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Flexible Training Templates

Here's a little case-study that you might find interesting...

I'm working with an athlete (a sprinter) who's trying to hone his Olympic-lifting technique after many years of performing the power version of these lifts (power snatches and power cleans). This particular athlete is also quite "volume-sensitive," and he prefers to do about 2-3 brief weight-training sessions per week. More than that, and his sprinting seems to suffer. So the challenge is to create a flexible training template that's short, to the point, and effective, and also one that allows the athlete to improve his technique on the O-lifts.

In creating a solution, I've integrated two distinct approaches that I've already written about previously. The first approach is the A-B Split and the second is called "Building-On."

I'll first show you the split I've arrived at, and then we'll discuss the rationale behind it, and how to implement this plan to best effect. Here's the split:

The A Session

(15 Minutes) Squat Clean (technical) (15 Minutes) Front Squat (15 Minutes) Chin/Bench Press

The B Session

(15 Minutes) Snatch (technical) (15 Minutes) Clean pull (15 Minutes) Deadlift


The "A" Session starts off with cleans, and the first thing you might notice is the time-designations for each exercise. I like time limits for a variety reasons, but primarily because they keep a fire under you, especially when time is tight. So in this template, wherever you see a time designation, that time-frame includes all warm-up and work sets for that exercise.

You'll also notice is that there are no pre-determined sets or reps here. Since we're trying to improve the athlete's ability to "jump under" the bar (catching it in a low squat), weights must remain light enough to break old habits. This means that the cleans won't really serve as conditioning exercise per se- the weight isn't heavy enough to provoke gains in maximal strength or speed-strength. Instead, the cleans serve both as warm-up for the exercise to follow, as well as a dynamic mobility drill. Over time however, as proficiency improves, the cleans can gradually transition into their ultimate role as a speed-strength development tool. For now however, the only objective is to perform technically-competent squat-cleans, NOT to use heavy weights.

Next we move on to front squats. The previously-preformed cleans served as a perfect warm-up for the front squats, so while we might need an additional 1-2 warm-up sets before we reach our working weights, the cleans do really help to abbreviate the warm-up process for the front squats. So what about sets and reps? Well, believe it or not, the athlete will make that decision "on the fly," according to how he feels. The only requirement is that the loads for work sets must meet or exceed 80% of 1RM. This ensures adequate intensity for the development of hypertrophy, maximal strength, and/or speed strength.

The third and final drill for the A Session is labeled "Chin/Bench Press." What's NOT stated is that this isn't a "compulsory" exercise. We try to complete these exercises, but if time and/or energy is short, we'll skip them. The athlete won't be specfically warmed up for these exercises, but his body is warm. Again, no loading parameters. But for those looking for an example of what the third component might look like, here it is:

Set 1: Bench Press: 95x5
Set 2: Chin Bodyweight x5
Set 3: Bench Press 115x4
Set 4: Chin Bodyweight x5
Set 5: Bench Press 135x3
Set 6: Chin Bodyweight + 10 pounds x3
Set 7: Bench Press 155x3
Set 8: Chin Bodyweight + 22 pounds x3
Set 9: Bench Press 175x3
Set 10: Chin Bodyweight + 22 pounds x3
Set 11: Bench Press 175x3
Set 12: Chin Bodyweight + 22 pounds x3
Set 13: Bench Press 175x3
Set 14: Chin Bodyweight + 22 pounds x3
Set 15: Bench Press 175x3
Set 16: Chin Bodyweight + 22 pounds x3

Now the "B" Session.

The snatch technical session runs much the same way as the squat clean session in the A Session. Technical proficiency trumps load, but if/when opportunities to increase weight present themselves, that's fine. Additionally, this 15-minute time-frame might not feature squat snatches exclusively. Instead, we might focus on snatch-development drills, such as hang snatches, overhead squats, snatch balances, etc. The goal is to improve the squat-snatch, using whatever tools seem most prudent in the given moment.

After 15 minutes of snatch work, we move on to clean pulls (video). We're already warmed up and "grooved" from the snatches, so again, the need for warm-up sets is greatly abbreviated. Loading parameters are not set in stone, but we're looking for get maybe 4-5 heavy work sets in, resting maybe 90 seconds between sets. A pyramid structure is fine, as are "straight sets." Your choice.

Last but not least, we move on to deadlifts. The athlete is thoroughly warmed-up by this point, so we can get right down to business. I like a narrow pyramid approach here, starting with a bit more weight than what we finished the clean-pulls with. By way of example, if the heaviest weight used for 3 reps on the clean pull was 198 pounds, the first deadlift might be a 220 triple. Then 242 for 2, 265 for 2, 296 for 1, and finally, 330x1. (Just for reference, the athlete weights approximately 165 pounds). The main idea is that you work up to the heaviest weight that doesn't seem particularly intimidating for that day. Next time out, we may or may not exceed that weight- it just depends on how everything's feeling, and what'll be happening on the track the next day.

Progression Strategies

While progression is certainly the cornerstone of effective training systems, it must be remembered that we're not working with a competitive lifter here. Track work takes precedence over gym work. So while we look for opportunities to "strike while the iron is hot," we don't demand weight increases every time out, no matter what. This is an important point that doesn't get nearly enough discussion in my view.

Wrapping Up…

While many rely on a completely "instinctive" approach to training, others find themselves attracted to long-term, micro-managed training plans. Having said that, the smartest coaches and self-coached athletes utilize flexible, "on the fly" decision-making within a structured framework. This represents the best of both extremes- enough structure to provide continuity, but also enough flexibility to make acute adjustments when the situation warrants. In this way, we're the master of the program, and not vice versa. And that's how it should be.


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  1. kevin on Jun 8, 2007 9:17:01 AM:

    great points for progression strategies

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