My friend Charlie is a masochist in the gym. I don’t think he would mind me saying that. We met when we were both training in a little hole-in-the-wall gym in the town where we both went to college. He was on Martin Berkhan’s reverse pyramid training program at the time, the main tenant of which is “add more weight to the bar whenever possible.” Well, Charlie took this to heart, and I’d watch him deadlift his warm ups and look like he was about to crap his spine with 75% of that day’s working weight. Then, when he finally got up to the working weight for the day, he’d grab the bar, hunch his back like a scared cat, and pull 5 or 6 reps, each of which took about 8 seconds to complete. After a short break, he’d strip about 20 pound off the bar and get 6 or 7 more reps. But, to Charlie, that wasn’t crazy. That level of insanity is what you were supposed to bring to every training session.
So, now that you know what type of lifter Charlie is, I can tell you this little story.
He sent me a Facebook message asking if I could write him a squat program. Although I always charge for programming, this guy’s my best friend, so I wasn’t going to leave him hanging. If I’m being honest, though, the friendship was only half the reason I did it Pro Bono. The other half was his second request: “Give me your worst.”
It’s very rare as a coach to have a request like that dropped into your lap. It was too good to pass up. Plenty of people THINK they can take a lot of abuse, but I knew first hand that Charlie is the type of guy who SEEKS and THRIVES on that type of abuse. Of course, I’m not going to just give him a program that’s blatantly just seeking a trip to the PT (i.e. “do a Sheiko program, but start each session with a 1rm on each lift, and triple the volume.”), but I didn’t want to give him something that would stretch him without making it impossible to train his other lifts.
There was another wrinkle as well. He trains with his wife Chaney. She is NOT the same glutton for punishment he is. Not only would I get to see how Charlie would respond, I’d also get to see how Chaney (unaware of Charlie’s request that the program be terrible) would respond. It’s like a science experiment on the reaches of human capacity without having to get your experiment cleared by an ethics board. Me = as excited as a kid on Christmas.
So, here was the program:
Monday: Squat to a 10rm. This was the easy day, so it’s also when deadlifting usually happened.
Wednesday: 90% of Monday’s 10rm 3×10. Then drop 5%x10. Drop 5% morex10 (so if you hit 200×10 on Monday, you’d hit 180 3×10, 170×10, 160×10 on Wednesday).
Friday: Squat to a 5rm. Drop 10%x5. Drop 10% morex5
Looks hard, but not terrible, right? I mean, there ARE more difficult programs out there. Except, there was one more stipulation: they had to move up in weight each week. Sort of like Smolov, but it’s been going for 8 weeks straight (with no end yet in sight) rather than just 4.
The result: they’ve been PRing for 2 months straight now, and are now hitting their old 1rms for sets of 5. They’ve both put over an inch on their thighs. Chaney didn’t even find out until this weekend that the program was even SUPPOSED to be hard.
1. You can probably train a LOT harder without overtraining. I also know Charlie is meticulous about his nutrition and sleep, but if you have your recovery ducks in a row, you can recover from, and adapt to, a TON of work.
2. You don’t have to live in the gym to do a program like this. Charlie works a 40 hour a week job on his feet, and Chaney was finishing up a vocational program where she was on her feet all the time. This didn’t affect them negatively. You don’t have to revolve your life around training to train like this.
3. Mindset is everything. When Charlie tells me to write him something terrible, it doesn’t intimidate him. He sees it as a challenge. Chaney, on the other hand, didn’t know that it was SUPPOSED to be that difficult, and just aloofly dominated for 2 months straight. If you go into a program thinking it may be too much, it can own you and crush you. If you think you can master it, you probably can.
4. Next time someone tells me to write a hard program, I’ll know I can write something much harder. Because, apparently, this was a cake walk. 😉