Lifter Case Study: Payton
For @thejackedmclovin, I could probably just post the comparison shot in the second slide and call it there in his case study. It pretty much sums up what mattered most for an 18 year old who was 6’3″ 180lbs. and wanted to get stronger. The picture on the left is from the first day Payton started lifting 3 years ago I believe. And then the picture on the right is from within the last month, with Payton now at a stout 220lbs. While I could contribute a big bulk of the 500lb.+ total increase over the last 2.5 years to Payton simply gaining significant amounts of muscle, there are definitely some individual characteristics we’ve found within Payton’s training that have been key to the consistent and long term progress. As per this lifter case study series, Payton also has a post on his page covering the details of what he has done personally to really maximize his progress. As a young guy who during this time transitioned to college and started his first serious relationship, we saw a lot of growing pains. So for those in similar circumstances, I would be confident to say you can gain a lot from reading how Payton went from skipping a litany of workouts and being inconsistent during his Freshman year, to now being a machine once again and finding balance within life, school, and training.
On the programming side though, I would say for the most part Payton actually falls into the relative “norm”. But I think this presents a pretty good case study, because even for someone who is more so of the average in the bell curve in regards to what they respond to in training, we still have some slight adjustments from that norm that have been vital in yielding the results we’ve seen.
1.) When I first started coaching Payton, the barbell movements were heavily technique focused and we allocated the majority of the volume to his accessory. Basically let’s get jacked through bodybuilding while perfecting movement on the big 3 before ramping those up. Being a tall/long lifter, obviously Payton has some range of motion to go through, in particular on squats. And what we found is after this initial phase of 6-9 months of lower specificity, once we increased competition squat workload and backed off accessories, it didn’t go well. We went back and forth over the next year in regards to times of higher squat workload/lower accessory volume vs. lower squat workload/high accessory volume, and everytime the lower squat workload and more accessories prevailed. So finally rather than fighting this, I leaned into it. Whether it be due to distance traveled creating a higher workload or his individual leverages making squat a sub-optimal muscle builder for Payton, we just found that a low set count of just 7 total squat sets a week, followed 7-8 total sets of heavy lower body accessory work (belt squat, leg press, hack squat, etc.) continually yielded better results. He got bigger, stronger, and stayed healthier. For bench and deadlift he didn’t quite follow this same pattern though, but I think that mainly comes back around to the fact that on deadlift he has fairly optimal leverages, and for bench, his workload was steadily able to increase over time as his technique improved to allow increased efficiency. But for squats, while you can improve technique, there is not much you can do to significantly change distance traveled. Bench we can increase the arch and widen the grip and make a notable difference, but for squat you likely aren’t going to find that same effect.
2.) During that time of increased squat workload, something we noticed was during that time Payton would start having flare ups of knee pain. And since we had increased squat workload, we attributed it to that, as it seemed pretty obvious the cause. But as we pulled back to this setup we have now settled into, that same knee pain kept lingering and would continue to flare up. What I missed in all of this is that coinciding with increased squat workload was also increased competition bench workload. I’ve mentioned this in some past posts, but I think an under noticed aspect of bench press is the isometric workload on the quads due to leg drive. As we dived deeper into the weekly acute pain flare ups, it was actually more associated with his heavy competition bench press days than it was his squat days. So we pulled back on the competition bench press workload and replaced those sets/days with more larsen pressing, and almost immediately any and all knee pain disappeared. So moving forward we have settled into a structure where he has 1 competition bench press day (primary day), 1 day of only larsen pressing (tertiary day), and then his final day (secondary day) being 1 top of competition bench followed by all back offs being larsen. This has kept things at bay and we have not had a single flare up since, while squat and bench have flourished strength wise.
3.) Competing is a skill, and I do think there is value in some athletes competing more frequently. But at the same time for a young lifter like Payton, the majority of his progress comes during his “off-season”. Fortunately Payton is very process oriented, and competing is not his primary source of motivation. He sees the long term goal rather than just the short term. And because of that we’ve limited his competition frequency to just once a year. Fortunately Payton is a great meet day competitor as well, so there really isn’t a strong need for more competition day experience. Because of this we are able to spend long periods of time focused on what is going to make him the best lifter in the long term. Which wrapping back around to the first sentence of this post, is just getting bigger during these prime growing years. And anyone who goes through a meet prep knows it puts a little bit of a different wear and tear on your body. I don’t want to make a blanketed statement that you only have so many meet preps in you, but I do believe that optimally you should save competing for when you need to, (nationals, qualifying, once a year test of progress, etc.) rather than just competing to compete. Take the time to make notable progress before returning to the platform. The length of that varies, but too often we see people competing all too frequently competing, barely able to match their previous meet numbers, and getting into this cycle of stagnation or possibly regression.