Last week we discussed some beginner strength training programs. This week I want to discuss two options for what to do once you move out of the beginner stage…but first things first.
Am I a beginner or intermediate?
If you have spent much time in the gym you may be asking yourself this question. To answer that question, answer the following:
– What is your 5 Rep Max on each of the big lifts (squat, bench, dead lift, overhead press)?
If you aren’t sure, have to guess, estimate, or qualify your answer, stick with a beginner program.
-How long have you been following a dedicated beginner strength training program?
If the answer is not at least 6 months (and it could be upwards of 12 to 18 months), you should continue following a beginner program.
The intermediate programs below may look more interesting than a standard beginner program, but if you are a beginner the worst thing you can do for your strength is to cut the beginner phase short and switch to an intermediate program too early.
If you even have to ask the question “Should I go with a beginner or intermediate program?” the answer is most likely that you’re a beginner. It might be a tough pill to swallow, but checking your ego at the door of the gym is one of the best things you can do for your training. I spent over a decade in the weightroom just messing around following bodybuilding routines I would pull out of muscle mags. I thought I was an experienced veteran lifter. Yet when I finally got serious about strength training a beginner program worked wonders or me.
The Texas Method
The Texas Method is an intermediate program that is a great transition if you are coming out of Starting Strength or Stronglifts. The program is designed around 3 training sessions per week with a volume day, where you do a lot of sets, and an intensity day where you do 1 heavy set and shoot for a new 5 Rep Max. One of the main ideas behind why The Texas Method works is Supercompensation. The heavy volume day causes major stress to the body, and the body adapts to this stress by over, or supercompensating to adapt to the stress. This gives a brief window where an officer can use that supercompensation to set a new PR, and the intensity day of the program takes advantage of that.
|Squat 5×5 @ 90% of 5RM
Bench Press 5×5 @ 90% of 5RM
|Squats 2×5 @ 80% of 5RM
Overhead Press 3×5
Chin Ups 3 Sets with body weight
Bench Press 1×5
The main goal of the program is to use the volume days to set yourself up for new 5 Rep Max personal records (PRs) on intensity days. Every other week you will rotate Bench Press and Overhead press in the volume/intensity and recovery days. In some versions of the Texas Method, it is recommended to do deadlifts on volume day and power cleans on intensity day. I prefer the layout above as deadlifts after squats on volume day are pretty brutal.
- This program works, you will get stronger and it is a great transition out of a linear beginner’s program like Starting Strength or Stronglifts
- Only 3 Training days per week, and only 2 of those days are “hard” training sessions. This is ideal for busy LEOs.
- Get to challenge yourself and set new PRs every week. Setting PRs is always great motivation
- The volume day is a long and brutal workout. You will most likely need to rest 3 to 5 minutes between sets on volume days. This tends to make the volume day workout last longer than an hour.
- Not a “cutting” program. If your main goal is fat loss, and you are eating for this goal, you will stall on this program quickly. You need to eat a lot to recover from the volume day and set new PRs on the Intensity day.
- Over doing it on Recovery Day. If you are not used to taking your foot off the gas it is easy to over do it on recovery day and mess the whole program up.
Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1
5/3/1 is a popular intermediate strength training program developed by power lifter Jim Wendler. The goal of 5/3/1 is to develop functional full body strength and this aligns well with the goals of Law Enforcement. The program is a 4 week repeating cycle based off of your 1 Rep Max in the squat, dead lift, bench press and overhead press. The program is designed for 4 workout sessions per week, 1 for each major lift, however the program can be modified for different training schedules. The 4 week program breaks down like this:
- 65% x 5
- 75% x 5
- 85% x 5+
- 70% x 3
- 80% x 3
- 90% x 3+
- 75% x 5
- 85% x 3
- 95% x 1+
Week 4 (Deload week)
- 40% x 5
- 50% x 5
- 60% x 5
The “+” sets each week are what make this program stand out. In each + set you should attempt to do as many reps as possible (with good speed and form). If you are feeling good, you can use the + set as an opportunity to set a new PR. If you are feeling crappy, you can simply do the required reps on the + set and not attempt to set a new PR. When caculating your lifts for the program, Jim Wendler stresses basing the program off of 90% of your 1 rep max instead of using your true one rep max. This will allow you to progress longer without stalling. The program offers many options for assistance work including Boring but Big, the Triumvirate and “I’m not doing jack shit” – which is Wendler’s quick workout for when you only have time to do the main lifts.
- Flexible Program: Great for time pressed LEOs. When you have time, you can do 4 workouts per week and lots of assistance work. When you are pressed for time, you can condense the program into 2 or 3 workouts per week and skip assistance work.
- Set new PRs every workout: This is fantastic motivation. It’s hard to justify skipping a workout when you know you have a chance to set a PR.
- The Deload week: Week 4 drastically reduces the weight of each lift. This gives your body a chance to have an active recovery period. It promotes recovery, longevity, and injury prevention. This is fantastic for older lifters.
- Lots of resources: Due to the popularity of the program there are apps on both the iphone and android stores to help you plan your workouts as well as many spreadsheets. I like this spreadsheet best.
- You have to find your 1 Rep Max: For the program to be as effective as possible, you have to test your 1 Rep Max before starting the program. Some officers may view this as a negative if they are not used to maxing. Just give yourself a week of active recovery after you max before jumping into the program. You can use 1RM calculators to determine your one rep max, but I would advise against this as they are not always accurate.
- Easy to Over Due it: It is easy to get overzealous with this program and let your ego get the best of you. It is tempting to estimate higher than actual 1 rep maxes, or base the program off of your 1 rep max instead of 90% of your max as Wendler recommends. Finally, it can be tempting to skip the deload week. Do not do this. The deload week will keep you healthy and help your strength develop over the long term.
- Program Length: The program is based off of 4 week cycles. If you simply follow the program for a few cycles you will only see small gains. To get the most of this program you must commit to it for 6 months to a year.
For more info on 5/3/1 pick up Jim Wendler’s Book
There are many other intermediate programs out there that I will break down in future articles but I believe the two discussed here are the best options for Law Enforcement Officers moving out of the beginner phase and looking for a new program to continue their strength training.
Are you currently following a beginner or intermediate strength training program? If so, tell me about it in the comments!