Wednesday 22 September 2010

David's delivery

My hip has mostly healed and I have been back training for the last week and a half. I am now training four days a week and along with ECB, my regular job and the coaching that goes along with it, I am one busy bee. But, where there is a will, there's a way. I will qualify for the European Championships next April even if I have to sell my soul to Murph himself. In my training program, everything was going swimmingly, and the program itself was great, but I did not take a step back when I should have and I got a minor injury as a result. Lesson learned.

We have another guest article here. David Woodhouse writes about his coaching system and his experiences in the trenches. Here is his youtube channel so you can see some of his lifters go at it. Thank you to David for the submission, and as always, if anyone has anything they would like to write about, let me know and we can publish your thoughts here.

The System: 300+ Sinclair in <5 years

'Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.' - Albert Einstein

I am not suggesting that the System is the only method of improving Olympic lifting performance, or even that it is necessarily the best method. I am simply stating that this program is universally effective in generating consistent improvement in novice/ intermediate lifters. I am perhaps slightly different from most coaches in that I can make a rational and objective argument why we do what we do.

The training frequency employed in the System was determined by simple application of Supercompensation Theory. To summarise the theory, strength decreases immediately following a training stimulus and, over time, the body will first recover and then, if no further training stimulus interrupts the process, adapt. To clarify, a lifter cannot adapt or grow stronger until he has first recovered. The challenge was to arrange training sessions such that they coincide with the peak in super-compensation.

When a lifter trains to and beyond maximum in every session I found that 72 hour period between sessions to be optimal. In reality, due to logistics resulting from the 7 day week, it is generally necessary to have 96 hours after the second session. I do however accept that full time professional lifters who get optimal sleep, a balanced optimal diet, and who take advantage of restorative measures such as massage and hydro therapy, may be able to adapt to a training program that calls for training on alternate days.

Over the last 12 months I have discovered an interesting phenomena. Two to three weeks after one begins the System limit weights will usually jump up significantly. Most likely the lifter is finally expressing the dormant strength which was already present but that was blunted by residual fatigue. Importantly once the lifter begins lifting at his absolute maximum, and not just his training or daily maximum , his need for recovery also increases. To express this differently, lifting at absolute maximum both requires and necessitates more recovery. When training frequency is too high not only will optimal supercompensation fail to occur but the athlete significantly increases his risk of chronic and acute injury. Ironically these injuries often require extended training lay offs to allow the body to heal.

A logical argument: The central nervous cannot generate the frequency of impulses required to activate the highest threshold motor units if it is fatigued. If these motor units are not activated then they will not be trained and, since they are responsible for the highest force outputs, it follows that training to improve strength in a state of neural at fatigue is at best inefficient.

I believe in the application of the SAID principle. In simple terms and applied to weightlifting, this states that the most effective way of improving the snatch and jerk is through maximum efforts on the snatch and jerk! Training frequency in the System is so low that one must be very specific in the exercise choices. I could write a detailed article on the limitations of most accessory exercises including pulls, deadlifts and partial lift variations but will leave that for another day.

It is accepted within Exercise Physiology that to train the largest fast twitch fibres an athlete must either lift a maximal load or lift a sub maximal load to failure. The System takes advantage of both these training methods every single session. A common belief is that training to maximum for prolonged periods can cause overtraining. However, according to Supercompensation Theory, a lifter cannot overtrain providing that sufficient recovery is taken between sessions.

To improve technical aspects of the lifts (an issue when training frequency is so low) I suggest all lifters, and especially novices, do 20 minutes of broom or bar work every day. This should consist of either technical exercises such as snatch balance or rehearsal of movement pattern with minimal load. I have discovered that not only are these abbreviated sessions useful in ‘greasing the groove’ they are also effective as active recovery from the core workouts.

Initially I favoured front squats as the main (only!) assistance exercise as they are more specific to the clean recovery and can be performed safely without the need for spotters. However I was also keen to gain greater benefit from structural adaptation (hypertrophy) and found that repetitions on the front squat were difficult as the upper back generally fatigues before the legs and hips. Since I switched to back squat pulling strength improved with no obvious detriment to clean recoveries.

Originally we also performed both competition lifts every session but I soon realised it was necessary to cut back. With that program my lifters were unable to fully recover within the 72 hour allotted time frame and as a result the quality of the second session suffered. Also when performing three exercises the quality of the cleans, and more significantly, the squats dropped off due to the accumulation of fatigue. By performing only one competition lift per session the lifter can attack his maximum repeatedly and is still sufficiently fresh to maintain the quality on his squats. If a lifter is overly fatigued for squatting the exercise will become a negative training stimulus, i.e. will increase fatigue without promoting any further adaptation.

Carl Johnson, coach of world triple jump champion Jonathan Edwards, once said to me, ‘do the minimal required to illicit an improvement’. That is a simple but revelatory statement. Let’s assume that the minimal acceptable rate of improvement is 1kg per month. That’s a 24kg on the total in 12 months, or 120kg over five years. How many lifters do you know who wouldn’t be satisfied with that? Cynics will say it is impossible to maintain a linear rate of improvement as one approaches his genetic potential. What they overlook however is that the rate of improvement is NOT linear because 1kg constitutes a smaller percentage of maximum as the weights continue to increase (e.g. 1kg is 1% of 100kg but 0.5% of 200kg).

A common attitude taken by athletes is, ‘I improved 24kg last year off two sessions per week. I’ll improve more this year if I do 3 or 4.” However, doing 4 sessions is not just an extra two workouts, it is a 100% increase in workload! Commonly therefore, this change does not increase the rate of progress, it actually stops it. The body cannot recover from training let alone adapt to it. Why would a lifter ever perform five sessions when they can still improve on two?!

So do away with the dogma, put aside everything you think you know about training, and give the System a try... BUT if you are going to do it be warned, you must be aggressive and totally fearless in your pursuit of those extra kilos. Do not think of failures think only of the training effect. Good Luck.

The System

Day 1
Snatch - Singles to 3 attempts at maximum, 3 repetitions at 80%
Squat - Triples to maximum

Day 2
Clean & Jerk - Singles to 3 attempts at maximum
Squat - Triples to maximum

“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”
- Winston Churchill


Lifter A, PBs: Snatch 100, Squat 160x3

Snatch Squat
50 3x2r 60 3r
60 1r 100 3r
65 1r 121 3r
70 1r 141 3r
75 1r 161 3r
80 1r
85 1r
90 1r
95 1r
98 1r
101 3 Attempts


ESC-NI said...


I see great relevance in your system. I struggle to train both classic lifts in consecutive days and strength work on top of that. Plus I struggle to ease off training or do light days. My scores and strength work is now going backwards instead of forwards. Its obvious more recovery is needed but its another thing doing it. I normally lift 4 days per week with other training inbetween (Mon, Tues, Thur, Sat). Another obvious sign is to cut out the smaller sessions.
Any recommendations as I plan to adopt your system for the next training cycle?

Cheers Robbie

Andre said...

Hello Dave,

I am a bodybuilder who employes heavy duty training a system developed by Mike Mentzer.
He advocates as much rest as 7 to 12 days between workouts. I have gained much more muscle by training every 7 days and now I think I may need 10 days rest. The stronger you get and the harder you train seems to influence how much recovery you need. In heavy duty training they do not take more than 12 days rest between workouts.
You wrote a very interesting article and I think I can learn much from weightlifting as a sport.



Anonymous said...

I'll train once a month...


Anonymous said...

LMAO at people taking training advice from some one who snatch's 90 and clean+jerks 115.

Nothing against those results, but do you believe that the GREAT lifters in the world only lift twice a week.

Obviously most people cant train 9+ times per-week, but how do you expect to master technique by only doing each lift 1 time per week.

Anonymous said...

How good would someone need to be for you to take advice from them? Would 93, 123 at 69 be sufficient, what about 110, 135 at 85... or 131, 151 at 94?


Anonymous said...

well they would probably have to be better them me...

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