Soviet Variability

The Soviet Union officially ended on December 26, 1991. Three decades prior to that, weightlifting competitions across the globe were ruled by Soviet athletes.

They set so many world records and gained so many titles from the 1960s through 1990 that it's now known as the "golden age" of weightlifting. And Soviet athletes became known for their individual longevity, successfully competing and setting records a decade longer than most of their competitors.

So what was the secret to their success? It took some brainy Russian sports scientists with last names like Medvedev, Chernyak, and Matveev to figure it out. They analyzed training schedules of the most successful Soviet weightlifters and found one common theme: variability. And a lot of it.

Volume and intensity among these elite weightlifters shifted so often, and sometimes so drastically, that you'd swear their periodization plan was based on pure randomness.

Die

Rolling for Reps

I learned about the Soviet's random success from Pavel Tsatsouline. He also taught me the value of rolling dice (or a single die) to randomly determine training parameters for a workout. Since that time I've been experimenting with various ways to roll a die to promote training variability. Here's one of my favorites:

  1. Choose an exercise you want to improve most: squat, deadlift, overhead press, or whatever else tickles your fancy.
  2. Do that exercise twice per week, like Monday and Thursday. Plan to perform 6 sets for it.
  3. How many reps? Roll a die on those days to determine how many you'll do for your 6 sets. So your parameters for that exercise will range anywhere between 6 sets x 1 rep to 6 sets x 6 reps on any given training session.
  4. How much load for each set? Mix it up, but avoid training to failure. Here are some loading options that have worked well for me and my athletes:
  • Ramp each set using progressively heavier loads from set 1 to set 6.
  • Ramp the first three sets and then un-ramp your way back down as you focus on greater acceleration.
  • Accelerate early sets with a lighter load and then ramp up in weight on the last three sets.

The best set-rep parameters are those that keep changing. So if you want some variability in your workouts, give this a try to stimulate new gains and get you out of a rut. Use it for as long as it keeps working. And if you happen to roll the same number two workouts in a row, roll again.

Related:  The Best Way to Keep Getting Stronger

Related:  Is Variety More Important Than Intensity?