30 Mar , 2018  

You simply cannot train balls to the wall, 100%, all in, all the time. Its physiologically detrimental to your training, your health and the success of your program.

Today we are going to dive into the most important programming key for strength and hypertrophy. This is a great read and beneficial for all lifters to understand.

People love the thought of a secret tool that will gain you all the strength success in the world, however in reality, the most important key to successful programming is the most obvious. It all revolves around the specificity of how you are training in relation to your goals or chosen sport. In powerlifting, our goal is to become strong in the chosen 3 lifts (squat, bench and deadlift). So of course you want to do those lifts in order to progress at those lifts… simple right? Not quite.


When programming you also want to consider the level of specificity that is needed within your program based on your level of experience and your advancement both physiologically and in the sport.



Generally speaking, beginners will need more variation within their training in order to build a solid base. Powerlifters however require much more specificity to see continual growth. This is achieved by using exercises and specific weights that relate directly to the movement. Maybe you’ve heard this concept before or even know it to be a common fact, But why?


In Practical Programming, good old Mark Rippetoe introduced to us the idea that “novice”, “intermediate”, and “advanced” athletes all require key programming differences in order to maximise rates of progression. Rippetoe defines a “novice” as an athlete who can perform a workout and go through the stimulus, adaptation and recovery cycle before their next workout, as they recover rapidly. You see, a novice lifter can handle more stimulus and a larger amount of varied stimulus and still recover because they are operating within a lower percentage of their overall capacity. They can take a lot more physiologically and should maximise this period of time by applying a wide range of stimulus. As you move into the intermediate range you begin to require more specificity and volume to progress and by the time you are advanced you are at the point where you need such a high amounts of volume/specificity to achieve a stimulus, making it now even harder to recover and manage your fatigue based on the increasing amount of absolute weight. This is a great time to prioritise the main movements and trim back some of the other variation movements to help in fatigue management and over all phase potentiation.



Within the principles we discussed above, there are strategies available to maximise your program to fit your needs. Some novice lifters might think they can max out 5 times a week based on what I wrote above…Well, yes you can recover faster and create a smaller physiological dent when training but I’m sorry you can’t get away with stupidity. For any level of athlete, adjusting variables throughout training will be necessary to maximise performance and growth, more so for some than others. It’s understanding and programming around the tension of –> Specificity vs Recovery.

For example, being a novice does require you to practice the ‘skill of the craft’ and learn the technique of the lifts. This is very important when preparing for your first or second meet and the most specific practice you could do would be a 1RM Squat, Bench or Deadlift in competition gear. Training in a specific manner is crucial at this point, right?


Now, although this would be great practice in theory for the novice in terms of technical prowess, the lifter would struggle to maximise hypertrophy, implement progressive overload and successfully manage their fatigue if he was to max out every week. We have to take a smarter approach and use a technique that’s called program potentiation.



Hard work is absolutely essential and the driving force behind a good program. However, I would say discipline is the driving force behind a GREAT program. I swear this concept just blows some lifters minds –> sometimes less is more.

You simply cannot train balls to the wall, 100%, all in, all the time. Its physiologically detrimental to your training, your health and the success of your program.


Example A: Good programming resulting in increased performance.


Example B: Bad programming, too much volume + intensity with no fatigue management or program potentiation. Leads to decreased performance and even injury.


This takes me back to program potentiation. The idea is that we use multiple phases to compliment each other while leading towards the chosen goal. For example, throughout these 3 phases over 12 weeks, we are changing the levels of specificity just like we are adjusting the level of volume + intensity from workout to workout, week to week. Every week of training is building on the work done the week before and supporting the week to come. This is not exclusively a technique used for peaking and tapering but a way to intelligently structure your training together to make sense when trying to achieve any goal. For a novice lifter this may require a broader range of exercises during the first phase, however this will become more and more specific as they continue to progress through the phases. You can utilise this tool to maximise strength gains and effectively manage your fatigue. See my blog on RECOVERY for more information.


By using phase potentiation we can:

Practice and increase our technical ability

– Apply consistent progressive overload

– Stimulate a range of hypertrophy resulting in muscle growth

– Strengthen tendons and ligaments progressively

– Prime the neural qualities of the movement increasing mind muscle connection, fibre recruitment and motor unit control as the phase goes on

– Utilise a physiological realisation effect as your body adapts to the training


You see, we physically can’t effectively train the most specific modality of our sport long term as it breaches many of the key pillars of strength training, even if you are an advanced athlete – all though some would get close. Rather we can undulate, move and program in waves + phases to maximise results and promote longevity.


Here is one example of a intermediate lifters squats cycle:


Phase 1 (4 weeks)

P1: High Bar Squats 4X6 (medium specificity)

P2: Front Squats 3X5 (low specificity)


Phase 2 (4 weeks)

P1: Low Bar Squats 4X4 (medium/high specificity)

P2: Beltless High Bar Squats 3X5 (medium/low specificity)


Phase 3 (4 weeks)

P1: Low Bar Squats 4X2 (high specificity)

P2: High Bar Squats 3X5 (medium specificity)


As you can see above, this lifter starts out doing high bars as his priority movement and progresses through to his competition style lift (low bar squats). The P2 movement, although not as important still follows the progression from front squats to high bar squats. Based on what we discussed above on specificity, a novice will require more variation and an advanced athlete would require less, most likely squatting low bar the entire prep at higher intensities. I’m also applying very basic styles of periodisation, allowing me to change the volume and intensity to match up with the exercise in terms of specificity. Together we reach our most specific squats during phase 3.


There are many ways to progress and many ways to become strong. Whatever style of training you prefer I believe by understanding specificity we can create smarter programming that will produce strength athletes that have the ability to go for the long run. Performance within longevity.


I hope you enjoyed the blog and thanks again for stopping by. If you enjoyed the read, please share this blog on, I hope it helps as many people as possible.


As always, if you have ANY questions – drop a comment below or message me on @fight4growth or for those interested in coaching, head over to LETMECOACHYOU.NET.

Thanks again,





Written by Brogan Williams

Edited by Cullen Ley Roy

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By  -      
A New Zealand Powerlifter, owner of STRENGTH-PRESCRIPTION and writer at MYSTRENGTHBLOG + POWERLIFTINGMOTIVATION.COM. MORE CONTENT --> Instagram: @BroganSamuelWilliams

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