Modes of progression

I want to share James’s success following a different approach during the last 8 weeks. James is nearly 18 but is far from a newbie, he’s been lifting seriously since the age of 14.

Background – During the early part of the rugby season twice weekly practice and a match each Saturday mean that James has little time to recover so powerlifting training is limited to 2 short sessions per week focusing on low volume and essentially maintenance.

Over the past 8 weeks James has been able to dedicate more time to lifting as rugby 7s season means less matches and less training.

Here’s the progress (all weights in kg):

Personal Best singles – old PB -> new PB

Squat 145 -> 151
Bench 87.5 -> 95

Deadlift 160.5 -> 172.5

Here’s what his programme looked like.

2 strength sessions.
2 hypertrophy/assistance sessions.

Strength sessions looked to add weight whenever possible, whilst maintaining good form.
Hypertrophy sessions aimed to add weight too but for each set an RPE of 8 was used. RPE – rate of perceived exertion, so RPE8 would mean you complete you set when you have a full 2 quality reps still remaining.

With the strength sessions the inital weights were chosen, with weekly updates, to be matching current repetition personal bests in week 3. James has well developed quads, hence the slant towards his posterior chain.

The introduction of volume as a new progression technique I believe contributed to the success of this programme. When your ‘normal’ progression is strength related adding in additional sub-maximal volume based sessions into your week can have a positive effect.

Sunday (first strength session)
Warm-ups not shown

Squat 5×3 (constant weight)
Deadlift 5×3 (constant weight)
Pendlay row 5×5 (constant weight)
Overhead Press 5×5 (rising weight)
Calf raise 3×15
Bicep Curl 3×10

Monday (indoor rugby fitness)

Tuesday (2nd strength session)
Stiff legged deadlift 3×8
Leg Curl 3×12 (constant weight)
Bench Press 5×5 (constant weight)
DB shoulder press 3×6
Skull crush 3×12
Face pulls 3×12

Wednesday (outdoor rugby 7s practice) – little or no contact

Thursday (first hypertrophy session)
Squat 3×80
Split squat 3×12
Bent over row 3×10
Overhead Press 3×10
Calf raise 3×15
Bicep DB curl (3-way) superset 3×8

Friday (first hypertrophy session)
Incline bench press 5×10 @ RPE7
DB bench press 3×12
Stiff legged deadlift 3×15
Leg curl 3×12 (optional)
DB tricep press 3×12
One arm row 3×12
DB shoulder press 3×12

Saturday – REST

Single minded about balance

For some, exercise is about one thing – running faster, getting stronger, becoming leaner, improving mobility. Being single minded as an athlete will certainly enable you to reach your peak but along the way you may find that other areas of health require some additional time or focus.

Even as a person who starts to exercise as a way to improve health can get ‘obsessed’ with a single goal and that obsession could lead to an unhealthy outcome.

Once in a while it’s worth looking at the health measures – see diagram below and self evaluating you current status. You maybe improving your 5km run times but how is your muscular strength and flexibility. Working on these other dimensions will help you to become healthier and may lead to improve performance in your primary pursuit.

Health measures


Try to get yourself into the “good” measure in all dimensions before aiming for excellence in a single dimension. Don’t become that super strong person who can’t run for a bus or touch their toes. Think about adding some upper body strength work to your weekly schedule if you’re a distance runner. Aim for balance, avoid injury but allow yourself to excel in the areas that you are passionate.

The ratings above are pretty subjective and one person’s 2 maybe another 3 but just by spending some time evaluating will help you highlight the areas where you have some work to do. You are likely to already know, for instance, that you should work on your flexibility. I’d advice a dedicated month, work on your flexibility every day for a month and see where you are. If you feel that you have moved up a notch then reduce your flexibility work to maintenance and focus on something else.

Be healthy, have balance, enjoy yourself and excel when and where you can.

Should I swap spinach for kale in my weekly shop?

The answer to this type of question from a client is unlikely to help them much, but may lead to a useful conversation on making those handful of changes which will bring the biggest benefits.

The basics:
Daily movement – You make time in your day for movement, eg 3 x 10 minute brisk walks.

Steady state cardio – Spend some time each week performing your favourite cardio for 20-40 mins where your heart rate is at (180 – Age)beats per minute

Load bearing exerise – A couple of times per week work on your strength using body-weight, gym weights, bands etc.

Relaxation – take time out to relax and contemplate your day, mix in some mobility work at the same time should you wish.

Adequate sleep – as an adult make it a priority to get between 7-9 hrs of restful sleep?

Nourishment – Eat a balanced diet full of a rich variety of seasonal vegetables, fruit and some good quality fish and meat if yuou desire. Reduce the amount of processed food you consume. Try to be strict with yourself 5 days out of 7, that’ll give you the chance you enjoy a few of your treats be that food or drink on a couple of days/week.

Obviously for a performance athlete things would be different, if all the basics are in place then nuances of sweet potatoes versus white potatoes, kale versus spinach, ice baths after training, cycling intensity and peaking for events come into play. At that point getting many small things right can add up to a competitive advantage. For most, who are looking for the health and longevity benefits, getting the basics right and being consistent will get you to where you need to be.

Back to the original question “Should I swap my fresh spinach for kale in my weekly shop?”. I’d probably suggest buying what’s in season or alternating week to week for variety because it doesn’t really matter.




It’s all in the plan

It’s best to plan for success. Did you see, in the media today, the article outlining Mark Wahlberg’s typical daily schedule (13-Sep-19) ?

What did you make of it?
Here are my thoughts:

Pros – It caught my attention and maybe yours. It is designed around a definite time based goal (which was apparently a 47 day challenge). He schedules his food around his workouts. There’s time for family and adequate sleep is planned. He’s shared the schedule and some of his workouts – the accountability may encourage him.
Cons – it’s not a schedule that you could run in the long term, it’s not realistic for most people. The sheer precision and training volume/frequency may put people off even attempting to make a healthy change in their lives.

The majority of people could do much less, be less structured whilst still providing themselves with the necessary changes to have a positive impact on their health.
Maybe it’s losing some bodyfat for health reasons, improving your cardiovascular conditioning to help get a little fitter and reap the health rewards that come with it. These things are best achieved when you make changes; but these changes must work for you. Any nutrition change which puts you in a large calorific deficit will result in weight loss – but is it a nutrition plan that you can live with in the long term? Is the weight loss at the cost of healthy lean muscle mass?
What exercise scheme is optimum? The one that you can stick with and keeps you free of injury! Not one diet or exercise plan works for everyone – you’re unique so you should see what works, what you enjoy, experiment a little, keep records and adapt.

Here’s how I can help:

  • I have had lots of experience, working with many people from different backgrounds with different lifestyles and a wide spectrum of goals.
  • I’d get to understand you and your lifestyle before suggesting any changes.
    We’d talk about and catalogue long term goals, breaking them down into realistic short term ones.
  • We’d agree what everyday changes are possible to make and make a realistic plan to only change a couple of them per week.
  • I’d develop a bespoke exercise programme based on your needs and goals – this could be without the need for a gym membership.
  • I’d be there for weekly feedback and encouragement.
  • I’d help you understand what works for you so that in the future you can carry on without my help.
  • I am a level 3 qualified personal trainer and have gained a diploma in Sports Nutrition.
  • Cost – £100 – includes initial consultation (face to face if convenient). Goal setting. 8 week exercise programme. 8 week lifestyle change plan including nutritional advice. This is an online package with the delivery of documents via email or WhatsApp. Weekly feedback via email/WhatsApp too.
    10% discount for Facebook “I am a London Borough of Barnet Bods” members.

Offer ends at the end of October 2018.

Client Success – 18 months of powerlifting training and 2nd in the world


During her regular gym sessions Emma showed great strength in the deadlift and someone suggested that she might like to compete.  Emma came to me in early 2017 where I assessed her technique and performed a strength test.  Emma had a very strong back but not a deadlifting style that I felt was the safest or competition strict.  The first few programmes introduced Emma to powerlifting style training and we worked on her deadlift technique in addition to squatting and bench pressing.    After 10 months Emma went to her first divisional and qualified for the UK singles (BDFPA).  From there a place at the worlds (WDFPA) and in June 2018 was placed 2nd with a great lift of 170kg.

Emma does almost all of her training alone, she only does 1-2-1 sessions with me about once every 8-10 weeks.  But we communicate after each of her 3 weekly sessions over WhatsApp, where I can review the videos of her top sets, provide feedback on form and am able to judge effort – allowing for calibration of this and future programmes.  Great success comes from hard-work, dedication, adaptability and realistic plan.

Big Day – Part 7 – cycle ended

The original programme was 12 weeks long, after week 10 I had a one week holiday with lots of walking and little sleep.  I decided to halt the programme at this point as both the bench and the squat had stalled and I had made good progress without injury.

A reminder of the goals:

A 12 week plan to get back to somewhere near my all time PB5s.
Sub 26 min 5km ParkRun. Reduce body fat to 13%.

I made good progress on the 3 main lifts but didn’t match my old PB5 due to slower progress (smaller increments) than planned and stalling at week 10.
That being said for 5 repetitions my training weights increases as follows:

Squat – up 17.5kg, stalling at 122.5 x 5 – 10kg away from PB5
Bench – up 8.5kg, stalling at 101.5 x 5 – 6kg away from PB5
Deadlift – up 17.5kg, did not stall 162.5×5 – 15kg from PB5

Ancillary lifts
Overhead Press – 61.5kg x 5
Bent over row – 72.5kg x 5
Body-weight down 1.8kg to 80.8kg
Body fat – alas my scales are broken but my skinfold near my waist has reduced from 9mm to 8mm – not quite 13% but reduced to approx 14%.

ParkRun – 5km – down 1 min 02 secs  to 25:20

I was extremely pleased to recover old strength ground, whilst reducing bodyfat.  The 5km run time was no doubt helped by the reduced weight and fitting in 3 runs per week.

What’s next?

The original goals still stand with the modification of a sub-25m 5km run.

I’ll modify the programme to squat, bench and deadlift twice per week – once for strength and once for hypertrophy. This will mean resistance training with weights 4 times per week but with a mix of strength work and volume work.  I’ll increase the ancillaries to include vertical pulls in the shape of chins and arms and direct abdominal work.  Mobility work will move from the scapular to the hips.  Running will continue with the 5km on a Saturday with friends with an additional 1 or 2 outings depending on recovery.  I’ll document the complete plan, schedule and outcome over the coming months.


Big Day – Part 6

Another Sunday update covering weeks 7 & 8 of this 12 week plan.  Having made notes that the Squats were feeling tough at 112.5kg x 5 and at 115kg x 5, today at the start of week 9 I managed 117.5kg x 5.  So getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable!  A 10km slow run at 1hr 10 mins in week 7 felt good.  The bench press in week 7, 97.5 x 5 was pushed to x7 and today I pressed 101kg x 5.

All things considered good progress. With 4 weeks to go confidence is high that I will get close to some of those old rep PBs.

Midway through week 7 I have also embarked on a side project/experiment – cutting out refined carbs and sugars.  Aiming to keep calorie level the same but sourced less from carbs.  Any drop in bodyfat levels will allow me additional room in my 82.5kg weight-class.

Deadlift of 160 x 5 to look forward to this week.  Dropping the preceding set to a single the last few weeks seems to help.

Reducing training frequency can help, I’ll drop tomorrow’s Monday run – as the weather is looking very bad and the rest may help.  I’ve hit my 12 week goal on the 5km time and would rather sacrifice a few seconds improvement on the 5km run for a few more kgs on the squat and deadlift.  At this stage of the programme, you have some momentum but things are getting tough, look to improve the quality of your nutrition and get that extra hour in bed – breaking new ground is always tough.

Journey to the Nationals 2018 – Powerlifting

Following a fantastic year of training in 2016 (training year Part 1  & Part 2)  James suffered from a skiing injury, which meant that he couldn’t compete in the BDFPA British Single lift competition in 2017.   He trained hard during 2017, even though he couldn’t squat or deadlift for the nearly half of that year – his bench, shoulders and back certainly benefited from the extra attention.  He qualified for the National Event  back in October 2017 after only been able to train his legs for 2 months.  October to the end of the year saw him slowly return to his previous strength levels but he had National Single lift records in his sights so needed to start training hard in the low repetition range whilst still allowing plenty of time for recovery, rugby training and weekend rugby matches. 

I’ll cut to the chase and share his results now, before I go on to explain and share his peaking programme.

Sat 17 February 2018, British Drug Free Powerlifting Association, UK National Single lift championships.
Bodyweight 70.4kg. Age 15. Teenager 1 age group. 75kg bodyweight class.

1st lift   125kg (he’d hit 127.5kg x2 in training so an easy opener)
2nd lift 131kg (new national record)
3rd lift 135kg (increase of his national record and a 17.5kg increase in 4 months) – Video
4th lift 140kg – failed (nice marker for next time)

135kg – new national record – photo courtesy of





1st lift   142.5kg (new personal best by 2.5kg)
2nd lift 150kg
3rd lift 160.5kg (new national record and a 20.5kg increase in 4 months) – Video

142.5kg – first lift – photo courtesy of











The red items represent repetition personal bests (rep PBs).  Warmup sets for the squat (freestanding x2 x10 and empty bar x 10) are not shown.  Rugby training occurred on a Monday and Wednesday with a match (if any) on the Saturday.  We found that the squat was going really well and on ‘good’ days additional repetitions were taken and the plan recalibrated.  The planned deadlift routine turned out to be too tough so the poundages were reduced, but he still hit a PB4 a couple of weeks before the meet.  The results show that the extra kgs added to the squat really have a great carryover to the deadlift.  The bench was a recovery exercise following a wrist injury and progressed well.

Below is a copy of the paper version used during the 7 week build-up.
Without going into lots of details you can see that James hit all of his sessions but after week 3 many changes were made to the poundages of the top sets.  Some of the early bench numbers were missed but there were 2 x PBs in weeks 6 & 7.  The squat was going very well – Sunday week 4’s 107.5 x 4 PB was turned into a 7 @ RPE9 (meaning another rep was left in the tank).  Recalibration took place as we moved along, the Tues Squat session saw James hit 3/2 reps of his planned Sunday Squat lift – I kept this rep range as prescribed.

Tuning a programme, takes some skill but mainly experience of the lifter and understanding of how the lifter is performing on the day – rather that trying to lift to failure each and every session.  I work online with other lifters utilising video and WhatsApp for communication – see my Powerlifting Training page for more details and  contact me here or via Facebook.

Big Day – Part 5

I’m writing this on a Sunday at the end of week 6, so the first session of week 7 starts in a few hours.

The ParkRun at the end of week 5 resulted in a 25:20 PB (an improvement of 43seconds) – 6 weeks of running – 2 sessions of between 5-7 km (normally) at a low HR (120-130) and the weekly ParkRun which I run as I feel – either a fast training run, slow run or PB attempt.  The ParkRun yesterday was also a sub 26min, which was the 12 week goal and means that the week 5 run was not a one-off.

Week 6 – Sunday’s Squat 111 x 5 was ok but the preparation Squat on Thursday 112.5kg felt tough.  It maybe time to reduce the volume as the intensity increases, given that I want to improve my PB5 I’ll reduce the reps on the 4 set to either 1-2 before the heaviest 5th set of the day – I’ll judge this week to week.

Tuesday’s deadlift session was at 152.5×5 – again tough and I may have to apply the same approach to reduce the workload by making the 4th set a ‘feeler’.

Thursday – being a preparation day with a x3 at the projected weight for the next Sunday for the Squat, Bench and Row is not too intensive and I follow that with an easy run appears to be an ‘easy’ day in my mind with the knowledge that bar mobility work and walking Friday is a rest.

See the changes below for week 7.

Big Day – Part 4 – Little Gems

This update finds me almost at the end of week 5, with just today’s scapular mobility and tomorrow’s ParkRun to do.

Week 4 summary

Sun – Squat 107.5×5 – felt tougher than it should have done – maybe the 10km run the day before had more impact than imaged – as things get tougher I’ll need to prioritise the strength work over the cardio (personal choice)

Mon – 4km easy 50th birthday run
Tues – Easy squat, overhead press 5 x 55kg was ok. Encouragingly my deadlift 145×5 felt ok too.
Wed – no scapular – life got in the way.
Thurs – good – 5km sub 30min (felt good)
Sat – very slow Parkrun (light day)

Week 5 Summary

Sun – 110 x 5 Squat feeling tough (now belted) but form good
Mon – Easy slow paced run
Tues – morning session rather than late afternoon Deadlift – 150 x 5 DL (RPE 8).  Rate Perceived Exertion  – meaning that I felt that I had 2 more repetitions in me.
Thurs – Squat 111×3 feeling heavy. Bench Press 96×3 feeling positive.

Micro plates/Slivers/ little gems

The eagle eyed among you will have noticed that I used 111kg for squat and 96kg for the bench – let me introduce Micro plates (or slivers/little gems/partial plates).  They fit a standard olympic bar – my two pairs are 0.5kg and 0.25kg – which always me to make smaller increments that 2.5kg to the total bar weight.  Sometimes the percentage increase of adding 2.5kg to the bar is too much – alternatively you could add the 2.5kg (miss the rep count) and try to increase the following week but I’d prefer the slivers.

The auto-programming has now been replaced by a manual override – so this Sunday I’ll hit 111kg x 5 in the squat, with an expectation of going to 112.5kg the following week (remember I have a light squat day on the Tuesday and a ‘preparation’ day on the Thursday where I hit the next Sunday’s weight but just for 3 repetitions.  Same idea for the bench press 96kg followed by 97.5kg (I always have the option of using the 0.5kg and the 0.25kg and moving to 96.5kg as an intermediate step).  I prefer the week by week weight progression – regardless of how small – remember 20 weeks at 0.5kg per week is still 10kg added.

Lifetime Personal Bests


I’ll cover the deadlift in a subsequent update but for now let’s take a look at Squat and the Bench press – my current working weights are still way down from relatively recent PB5s. But given the training poundages (see below) – I’m happy as I’m surpassing those.  Until the next update – keep healthy/keep moving/keep strong.

Training Poundage used to produce programme