The Strength Agenda Way pt.1

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So for those of you who are unaware, The Strength Agenda has a weekly newsletter that goes out and we offer free barbell programming. If you aren’t signed up for the newsletter and receiving our free program don’t worry click here and get yourself stronger. Since the start of the program we are getting lots of questions about the program and we feel it would be best to explain the program and how it works through a series of articles. The first part of the series will be explaining the program and the set up of the template so you can either follow along with the free programming or possibly create your own workouts based off of the template provided in the articles. Either way, we want you have as many tools at your disposal as possible to accomplish your training goals. So without further ado…

What Is The Strength Agenda Way Barbell Program?

The barbell program is a program that was derived as part of my senior final presentation in college and has revisited, revised, and reused over the years. My athletic background was rooted mostly in track and field (throwing the shot put in particular) and during my college throwing days I was introduced to the Conjugate Method of training, made famous by Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell. Describing the Westside Template would take a whole article in and of itself but here are some cliff notes to get you up to speed.

  • The program consists of four days: Max Effort (ME) Lower Body, Max Effort (ME) Upper Body, Dynamic Effort (DE) Lower Body, and Dynamic Effort (DE) Upper Body
  • Max Effort days simply focus on pushing one of the big three (squat, bench, or deadlift) or a variation of these movements to a max top set.
    • Top sets were usually in the 1-5 rep range
    • At least 24 hours was needed between these days in order to allow for the body to recover and perform at its best for the next session.
  • Dynamic Effort days were on the lighter side and the focus was moving submaximal weights as fast as possible (dynamically).
    • Rep ranges were between 2-3 on these days.
    • Accommodating resistance was also incorporated on these days in the forms of bands and chains being attached to the barbells.
    • Percentages were often lower (50-70%) and how fast the bar is moving is the main goal.
  • Both days include lots of variance in exercise selection and consistently challenges the body by introducing different movement patterns.
    • Very rarely was the same exercise repeated in a training block.

If you google Westside Barbell or Conjugate Method you will finds plenty of resources and programs that go further in depth on the program. As with all programs we made changes to accommodate our goals so we mixed in more plyometric and Olympic weightlifting movements on the Dynamic Effort days. The program works well and as throwers the strength gained from this program carried over very well to the field. During the off season we followed the traditional four day a week template but during the competitive season we trained two times a week (one ME Day and one DE Day) as most of our time was spent throwing.

After college I began competing in the highland games and continued to use the same format as I did in college. I always operated under “if it isn’t broke then why fix it?” But a problem I ran into not training in my college facility was a lack of equipment. I would be lucky if the commercial gym I trained at had a squat cage or a bar that could hold at least 500 pounds let alone bands or chains. Given the lack of equipment I needed to retool my training template. I then started getting creative with using simple barbell movements and started including pauses at various positions of lifts, as well as half reps and reps and a half (these will all be explained later so don’t worry for now). Partial ROM in the lifts also became a mainstay in the program for the movements on the ME days.  It was also hard to do Olympic weightlifting movements in some gyms (Crossfit wasn’t that big back then) so box jumps and their variations as well as throwing medicine balls or tires were added in their place.

So in conclusion, The Strength Agenda Way Barbell Program is a program that I have used for years before the strictly weightlifting days and continued to use with athletes of all backgrounds and the results have all been the same: You simply get stronger by using the program.

Weekly Set Up

What changed about my program? Well for starters I don’t use the ME and DE monikers for each day as that is simply a rip off of the Westside. The main template has 4 training days a week with a specific focus for each day: heavy lower body, heavy upper body, dynamic lower, dynamic upper, and repetition upper. But wait, if you’re good at math there are five days listed. In the template I use the last day of the week rotates between dynamic upper and repetition upper week to week. Why this change? What I have found is with the addition of other ballistic movements besides speed bench or speed press that is a lot of torque on the shoulders and elbows. Over time this can lead to overuse, tendinitis, or even severe injury. So what we found worked the best was rotating between a lighter load for more reps (repetition effort) and submaximal loads moved as fast as possible for a few reps (dynamic effort). It saves the joints and allows for you to chase the all-important pump when you need to look good for that outing on the weekend.  So a typical 2 week set up would look like this:

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
Back Squat to heavy single… Overhead Press to 5RM… Box Squats 10×2 @ 60%… Speed Bench Press 9×3 @ 60%…
Speed Deadlifts 10×2 @ 60%…
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
Deadlift to 3RM… Floor Press to heavy single… Box Squats 8×2 @ 65%… DB Incline Bench 4x max reps…
Speed Deadlifts 8×2 @ 65%…

Exercise Selection 

Exercise selection with each workout is very crucial. I had a coach once tell me “If there’s an exercise you don’t like, you probably should be doing it.” I am not saying make this each workout as excruciating as possible and full of things you hate, because you need to enjoy what you are doing. What I am saying is to make sure you are not constantly picking a handful of exercises that you are good or like to do on a regular basis. The body is a tremendous machine with the capabilities to adapt to a wide array of stimulus. Make sure you are changing things up and trying out new exercises. Eventually you will be able to notice which movements have better carryover to what you are training for and can throw away useless movements, but don’t get caught in the rut of doing the same thing over and over. Einstein said you will go insane that way.

While this program is a basic template it does require some kinesthetic awareness on the athlete’s part. Knowing your body and your weaknesses will be huge in determining the exercises that should be done on the various days. If you have a problem keeping your form on specific lifts, pauses or slow eccentric lifts may be an good option for you. Depending on your sticking point partial lifts may be an option for you as well. Lastly, muscular imbalances or weak muscles can be addressed simply with proper accessory work selection.

Each day is different but the set up for each training session should be similar to the others. Below is how each of the  days should look:

  • Main Exercise This will be the main focus of the training session and it should be a complex, multi joint movement. If you choose Hammer Curls for your main exercise on the Heavy Upper day you have mental issues that this program cannot fix. More sets than reps will be performed with this movement.
  • Accessory 1 The next accessory movement should be another multi joint movement but you won’t be as heavy due to the fact that there will be more reps involved with this movement. I like to keep this movement on the heavier side and perform 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps.
  • Accessory 2-4 These movements will be light and high rep and used to address weaknesses that you may have structural or help improve strength in an area that is lagging. Preferred set and rep ranges would be between 2-3 and 8-20 depending on the movement.

Until Next Time

So we have a start. You have a little history to the program, where it’s idea came from, what the goal of each day is and how the general set up of each day is suppose to go. Don’t worry we are not going to make you wait long for the other parts. We will go more into depth on each day in later articles and when all is said and done you should have a solid understanding of this program and how to set up your own individualized program using this template.


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