Mar
31

Strongman Program Design with Dr.Davidson: Part 3 – Example Training Program for World Championships

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Here is the last installment, Part 3, of Dr./Coach Davidson's program design series! Be sure to check out Part's 12.02.12.2, 2.3and 2.4 before reading this one so you're caught up with his thought process and why this program is written the way it is.


Training Program in Preparation for the 175# Strongman World Championships

            This article will detail the rationale and design for the preparatory cycle prior to the 175# Strongman World Championships that I constructed for myself. When referring to myself in this document I will refer to myself as, “the athlete”. The contest was a two day event, with day one taking place on Friday, March 1 at 8 am, and day 2 taking place on Sunday, March 3 at 1:30 pm. The contest was held at the Greater Columbus, Ohio Convention Center as part of the Arnold Classic. The top four athletes were allowed to move on from day 1 to day 2. The following is the list and explanation of the events.

Day 1

Event 1, Axel Clean & Jerk for reps, 60 second time limit, axel weight, 225 pounds

Event 2, Yoke to Truck push. Carry a 630 pound yoke 50’, push a Nissan Frontier 50’. Fastest time wins

Event 3, Deadlift Medley – 4 implements must be deadlifted in a 90 second time limit. 1 rep for the first 3 implements, as many reps as possible for the 4th implement. Implement 1, 435 pound axel. Implement 2, 585 pound straight bar. Implement 3, 730 pound frame. Implement 4, Ford Focus on 2 blocks

Event 4, Giant Wheel Barrow Keg Loading Race – Push the wheel barrow through the 100 foot course. 3 stops at 25’ intervals to load kegs into the wheel barrow. Kegs ascend in weight

Day 2

Event 5, Circus Dumbbell Clean & Jerk for reps, 60 second time limit, dumbbell weight, 140 pounds

Event 6, Hussafel stone carry for distance. Stone weighs 300 pounds. 50’ turns

Event 7, Stones over bar – 240 pound stone loaded over a 52” bar. Most reps in 60 seconds wins

Thought Process Behind Program Design:

Part 1, Timing

            As you may be able to tell from reading the description of the events, this contest was a test of a variety of movement patterns and strength qualities. Contestants needed to display explosive power endurance for the two overhead events involving the clean and jerk. Three different types of loaded carries were featured in the yoke, wheel barrow, and Hussafel stone. Deadlift strength and strength endurance were put to an extreme test in the medley. Finally, the two loading movements (kegs into wheel barrow, and stones over bar) challenged the isometric strength and endurance of the tonic chain of the upper quarter and the explosive power endurance of the lower quarter. A modified block program was created to try to best prepare the athlete for the demands of the contest. Modifications were introduced because of the great diversity in strength qualities that needed to be displayed in the different events.

            The training cycle to prepare the athlete for the world championships began on Monday, January 14, and continued until Tuesday, February 26. This allowed for a 6 week preparatory period. The original thought process that went into the design had to be modified due to injuries that were sustained the week prior to the start of this cycle, and in the first week of the training cycle. Both injuries were muscle strains of the spinal erectors on right side of the lower back. Both injuries were sustained while attempting to deadlift in a new deadlift suit. The athlete had never worn a deadlift suit prior to this training phase. The athlete learned very quickly that the technique he utilized during raw pulls would have to be changed significantly while deadlifting in a suit.

            The training cycle began on January 14 because the athlete competed in a regional contest on Sunday, January 12. The contest on January 12 featured some of the same equipment that would be present in the world championships. The athlete viewed the contest on the 12th as an excellent check point prior to the world championships for competitive readiness, and maintenance of competitive weight. Just prior to competing in the contest on the 12th, the athlete had completed a concentrated loading block targeting limit strength. A similar concentrated strength block was used in the final two weeks of preparation prior to the world championships, so the reader can see the concept of this block in that portion of this article.

            The original thought process going into the 6 week training cycle was to follow the following order. Phase 1, 1.5 weeks – hybrid phase (medium intensity, medium volume). Phase 2, 1.5 weeks – concentrated volume. Phase 3, 2 weeks, concentrated strength. Phase 4, 1 week, taper/peaking. The thought process had to change because of a low back injury that was sustained on January 19. The athlete was unable to lift from the 20th until the 25th. When the athlete returned to lifting on the 25th, the initial training days needed to be modified from the original plan.

            Due to injury, the overall plan turned into approximately a 5 week preparatory cycle. Week 1 changed from hybrid to a focus on mobility, stability, and unilateral resistance training. Week 2 became a hybrid. Week 3 was a quick swing into volume. Week 4 and 5 were concentrated strength loading focused. The time between Thursday, February 21 and the travel day of Wednesday, February 27 was used as a peaking phase with a couple of sessions of high intensity, and very low volume.

Part 2: Rationale

Phase 1:

            Following injury, the first phase was focused on mobility, stability, and unilateral resistance training. The athlete is an individual who could be considered a general mobility problem. The athlete has hypertonicity and hypotonicity associated with Janda’s Crossed-Syndromes and the left anterior interior chain pattern. The pelvis is tilted anteriorly, with left pelvic tilt being greater than right. The athlete’s pelvis is rotated to the right as well. Such pelvic alignment leads to lumbar rotation and lordosis with corresponding thoracolumbar hyperkyphosis, right posterior rib hump, left anterior rib flare, thoracic rotation to the left, and cervical rotation to the right. Such a postural scenario leads to decreased zone of apposition and ineffective diaphragmatic breathing capabilities. The upper traps, levator scapulae, and suboccipitals are also hypertonic. The athlete lacks T-spine mobility primarily at the region of T4. The athlete also displays significant right paraspinal hypertrophy, which is asymmetrical compared to the left. These muscles imbalances likely predisposed the athlete to the injury that he suffered. The athlete ultimately had to return to heavy resistance training that would be event specific, but taking time to try to inhibit the hypertonic areas and activating hypotonic tissues through proper joint positioning was essential during the initial block. All pain associated with the injury was alleviated within seven days of the injury.

Phase 2:

            Phase 2 was named a hybrid phase. The primary exercises trained during this and all other following phases were as following (note the exercises that are coupled in the list were paired for work sets):

–       Deadlift

–       Circus Dumbbell Clean and Jerk

–       Axel Clean and Jerk

–       Stone loading

–       Yoke carry to Prowler push

–       Hussefel stone carry for max distance

The paired exercises were trained with a set and rep scheme of 6 sets of 4 repetitions. One minute, fifteen seconds rest was given between the paired exercises. The loading was 80% of the daily one rep max for each of the paired exercises. This phase cannot be called a high volume phase or a high intensity phase. The phase was somewhere in between each of these extremes. The two phases that would follow would be a high volume phase followed by a high intensity phase. The selection of pairing the deadlift and the circus dumbbell was that the deadlift is a bilateral multi-segmental flexion family exercise, and the circus dumbbell clean and jerk is a unilateral multi-segmental extension family exercise. The two exercises differed enough in muscle activation to allow for some level of recovery for each exercise while at the same time maximizing training density. The stone load and the axel clean and jerk are less easy to rationalize because they both feature a fairly similar pattern; however, each required training adaptations, and logistical concerns ultimately led to this being the only option.

Phase 3:

            Phase 3 was a volume phase. This phase was one week long. Main exercises were not paired during this phase. A wave loading scheme was used on the main exercises. The training was broken down into an A day and a B day. The main exercises on the A day were the axel clean and jerk and the deadlift, and the main exercises on the B day was stone loading and dumbbell. The rationale for pairing the axel and the deadlift together was that they both represented the heaviest loading methods for their respective patterns. The barbell deadlift is the heaviest form of the hip hinge, and the axel jerk is the heaviest overhead movement in the extension family. The stone is a much lighter version of a hip hinge during the pick, and the dumbbell clean and jerk is a lighter systemic loading method compared to the axel for overhead extension. In addition to these reasons, the axel and deadlift were going to be in day 1 of the competition and the stone and dumbbell were on day 2. Pairing them on the same training day seemed appropriate for greater specificity of contest demands. The yoke to sled push and the hussafel carry received less attention during this block, but were used as assistance to the main lift. The following table reflects the way that the axel and deadlift were programmed on the A day.

Main Lift…do not pair…1 min, 30 sec between sets

Axel Clean & Jerk 6 sets of 6 (or failure short of 6)

Deadlift 6 sets of 6 (or failure short of 6)

Find a max

Find a max

Set 1: 75%

Set 2: 77%

Set 3: 80%

Set 4: 77%

Set 5: 75%

Set 6: 85%

Set 1: 75%

Set 2: 77%

Set 3: 80%

Set 4: 77%

Set 5: 75%

Set 6: 85%

Phase 4:

           Phase 4 was a concentrated loading phase. The phase modified a cycle that I have used many times before. I have found this cycle to consistently deliver outstanding improvements on strength. In the original version of my concentrated strength cycle I use a 3 week plan. The cycle pairs main exercises. Week 1 features 6 sets of 3 at 88% with 60 seconds rest between exercises. Week 2 features 8 sets of 2 at 92% with 60 seconds rest between exercises. Week 3 features 10 sets of 1 at 95% with 60 seconds rest between exercises. There were 4 modifications put on this phase due to logistical concerns and special considerations of the magnitude of the competition. In the modified version of this cycle used for preparation for the world championships this phase was only a 2 week period. Therefore, the third week of 10 singles was excluded from the design. Another difference from the original concentrated loading design was that wave loading was utilized during week 1. The wave loading was used to try to make the transition from volume to loading concentrations less of a drastic change in an attempt to minimize muscular soreness. The third difference between the modified cycle and the original was that exercises were not paired. 90 seconds of rest was given between sets, and a focus was put on each exercise individually. This was done to try to ensure greater quality being placed on each exercise. Training density was reduced in this equation; however, this variable was deemed less important at that point in time. The following table demonstrates week 1 loading for the A day of week 1.

Main Lift…do not pair…1 min, 30 sec between sets

Axel Clean & Jerk 6 sets of 3

Deadlift 6 sets of 3

Find a max

Find a max

Set 1: 82%

Set 2: 85%

Set 3: 88%

Set 4: 85%

Set 5: 88%

Set 6: 85%

Set 1: 82%

Set 2: 85%

Set 3: 88%

Set 4: 85%

Set 5: 88%

Set 6: 85%

The B day featured stone loading and circus dumbbell clean and jerk and was loaded in a similar manner. Precision in loading stones and the dumbbell is less than that with the axel and deadlift, therefore a wave scheme was not used for those implements. Loading was more of an approximation with those implements as well.

The following table is reflective of the loading scheme used on week 2 of this cycle.

Main Lift…do not pair…1 min, 30 sec between sets

Axel Clean & Jerk 8 x 2

Deadlift 8 x 2

Find a max

Find a max

Set 1: 88%

Set 2: 92%

Set 3: 92%

Set 4: 92%

Set 5: 92%

Set 6: 92%

Set 7: 92%

Set 8: 92%

Set 1: 88%

Set 2: 92%

Set 3: 92%

Set 4: 92%

Set 5: 92%

Set 6: 92%

Set 7: 92%

Set 8: 92%

The fourth difference in the modified cycle from the original is that extra training sessions were added. The athlete performed double or triple sessions every day during this cycle. The extra sessions were unilateral focused strength training sessions. The main exercises used during the unilateral sessions were the single leg contralateral loaded deadlift and the unilateral half kneeling dumbbell press. These exercises were loaded in the exact same manner as the major contest specific lifts. In the 14 days that comprised this cycle, the athlete performed 31 training sessions where all lifts were performed with a minimum of 82% of the daily 1 rep max.

This phase was truly a concentrated loading phase. All assistance exercises used were loaded in an extremely heavy manner. The World Championships was going to be the heaviest show for 175 pound strongman athletes that has been held to date. Every event was extremely heavy. The strength quality of limit strength was deemed the most important quality to develop for the athlete going into this phase. Based on this belief, no other stimulus was provided to the athlete other than limit strength challenges during this final phase. The only message that I wanted sent to the brain was that the organism had to lift the heaviest possible things. The hope was that the brain would receive this very clear message and respond by providing the proper adaptations to the body…no mixed stimuli, no mixed adaptation. Also the thought behind multiple training sessions per day was that the nervous system needed to be in a state of constant stimulation. The axons for pressing, pulling, and every other major force production capacity required needed to be excited as often as possible to make future recruitment possible. In addition to this, the thought was that fatigue needed to be brought to extreme levels to deplete the athlete’s multi-factorial stores (substrate, energy, etc.) prior to a taper to elicit an extreme supercompensation bump. By the end of this phase, the athlete was clearly in an overreaching state. The athlete was achy, miserable, and exhausted. The phase actually ended a few days early on Tuesday, February 19. On that day the fatigue level was at such a high level that the athlete was physically unable to perform a training session…it was clear that the taper needed to begin here. This would leave for a 9 day taper.

Phase 5:

            The first day of the contest was held on Friday, March 1. The final hard training day was performed on Saturday, February 24. This training session was performed 5 days into the taper, and the athlete felt tremendous. The athlete PR’d on the axel, circus dumbbell, and deadlift that day. Very few sets were actually performed though. One warm-up set and then one big set seeking a PR for each movement. This day was intended to assess readiness status, and also be a confidence builder going into the competition. Following this training day the athlete chose to shut it down and relax for the final days before the competition. The only exercise used between the last training day and the competition was Bikhram yoga. This was used primarily for the body weight control aspect, and to condition the athlete for dealing with water cutting the night before weigh ins. The athlete theorized that if he practiced dehydrating and rehydrating that the body would adapt to the phenomenon and would go into less of a state of shock on the day prior to competition.

Conclusion:

            I ultimately placed 10th in the world at this contest out of a field of 21 international competitors. I am extremely pleased with this finish considering that I had only been competing in the sport for 14 months and that I am much older than most of the other competitors. Strongman is a young man’s sport for the most part. When you start creeping up into the mid 30’s it seems as though you lose a little of the explosion that was present in your early and mid-20’s…which is probably why we don’t see too many 35 year old running backs in the NFL. The talent at this competition was outrageous, and my placement could have been significantly better with slight improvements in my performance in some of the events. When the competitors are all really close together in ability, the difference between places is a rep here and there or a fraction of a second in a carrying event. Overall this was a great experience, and if I had to do it over again, I probably would use a very similar training plan. I felt as though the plan I conceived of and implemented prepared me physiologically for the demands I had to face. The areas where I need improvement are in the tactics and techniques of the events themselves, and those are things that you learn over time with competitive seasoning. 

 

 

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