Why Lifting Weights Makes You MORE Flexible!

So, my friends at Sweat Studios asked me to recently asked me to dispel some of the myths surrounding weight training and flexibility. If you’re in and about the Milton Keynes area, then I’d recommend checking out the hottest (quite literally!) yoga studio in town. Check out the link to the article on their site here and some of their great tips on yoga for beginners!

I’m sure we’ve all heard the adage that lifting weights makes you bulky, inflexible and ‘muscle-bound’. But is this reputation really deserved?

Why the bad rap?

When it comes to resistance training, it’s sadly no more than a case of guilt by association. First, you see the guys and girls lifting weights in the gym whilst they grunt and/or pose in the mirror. Second, you observe that said guy or girl can’t lift their shoulders above their head or bend over to touch their toes. Now you’ve put two and two together and decide that the tightness is all down to the weights…

The true story

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. When performed with a full range of motion, resistance training has been consistently proven as an effective way to increase flexibility. It’s actually been shown to give superior results to traditional static stretching in a number of instances! The reason our gym above fiends are tight is most likely because they’re only training the muscles they can see in the mirror and not using full ranges of motion.

Could it be better than stretching?

For example, a 2011 study1 compared groups performing five weeks of resistance training (RT) vs static stretching (SS). The figures below give you a quick overview of the percentage improvements in flexibility, a ‘strong’ showing for the benefits of lifting weights!

Strengthening the case

Another investigation looked to compare strengthening vs stretching interventions in dancers. Across a 6-week period, dancers performed either specific strengthening exercises, low intensity stretching (a stretch intensity perceived as 3 out of 10) or high-intensity stretching (an 8 out of 10 intensity). The improvements for both active (controlled by the dancer) and passive (assisted by somebody else) flexibility, seen below, again show an apparent superiority for strengthening.

What does stretching do?

Now, I’m not saying that you should never static stretch. It can most definitely improve flexibility. It’s also a great way to relax, unwind and make you feel good. However, the improvements we see in flexibility following static stretching aren’t related to any changes in the muscle.3 You’re not making it any longer in the ‘long’ run. You’re also not really changing any of the muscle fibres. All that changes is the body’s ability to tolerate being stretched.

How does yoga work?

Yoga is great because most forms incorporate lots of ‘dynamic’ stretching – where your muscles have to work to control movement through full ranges of motion. Think of poses like warrior 3 or chair with a twist. I bet your feel your muscles working hard in those! Dynamic stretching results in longer lasting improvements when it comes to flexibility, so should form an important part of your training.

How does resistance training work?

It’s best to think of weight training as just dynamic stretching with resistance! By controlling the lowering portion of the exercise (called the ‘eccentric’ portion) under resistance, your muscle fibres are producing force whilst being stretched. This has two main benefits. First, by getting stronger in these stretched positions, the body learns that it’s ‘safe’ to be there. The brain can be a little overprotective at times, so it won’t let you get into positions you can’t control. Second, you’ll actually increase the length of your muscle fascicles (these are little bunches of muscle fibres). This plays a big role in strengthening the muscle and protecting against injury.

Could stretching be dangerous?

In some instances, static stretching is probably a bad idea. Particularly if you’re doing it prior to training. If you give the body extra flexibility without teaching it how to control these new-found expanses, it’s a bit like trying to roller skate over marbles… it’s unlikely to end well! Also, if you stretch for too long (> 30 seconds)4 it’s likely to partially switch off your muscles and make your tendons less springy for short while. Not good news if you’re looking to run, jump or do anything sporty immediately afterwards.

Resistance training is more likely to protect you

We all know that stretching is good for reducing injury in the long term… right?… Well, a review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine5 conducted an analysis of 25 studies and over 26,000 participants. They reported that stretching training reduced the risk of injury by an average of 4% but that resistance training reduced the risk by a whopping 69%! That’s a hell of a reason to get lifting!

What exercises to choose?

To resistance train effectively it’s vital you pick exercises that allow you to train safely within full ranges of motion. Good form should never be compromised. Here are some example exercises and the bits that they’ll help get more mobile:

How to perform them?

  • A good starting point is to choose a resistance that allows you to perform 8-10 comfortable repetitions.
  • Control the lowering (eccentric) portion of the exercise over 3-4 seconds.
  • Hold the bottom, stretched position (under the full control of your muscles) for 2 seconds.
  • Lift the weight up (the concentric portion) over 1-2 seconds.
  • Don’t perform so many reps that you fail or lose form. Be sure to leave 2-3 reps ‘in the tank’ as a general rule.

A reformed character

So, there you have it. Lifting weights isn’t going to make you tight and muscle-bound. Do it right and it’ll leave you more flexible and much less likely to get injured.

Quite simply, you can’t go wrong getting strong!



  1. Morton SK, Whitehead JR, Brinkert RH, et al. (2011). Resistance training vs. static stretching: Effects on flexibility and strength. J Strength Cond Res 25(12): 3391-3398.
  2. Wyon MA, Smith A, and Koutedakis Y. (2013). A comparison of strength and stretch interventions on active and passive ranges of movement in dancers: a randomized controlled trial. J Strength Cond Res 27(11): 3053-3059.
  3. Weppler CH and Magnusson SP. (2010). Increasing muscle extensibility: a matter of increasing length or modifying sensation? Phys Ther 90(3):438-449.
  4. Kay AD and Blazevich AJ. (2012). Effect of acute static stretch on maximal muscle performance: A systematic review. Med Sci Sports Exerc 44(1): 154-164.
  5. Lauersen JB, Bertelsen DM and Andersen LB. (2014). The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br J Sports Med 48: 871-877.
Coaching, Exercises, Performance, Prehab & Rehab, Science, Youth Training , , , , , , , , ,

Plyometrics – Why?

Plyometric training is very misunderstood old beast. Whilst many seek to reap the proposed benefits of plyo’s, few truly understand the mechanics that underpin them. Appreciating the kinetic and kinematic demands of different movements is integral if you’re to maximise the potential transfer to sporting performance.

Plyometrics – What?

Knowing what defines activities as ‘plyometric’ is probably a good place to start. I’ve written on this previously, so I’ll direct you there for more detail. The CliffNotes version? It needs to exploit the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) to augment the concentric output.

Plyometric vs Stiffness Training

Semantically, ‘plyometric training’ and ‘stiffness training’ should not be used as interchangeable terms. Activities may be plyometric and not develop stiffness, for example, a countermovement jump.

Conversely, activities may develop stiffness but not be truly plyometric. This is true when the goal of the activity is to minimise ground contact time (thus minimising deformation) such as during pogo hops.

Start with Why

It is integral that any exercise within a programme is implemented with a clear rationale. This process starts with having a thorough understanding of the sport. What characterises the movement(s) you’re trying to improve?

  • Are they sprinting, jumping, hopping or something else entirely?
  • Is it single and explosive or repeated and submaximal?
  • Are they performing on one leg or two?
  • Is the movement in the sagittal, frontal or transverse plane?

The Burning Question

Once you know the movement profile, there’s one key consideration you can’t overlook.

  • How long have they got to produce force?

The time in which you’re in contact with the ground is perhaps the most important factor that will influence how you train.

Fast or Slow SSC

Schmidtbleicher (1992) defined ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ SSCs based upon a threshold of 250 ms. Whilst SSC duration is better considered upon a continuum than on a single threshold value, it does help highlight the independence of these qualities. For example, Flanagan (2007) reported that explained variance between the countermovement and drop jump was only 35%.

What Adaptation Do You Want?

Once you understand what you need, you can plan the adaptations you intend to induce.

  • Are you looking to develop stiffness and minimise ground contact times?
  • Are you purely seeking to maximise the impulse that can be transferred?

The intended adaptations will drive the activities you choose and how they should be performed.

When is a Drop Jump not a Drop Jump?

Think plyometric training and you probably think drop jumps. However, it’s not the exercise that’s plyometric, it’s how the exercise is performed. Bobbert et al. (1987) characterised two basic drop jump techniques: the ‘bounce’ and ‘countermovement’ styles. Whilst the general movement and overall jump height achieved may be the same, the way these two contrasting styles are performed confer distant mechanical demands.


Before incorporating plyometric training it’s crucial to consider the following:

  1. Understand the mechanisms which underpin them
  2. Understand what demands are imposed on the athlete (needs analysis)
  3. Understand what you need to develop for the individual athlete (testing)
  4. Define what adaptations you’re trying to induce
  5. Choose and perform exercises to match the intended adaptation


Bobbert MF, Huijing PA, Van Ingen Schenau GJ. Drop jumping. I. The influence of jumping technique on the biomechanics of jumping. Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise. 1987: 19: 332-338.
Flanagan EP. An examination of the slow and fast stretch shortening cycle in cross country runners and skiers. Proceedings of the XXV International Symposium of Biomechanics in Sports. 2007: 51-54.
Schmidtbleicher D. Training for power events. In: Komi PV, ed. Strength and Power in Sport. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1992:381-395.


Coaching, Exercises, Performance, Science , , , , , , ,

How to Lose 2 kg in Two Weeks

Apologies for the shameless click-bait title… still, at least it’s true!

As it’s been a long-old while since my last blog, I’d thought I’d get back into the swing of things with a little case study. Approaching a couple of powerlifting meets in the next month or two, I thought it would be a nice time to trial a different strategy for making weight.

The Background

190kg-deadliftI’m normally not sitting too far above my 66 kg weight class, perhaps 67.5 kg or so. I can comfortably hit weight with a few days of a deficit and some minor glycogen and water depletion. As I’ve not tried to put on weight since my rugby days, and never planned more than a week or so in an energy deficit, it seemed like the time to put science to the test.

My Baseline

Over the past few months since my last competition (start of August) I’d built up to 68.2-68.5 kg and maintaining this on ~2700 kcal/day.

My estimated BMR (Harris-Benedict) at 68.2 kg would be 1650 kcal. A physical activity multiplier of 1.6 (moderate activity) would put me at an estimated maintenance of 2645 kcal.

Theoretical Numbers

So, onto the deficit. As a rough rule of thumb (based on Garthe et al., 2011a; 2011b):

  • A 30% deficit would be expected to result in 1.0% body mass loss per week.
  • A 15% deficit would be expected to result in 0.5% body mass loss per week.

My Plan & Predictions

The plan was to create a daily deficit of 20-25% from my 2700 kcal baseline. This would put me at an intake of 2025-2160 kcal/day. The expectation was that this would result in a 0.7-0.8% rate of body mass loss, equivalent to 0.5-0.6 kg per week. The plan was for a two-week diet, so I was predicting a loss of 1.2 kg. This would put me at a body mass of 67.0 kg.

The Diet

Here were the estimated numbers I hit:

  • Week 1 – Average intake: 2110 kcal (±30 kcal) – 22% deficit
  • Week 2 – Average intake: 2145 kcal (±20 kcal) – 21% deficit

As you can see, I kept tried to keep things consistent across the two weeks. Very minimal day-to-day variation.

weight-lossMacro Distribution

Besides looking to keep protein above 2 g/kg/day (and well distributed between meals), there weren’t any real macro goals. They stayed fairly consistent across the two weeks, roughly looking as follows:

  • Protein – 2.1 g/kg/day (pre diet: 2.2 g/kg/day)
  • CHO – 2.8 g/kg/day (pre diet: 3.3 g/kg/day)
  • Fat – 1.2 g/kg/day (pre diet: 1.8 g/kg/day)


Obviously it’s impossible to control aspects such as sub-conscious alterations in NEAT, the drop in temperature over the last couple of weeks and so on. However, hydration level has remained constant with pre-diet. Training frequency and intensity have also remained constant. The only real change has been a slight reduction in training volume.

Body Mass Losses

These were the final scores at the end of the two weeks:

  • Final body mass: 66.3 kg (predicted: 67.0 kg)
  • Final body mass loss: 1.9 kg (predicted: 1.2 kg)
  • Percentage drop: 2.8% (predicted: 0.8 kg)


Let’s finish with some take-home messages:

To lose body mass:

  1. Create an energy deficit
  2. Sustain an energy deficit

I should really be charging you for that level of insight…

Food, Nutrition, Performance, Science

Foley Coaching

If you were expecting a post about Mick ‘Mankind’ Foley, then I’m sorry to disappoint. Likewise, any Bernard Foley fans will feel a little let down too…

The Foley artist

Foley artists are the unsung heroes of cinematography. These individuals that work behind the scenes on the film set to heighten the audio experience. It’s these guys and girls make you feel the film. But what can we learn from them as coaches?

The art of Foley

Foley is the art of reproducing the sound effects required to tell the story of the film. Foley artists seek to make even the smallest of noises as powerful and immersive as possible. As coaches, I think we undervalue how much our auditory contributions can contribute the ambience of movement. If we don’t think about how we can integrate the principles of foley in our coaching, then we’re missing a big trick.

Auditory enhancement

If a picture is paints a thousand words, a good sound effect paints a million. How can we use sound to get across the intent of the exercise that we’re coaching?

Here are some staples that I use:

  • Explosion – to emphasise maximal rate of force development
  • Loud clap – to emphasise a stiff ground contact
  • Silence – to emphasise a compliant ground contact (i.e. force absorption)

However, at the risk of sounding like your other half… It wasn’t what you said, it was how you said it… It’s important we realise that how we deliver the ‘noise’ to our athletes is every bit as important as the content.

The science of sound

Sound can be characterised by four features. We can play with each of these to change the intent with which movement is executed.

  • Volume

Loud helps drive ‘maximal’ intent – think sympathetic activation – but this isn’t always what we want. Sounds and cues delivered quietly may be appropriate if a technical focus is warranted.

  • Duration

Quick sounds drive quick movements and short contact times – think rapid clapping for a quick ankling drill. Naturally, quicker sounds are likely to be ideal for stiffness and early rate of force development training. Slower sounds may be the order of the day if you’re seeking to emphasise higher forces or lengthen ground contacts. For example, a long puuuuuusssshhh in a deadlift or an acceleration drive.

  • Pitch

Let’s take the example of the opera singer. The low-pitched tenor is booming, forceful and powerful. The high-pitched mezzo-soprano is soft, graceful and elegant. I’m not asking you to be a vocal gymnast, but appreciate how subtle differences can affect the outcome of movement for your athlete.

  • Timbre

Think of this as the ‘quality’ of the sound. Clean, distinct sounds are always what we’re after; these provide greater clarity for the intent of movement.

Set the scene

Remember that it’s our job to create the scene for the athlete to perform in. Unlike on the film set, we don’t have a team of hundreds to help us do this. It’s our responsibility. As coaches, we tend to be well versed in scripting and directing, but how well do we use foley to really immerse the athlete in our training picture?

Coaching, Exercises, Performance, Science , , , , ,

A Review of the Elite Athletic Development Seminar 3.0

EADS 3.0 FrontThere are very few people and few products I’m happy to affiliate for. Joe Kenn and Mike Robertson’s Elite Athletic Development 3.0 Seminar hits the mark on both counts!

Hopefully, this article will help you work out whether or not it’s a good investment for some of your personal development budget.

Who are they?

Joe ‘Big House’ Kenn and Mike Robertson offer up a collective 40 years in the industry, and they’ve trained athletes of every shape and size, ranging from middle school children to professional athletes.

I first saw House at the UKSCA conference in 2014 – in fact, UKSCA members can check out his presentation here. His ‘Tier System’ and periodisation philosophies have been big influences on my work over the last couple of years. Awards from the NFL, NSCA and CSCA certainly highlight his impressive credentials.

EADS 3.0 BackI’ve followed Mike for longer, about 6-7 years, and have never failed to be impressed by the quality of content he continues to produce. Deep scientific knowledge delivered with an ability to ‘bridge-the-gap’ and help coaches apply this technical information practically. A big influence on my coaching and someone I always look up to.

What is it?

The Elite Athletic Development 3.0 Seminar is a 10 DVD set of the latest Elite Athletic Development Seminar recorded across a two-day live workshop. There’s over 12 hours of content in this resource so plenty for you to sink your teeth into.

Like its predecessor, this is tailored towards trainers or coaches working within industry. The goal of the seminar is to provide you with specific knowledge, techniques and skills that you’ll be able to incorporate into your coaching right away.

What do you get?

Essentially, you’re sitting in on the entire seminar. You watch the lectures and demo’s, hear the questions and responses. All-in-all you get over 12 hours of content to work through in your own time.

EADS 3.0 PackLike any DVD or download, it’s not quite being there in person. However, what you do get is the advantage of saving yourself more than a few hundred pounds and, more importantly, you end up with a resource that you’ll be able to tap into time and time again. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be amazed at how much new information you get from re-watching seminars as you evolve as a coach!

Is this the same as the last one?

Nope. Last year I shared the previous year’s seminar – EADS 2.0. This is a separate entity in itself.

Having seen the previous two years of the EADS seminars is certainly not a prerequisite watching for this one, but it will give you perhaps give you a deeper understanding of the Joe and Mike’s philosophies.

What’s included?

A total of 10 DVDs cover the seminar:

  • EADS 3.0 PackDisc 1 – The R7 Approach to Training (78:51)
  • Disc 2 – The Block Zero Concept (96:04)
  • Disc 3 – Block Zero Practical (102:41)
  • Disc 4 – Single Leg Training (Lecture & Practical) (109:55)
  • Disc 5 – Dissecting the Tier System (Part 1) (51:28)
  • Disc 6 – Dissecting the Tier System (Part 2) (78:20)
  • Disc 7 – Breathing and Core Training (72:28)
  • Disc 8 – Breathing and Core Training Practical (49:27)
  • Disc 9 – Establishing an Identity (Part 1) (63:19)
  • Disc 10 – Establishing an Identity (Part 2) (65:35)

Why is it good?

Here are a few of the things I really liked about the seminar:

Breathing and core training

coreMike Robertson’s lecture and practical on breathing and core training is worth the price of admission alone! Regardless of who you work with, this is content you can be practically applying right away.

Here are some of the concepts you’ll take away:

  • Why position drives mobility
  • Breathing affects more than biomechanics
  • Effective coaching and cueing for breathing
  • How to deal with ‘extended bro’!

Block Zero training

Joe Kenn’s Block Zero is a great way of formalising the entry into S&C for youth athletes. In this seminar he goes in-depth into Block Zero training, taking you through not just the programme itself, but also its history and evolution.

The practical is a must-watch if you’ll be working with youth athletes. Here are some of the key concepts I took away:

  • The importance of ‘investing’ in athlete’s long term development
  • Coaching and developing the athletic position
  • Sequencing and ‘layering’ pathways of progression
  • Some cool new mobility drills

The Tier System

Blank ProgEADS 3.0 takes you deeper into the Tier System than before. House dissects and explains the essence of the system, thereby giving you everything you need to integrate these concepts into your own programmes.


  • Strengths of the Tier System over traditional linear or DUP models
  • Developing your unique, tiered exercise bank
  • Structuring and coaching the training session

Should I get it?

If you’re coaching and training athletes this is for you. If you’re just a lifter, this probably isn’t. Likewise, if you’re after pure science without the application then you should give this a miss.

  • Younger coaches

For younger coaches I think this seminar will certainly fast-track your development and help you avoid making a whole bunch of mistakes on your coaching journey. Concepts such as the R7 approach, the Tier System and Block Zero training give you tried and tested methods that are pretty hard to screw up! That being said, all of these ideas still permit you the freedom to be the individual coach you are.

  • Seasoned coaches

For the more seasoned coaches this is a great way to reflect on and critique your current practice. I think almost all coaches will have some key takeaways from the breathing/core training and R7 sections in particular.

As with any seminar, lots of ‘confirmed learnings’ that reinforce what you do. Also, lots of specific golden nuggets that will apply to your own unique situation.

How do I get it?

First off, if you’re interested, please use my affiliate link to check it out! If you buy using this link this will generate a little revenue to help me support projects like Research Review.

It’s on sale from Monday 18th July for $197 (just over £140 in proper money) until Friday 22nd July.

As always with Mike’s work, this comes with no quibble money-back guarantee so that you can make sure you get your hard-earned money’s worth.

Also, this time around the seminar qualifies for NSCA CEU credits!

Coaching, Conferences, Exercises, Performance, Prehab & Rehab, Psychology, Youth Training , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The PHC Guidelines – A Critique

The Public Health Collaboration (PHC) is a fantastic idea. Rates of obesity are increasing and it’s clear that something needs to change in order to stem the tide. The problem? This has descended into a political style battle between two sides of the same the coin.


It seems we have long since lost faith in politics in this country. Reports and studies can be spun to fit a side’s agenda. Democracy is now a petulant battle between leaders perched upon ivory towers, each desperately trying to ‘connect’ with the electorate. Battles are not won with logic or reason. Battles are won through fear and discrediting the opposing argument.


The impression given by the PHC is that they seem hell-bent on picking a fight with Public Health England (PHE) and current dietary advice. Challenging the status quo is a good thing. Science should always challenge. There are flaws in the current government guidelines and a number of evidence-based holes. We’ll discuss a few in a minute, but first, let’s acknowledge a big elephant in the room.

Emotive responses

The PHC have the politician thing down. They do a fantastic job at telling us what we want to hear. It’s our fault we’re overweight, it’s the government’s. Their guidelines are wrong. We’ve been deliberately misled by those in high office who seek to line their pockets with food industry payoffs. I mean animals are fed grains to fatten them up. Surely the government are feeding us grains to get fat too!

Government guidelines – what’s wrong?

“Current efforts have failed – the proof being that obesity levels are higher than they have ever been, and show no chance of reducing despite the best efforts of government and scientists.” Prof. David Haslam

Current efforts have failed, but can that really be blamed on the government guidelines? They’re certainly flawed. But how many people are actually following them? Randomised controlled trials seem to indicate that when they are followed, favourable health outcomes are seen (Reidlinger et al., 2015).

Accuracy of reporting

If you believe that the population is consuming an average of 383 calories below the recommended daily amount and less than the recommended 35% of calories from fat, then you have a lot more faith in the government statistics than I do. Self-reporting of dietary intake is widely recognised to be inaccurate and subject to substantial under-reporting. The Energy Balance Working Group (Dhurandhar et al., 2015) go so far as to suggest that scientific and medical communities should discontinue their reliance these on methods.

PHC guidelines – any better?

I like many aspects of the PHC guidelines. Again, an emotive response based on the factor that it more closely resembles my diet versus the eat-well plate. Who doesn’t love a little confirmation bias? The main things I like…

  • It places greater emphasis on eating unprocessed foods
  • It better acknowledges the importance of protein
  • It doesn’t seek to limit foods based solely on fat and saturated fat content


I like the hashtag #RealFoodRocks. Granted, it’s a massively subjective and un-scientific term, but that’s the point. It’s designed to be an emotive and empowering statement. It’s a great message and a positive one at that. My problem is that they’ve pitched this as a ground-breaking, anti-establishment message. It’s not. What they’ve done is spun this in a better way the current guidelines. Fair play to them for doing so, I think it’s the right way to go.

Low carb is a viable approach

The government guidelines don’t seem acknowledge the fact that a low carbohydrate diet is a strategy that can work well if implemented sensibly. The PHC reports places a lot of emphasis upon a recent review by Mansoor et al. (2016), which suggested that rates low carbohydrate diets (20% of kcal) led to greater weight loss. However, the authors did also report increased LDL cholesterol with the low carbohydrate diets.

Low carb isn’t the only way either

In reality, low carbohydrate may be a better option for some. To say it’s better for all would not be correct. An American Medical Associated review (Johnston et al., 2014) demonstrated no difference between the effectiveness of low carbohydrate and low fat diets for weight loss. Even where individuals demonstrate insulin resistance, low carbohydrate and low fat interventions appear equally effective in achieving weight loss and improving symptoms of metabolic syndrome (Gardner et al., 2016).

Saturated fat – not all bad?

I like that are challenging the idea that foods should be limited solely because of saturated fat. Recent re-evaluation of the Minnesota Coronary Experiment from the 1970’s, upon which many recommendations were subsequently based, has drawn into question the purported adverse health effects of saturated fat. Upon re-examining the data, Ramsden et al. (2016) reported that replacing saturated fat in the diet with linoleic acid (i.e. vegetable oils) effectively lowers serum cholesterol but does not support the hypothesis that this translates to a lower risk of death from coronary heart disease or all-cause mortality. Previous meta-analysis, such as the often cited Siri-Tarino et al. (2010), reached similar conclusions.

Saturated fat – are there still links with CV events?

The above is all very well. However, precede with caution. The reduction of saturated fat in the diet is associated with “small but potentially important” reduction in cardiovascular risk according to a recent Cochrane review (Hooper et al., 2015). The report demonstrated that a reduction of saturated fat intake (to below <10% kcal recommendation) was associated with a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular events by 17% (95%CI: 4-28%).

Full-fat dairy

Another problem I have with government guidelines is the advice to choose reduced fat sources of dairy. Reviews associated full fat dairy consumption with reduction in adiposity (Kratz et al., 2013) and prevalence of metabolic syndrome Drehmer et al. (2016).

Free-reign on fat

Big fat lieThe fact that fat is not bad for us does not mean we can eat as much as we like. Sadly, this is not how the media have reported things. Even more worryingly, the PHC do not appear to have taken issue with such media reports. They seem to see these articles as a badge of honour

Cholesterol isn’t all bad

The cholesterol issue has been a contentious one for a while. More sparks are certainly flying in the light of a new review suggesting that LDL (aka ‘bad’) cholesterol may be inversely associated with mortality (Ravnskov et al., 2016). NB – we’ll be featuring this the next Research Review! Also, the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine have posted a critique of the studies methods here.

Cholesterol might not be all good though

A newly published meta-analysis (Li et al., 2016) suggests that high- (394 mg/d) vs low-cholesterol (138 mg/d) consumption is associated with a 29% increase (95%CI: 6-56%) in the risk of breast cancer. A dose-response relationship between dietary cholesterol and breast cancer became statistically significant when the cholesterol intake was greater than 370 mg/d (approx. 1 egg).

High-fat and diabetes – the good

The PHC are pretty vocal about the use of high fat diets in the management of type II diabetes. Indeed, reviews do tend to suggest a benefit to low carbohydrate, high protein diets vs control diets (Ajala et al., 2013). It’s not all one-way traffic through…

High fat and diabetes – the bad

von Frankenberg et al. (2015) reported that a four-week high-fat diet (55% fat, 25% saturated fat, 27% carbohydrate) decreased insulin sensitivity. Conversely, a low-fat diet (20% fat, 8% saturated fat, 62% carbohydrate) did not. Changes in VLDL cholesterol (often referred to as the ‘bad’) negatively correlated (r = 0.71-77; P < 0.02) with changes in insulin sensitivity – VLDL went up, insulin sensitivity got worse. This study isn’t a one-off. For example, low carbohydrate and high fat diets have been associated with higher HbA1C concentrations by Shadman et al. (2013).

I love the quote from the recent Williams and Wu (2016) review, “insulin is a hormone of caloric prosperity.” Finding a way to combat excess energy intake is the most important factor and this can be achieved using a number of different approaches.

Demonisation of sugar

As much as the Western diet is full of sugary junk food with no nutritional value, does the research really support the demonisation of sugar? It doesn’t appear so. Meta-analyses do not support a unique association between sugar and obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, risk factors for heart disease, or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (Rippe & Angelopoulos, 2015).

Moving forward

It’s good that the PHC are challenging the status quo. Hopefully the pressure they apply will lead into the evolution of dietary guidelines that are better matched with the evidence base. However, this is missing the point. We’re in a state not because of guidelines but in spite of them. We need to find ways to change the psychologies and behaviours that surround eating. People instinctively know what are ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ foods, even if controversies such as red meat and fat content may cloud things slightly. Progress needs to come through working together and tackling these issues. Not by having pointless debates on BBC Breakfast.


Ajala O, English P, Pinkney J. Systematic review and meta-analysis of different dietary approaches to the management of type 2 diabetes. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2013: 97: 505-516.
Dhurandhar NV, Schoeller D, Brown AW, Heymsfield SB, Thomas D, Sørensen TIA, Speakman JR, Jeansonne M, Allison DB, Group EBMW. Energy balance measurement: when something is not better than nothing. International Journal of Obesity. 2015: 39: 1109-1113.
Drehmer M, Pereira MA, Schmidt MI, Alvim S, Lotufo PA, Luft VC, Duncan BB. Total and full-fat, but not low-fat, dairy product intakes are inversely associated with metabolic syndrome in adults. The Journal of Nutrition. 2016: 146: 81-89.
Gardner CD, Offringa LC, Hartle JC, Kapphahn K, Cherin R. Weight loss on low-fat vs. low-carbohydrate diets by insulin resistance status among overweight adults and adults with obesity: A randomized pilot trial. Obesity. 2016: 24: 79-86.
Hooper L, Martin N, Abdelhamid A, Davey Smith G. Reduction in saturated fat intake for cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015: 6: CD011737.
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Kratz M, Baars T, Guyenet S. The relationship between high-fat dairy consumption and obesity, cardiovascular, and metabolic disease. European Journal of Nutrition. 2013: 52: 1-24.
Li C, Yang L, Zhang D, Jiang W. Systematic review and meta-analysis suggest that dietary cholesterol intake increases risk of breast cancer. Nutrition Research. 2016: 36: 627-635.
Mansoor N, Vinknes KJ, Veierød MB, Retterstøl K. Effects of low-carbohydrate diets v. low-fat diets on body weight and cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. British Journal of Nutrition. 2016: 115: 466-479.
Ramsden CE, Zamora D, Majchrzak-Hong S, Faurot KR, Broste SK, Frantz RP, Davis JM, Ringel A, Suchindran CM, Hibbeln JR. Re-evaluation of the traditional diet-heart hypothesis: analysis of recovered data from Minnesota Coronary Experiment (1968-73). British Medical Journal. 2016: 353: i1246.
Ravnskov U, Diamond DM, Hama R, Hamazaki T, Hammarskjöld B, Hynes N, Kendrick M, Langsjoen PH, Malhotra A, Mascitelli L, S MK, Ogushi Y, Okuyama H, Rosch PJ, Schersten T, Sultan S, Sundberg R. Lack of an association or an inverse association between low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and mortality in the elderly: a systematic review. BMJ open. 2016: 6: e010401.
Reidlinger DP, Darzi J, Hall WL, Seed PT, Chowienczyk PJ, Sanders TA. How effective are current dietary guidelines for cardiovascular disease prevention in healthy middle-aged and older men and women? A randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015: 101: 922-930.
Rippe JM, Angelopoulos TJ. Sugars and health controversies: what does the science say? Advances in Nutrition. 2015: 6: 493S-503S.
Shadman Z, Khoshniat M, Poorsoltan N, Akhoundan M, Omidvar M, Larijani B, Hoseini S. Association of high carbohydrate versus high fat diet with glycated hemoglobin in high calorie consuming type 2 diabetics. Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders. 2013: 12: 27.
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von Frankenberg AD, Marina A, Song X, Holly S. Callahan HS, Kratz M, Utzschneider KM. A high-fat, high-saturated fat diet decreases insulin sensitivity without changing intra-abdominal fat in weight-stable overweight and obese adults. European Journal of Nutrition. 2015.
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A Primer on Popular Powerlifting Programmes

We’ve now looked at the major models and concepts associated with periodisation and started to break down how some of the most popular powerlifting programmes may be classified.

Now we’ll sharpen our focus on some of these programmes and explain their premise in a little more depth.

Basic linear programmes

Generally considered to be the entry point into ‘proper’ strength training, these programmes keep it nice and simple.

  • Classic LinearTrain full body, three times a week
  • Train the big lifts, don’t worry about assistance work
  • Start light, focus on technique
  • Add load each session

Stronglifts 5 x 5

Stronglifts cycles two full-body sessions (A and B) performed three times per week. Session A consists of 5 working sets of 5 repetitions on the squat, bench press and barbell row. Session B consists of 5 sets of 5 of the squat and overhead press, and 1 set of 5 of the deadlift.

Progression is achieved linearly by increasing the load in small increments (2.5 – 5 kg) each session, with lifters advised to begin the programme at 50% of 5RM.

Starting Strength

Also a basic linear programme cycling two full-body sessions (A and B) performed three times per week. Session A consists of 3 working sets of 5 repetitions of the squat and overhead press, followed by 1 set of 5 of the deadlift. In session B the overhead press is substituted with the bench press. This programme continues until the load for the deadlift exceeds the load using for the squat. At this point, the deadlift in session B is replaced by 5 sets of 3 of the power clean.

Progression is achieved linearly by increasing the load in small increments (2.5 – 5 kg) where possible.

Weekly undulating programmes

Again, solid entry points into strength training that look to keep things simple. Weekly undulating periodisation (WUP) reduce the risk of push too hard given the changes in repetition ranges. These programmes tend to be conservative in regards total volume side.

WUP and DUP5 / 3 / 1

Jim Wendler’s 5 / 3 / 1 is an example of weekly undulating periodisation (WUP) over a four-week block. The programme cycling two upper- and two lower-body sessions during the training week. The squat, bench press, deadlift and overhead press are each trained once per week in the same manner. In week one, the lifter works up to a single attempting 5 or more repetitions with 85% of a training max (< 90% of 1RM). In week two, the lifter attempts 3 or more repetitions with 90% of training max. In week three, the lifter attempts 1 or more repetitions with 95% of training max. The fourth week is a deload week where 5 repetitions are performed at 65% of training max.

5 / 3 / 1 also allows the incorporation of assistance lifts. These are typically performed with a view to developing hypertrophy and, to some extent, strength. Where these are included, this takes the programme into concurrent territory. As the programme gives you the scope to vary the assistance lifts and their prescription, the programme could be set up and used in a conjugate fashion.

Progression is sought through a linear increase in load at the start of each cycle, typically adding 2.5 – 5 kg to the training max. Using a training max of < 90% of 1RM helps to facilitate the linear progression.

The Juggernaut Method

The Juggernaut Method is similar to 5 / 3 / 1 in the split of four training days with either a squat, bench press, deadlift and overhead press focus. The inclusion of assistance work is integrated in a similar manner also. The main difference comes in a more detailed and progressive macrocycle.

The programme is split into four mesocycles (termed phases) based upon the number of reps prescribed – 1) 10’s phase, 2) 8’s phase, 3) 5’s phase, and 4) 3’s phase. Each block is then split into four weeks – 1) accumulation week, 2) intensification week, 3) realisation week, and 4) deload week. As with 5 / 3 / 1, there are number of open-ended sets. The programme advises how many reps to keep in reserve and periodise this around the training weeks.

Given the linear periodisation of the blocks, progression is achieved by increasing the relative intensities throughout each week of the block (by 7.5% 1RM) and from block to block (by 5% 1RM). The sequencing of the blocks in an example of conjugation – i.e. each block should potentiate the next.

Daily undulating programmes

Daily undlatiuammes (Dng progrUP) are generally considered a progression from linear programmes, although there’s no reason whs couldn’t utilise these too. The premise of DUP programmes is that you don’t lift the same load y beginnerin each session. Two arguments for why this works well:

  • Variation in the stimulus applied to the neuromuscular system
  • Variation in the mentality in which each session is approached

WUP and DUPThe Texas Method

An example of DUP, cycling three total body sessions during the training week. These as are termed volume, light/recovery and intensity days. The squat is performed in all three sessions, the bench in two (or one, dependent on use of the overhead press), and the deadlift only in the volume session for a single working set.

Progression is sought through a linear increase in load each week, again aided by starting the programme with loads of < 90% of each RM. When lifters begin to stall it is suggested that volume is reduced within the volume session, much in-line with linear principles.

Bill Starr / Madcow 5 x 5

An intended progression from the Stonglifts programme. Still linear in nature but now this programme employed some sight undulation of load between training days. Again, this uses two full-body sessions (A and B) performed three times per week.

Session A consists of squat, bench press and barbell row and repeated twice a week (i.e. A1 = Monday and A2 = Friday). Session B consists of the squat, overhead press, and deadlift and performed just once (i.e. Wednesday). Session A1 is moderate-heavy day with the lifts performed for 5 x 5 with the load increasing on each set. Session B is a lighter day for the squat (equal to the third set on A1) performed for 4 sets of 5. The press and deadlift are performed for 4 sets of 5, with the load increasing on each set. Session A2 is a moderate-heavy day. This starts with 4 sets of 5 on each lift, followed by a heavy set of 3 and a back-off set of 8.

As with Stronglifts, load is added to the bar each week in small increments to progress.

Complex undulating programmes

The Farm Open - Squat 150kg Prep 3I’ve termed these ‘complex’ undulating programmes as they employ principles of both DUP and WUP. These programmes are better suited to more advanced lifters and tend to place a great emphasis on the development of power (i.e. rate of force development) and hypertrophy.

The Cube Method

The Cube Method employs principles of DUP and WUP over a ten-week period with four training sessions per week. Each of the three power lifts are performed once per week with the heavy, explosive and repetition sessions cycled in a WUP fashion every three weeks.

During each training week, one lift will be performed in a heavy session, one lift in a repetition session and one lift in an explosive session – thereby employing DUP. The fourth training session of the week is always designated as a bodybuilding/accessory session designed to target specific muscle groups with moderate to high repetitions (typically 8 – 20). Additional accessory work is also performed in the other three sessions following the main lift. Three cycles are completed before a one-week taper is employed in week 10.

Given the linear periodisation of the blocks, progression is achieved by increasing the relative intensities of each day (i.e. heavy, explosive, repetition) when they are next performed by 5% 1RM. The sequencing of the blocks in an example of conjugation – i.e. each block should potentiate the next.

The Westside Barbell Method

Primarily an example of DUP, the Westside approach employs two upper- and two lower-body sessions each week. Training is typically blocked into three-week mesocycles. One upper- and one lower-body session are each designated as a maximal effort session. The remaining upper- and lower body sessions are each designated as dynamic effort sessions. Accessory work for either the upper- or lower-body is performed following the main lift. The consistent focus on three different bio-motors, without any sequencing, makes Westside a concurrent training programme. Westside is therefore not conjugate!

During the maximal effort session, lifters perform a variation of the bench press (upper-body) or squat/deadlift/good morning (lower-body) working up to a 1 – 3RM set. This lift is varied each week and typically not repeated in the current or successive cycle. In dynamic effort sessions, lifters perform a variation of the bench press (upper-body) or squat/deadlift (lower-body) for multiple sets (6 – 12) of low repetitions (1 – 3) at loads between 50 – 85 %1RM (an example of WUP). Each repetitions is to be performed as fast and explosively as possible. Cycles of dynamic effort training will commonly use the same variation for the duration of the three-week cycle. Accessory work is typically performed in a moderate repetition range (6 – 10).

Progression is sought through the attainment of new repetition maxes within a given exercise variation. This is facilitated by the vast array of possibilities for achieving variation within the squat, deadlift, good morning and bench press.

The Sheiko Routines (#29 – #32)

Granted, the true routines of powerlifting coach Boris Sheiko aren’t designed to be one-size-fits-all programmes. However, the example programmes from some of Sheiko’s translations have become widely used in this way.

Programmes #29, #30, #31 and #32 form a sixteen-week macrocycle split into four, four-week mesocycles or blocks. This approach employs principles of DUP and WUP across the cycles, although the general trend is for intensity and volume to progress in a linear manner. This programme is designed to bring the lifter to a peak at the end of the macrocycle. Here’s how the blocks can be recognised:

  • Sheiko #29 – preparatory block with moderate intensity and moderate volume
  • Sheiko #30 – accumulation block with moderate intensity and high volume
  • Sheiko #31 – intensification block with high intensity and moderate volume
  • Sheiko #32 – peaking block with high intensity and low volume

The Sheiko programmes are highly specific – focusing predominantly on the squat, bench and deadlift exercises with minimal variation (i.e. deadlift to knees). Assistance exercises are incorporated and are performed in a moderate repetition range (5 – 10).

Given the linear periodisation of the blocks, progression is achieved by increasing the relative intensities (%1RM) throughout the programme. The sequencing of the blocks in an example of conjugation – i.e. each block should potentiate the next.

The ‘Bulgarian’ Method (Perryman)

Despite the name, this is not a real representation of the true Bulgarian weightlifting/powerlifting systems. Nonetheless, Matt Perryman’s book ‘Squat Every Day’ and the likes of Greg Nuckols and John Broz have popularised what we refer to in the West as the Bulgarian method.

The main principle of the Bulgarian method is to work up to a daily max in the back squat in each and every session. The ‘max’ should be smooth, comfortable and achieved without equipment and without psyching up. Following the max, the lifter then performs some comfortable back-off sets. It is intended that the lifter autoregulates the back-off sets too, however, 2-5 sets of 2-3 with 10% less than the daily max is a common recommendation. Because of the autoregulation of load and back-off sets, the Bulgarian system effectively becomes a DUP style of programme. It is recommended that deload weeks in incorporated in the programme, a principle of WUP.

Typically, lifters will look train 4-7 days per week on the programme. The basic template is a simple one – squat/deadlift, press, upper body pull. The daily max and back-off sets are normally performed for the squat/deadlift and press, whereas the upper body pull is performed in a typical hypertrophy assistance style. It is recommended that more squat than deadlift sessions are performed (typically no more than two deadlift sessions).

Periodisation is achieved through a gradual increase in the load achieved for the daily max and, consequently, the load used for the back off sets.

So what?

As we highlighted last time, there is no ‘best’ programme.

Every strength programme seeks to add load to the barbell to achieve progressive overload.

‘Beginner’ programmes tend to be linear in nature and demonstrate high levels of specificity.

More ‘advanced’ programmes tend to integrate undulation on a daily and/or weekly basis. These programmes place greater emphasis on the concurrent development of hypertrophy and/or RFD.

Understanding how the programme is put together is crucial when seeking to determine which best fits your goals and needs at any given point in time.

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Deconstructing Popular Powerlifting Programmes

PeriodisationLast time out we looked at the major models and concepts associated with periodisation. This time we’ll focus on how these relate to popular powerlifting programmes.

To deconstruct our powerlifting programmes, we’ll begin by asking some key questions about each structural unit of training.

The macrocycle

We’ll start at the very top. Strictly speaking, many powerlifting programmes don’t take a long-term view that considers an entire macrocycle. We’ll consider what happens over the macrocycle when these programmes are repeated or recycled.

  • Load

Do you add more load to the bar in each mesocycle? If yes, that’s a basic linear model.

If not, is there a general trend for the loadings to increase across the whole mesocycle? If that’s a yes, then it’s a wave-like or undulating model

If it’s none of the above, then it’s not a strength programme!

  • Volume

As above, but the other way around. If the volume decreases across each mesocycle, then it’s a basic linear model.

If there a general trend for the volume to decrease, then it’s a wave-like or undulating model.

None of the above? Then volume isn’t periodised on a macrocycle level.

  • Mesocycles

Is the programme blocked into mesocycles? If yes, then it’s a block-based model.

  • Training focus

Does the programme attempt to exclusively develop hypertrophy and/or rate of force development in specific mesocycles? If yes, then it’s a basic block-based model.

Does the programme attempt to develop hypertrophy and/or rate of force development throughout each mesocycle? If yes, then you’ve got a concurrent or conjugate model.

Does the emphasis on these qualities change between different mesocycles? If yes, it’s conjugate model.

  • Exercise selection

Does the programme progress from more general, less specific training into more sport-specific (squat, bench, deadlift) training over the course of the macrocycle? If yes, it’s a linear-based principle.

Does the programme incorporate highly specific training (squat, bench, deadlift) throughout the macrocycle? If yes, specificity is not periodised and is maintained high throughout the programme.Macrocycle

The mesocycle

Next up is the mesocycle.

  • Load

Do you add more load to the bar each week? If yes, it’s a basic linear-based mesocycle.

General trend for the loadings to increase? Then we’re wave-like or undulating.

  • Volume

Does volume decrease over the course of the mesocycle? If yes, it’s a linear-based model.

General trend for decreased volume? Then it’s wave-like or undulating.

What about the opposite? Does volume actually increase over the mesocycle? This indicates a linear block-based model.

  • Undulation

Does the load or volume change from week-to-week? If yes, it’s a weekly undulating periodisation model (WUP).Mesocycle

The microcycle

What happens on a day-to-day basis within the programme?

  • Load & volume

Do the load and volume (or intended adaptation) change from session-to-session? If yes, you’ve got a daily undulating programme (DUP).

Training session

Lastly, we’re down to what happens within the session.

  • Assistance lifts

Does the session incorporate assistance lifts that seek to develop hypertrophy? If yes, then you’ve got a concurrent or conjugate model.

Does the session incorporate assistance lifts that seek to develop RFD? If yes, then you’ve got a concurrent or conjugate model.Microcycle

What do they have in common?

Every strength programme seeks to add load to the barbell to achieve progressive overload.

‘Beginner’ programmes tend to be linear in nature and demonstrate high levels of specificity.

More ‘advanced’ programmes tend to integrate undulation on a daily and/or weekly basis. These programmes place greater emphasis on the concurrent development of hypertrophy and/or RFD.

So what?

Squat loadBy answering these questions you’ll be able to deconstruct any programme. Understanding how the programme is put together is crucial when seeking to determine which best fits your goals and needs at any given point in time.

Some lifters do well with highly specific programmes and minimal variation. Some lifters need the opposite.

Some lifters need to lift heavy at least every couple of weeks. Some lifters need just a session of two to reacclimate to heavy loads.

What next?

In the next part we’ll delve a little deeper into some of the programmes we’ve mentioned. Identifying the pluses and minuses of these programmes will better inform which is the right one to follow.

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Periodisation for Powerlifting – An Overview

What is periodisation?

PeriodisationPeriodisation may be most simply defined as the planning and organisation of training. The purpose of periodisation is to manage the training stimulus in order to maximise the desired neuromuscular adaptions and avoid excessive accumulation of fatigue (Turner, 2011). By constructing a periodised blueprint based around key competitions, this allows the coach or lifter to schedule when specific qualities can be developed and when fatigue will need to be minimised (DeWeese et al., 2015). It is therefore unsurprising that in a survey of British powerlifters, 97% of respondents reported using a periodisation strategy within their training (Swinton et al., 2009).

Organisation of training

Training can be divided into several structural units, as defined by Zatsiorsky and Kraemer (2006):

  • Training session – refers to a single unit of training.
  • Microcycle – refers to a group of training sessions. Typically, although not always, one-week in duration to fit with the Gregorian calendar.
  • Mesocycle – refers to a group of microcycles. Typically two- to six-weeks in length.
  • Phase – refers to specific portions of the season. Typically divvied into preparatory and competitive phases
  • Macrocycle – refers to one entire competitive season. Typically a year in length given typical sporting calendars.

Volume and intensity

We typically think of periodisation in terms of volume and intensity (i.e. barbell load), based upon the translations of Leonid Matveyev (Siff, 2004). In traditional linear models initial training volume is high and intensity is low. As training progresses through specific mesocycles, training volume decreases, whereas training intensity increases.

Classic Linear

General vs specific training

Periodisation also considers the progression from more general, less specific training into more sport-specific training. Models will typically refer to two phases: the preparatory phase and the competitive phase (Bompa & Carrera, 2005). The preparatory phase can then be subdivided into general physical preparation (GPP) and specific physical preparation (SPP) phases (Matveyev, 1981).

In powerlifting we can relate this to performing exercises and variations further removed from the competition squat, bench and deadlift at the start of the cycle. Think sled pushes, split squats, seated rows. As competition approaches, the competition lifts (and possibly equipment) are reintroduced.

Application of linear periodisation

Linear periodisation typically progresses through three training mesocycles in a step-wise manner based upon the goal of that mesocycle: a) hypertrophy-focus, b) strength-focus, and c) power-focus (Turner, 2011). This would then be followed by a tapering mesocycle leading into competition.

Step-Wise Linear

The step-wise system better reflects two key points. First, the fact that a mesocycle will typically focus on the development of one key bio-motor at a time. Second, the idea that volume will normally increase within a mesocycle despite the trend for a decrease over the macrocycle.

The evolution of linear periodisation

The step-wise progression of volume and intensity across multiple mesocycles and macrocycles will follow a linear trend – i.e. progressive overload – real-world periodisation rarely conforms to classic linear models.

Two systems perhaps better explain linear periodisation in action:

  • Block periodisation
  • Conjugate periodisation

Block periodisation

Block periodisation is based on the writings of Vladimir Issurin. This system involves the cycling of mesocycles containing specific, highly concentrated mesocycles designed to maximise the potential for adaptation (Issurin, 2016). These are typically referred to in block periodisation literature as accumulation (volume-based), transmutation (intensity-based) and realisation (tapering).

Block periodisation can be performed in two ways dependent upon the number of bio-motors that will need to be developed for optimal performance.

Unilateral block periodisation

A concentrated unidirectional block approach aims to maximally develop one leading bio-motor over the course of the macrocycle (Issurin, 2016). Each individual mesocycle will then focus on the development of one quality on the road to developing that overarching bio-motor. The pie charts below represent the relative emphasis placed upon the different bio-motors during two example mesocycles.

CU Block

The sequencing of each mesocycle is designed to potentiate the next (Siff, 2004) – for example, hypertrophy should potentiate strength which should potentiate power. Given the reliance on maximal strength for performance, this system is well suited to competitive powerlifting.

Multi-targeted block periodisation

A multi-targeted block approach seeks to develop multiple bio-motors in a consecutive, not simultaneous, manner through sequencing specialised training blocks (Issurin, 2016). This strategy employs concentrated blocks of training that seeks to emphasise one leading bio-motor whilst maintaining others. For example, a strength-focussed block will still train for power and hypertrophy, these are just not emphasised. The pie charts below represent the emphasis placed upon each bio-motor during two example mesocycles.

MT Block

Conjugate periodisation

Conjugate periodisation is based on the writings of Yuri Verkhoshansky. In line with the definition of CU block periodisation, the system involves the successive introduction of concentrated mesocycles in order to elicit the greatest cumulative training effect (Siff, 2004). In the conjugate system, these blocks are termed accumulation and restitution (Plisk & Stone, 2003). In line with the definition of MT block periodisation, the system will typically aim to maintain additional bio-motors in a deemphasised fashion.

One aspect of the conjugate system that appears to be more emphasised than in the block system is the nature of the long-term delayed training effect. Accumulation blocks are designed to infer a period of functional overreaching before fatigue is dissipated during the restitution blocks and greater adaptations may now be realised (Plisk & Stone, 2003).

Application of conjugate periodisation

An example of the application of conjugate periodisation in powerlifting would be the Smolov squat cycle. The four-week mesocycles are overreaching accumulation blocks, whilst the switching and taper mesocycles are restitution blocks.

What certainly isn’t an example of the conjugate system is the Westside Method! That’s an example of concurrent periodisation.

Concurrent periodisation

Concurrent periodisation seeks to develop multiple bio-motors simultaneously. For example, the concurrent development of strength, power and hypertrophy. Typically each bio-motor is with a similar degree of emphasis, but this this is not always the case. The pie charts show two examples for two different sports.

CT Training

In powerlifting, concurrent training methods would involve the simultaneous development of strength, hypertrophy and power during each mesocycle. In this instance it is likely that strength will carry greater emphasis in the programme.

Non-linear approaches

In non-linear models, training volume and intensity are varied within the mesocycle or microcycle. These strategies can be termed wither weekly undulating periodisation (WUP) or daily undulating periodisation (DUP), with utilisation of the latter much more commonplace.


The majority of programmes within powerlifting employ the principles of DUP by using heavy, medium and light training days. Each training session is likely to be focused with a particular goal (i.e. strength day, hypertrophy day, power day).


So, that was an overview of the major models and concepts associated with periodisation. The next part of this series will focus on how these relate to popular powerlifting programmes.


Bompa TO, Carrera MC. Periodization Training for Sports. 2nd Edition ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics 2005.
DeWeese BH, Hornsby G, Stone M, Stone MH. The training process: Planning for strength-power training in track and field. Part 1: Theoretical aspects. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 2015: 4: 308-317.
Issurin VB. Benefits and limitations of block periodized training approaches to athletes’ preparation: a review. Sports Medicine. 2016: 46: 329-338.
Matveyev L. Fundamentals of Sports Training. English Translation ed. Moscow: Progress Publishers 1981.
Plisk SS, Stone MH. Periodization strategies. Strength & Conditioning Journal. 2003: 25: 19-37.
Siff MC. Supertraining. 6th Edition ed. Denver, CO: Supertraining Institute 2004.
Swinton PA, Lloyd R, Agouris I, Stewart A. Contemporary training practices in elite British powerlifters: survey results from an international competition. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2009: 23: 380-384.
Turner A. The science and practice of periodization: a brief overview. Strength & Conditioning Journal. 2011: 33: 34-46.
Zatsiorsky VM, Kraemer WJ. Science and Practice of Strength Training. 2nd Edition ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics 2006.


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Tapering for Powerlifting

SumoTapering is a practice which involves the temporary reduction of training load in an effort to increase the state of preparedness of an athlete. The idea is go into competition with as little fatigue as possible in order give the best possible performance.

How do powerlifters do it?

Pritchard et al. (2015b) investigated the tapering strategies of elite raw powerlifters from New Zealand (average Wilks: 432 ± 44). Indeed, this was a study we featured last year in our fantastically brilliant Research Review service!

They reported the following headlines:

  • Average taper length was 2.5 weeks
  • Total training volume peaked just over 5 weeks out
  • Training intensity (i.e. %1RM load) peaked about 2 weeks out
  • Volume was reduced by about 60% during the taper
  • Accessory work was removed about 2 weeks out
  • The taper intensity either maintained or slightly reduced intensity
  • The final training session was performed 3 – 5 days out

So, why perform a taper?

Fitness versus fatigue

I love the equation analogy given by Stuart Yule in the great High Performance Training for Sports book (p 303).

Strength realisation = strength potential – stress impact

At any point in time the amount of strength you can express is not only a function of how much strength you have, but eroded by the fatigue that has accumulated up to that point.

Tapering increases strength realisation

The reduction of volume load has been shown to improve performance in a number of tests of strength. These are summarised by (Pritchard et al., 2015a), but we’ll skim through the two that evaluated squat and bench press performances.

  • Coutts et al. (2007)

Coutts et al. evaluated performance in seven semi-professional rugby league players (pre-training values = 3RM squat: ~145kg, 3RM bench: ~115kg). Players were put through a 6-week overreaching phase followed by a 7-day taper.

At the end of the overreaching phase, 3RM squat and bench performance both decreased by about 5%. Following the taper, squat improved by 9% (3.6% increase overall) and bench by 5% (no change overall).

Two important notes from this study. First, the overreaching phase was very running heavy in this study and not wholly focussed on strength. Two, the week-long taper is unlikely to be long enough to dissipate the fatigue accumulated.

  • Izquierdo et al. (2007)

This study look at a 4-week taper following a 16-week resistance training programme in Basque ball (not a typo!) players. However, not a particularly strong athlete group to draw on (pre-training values = 1RM bench: ~80kg, 1RM half squat: ~155kg).

The researchers saw a 3% increase in 1RM squat and 2% increase in 1RM bench following the taper.

What are the mechanisms behind tapering?

This is not well researched in regards to strength training. It is hypothesised that the improved recovery associated with the taper may be linked to muscle recovery, greater neural activation and an enhanced hormonal environment (Pritchard et al., 2015a).

Häkkinen et al. (1991) observed improvements in neural activation (measured by EMG) and isometric force following a 7-day taper in Finnish national powerlifters, although not in non-competitive strength athletes. Are the effects of tapering greater in stronger athletes? Perhaps.

The study by Izquierdo et al. (2007) reported elevations in IGF-1 following tapering, although no changes in testosterone, cortisol or growth hormone. No changes in testosterone or cortisol were observed by Coutts et al. (2007).

Drawing from the endurance data

Much more data is available looking at tapering for endurance sports. Mujika et al. (2004) published a review into the physiological changes associated with tapering in this context. Here are some the key points:

  • Mood state and sleep quality seem to improve, whilst the perception of effort decreases
  • Increases in IGF-1 (potentially indicative of a more ‘anabolic’ environment) are likely to be observed
  • Reductions in creatine kinase (a marker of muscle damage) are pretty consistently reported, although this is perhaps more indicative that the training is just less intense during the taper
  • Changes in testosterone and cortisol are inconsistent between studies, although these are more likely to be affected following overreaching
  • Shortening velocities and overall size of muscle fibre may increase, more so in type II fibres

In short, it’s likely that a combination of psychological, physiological and biomechanical factors underpin the tapering phenomenon.

Does tapering differ between lifts?

In a nutshell, yes. The squat, bench and deadlift are different beasts and the way you’d approach the taper for each will differ. Here’s what the Pritchard et al. (2015b) investigation told us about the Kiwi lifters.

  • 91% reported that more recovery was required for the deadlift
  • 46% tapered the squat and bench press in the same way
  • 36% thought the bench could stay heavier for longer

Here’s how they finished the taper for each lift:

Session Type Days out from comp Top set % (%1RM)
Final heavy squat session 8.0 ± 2.9 90.0 ± 5.4
Final squat session 4.0 ± 1.8 66.0 ± 15.7
Final heavy bench press session 7.3 ± 2.7 92.2 ± 5.7
Final bench press session 4.0 ± 1.8 67.3 ± 18.1
Final heavy deadlift session 10.9 ± 4.0 88.9 ± 6.1
Final deadlift session 7.4 ± 4.1 72.6 ± 18.5

Tapering for maximal strength

The review by Pritchard et al. (2015a) suggests the following:

  • Taper over a 1-4 week period
  • Use a step or progressive approach
  • Reduce volume by 30-70%
  • Maintain or slightly increase training intensity
  • Maintain training frequency

Squat loadSo, broadly speaking, this appears to fall in-line with competitive lifters are doing. Maybe us meatheads know a little more than we let on!

Don’t fear the taper…

It’s likely that strength may be retained for a period of 2-3 weeks following complete cessation of strength training (McMaster et al., 2013). Perhaps the most pertinent study was undertaken by Hortobágyi et al. (1993). Following 2 weeks of no training, the authors reported non-significant decreases of 0.9% and 1.7% in the squat and bench respectively. Remember that we’re not advocating training cessation with a taper, but I think it helps to reassure you that strength does not just disappear!

Oh, and one last thing.

You can’t taper from a taper! Make sure you’ve built up the necessary volume to deserve it in the first place.


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Häkkinen K, Kallinen M, Komi PV, Kauhanen H. Neuromuscular adaptations during short-term “normal” and reduced training periods in strength athletes. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology. 1991: 31: 35-42.
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Pritchard H, Keogh J, Barnes M, McGuigan M. Effects and mechanisms of tapering in maximizing muscular strength. Strength & Conditioning Journal. 2015a: 37: 72-83.
Pritchard HJ, Tod DA, Barnes MJ, Keogh JW, McGuigan MR. Tapering practices of New Zealand’s elite raw powerlifters. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2015b.
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