Density training for powerlifting

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Density training for powerlifting


Post by MarkKO » Sat Jan 21, 2023 7:48 pm

Density in training refers to the amount of work done in a set period of time. The majority of systems for powerlifting training use volume, intensity or both as the main basis for progression through training cycles. Density is a largely under-represented variable in powerlifting training but can be a highly effective basis on which to regulate progression. It can also be used as a method to autoregulate training.
Density as a training variable
In strength training, density refers to how much work is done in a set period of time. Typically work refers to total reps or total weight lifted in this context. When using density as the basis of progression, the goal is usually to do more work in the same amount time; or to do the same amount of work in less time. At face value, as a training variable density is best suited to improving conditioning or work capacity rather than strength. However, this does not mean that it cannot be successfully used as a training variable in a sport like powerlifting that relies on absolute strength in competition.
Characteristics of powerlifting training systems
Training for powerlifting is a simple process, and all powerlifting systems follow the same basic principle. This is to accumulate fatigue by lifting weights, which provides a stimulus to which the body adapts and becomes stronger as a result. One of the main determinants of how effective a system is, is how well it balances the accumulation of fatigue with the trainee's ability to recover. The system needs to strike a balance between accumulating enough fatigue to drive adaptation while ensuring that the level of fatigue does not outstrip the trainee's ability to recover sufficiently to continue training.

How this balance is achieved varies between systems. Broadly, there are two main approaches to achieving this balance. One approach is to use percentages of an actual or estimated max and regulate total volume based on the percentages used. Typically, as the percentage increases volume decreases. Whether or not percentages increase constantly throughout the training cycle or move in waves depends on the system. Many systems use Prilepin's chart as a guideline for this as it has been shown to be an effective guide over a long period. A disadvantage of this approach is that it does not take into account the impact of external stressors on the trainee's performance; nor does it take into account the impact of fatigue accumulated through training. This is not to say that percentage based systems are ineffective, as they have a strong track record in powerlifting.

The second approach is to use autoregulation to determine either load, volume or both. The most popular current method of autoregulation is to use RPE. The system will require the trainee to perform a total number of reps or sets at a given RPE value depending on where they are in the training cycle. Again, whether or not the prescribed RPE increases in a linear manner or in waves throughout the training cycle varies between systems. While this approach is much better at accounting for the impact of external stressors and accumulated fatigue on the trainee's performance; the disadvantage of this approach is that at best RPE is an accurate guess. There are relatively few trainees who are able to truly gauge RPE with a good degree of accuracy. Again, this is not to say that systems based on RPE are ineffective. In the last decade or so they have proved their effectiveness beyond any doubt, but they do appear to be somewhat harder to implement successfully than percentage based systems especially for less experienced trainees.
Density applied to powerlifting training
Density provides a fairly unique way in which to combine a percentage based approach with the benefits of autoregulation. This is not its only application to powerlifting training, and it is usually possible to combine the various applications in an effective manner.
Density as a means of autoregulation
To use density as a means of autoregulation, an effective method is to use a specific interval of time as a benchmark in which a specific number of setsxreps at a given load must be completed before weight is added. In this application, the goal is not to complete the sets in as fast a time as possible. The time limit exists as a safety net. The presumption is that if the trainee is able to complete the work within that interval, they will be able to recover sufficiently from the work to add load next time they do it without upsetting the balance of fatigue versus recovery.

Within this paradigm, the time taken to complete the work provides a reasonable degree of information regarding how much fatigue the trainee is currently holding, their work capacity with that load and the impact of external stressors at that time.
Example of using density to autoregulate progression
At the beginning of the training cycle, the trainee performs 5x5x60%, with the benchmark time to complete this work being 10 minutes. Completion in more than 10 minutes means the trainee must remain at 60%. Completion in 10 minutes or less means the trainee can add 2.5% to the 5x5. The trainee's training record over the cycle is as follows:

Week 1: 5x5x60% in 7 minutes and 30 seconds
Week 2: 5x5x62.5% in 7 minutes and 20 seconds
Week 3: 5x5x65% in 10 minutes and 10 seconds
Week 4: 5x5x65% in 7 minutes and 45 seconds
Week 5: 5x5x67.5% in 8 minutes and 5 seconds
Week 6: 5x5x70% in 8 minutes and 15 seconds
Week 7: 5x5x72.5% in 10 minutes and 15 seconds
Week 8: 5x5x72.5% in 9 minutes and 10 seconds
Week 9: 5x5x75% in 9 minutes and 5 seconds
Week 10: 5x5x77.5% in 9 minutes and 30 seconds
Week 11: 5x5x80% in 10 minutes and 45 seconds
Week 12: 5x5x80% in 10 minutes and 25 seconds
Week 13: 5x5x80% in 10 minutes and 20 seconds
Week 14: 5x5x80% in 10 minutes and 45 seconds
Week 15: 5x5x80% in 9 minutes and 55 seconds

The progression of load over this cycle is determined by the trainee's ability to meet the benchmark. Failure to do so allows the trainee more time to adapt to the workload instead of forcing them to add weight arbitrarily. While an RPE based system would do the same thing, it would rely on the trainee's own estimation of RPE rather than an easily quantifiable variable. Its effectiveness relies on how accurate the trainee's estimation of RPE was. A percentage based program would simply lay out the sets, reps and loads to be performed without any reference to the trainee's fatigue load and ability to complete the work.

As with any linear progression, there comes a point where progression slows down significantly but by using density to regulate the addition of load, there is no point at which load is added arbitrarily. The trainee more naturally adds load over time and as a result is able to keep adding load for longer. An added benefit is that the trainee has also been able to achieve a significant increase in volume over the first 11 weeks of the cycle without outstripping their ability to recover sufficiently to continue training.
Other applications of density to powerlifting training
The use of density as a variable is not limited to making linear progression more sustainable. Depending on the time benchmark used, the trainee can significantly improve their work capacity which usually has the effect of improving their ability to recover. It can also remove the need to dedicate specific training time to conditioning work. Shorter time benchmarks combined with sufficient sets and reps are particularly effective in this regard.

A lesser known and certainly less popular use of density training in powerlifting is to simulate maximal effort work. When shorter time benchmarks are used the latter sets and reps take on the sensation of being significantly heavier than they actually are. The trainee experiences straining without needing to use truly maximal loads, which reduces the risk of injury; places less systemic burden on the trainee; while still allowing the trainee to become accustomed to straining. A similar effect can be used by performing a high volume of cluster sets with loads between 50 and 70%, an approach used to great effect by Greg Panora in his coaching. However, that is a significantly more challenging method and does not employ density as a variable.
Practical implementation of density in powerlifting training
While the example above shows a truly linear progression using density as an autoregulatory factor, this is far from the only manner in which it can be applied to powerlifting training. It is likely to be most effective when combined with other progression models so that the trainee is not limited to relying on one variable alone to drive progress of the competition lifts, although those other models should also have elements of easily quantifiable autoregulation.

In this respect, it is worth looking at a number of the more successful percentage based systems such as 5th Set, Cube, Greg Panora's system and 5/3/1. All of these systems employ some degree of waves or variation in weekly load for a specific competition lift. Because there are three competition lifts, it is quite common to see one each lift trained slightly differently each week. For example, squat may be trained at one load, bench another load and deadlift another yet again, with the load determining the total sets and reps.

A simple way in which to implement this using density is to train the squat and bench in the same manner in a week, while that week the deadlift is trained in a different one. For example, in weeks one and three the squat and bench press are trained using the 5x5 scheme with a 10 minute benchmark set out above; while the deadlift is trained using 4x2 followed by an AMRAP set, with the AMRAP being the benchmark. It must be completed for 10 reps or more before weight is added to all sets. In weeks two and four the squat and bench press are trained using the 4x2, AMRAP method but the deadlift is trained using the 5x5 density method.

The application of these methods to the competition lifts should also be combined with more classical bodybuilding work using exercises selected to target specific muscle groups. The competition lifts are frequently at best mediocre drivers of hypertrophy in many trainees, and neglect of dedicated bodybuilding work will often bring growth of the trainee's total to a grinding halt no matter how well executed training of the competition lifts has been.

Even if the trainee does not want to employ the specific application of density set out here, simply adopting the mindset of trying to complete training in as little time as possible will deliver significant improvements in work capacity and conditioning as well as improved performance on meet day simply by virtue of having better recovery capacity.

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Re: Density training for powerlifting


Post by MarkKO » Sat Jan 21, 2023 7:50 pm

@Chebass88 can this get moved to the finished section please? I'm happy with it as it is

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