"What is work capacity and how can I increase it?"

During a recent dinner conversation with Louie Simmons and Mel Siff (author of Supertraining), the topic of periodization training came up. Mel made a statement that I’ll never forget. He told us about something Medvedyev, one of the originators of the periodization concept, had said years before: "Periodization training in the United States has been set back 40 years by some of the current books written on the topic."

This is a statement Louie and I have been trying to tell athletes for years. Not only will this Western style of training lead to overtraining and stagnation, it also ignores one basic concept of training: increasing work capacity.

Work capacity is the underlying component of any training program. It’s the ability to perform work, which determines your level of fitness that will, in turn, determine your level of preparedness. If you raise your work capacity too fast, you’ll overtrain; if you reduce it under your current level, you’ll regress. If your work capacity is still at the same level it was two years ago, then I’ll bet you’re at the same strength and hypertrophy level you were two years ago!

So how the heck do you increase work capacity? You can increase your work capacity by several means; one of the best ways is to incorporate extra training sessions. In other countries, it’s not uncommon to see athletes performing up to three or four workouts per day! There are several types of extra workouts that can make a tremendous difference in your training. Each type of workout is designed to illicit a certain outcome. Here are some examples:

1) Recovery Workouts: These training sessions may also be known as "feeder" workouts and are designed to aid in the recovery process. For example, if you performed a heavy bench press workout on day one with 400 pounds, then on day two you’d use the same exercise with very light weight for higher repetitions, such as 135 for two sets of 20. The idea is to induce blood into the muscle to speed the recovery process.

Another type of feeder or recovery workout (and the one most used at Westside Barbell) is sled dragging. This has helped our lifters with a multitude of training situations. We’ve seen the use of the sled add 30 to 60 pounds to the deadlift, aid in the recovery process, add lean body mass, and bring up weak points.

The sled can be used for a number of different exercises for both the upper and lower body. Some of these include standard around-the-waist dragging, ankle dragging (where you drag the sled with the use of your legs), and pull-through dragging (where you drag the sled by holding the sled strap between your legs). You can also perform upper body dragging where you drag the sled by performing front raises, rear raises, side raises, presses and extensions.

These sled exercises are best used with the empirical rule of 60%. This basically means that on day one you choose the heaviest weight you’ll use for that exercise and then decrease the weight by 60% each day after that for three days. After that point you repeat the process. This rule is essential for avoiding stagnation with any given dragging exercise.

A great benefit of the sled is that there’s no eccentric (negative) motion for many of the exercises. It’s believed that the eccentric is responsible for DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and when the eccentric is taken away from the exercise, you’re left with a concentric motion that’ll induce blood flow to the muscle without causing soreness.

2) Work Capacity Workouts: The sled is also used for increasing work capacity by dragging heavy twice a week. In this case, the athlete would start with one 45-pound plate on the sled and drag it for 200 feet, then rest for 30 to 45 seconds, put another plate on the sled and drag it for another 200 feet. This is repeated until the weight can’t be pulled the desired distance. This exercise alone has been responsible for bodyweight gains up to 30 pounds with several members of Westside, as well as many of my personal clients.

3) Targeting Weak Points: These workouts are extra training sessions devoted to your weak points. For most athletes, the abdominals are a great example of where extra training sessions can make a real difference. This workout would be preformed separate from the main training workout and would specialize on that one area.

A sample-training week using these extra workouts may look like this:

Max Effort Training for the squat and deadlift

Extra work on the reverse hyper, glute ham raise and abdominals

Recovery sled work

Recovery sled work, feeder work on the reverse hyper and extra abdominal work

Max Effort Training for the bench press

Extra work on the reverse hyper, glute ham raise and abdominals

Recovery sled work

Recovery sled work, feeder work for the chest and triceps and extra abdominal work

Dynamic Effort Training for the box squat

Extra work on the reverse hyper, glute ham raise and abdominals

Recovery sled work

Recovery sled work, feeder work on the reverse hyper and extra abdominal work

Dynamic Effort Training for the bench press

This type of training takes years to build up to, of course, but I wanted to show you that increasing your work capacity is needed to reach the next level. For most guys wanting to train with the Westside system, the four main training days will be plenty.


"Do you ever lose your squat groove when doing only box squats in training?"

We do have some lifters who look terrible on the box, yet go to a meet and look great, but the benefits of the box squat are numerous. Box squats develop eccentric and concentric power by breaking the eccentric-concentric chain and by going from a static position to a dynamic one.

The box squat is the best way to teach proper form on the squat because it’s easy to sit back while pushing your knees out. Most lifters have a difficult time sitting back far enough to isolate the hamstrings and glutes during the squat motion. The reason for this is simple — weak hams and glutes. Most athletes have been taught to squat using mostly their quads. In our opinion, this is wrong because the strength potential of the hips and hamstrings outweigh the potential of the quads.

Before I moved to Columbus to train with Louie, I was also a quad squatter and had worked my way up to a 760-pound squat. I was happy with this but was also stuck between 730 and 760 for five years. I knew I needed a change. The first thing I was told to do was move my stance out and sit back farther by pushing my hips out first, then bending my knees. This change over the next six months reduced my squat by 30 pounds. My problem was that my hips and hamstrings were so far behind my quads that it was going to take longer than I’d expected, but over the next five years my squat jumped to 935.

Here’s how to perform box squats:

To take the bar out of the rack, the hands must be evenly placed on the bar. Secure the bar on the back where it feels the most comfortable. To lift the bar out of the rack, one must push evenly with the legs, arch the back, push your abs out against the belt, and lift the chest up while driving the head back. A high chest will ensure the bar rests as far back as possible. Slide one foot back, then the other, to assume a position to squat. Set your feet up in a wide stance and point your toes straight ahead or slightly outward. Also, keep your elbows pulled under the bar to ensure tightness in the upper back.

When you’re ready for the decent, make sure to keep the same arched back position. Pull your shoulder blades together and pull as much air into your stomach as possible. Again, push your abs out. You’ll maintain this tightness throughout the set. To begin the descent, push your hips back and push your knees out to the sides to ensure maximum hip involvement. Once you reach the box, you need to sit on it and release the hip flexors while keeping the back arched and abs pushed out. At the same time, drive your knees out to the side.

To begin the ascent, keep pushing out on the belt, arch the back as much as possible, and drive the head, chest, and shoulders to the rear. If you push with the legs first your buttocks will raise first, forcing the bar over the knees and causing stress to the lower back and knees, thus diminishing the power of the squat. You need to keep the barbell in a direct line with the heels throughout the entire movement and this can only be done by keeping your back arched.

As a final note, many lifters freak out when the box is taken away. Because of this, they go back to sitting straight down instead of sitting back. Don’t let this happen to you; make sure to squat how you’ve been trained to squat and you won’t have this problem. If you squat 10,000 times on a box at the same height with the same form, then squatting without the box is automatic. The movement becomes instinctive and our lifters have no problem hitting slightly below parallel in a meet.

At Westside, the only type of squat we ever perform is the box squat. We never perform a free squat until the competition. By using the box squat with many other special exercises, we’ve created two 1000-pound squatters, eight 900-pound squatters and twenty-three 800-pound squatters. We don’t have records for any squats lower than that because almost anybody can squat 700 pounds, including you!


"How should I train my box squats?"

I’ve been getting tons of questions about the various types of squat cycles. Rather than just writing one cycle, I’ve decided to make an easy to follow quasi-article that contains all the different cycles for the squat that I’ve used with success. The first cycles will be for the Dynamic Effort squat without chains and bands; the second group will be with chains, and the last group will be with bands. We’ve found that training with bands is the most effective way to train the squat. I’d recommend that everyone use bands all year round in some form or another.

A note about the percentages: These are taken off a contest squat with equipment. So if you’re lifting off a raw or no-equipment max, then add 5 to 10% to all the percentages listed.


Squat without chains and bands

Years ago, I’d have recommended a four week squat wave, but after the success we’ve had with band training I feel a three week wave would be the most efficient. I also believe there needs to be slightly different percentages based on the motor control of the athlete. This control is based on years of training, not the status of the athlete. For example, a beginner would have one to three years of training, the intermediate three to five years, and the advanced lifter over five years. The reason for this is quite simple: the more advanced athlete knows how to use his body more efficiently than the beginner and gets more out of a smaller percentage.

Beginner:
Week 1: 63% for 10 sets of 2 reps
Week 2: 65% for 10 sets of 2 reps
Week 3: 68% for 10 sets of 2 reps

You’ll notice the beginner has a couple more sets than the advanced and intermediate lifter. This is to improve the form of the lifter. The main goal of the beginner is to have perfect form, so in many cases ten sets still won’t be enough and should be taken as high as twelve sets.

Intermediate:
Week 1: 60% for 8 sets of 2 reps
Week 2: 63% for 8 sets of 2 reps
Week 3: 65% for 8 sets of 2 reps

Advanced:
Week 1: 55% for 8 sets of 2 reps
Week 2: 58% for 8 sets of 2 reps
Week 3: 60% for 8 sets of 2 reps


Squatting with Chains

Beginner:
Week 1: 63% for 10 sets of 2 reps
Week 2: 65% for 10 sets of 2 reps
Week 3: 68% for 10 sets of 2 reps

Four to six reps over the three weeks must be above training percent. This is done in addition to the regular sets.

Intermediate:
Week 1: 60% for 8 sets of 2 reps
Week 2: 63% for 8 sets of 2 reps
Week 3: 65% for 8 sets of 2 reps

Four to six reps over the three weeks must be above training percent. This is done in addition to the regular sets.

Advanced:
Week 1: 55% for 8 sets of 2 reps
Week 2: 58% for 8 sets of 2 reps
Week 3: 60% for 8 sets of 2 reps

Four to six reps over the three weeks must be above training percent. This is done in addition to the regular sets.


Recommended Chains for SquattingSquat Max 200-400 Pounds = 60 pound chain
Squat Max 400-500 Pounds = 80 pound chain
Squat Max 500-600 Pounds = 100 pound chain
Squat Max 700-800 Pounds = 120 pound chain
Squat Max 800-900 Pounds = 160 pound chain

The chains are added on to the weight of the barbell. Make sure to warm up with the chains on the bar first, then add the weights. When the barbell is in the rack, four to five links of chain should be resting on the floor. At no point in time should all of the chain be off the floor during the squat.


Squat Cycles with Bands

These cycles are only for the intermediate and advanced lifters. The beginners would be better off sticking with straight weight or chains. If the beginner would like to use bands with his squat, then I’d suggest keeping the tension minimal and reducing the training loads by 10%

Regular Training Phase (or Strength Speed):
Week 1: 47% (RG Band) 8 sets of 2
Week 2: 51% (RG Band) 8 sets of 2
Week 3: 53% (RG band) 8 sets of 2

Four to six reps over the three weeks must be above training percent. This is done in addition to the regular sets.

This phase should be the core of your training and can be "waved" one after another. For better results, it would be best to mix in one of the Speed Strength phases after every couple of regular phases.

Speed Strength Phase A:
Week 1: 15% (SS Band) 5 sets of 2
Week 2: 20% (SS Band) 5 sets of 2
Week 3: 25% (SS band) 5 sets of 2

Three to five reps over the three weeks must be above training percent.

This is a great phase for those who’ve never been through a speed strength phase before. It lasts three weeks, with the first one being an introduction week to get used to the higher band tension. You’ll also notice the number of sets has been reduced because of the high physical demand on the body. After one or two times through this phase, you’ll never need to use it again because of the body’s adaptation process. Once the body has learned to adapt to the band tension with the three-week phase, it’s best to stick with phase B or C.

Remember, a speed strength phase will cause the barbell to move very slowly, so you must always follow a slow phase with a fast phase. As a final note, make sure the bands are very tight in the bottom position.

Speed Strength Phase B:
Week 1: 20% (SS Band) 5 sets of 2
Week 2: 25% (SS Band) 3-5 sets of 2, after sets work up to 1RM

This is the same phase as "A" except we’ve taken out the first week. The other notable difference is in week two. After completing three to five sets you’ll want to start increasing the weight until you get to a one rep max. By the time you get to the last set (your max), you’ll feel like your head is going to pop off. This is how you’ll know you’re doing it right!

Speed Strength Phase C:
Week 1: 25% (SS Band, plus more as needed) 2-3 sets of 2 then work up to a 1RM

This phase is designed for those who have a lot of experience with bands. Basically, you want to pile on as much band as you can handle and start working up to 25% for a few sets of two, then head up to a one rep max. This phase is not for the weak at heart!

Circa-Maximal Phase:
Week 1: 47% (CM Band) 5 sets of 2
Week 2: 51% (CM Band) 5 sets of 2
Week 3: 53% (CM Band) 5 sets of 2
Week 4: 47% (CM Band) 5 sets of 2

Three to five reps over the three weeks must be above training percent.

This phase is designed for pre-contest or pre-max training. This phase, along with the following de-loading phase, has been responsible for more personal records being crushed by a huge margin than any other training phase I’ve seen, including at least ten 900-pound squats.

De-load Phase:
Week 1: 53% (RG Band) 5 sets of 2
Week 2: 47% (RG Band) 5 sets of 2
Week 3: Meet or Test Date

This de-loading phase is designed to bring the speed back into the training before the max attempt or competition. This phase is a must after the circa-maximal phase. Some have done very well with a two week de-load while others only like to do one week. If your choice is a one week de-load, then drop the first week of the phase.

Recommended Bands for Squat Training Phases:

Keep in mind, for the bands to work properly, you must have tension at the bottom!

After your squat training you should hit the hamstrings, abdominals and reverse hypers, then call it a day. As you remember from the other articles, a max effort day should be performed later in the week to complement the dynamic effort work.

Now you have all the info needed to reach that 700, 800, or even 900 pound squat. But remember, knowledge isn’t power, but rather the application of knowledge is power. Now get to the gym and apply it!


Note: To order chains, contact Toppers at TopperSupply.com. To order bands contact Jump Stretch Inc. at 800-344-3539.