bill Kazmaier both used methods in which the rate of exercise exchange is far less than the Conjugate methods mentioned previously.  Let’s look at a sample of Ed Coan’s bench press program.  Each bench press day, Ed would start with a flat press, then move to flat press with a closer grip, then on to an incline press.

Bench, Close Grip, Incline
1: 395x2x10, 335x2x10, 285x2x10
2: 410x2x10, 350x2x10, 300x2x10
3: 425x2x8, 365x2x8, 315x2x8
4: 440x2x8, 380x2x8, 330x2x8
5: 455x2x5, 395x2x5, 345x2x5
6: 470x2x5, 410x2x5, 360x2x5
7: 485x2x5, 425x2x5, 375x2x5
8: 500x2x5, 440x2x5, 390x2x5
9: 515x2x3, 445x2x3, 405x2x3
10: 530x2x3, 470x2x3, 420x2x3
11: 545x2x2, 485x2x2, 435x2x2
12: 555x2x2, 500x2x2, 450x2x2
13: 585×1 paused with a bench shirt (1st week with a shirt)

As you can see, the exercises changed very rarely, with a small linear increase in intensity from week to week.

Bill Kazmaier, another legend of the iron game, set many world records during his competitive career.  Kaz’s ten week bench press program, which he used to set a world record, looked quite similar to the style used by Ed Coan.  From week one to week Kaz always started with the same three pressing variations.  Kazmier did, however, use different intensity progressions than Ed Coan.  As we saw above, Ed Coan progressively increased his training up to sets of 2’s and 3’s.  Kaz, however, kept his repetition volume fairly high for most of his cycles peaking with 5’s and 3’s.

Here’s an example a lifter could use applying the 6 workout rotation recommendation:

Week 1: flat press, bb, mid grip. 4x 10-12, 3-0-1-0. 90 sec rest

Week 2: flat press, bb, mid grip. 5x 10-12, 3-0-1-0. 90 sec rest

Week 3: flat press, bb, mid grip. 5x 8-10, 3-0-1-0. 90 sec rest

Week 4: flat press, bb, mid grip. 5x 7-9, 3-0-1-0-. 90 sec rest

Week 5: flat press, bb, mid grip. 6x 7-9, 3-0-1-0. 90 sec rest

Week 6: flat press, bb, mid grip. 5x 6-8, 3-0-1-0. 90 sec rest

Week 7 – change exercises and begin a new program.

Successful lifters throughout history have instinctively used all sorts of periodization models to reach elite totals.  A valuable lesson to be learned from successful systems like the Bulgarians, comes not from the hosts of gold medals, rather, the countless lifters that failed using the system.  There are countless numbers of failed lifters who have gone through these systems and have more failures and injuries than successes.  In my own practice, prior to learning the Neural profiling system developed by Charles Poliquin, used a few of these extreme methods, sometimes to great success, but again, other times with colossal failure.  The lesson to be learned here is a simple one: individualize your training program for optimal results.

This bring us full circle to our original topic.  When should you change your program?  The answer: it depends.  By applying the three key principles mentioned earlier, and referencing successful programs of our past, you can make some educated guesses.  By applying the Neural Profiling system, you can create an individualized program ideal for you.