Yet again he describes his workout programming
After a period of training for other goals (read: cycling 80km a day with 30kg of gear), I’m again in a back-to-basics phase of lifting. For the moment I must work around BJJ twice a week, Tuesday/Thursday, which is a scheduling challenge. So, with the goal of reaching some basic strength benchmarks and not interfering with BJJ, I started program design.
I want a 1.5xBW squat. Although the front squat will be much harder to hit that kind of weight with, I’ve found it helps hip and ankle mobility, and I’ve found transitioning from a 100kg front squat to a 110-120kg back squat was no problem last time. So: front squats 3x5, aiming for 100kg, at which point I’ll consider alternate rep schemes (e.g. 3x3, then 3x4 in the next session, then 3x5, then add weight for 3x3) and perhaps integrating back squats. I considered lowering the number of sets to allow for BJJ interfering with progress…but no.
Because my hamstrings are short and they go so well with front squats, I picked RDLs over straight deadlifts. The goal is 1.5xBW for a set of 12, then switch to sweet, sexy off-the-floor DLs.
At first I tried including power snatches, but the weight, equipment, time, and energy levels didn’t work. During that period, I was doing pull-ups and dips. After dropping the snatches, I returned to an old staple: the slow circuit, three times through:
- Pull-ups (each workout using a different grip out of a set of 4)
- Dips (each workout using a wide, medium, or narrow grip)
- Box jumps
…with brief rest periods between each exercise. This allows me to A) bring down on my rest times (from 3-5 minutes to 1-2) while still hitting strengthy numbers in my upper-body exercises, and B) get in some explosive training at a low “training cost”. The box jumps are quick, and insignificant with regards to my recovery demands. (The snatches, being a new skill that needs warm-up sets and its own rest periods, failed in both regards. I love ‘em, I want to train ‘em, but not now.)
I aim for three times a week, auto-regulating my attendance depending on how burnt out BJJ makes me. I’ve found that if I feel a little overexerted, I can just not increase the weight for my squats and RDLs, and things go fine.
This is a slightly tweaked version of previous “beginner but not novice” programs I’ve used for myself. The biggest change is the half-hour of dynamic mobility work I do in the beginning of the workout, which is producing the same excellent dividends I expect from the rest of the workout: my squat feels deep and upright, my hamstrings are lengthening, and I’m almost at my near-term goals of 100kg front squat / 120kg RDL / 15 pull-ups for sets across. I already hit my “easy” dip goal of 20 for sets across, and found that adding a 20kg kettlebell barely slowed me down. Next stop: 2x20kg for 10.
With my strength starting to return, I am on the lookout for injuries and I am brainstorming the next phase. Once I reach my basic strength benchmarks, I plan to put those lifts into maintenance mode and focus on the power clean and power snatch, with the squat, deadlift, and upper-body work all secondary. Citius, altius, fortius.
The most immediately productive improvements to my fitness have been:
- Going from essentially no exercise to the varied (some might say haphazard) and moderately demanding conditioning and strength-endurance work of light-contact karate
- Going from light-contact karate to running and sprinting several miles, five to six days a week, as part of Ultimate
- Going from light-contact karate to judo, jiu-jitsu, muay Thai, wrestling and MMA
- Going from judo twice a week to yoga five times a week
- Going from not lifting (or lifting light and infrequently) to lifting heavy
These changes to my strength-conditioning-mobility regimen each provided a tremendous return on investment within only a month. It was quite dramatic each time: a wicked trough of pain, followed by a surge along some axis of physicality. Adding yoga boosted my flexibility; adding Ultimate shot my flexibility and conditioning through the roof; trying new combat sports wildly improved my conditioning, speed, and proprioception; starting lifting gave me never-before-known strength, mobility, and power.
To that list I now add the most basic of mobility exercises: spending time in the third world squat. K* obviously considers it a fundamental; it was the first thing he showed in his MobilityWOD. I have felt the power of this drill once before, when throwing brief sit-in-a-squat breaks throughout my work day. This helped my barbell squat a great deal, but it wasn’t really earth-shattering.
Now that I have added a “squat test” to my lifting workouts, I see the true power. The “squat breaks” gave me a third world squat, but actually timing them, increasing my times each workout, has been transformative. I can straighten my back in the bottom of the squat. The upright ass-to-grass squat, which had eluded me for so long, and so infuriatingly, is now in reach.
I’m so excited for what this means for my barbell squat. My best is still only about 5 minutes sitting in the squat. Maybe if I keep on it my pistols will start to look better? I can only assume it will help my jiu-jitsu.
Mobility > Strength
In the interests of:
- addressing long-standing mobility and joint health issues,
- recognizing the simple fact that my desired volume of lifting is greater than my normal recovery capabilities,
- allocating more of my limited recovery to a planned increase in running and combat sports,
I have decided on the following lifting program.
- A: Warm-up, back squat 3x5, mobility work, chin-ups (2 sets of 3 to 5 with holds and negatives, 1 set for reps)
- B: Warm-up, front squat 1x5, deadlift 1x5 or 1x3 or singles, mobility work, overhead press 3x5.
Warm-ups consist of a thorough rotation of all the joints, five minutes of jogging or jump-rope or shadowboxing, leg raises/swings, and arm circles/swings. (The latter two cover the two major complex joints, the hips and shoulders.) I have been slacking on these, because it’s easy to put them aside and focus on getting under the bar. Until, that is, one notices that lifting the bar hurts.
If I have extra time during the warm-up, or during the re-warm-up for the second exercise if necessary, I like to do some pistols and lunges in order to stay fresh on those unilateral movements.
Mobility work consists of mandatory and optional exercises. Mandatory are a 3rd world squat test, three sets of five wall slides, and band work for the shoulder and hip. (Doing a test-retest of the rack position before and after shoulder external rotational work with the band was educational.) Optional are overhead squats with a broomstick, duck walks, and physical therapy stretches for the wrist and elbow.
I aim to regain the habit of morning runs and stretches, as well.