As awesome as it is to see meets like the Sheffield Invitational come into existence where there are substantial sums of money to be won for placing in a powerlifting competition, most of us don’t compete at that level and most meets don’t pay any money at all. As such, we have other responsibilities that pro athletes don’t deal with. Things like working a job to pay for the opportunity to powerlift, pay your bills, etc. is the reality for most. As such, juggling a busy schedule to pursue this sport that we love so much becomes a reality.
This article aims to examine some practical solutions for building some flexibility into your powerlifting program so as to allow you to not have to make the choice between making meaningful progress in the gym and getting out on a date with your significant other.
Reading This Through The Right Lens
Before I outline some strategies for making your training work with your life, there’s a couple points that need to be addressed:
- If your program sucks in the first place, flexibility is probably not going to fix your lack of results.
- Similarly to number 1, if you don’t have a consistent training structure in place, it doesn’t really matter how you make it work with your life.
- The more advanced of a lifter you are, the more all the points below will be relevant. The stronger you get, the more stress you are able to place on the system (your body) and as such, the timing of applying the stress and recovering from it becomes more exact.If you squat 135lbs, bench 95lbs, and deadlift 155lbs at a bodyweight of 200, just put in the time at the gym, apply some progressive overload and reap the gains. Conversely, if you are a 183lb guy with a 530lb squat, 350lb bench, and 650lb deadlift, the details matter a LOT more.
Alright, with that out of the way, let’s get down to business.
Adding Flexibility To A Program Has A Cost
Sessions in a well-designed program take into account the strength-recovery-adaptation (SRA) curve and optimally structure sessions and space workload out over the course of a training cycle based on this information (link to a SRA article) Assuming you are programming accordingly, shifting sessions around within a training week can make it challenging to get the most out of each hard session as you may not be recovered enough to hit a new PR if you push your peak week heavy squat session forward a day and might have to sacrifice a few pounds off the bar at the expense of getting the session in early.
That being said, SRA is not an exact science, and you don’t need to be 100% recovered in order to have a productive training session. In fact, being fully recovered for every session might be counterproductive as it could leave you waiting too long between sessions.
The muscular system recovers a lot faster than the nervous system. In a powerlifting program, generally speaking, it’s not your muscles being fatigued that will be the main limiting factor in your session, but the nervous system.
Understanding that not every session is a balls-to-the-wall max effort session that you need to be fully prepared for can lend some flexibility into how you approach your training schedule. As a beginner or intermediate powerlifter, you can probably move your light sessions forward or back 24 hours if you are unable to train on a particular day due to schedule restrictions. Most 3 day training splits do this anyways.
2 Schools of Thought
When building a less rigid training program, there’s a couple trains of thought to consider. The easiest way to think of any solution here is to make your training program a grocery list first, then add timing second. After all, if the training doesn’t get done, does it even matter when you planned to do it?
- Lots of shorter, more frequent sessions.
This is typically seen in programs that use 5 and 6 day per week schedules. Often, we will see days separated into training one or two main lifts per session with one or two accessories to finish.Pros: Since most of the training days train non-competing muscle groups, on weeks where you are short on time, you can double up training sessions on certain days to end up with a 3 or 4 day training split.Cons: with a higher session frequency, your “soft costs” of training such as commute time begin to creep up from an increased number of days at the gym. This is less of a factor if your gym is en-route to other locations and a non-issue if you have a home gym (which would be pretty sweet right about now).
- Less frequent, longer training sessions
Keeping the number of weekly training days low and moving around which days of the week you train (for example training M-W-F, M-Th-Sa, Tu-Fr-Su, etc) can allow for flexibility in a different way from option 1. Instead of having more free time per day after your training to go to work, attend social commitments, etc., you take larger chunks out of select days to do sessions that will probably be more of a full body style of training.Pros: With a lower number of days per week, you can pursue other endeavors with your remaining days. Your “soft costs” mentioned above are lower due to lower commute times.Cons: With this type of training setup, it can be challenging to have back to back training days as most of these sessions are quite taxing and full body. As such, if you fall behind later in the week, it can be hard to get back on track. .
Condensing a Training Schedule
Below are a few examples working with the idea of a 3/week bench press, 2/week squat, and 2/week deadlift frequency. Session intensities are outlined as Medium, Heavy, and Accessory Work. This program is for exemplary purposes.
For a 3 Day Routine, adjusting your schedule is easiest done by moving training days forward or backwards by 24 hours, ideally avoiding having back to back training days.
For a 4-Day Routine, schedule changes are easiest done by combining the Friday and Saturday workout which will end up very similar to the original 3-Day Routine.
For the 5-Day Routine, you can adjust to 4 days by putting the Tuesday and Thursday workout together on Wednesday.
Things are a little different with the 6-Day Routine as the structure is different. Instead, I’ve outlined how to compress the 6-Day Routine into 4 and 5-day options.
The Best Program Still Doesn’t Work Without Execution
As it should be clear by now, having a social life or variable schedule are not the end of your ability to make great progress in the gym. By arranging your program into a number of days per week that is flexible enough to work with your life is the key to maintaining consistency which leads to great results down the line.