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Designing a strength block

Right off the bat, let’s define who this program is NOT for: beginners and advanced athletes. For the sake of simplicity, let’s define beginners as those with 2 years or less experience and advanced as those with more than 6 years. This refers specifically to uninterrupted time spent on focused strength training. It goes without  saying that there a wide range of exceptions to this rule for a variety of reasons such as injury history, technical ability, change of sport etc.

Beginners aren’t well suited to this kind of program for a very enviable reason: there’s no need for it. Basically any progressive overload program used by a beginner will work, provided that you slowly add more weight to the bar over time. Enjoy this time while it lasts.

Advanced athletes have the opposite problem. They require finely tuned adjustments to their training over the course of months or even years to squeeze out an extra kilogram on the bar. This style of program simply cannot address their particular needs.

If you’re still reading this, be aware that there is some math ahead. If you still have traumatic memories from high school, now is the time to close this post.

Now, to create a basic strength block you’ll need 3 things:

1) Your 1 repetition maximum (1RM) on the lifts you’re trying to improve. You can test this directly or estimate your max using higher repetitions via this link.

2) A relative intensity calculator:


3) Prelipin’s chart:


And now for some math with real world examples.

The principle behind strength training is progressive overload. Simply put, this just means lifting slightly heavier weights over time in a well thought out structure with planned deload/recovery periods. The most popular format is a 3 week build up and 1 week recovery cycle. This is the style we will use for our example but you are of course free to experiment with various loading patterns and exercises in order to find the system that works best for you.

Step 1:

Decided how many days per week you want to train. We’re going to select 4 days per week and create a table.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4













Step 2:

Decide on your training split. The most common ones are full body, upper/lower and push pull. Again, you can do any of these or come up with your own unique mix that suits your body. This principle can even be applied to Weightlifting movements such as snatch/clean & jerk, pulls and squats, speed work and accessories, etc. Let your imagination run wild (however, simpler is normally better). We’re going to use a squat/deadlift + push/pull template.


Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Split

Squat + pull

Deadlift + push

Squat + pull

Deadlift + push
















Step 3:

Insert the exercises you plan on doing. I suggest mixing things you’re bad at with things you enjoy. That way you get to work your weaknesses but still find pleasure in your training. You can add primary lifts and accessories, or keep it short and simple if your time is limited.


Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Split

Squat + pull

Deadlift + push

Squat + pull

Deadlift + push

Main lift 1

Back squat

Deadlift

Front squat

Stiff legged deadlift

Main lift 2

Lat pulldown

Bench press

Seated cable row

Shoulder press

Accessory 1

Calf raise

Dumbbell row

Reverse hyper

Rear delt fly

Accessory 2

Hammer curl

Dip

Hanging leg raise

Tricep pushdown

Step 4:

Decide what aspect of training you want to emphasize. It can be strength, hypertrophy, power, muscle endurance etc. To get a rough estimate of the appropriate number of repetitions for each, you can refer back to Prelipin’s chart. Keep in mind that there is a significant overlap in the effects these rep schemes will have on your body, and everyone responds slightly differently to the stimulus. That’s why it is important to keep an accurate record of your training and to make adjustments over time. For our example, we’re going to emphasize strength and stay in the 3-6 rep range. I don’t usually recommend doing heavy doubles and singles too often unless you know how to manage the associated fatigue. That takes some practice and experience.


Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Split

Squat + pull

Deadlift + push

Squat + pull

Deadlift + push

Main lift 1

Back squat

Deadlift

Front squat

Stiff legged deadlift

Repetitions

4

3

4

6

Main lift 2

Lat pulldown

Bench press

Seated cable row

Shoulder press

Repetitions

6

4

6

3

Accessory 1

Calf raise

Dumbbell row

Reverse hyper

Rear delt fly

Repetitions

10-12

8-12 per arm

12

12

Accessory 2

Hammer curl

Dip

Hanging leg raise

Tricep pushdown

Repetitions

10-12

8-10

8-10

10-12

Step 5:

Use relative intensity to create the build up and back down training cycles. If the goal is to end up re-testing your 1RM, I would suggest building up to a relative intensity somewhere in the mid 90%. So let’s say that after we reach 93% relative intensity, we recover for a week and then test again. Now we can work backwards and see what percentages to use each week. Normally cycles can be 12-16 weeks and intensity can go up 1-3% per week.

Week

% Intensity

12

75 – recovery

11

93

10

91

9

89

8

75 – recovery

7

91

6

89

5

87

4

75 – recovery

3

89

2

87

1

85

You’ll notice that at each new build up week, we start a little lighter than the weights we ended up on the previous week. In my experience that’s really useful for managing fatigue, but you don’t have to do this. Be as creative with the loading patterns as you want to be.

Step 6:

Determine your percentages for each session and exercise. We do this by multiplying the percentages we see in the relative intensity calculator with our chosen relative intensity for the week.

We chose to start week 1 with 85% intensity. Now we look at the number of repetitions for each exercise. You’ll see we chose to do 4 reps and on the relative intensity calculator this equates to 90% of your 1RM. Now we simply multiply 85% by 90%.


This gives us a value of 76.5%. I like to add 2% leeway in each direction to account for daily variations in your energy levels, sleep, stress, recovery etc. Now we can plug that value into our training plan and repeat this step for each exercise. 


Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Split

Squat + pull

Deadlift + push

Squat + pull

Deadlift + push

Main lift 1

Back squat

Deadlift

Front squat

Stiff legged deadlift

Repetitions

4

3

4

6

Percentage

74.5-78.5

77-81

74.5-78.5

70-74

Main lift 2

Lat pulldown

Bench press

Seated cable row

Shoulder press

Repetitions

6

4

6

3

Percentage

70-74

74.5-78.5

70-74

77-81

Step 7:

Calculate the number of sets. For this we look back to Prelipin’s chart and compare that to the percentages in our training template. We see that on day 1 we are squatting about 76% and Prelipin’s chart states that the optimal number of repetitions to do is 15. If we then do 4 sets of 4 repetitions, we get to 16 total reps, which is close enough. Anywhere from 2-5 sets would have been correct as well and this will depend on the minimum and maximum training volume your body can handle. You can now calculate the total reps and thus sets for each exercise and plug it back into the template.


Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Split

Squat + pull

Deadlift + push

Squat + pull

Deadlift + push

Main lift 1

Back squat

Deadlift

Front squat

Stiff legged deadlift

Sets

4

5

4

3

Repetitions

4

3

4

6

Percentage

74.5-78.5

77-81

74.5-78.5

70-74

Main lift 2

Lat pulldown

Bench press

Seated cable row

Shoulder press

Sets

3

4

3

5

Repetitions

6

4

6

3

Percentage

70-74

74.5-78.5

70-74

77-81

Step 8:

Repeat each of these steps for every week in your training plan: Compare your chosen intensity to the percentage of your 1RM in the relative intensity calculator and finally use Prelipin’s chart to determine the number of sets. I recommend that during your back down week, you aim at the lower end of the suggested total number of reps in Prelipin’s chart. This becomes increasingly useful the stronger you get.


There you have it. 8 steps to building your own basic strength block. This method is only one of hundreds of options. Programming is as much art as science and you will gain the most benefit by simply paying careful attention to the results of each training block, then adapting your program as needed.

Many so-called strength influencers will denigrate this method and try to sell you a copy of their super special, ultra effective, once in a lifetime program. You can tell them to go eat a fork.


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