LEARNING FROM THE PAST (Part I): A Training Template From The Golden Era of Lifting

January 11, 2024 3 min read

A Training Template From The Golden Era of Lifting
By Shane Robert

I’ve always enjoyed history. It’s fascinating to see what led us to where we are today and explore the characters that were involved. In the right hands, history is as entertaining as any fiction story, if not more so. I also love to read old magazines and articles from the past. These aren’t technically history, but rather a glimpse into the past in real-time. I especially love to read old books, magazines, and articles on training. Seeing how training has evolved over the decades and how fads come and go and come back again is very informative. You can see what sticks around because it works, and what is fleeting. 

Though we have a more scientific understanding of the training process today, we haven’t improved training so much that the things previous generations did are irrelevant. In fact, in many ways, they are more relevant today than ever. Many of these programs were written in an era when the authors had physical labor jobs and lives that took precedence over treating the gym like a part-time job. The training that they did was hard, heavy, and to the point. As the old expression championed, they went hard, heavy, and home. 

Here is an example of the kind of programs that you would have seen 50 years ago. (All training sessions start with 2-5 sets of back extensions and abs to warm up):

DAY 1 Heavy Bench/Light Shoulders
  • Competition Bench: 10, 8, 6, 4, (optional 2x15-20 light flushing reps)
  • Lat Pulldowns: 10, 8, 6, 6 (superset with bench)
  • Behind the Neck Press: 4 - 6 sets of 8 - 10 
  • Rows of some kind: 4 - 6 sets of 8 - 10 reps (superset with BTN)
  • Bench Assistance (choose 1 style of dips, wide grips, db, etc.): 4x10
  • Lateral or Front Raises/Curls/Triceps work: 3x15
DAY 2 Heavy Squat/Light Deadlift
  • Squats - 10, 8, 6, 4, (optional 2x15-20 light flushing reps)
  • Stiff legged deficit deadlift - 4-6 x 8-10
  • Squat Assistance (leg press, hack squat, lunges, etc.) 4x10
  • Leg Curl/Leg Extension - 3x15
  • Lat/Upper back - 2x20
DAY 3 Heavy Shoulders/Light Bench
  • BTN Press - 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 20
  • Rows of some kind - 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 20 (superset with press)
  • Bench Assistance (different from Day 1) 4-6 x 5-7
  • Vertical Pull of some kind- 4-6 x 8-10 (superset with bench)
  • Lateral or Front Raises/Curls/Triceps work - 3x15
DAY 4 Heavy Deadlift/Light Squat
  • Competition Deadlift - 6, 5, 4, 3, 2
  • Squat Variation (high bar, front, pause, etc.) 4-6 x 8-10
  • Posterior Chain Assistance (good morning, back extensions, pull-throughs, etc.) - 4x10
  • Shrugs - 3x15
  • Leg Supplementary Movement - 2x20

If you’re really pressed for time you can drop to 3 times per week and just do each movement/body part once per week. You can also drop all of the other movements for the day and just do one assistance movement for 4 to 6 sets of 4 to 6 reps. This may not be *ideal* but will definitely get the job done when ideal can’t be achieved.

I love that this training is very open-ended. The total amount of sets is given as a range for days if you need a little less training, or days when you are feeling on fire and can handle more volume. The range of reps done for the main lifts gives a ton of options depending on the day. You can treat the first few sets as lighter warm-ups and focus on the heavier top-end set(s); you can focus on some of the higher rep early sets; you can pick just one of the sets to make your priority or all of them. You can add weight to one of the sets, all of the sets, or go double progressive and increase the reps before increasing the weight. There are so many options that you never need to get stale or bored.  

I also think that a setup like this makes it very easy to switch into a competition cycle/peaking strategy. I will address how to do that in a future post.

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