27 October 2010

Flip The Scrip By Going One Lift A Day

Though not in any way my personal creation, one of my personal favorite unconventional workouts is the one lift a day bit.  Like I said, hardly Earth shattering, but it's definitely a nice way to switch it up, or to work on a lift on which you've been lagging, or to just fucking murder a lift on which you're having an awesome day.  It's the kind of thing you wedge into a week of lifting wherever you feel like it, and there's no shame in knowing you just spent an hour and a half pounding the living fuck out of a lift and making it yo' punk bitch.  
Frantz makes every lift his punk bitch.

There are nearly endless permutations to this type of routine, as you'll see in this installment, but one factor remains unchanged throughout- brutal, heavy, compounds.  This is not a routine on which you'll be doing dumbbell flyes one day and pulldowns the next.  This isn't fucking Jazzercise, and there should be no rubber coated, pastel dumbbells involved.  This should be nothing but the sort of "holy fuck I shit my pants" heavy-ass lifts that one would have seen in a gym prior to the advent of the Nautilus machine and color photography.

As I stated above, there's only one factor that remains constant in this type of routine, and there have been many people with different takes.  I've listed some here for the purpose of illustration, and to give you an idea of the types of splits one could enjoy with this manner of madness.

Bednarski and Chaillet 
Olympic weightlifting badass Bob Bednarski followed a system like this all the time, and it worked wonders for him.  With it, Bednarski was able to shatter the world records in both the clean and press (456 lbs) and the clean and jerk (486 lbs) at a bodyweight of 242 at a time when the Soviets dominated Olympic weightlifting, and this was pretty much the last hurrah of the US Olympic weightlifting program.  Bednarski apparently used a ton of routines throughout his career, but this is the one he used to shatter the world record.(Purposeful Primitive 28-30)

Monday Clean and Press 350-385x3 (5 sets)
Tuesday Snatch 305-315x3 (5 sets)
Wednesday Squat 450-500 x3 (2 sets)
Thursday Clean and jerk 405-435x1 (5 sets)
Friday off
Saturday Total on 2-3 lifts Work up to a max single on 2 or 3 lifts
Sunday Squat 450-500x3 (2 sets)

Mark Chaillet also used this on the deadlift, where he'd spend one day a week working up to a max on the that lift.  (PP 39)  I don't have the details on this, but he was a major proponent of working up to a max incrementally, hitting it, and then quitting it.  Although there are likely dozens of internet geniuses currently claiming that maxing every workout is nonsensical and idiotic, Chaillet managed to utilize this scheme to become one of only four men in history to deadlift 800 in four different classes and set 10 records in 4 different classes.
The best part of T-Nation
Dan John
Dan John (of T-Nation fame) is also a proponent of this style of routine, and he outlined a far more intense program than those listed above on the aforementioned, now infamous, site. (John)  His program is as follows:

Week One: 7 sets of 5

Set One: 225 for five
Set Two: 245 for five
Set Three: 265 for five
Set Four: 275 for five (getting tired, tough lift, might not be able to get another set)
Set Five: 235 for five (nice refreshing drop in intensity)
Set Six: 255 for five (nice, challenging set…but not hellish)
Set Seven: Either 275 or 285, depending on spotters and energy

Week Two: 6 sets of 3

Week Three: 5-3-2

Week Four: Off!

Frankly, I've never tried this workout, but I like where he's going with it.  He, of course, recommends using compound lifts for this type of a routine, with a split something like the following:

Monday: Bench Press or Incline Bench Press
Tuesday: Row or Row Variation
Wednesday: Squat
Thursday: Off
Friday: Military Press
Saturday: Curl, Deadlift, Whatever
These silly bastards actually used to put useful information in their mag.

Another type of one-lift-a-day workout about which I've read (I think from an Ironman mag in the 1990s) utilized the following rep scheme on every single lift: 


That might not seem like it's all that bad, but the goal is to make your ascending poundages considerably heavier than they were going in- and that's fucking hard.  I used to do this all the time with squats, and loved it.  As I recall, I'd do something like the following, when I was a 134 lb wrestler in college: 


It didn't always work out that way, but as I recall, that's generally how it went down.

My Personal Take
Now, of course, I always take shit a bit further, and I find myself using this type of a day for any of the above three reasons- just as my motivation varies, so does my execution.  On days where I'm simply loving the lift, which are usually power cleans or partial squats, I'll spend as much time as I feel like just pounding the shit out of a given weight, and then cap it off with a max effort.  There's no science to this- it's just me enjoying the lift.  I'll usually do this on a Saturday and do whatever rep scheme I want, taking as much or as little rest between lifts.  Occasionally, I'll go so far as to bring a book and something to eat to the gym, and just pound away on it until I decide I'm done, reading and eating in between lifts (on something like partial squats).  Frankly, I love those days, and if I had my druthers I'd do them more often, but my gym's hours currently don't afford me that luxury.  By the end of those workouts, however, I'm happy, exhausted, and feel like I could eat rocks and shit gravel.  
Blast from the past.

On days where I want to work a particular lift for practice, I pick a weight from which I won't back off, usually one with which I can do 3 reps, and pound out sets with only a trip to the water fountain as a rest.  My triples will become doubles, which will become singles, which will end in a fail.  At that point, I'll slow down the workout, and usually mix in a light lift that has nothing to do with the single exercise in question, just to make my pace more deliberate (if you train with a lifting partner, that will be unnecessary).  For instance, I did this yesterday with bottom position reverse grip bench press.  I threw 325 on the bar and kept at it until I was grinding out singles.  At that point, I added weight, went slower, and did singles with 335.  To reduce my pace, I started using the wrist roller and working neck in between sets.  When I reached the point at which I couldn't lock out a rep at that weight, I backed off to 225, did two death sets, and called it a day.
Practice makes perfect.  I'm going to go practice.

Francis Galton wouldn't have agreed with this method, as he believed that a lifter "perhaps flatters himself there is hardly an assignable limit to the education of his muscles; but the daily gain is soon discovered to diminish, and at last it vanishes altogether. His maximum performance becomes a rigidly determinate quantity."  Fuck all that noise.  That silly-assed notion has been proven false more recently by numerous studies that I'll cite in later blogs, but for now you can rest assured that Galton's obsession with genetic limitations has been nearly definitively proven false, and that practice does indeed make perfect. Studies have shown since Galton made that claim that "ability tests can predict early performance on a job, whereas final performance is poorly predicted. Even for a well-defined skill... with relatively unselect groups of subjects, numerous efforts to predict the attained performance from pretraining aptitude tests have failed."(Erickson et al) Provided one monitors feedback (which in this case would be increased weight on a given exercise, critiques of form, and biofeedback such as recurrant pains or injuries) "subjects' performance improves monotonically as a function of the amount of practice according to the power law."(Ibid)  For those of you without access to google, monotonic increases mean that each performance is greater than or equal to the previous performance.  Thus, although people "believe that because expert performance is qualitatively different from normal performance [and] the expert performer must be endowed with characteristics qualitatively different from those of normal adults", this is not necessarily true.  Ericksson and his pals "deny that [qualitative differences between expert and normal performances] are immutable, that is, due to innate talent. Only a few exceptions, most notably height, are genetically prescribed. Instead, we argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain."  In essence, the more you do an exercise (provided you're doing it correctly, the better you'll get at that exercise.  This theory has been borne out over millennia, and it's continued to be proven in the modern era.  Thus, this will work if you want to improve at a given lift in particular.
He just shit himself.

For those of you tired of wandering the gym aimlessly, want to work on your form or execution on a given lift, or simply want to try something new, give this a shot.  It's worked for some strong motherfuckers in the past, and it's endorsed by a member of the clergy (Dan John), so you always have the possibility of receiving spiritual enlightenment while getting your lift on.  Have at it.


K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer.  The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.  Psych Rev. 100; (3): 363-406, 1993.  

Gallagher, Marty.  Purposeful Primitive.  West Chester: Dragon Door Publications, 2008.

John, Dan.  The "One Lift a Day" Program.  


  1. Dan John is one of the few authors making T-Nation worth a shit now, especially since TC rarely writes anymore. He's a nice guy, too, but his books beat the shit out of his T nation articles--in writing quality and information. Check out, "From the Ground Up." It's a free E-book at danjohn.net.

  2. What do you think of Louie Simmon's and his support of the law of diminishing returns?

  3. I usually come back to a single lift program every couple of months and work at it for a while. They're pretty fun. I usually do them the way you do- triples, doubles and singles.
    I generally use the usual suspects: Bench, squat, dead and clean & press.

  4. I second the recommendation to check out Dan John's stuff further. It might look pretty simple, but it's rarely very fucking easy.

    Example: The Litvinov Workout

    Just back up to the part where the fucker front squats 405 *before* running balls out 400's.


  6. Lyell- His theory is sound. My training style wouldn't ever really have that come into play, however, as I constantly rotate exercises, volume, and frequency.

  7. I think this blog entry is true, but only for white people. I mean, if you notice, white people are the most modifiable and educable people on earth. They of course could modify their body to any physical extreme they wanted.

    Negroes, like many other wild animals, are spat out of the womb almost totally ready to survive in the wild. They have whatever strength they're going to have by age 17, and after that they don't seem to progress much. They'll come into the gym and keep benching 220 for years and never seem to improve.

    I guess that's what happens when you have inferior physiology.

  8. yet another nut-job.....

  9. yeah, lamar grant was born deadlifting 688 and just stayed there like a pussy.

  10. manbearpig,

    Couldn't have said it better. Lamar is one of the greatest out there.

  11. Anonymous, you dumb fuck.

    I think there are far better ways at training than this, as Jamie probably agrees. Sure there were some strong guys who got strong this way, but there's far more strong men who would never had considered this type of training.

  12. Jamie, do you still clean and press? What's your heaviest on that?

  13. I'm wondering: Did Bednarski work up to those sets?
    Surely he did. I'm not sure 2 sets of 3 would do a whole lot, haha.
    And great pictures in this post.

  14. @ Anonymous racist - people don't want to hear your racist rants here on CnP. There are other web pages that specialise in that sort of thing, ie, www.chimpout.com is a favorite that comes to mind. Or you can write direct to me, i've got some fucking great nigger jokes!

  15. I've been following the john broz squat method for about a month now and squated 6 days this past week. I was sore as shit and hated getting out of bed in the morning but I'm burning fat like a mother fucker and my legs are getting stronger with all this "Overtraining".

    I think the best thing about beating the shit out of a lift is the ability to become comfortable with the exercise. I have gotten so much more comfortable squating recently and my form continues to improve with improved poundages.

  16. It's funny how so many of you who mention having success with a training protocol have only been doing said protocol for a month. Do any of you ever stick with anything for more than a month at a time?

  17. I think my max clean and press is in the neighborhood of 295, limited, of course, by my form.

  18. Glen:
    Some of us don't have programs.
    I don't.
    I have an outline.
    Been with the "scheme" for several months now.
    I totally agree with you, though; a lot of people jump off programs way too quickly.

  19. Sigh...I forgot some other douche can post under the same name. Amazingly more cowardly than simply posting anonymously.

    Glen: I think that's a great insight. Training should be a lifelong pursuit, not simply a new three week training "program" every 3 weeks. I think most people don't have really focused goals or aren't recognizing what the goals actually are.

  20. Eric tell me a joke bro.

  21. I used to do pyramid type sets a lot for chest and shoulders...for some reason they never worked as well for pulling exercises. But I currently do these type of rep schemes with squats. It allows you to work different ranges of motion in one session albeit while keeping fairly heavy and not totally dropping to a warmup weight.

    Naggers do tend to stagnate on lifts, though. I've seen one boog benching the same weight and stay the same size for years...but he walks around with his lats flexed like he's Serge Olivia or something. As a race,spooks are generally too lazy--or dumb--to evolve. Seriously.