What Powerlifting/Strength Program is right for you? Five key Things to Consider.

You only have to search for ‘powerlifting program’ on Google to see that there are hundreds of different protocols available out there from a whole host of experts, world record holders and coaches. It is therefore understandable that one of the questions we get asked most frequently is ‘Which strength program is the best?’

The truth is that the best program is the program that works for you! This may seem a bit nonanswer, but as with diet and many things in life it is the method or philosophy that we can be most consistent with that will get the best results. However, we’re not going to let ourselves off the hook that easily. There are still a large number of considerations that we need to look at in order to make an informed choice on a program, or when to maybe ditch a program and try something else. Through our series of articles, we are going to give you the tools to help you tweak your training program and nutrition to fit you the best, with insight from both the scientific aspects of training and the years of experience we have gathered from working with top coaches and most importantly the feedback we get from the people we work with. So with that said, let’s take a look at 5 key factors that are most likely to affect your ability to successfully complete a training program and make the strength gains you want.

  1. Time.

When looking at a program you need to consider the time that program takes. Obviously if you are a busy person who works long hours and has a family, then spending 3 hours a day in the gym is probably not achievable. When we look at elite athlete programs it’s easy to forget these guys and girls may very well be full-time athletes and unfortunately that is not the case for most of us, so a program should still fit in with your lifestyle and commitments unless you are of course looking to become one of these elite level, full-time people.

The truth is, even in this case it will probably take years of not being able to train full time in order to get to a point where you can earn money from a strength sport and even then many people at the elite level still have at least a part time job. You do strength sports for the love, not the money! So when evaluating a program, look at the intensity, volume and number and type of exercises and think ‘is this something I can stick to?’ And even if it is, this is only the very first consideration you need to take into account when picking or designing your training protocol.

  1. Genetics.

For the elite level lifters there is also one other thing that gives them the edge over us lesser mortals and we have to accept that they are genetically gifted. Genetics from a strength perspective covers a lot of things; the fibre types we have that will determine our capacity to produce force, the structure and alignment of the body and how this effects our movement patterns, the technique we should use to optimise our levers for each individual lift, the amount of muscle we can carry and the rate at which we can develop muscle and our ability to recover and injury risk.

We can work hard, we can work smart and we can always progress, but if we choose a program that falls outside our genetic limitations then at best we could be putting ourselves at risk of not progressing in the manner we would like, and at worst we could be leading ourselves towards a path of serious injury and months away from training.

Does this mean we should accept our genetic limitations? Of course not. For most people with the right training structure they can still make exceptional progress and become very strong and competitive at a good level. But awareness of our genetics can help guide our training, our technique, inform our nutrition and recovery protocols and allows us to maybe think a little (or a lot) outside the box with our training to get the most out of it.

This is again a risk of choosing programs chosen for elite lifters; those with not only freaky genetics, but years of experience. So for those starting out in strength sports or trying to build a solid foundation then using more simple methods is probably a wiser option, something like a 5 x 5 protocol is an oldie but goodie for a reason!

  1. Injury Risk.

This is one of the main issues many people have when selecting a program or when designing their own programs without the right input and experience. Depending on your training age, the types of training you have done and those pesky genetics, these can create a melting pot for injury if selecting a program that doesn’t allow adequate recovery, has too much volume or too high an intensity for an individual. There are so many factors that can affect injury risk that, in due course, we will discuss in greater detail, but when starting our selection or design of a program (or when to leave one behind if the body starts to break down), this should be an essential consideration.

  1. Your foundation.

Brutal hard training can take its toll on the body and some people can handle it more than others. This might not be genetics but two important, controllable and often neglected factors – your foundation and your nutrition and recovery. For example, having a training partner is great; it provides accountability, support and motivation, but should a beginner really be using a program of a training partner with a ton more muscle, better technique, decades of conditioning to the demands of heavy lifting, and through better diet and general lifestyle factors has a better opportunity for recovery?

For some people skill transference from one sport or activity to another means they can jump in at a higher level than others. For example, a bodybuilder with ten years’ experience of lifting heavy weights, good nutrition and recovery habits and experience of their own body’s mechanics for lifting weight is likely to be able to jump in at a much higher level, with tougher training protocols, than someone who is a complete beginner. Although many training programs use base line measures of intensity to define a protocol, which in theory should make no difference in who uses it, this in reality is not the case.

  1. Nutrition and Recovery.

As a general observation it is common for strength athletes to get caught up in focusing solely on the program at hand and working on technique for each of the lifts. Although these are massively important to develop strength we also (and often) neglect the nutritional components that enable us to fuel training, recover and develop the muscle we need to increase in size and strength.

There seems to be a ‘just eat everything’ mentality in some powerlifting circles in particular. Aside from possibly having health implications from not having a balanced diet, this can impact on performance and recovery. Looking to gain weight is something many of us wish to do, but we want that weight to be ‘functional’. Excess bodyweight undoubtedly helps in some lifts IF we can use it properly; so we are not talking about developing a bodybuilder type physique. But we should still focus on fuelling our training at appropriate times and eating the right food sources to promote muscle recovery.

We also need to consider taking enough rest as strength training can have a big impact on all tissues of the body. Overtraining can be a big issue for some people, especially with the high weight low rep training many of us do, putting a lot of stress on the central nervous system. This means we need rest and we need to ensure we get plenty of quality sleep. We will come back to and discuss these issues in greater depth in good time!

In summary, it is these factors that top coaches have the capacity to thoroughly evaluate, to help structure and evolve a program for an individual. This concept of individualisation is essential to long term progress and something many ‘cookie cutter’ programs can’t offer, so it is always an advantage to have input and feedback from those around you. This is especially important as a beginner, as this can save a lot of time, energy effort and pain caused by following the wrong path! If you would like to know more about anything we have discussed here, or want to know more about how we can help you develop a program that works for you as an individual, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Team TTC.