Strength Consolidation: An Example
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By Eric Troy

All strength athletes, at certain times, must consolidate their gains and they will do this instinctively by adding reps to their present limit. As a matter of fact this is an "old-school" way of training and it is still prevalent. There is not a NEW way that is better by virtue of science or Russian periodization. The ways that work haven't changed…our attitudes and expectations have.1

Most trainees today have been indoctrinated into thinking they can't think. Or that they are not allowed to think, react, gauge, and otherwise adapt to their own internal progress. They expect rote systems. And it's a shame because some of the best training is done by the individual with self-knowledge rather than by group consensus.

Realizing that people cannot change their thinking all at once, I am willing to try to define what I mean by strength consolidation and to give you one example of a system. This is not a simple endeavor so I will ask something in return from you. I ask that you meet me half-way and be willing to think on your feet a little bit while using this system. Call it practice.

Note: The use of the word "consolidation" in this article, and any further use on this website, is in no way connected to the so-called "consolidation" routines of High Intensity Training (HIT), SuperSlow®, or Heavy Duty™ training systems.

What is strength consolidation?

First of all, strength consolidation is not something I invented. I may be one of the first or few people to use the term in regards to training for strength but the concept has always been around albeit not always in a conscious, spelled-out way.

The definition of the word "consolidate" is "to make firm or secure". So consolidation is a process of firming or securing our strength gains.

As defined by Michael Fakete:

"Consolidation occurs when the exerciser slows down or ceases progression to
allow him or her to firmly establish the results achieved so far."
2


A good, simple definition. Except that it implies a duality that is not actually present. We are not talking about consolidation as APART from progression.

Consolidation being a separate "stage" of training in which no other advantage is gained other than to firm up the gains from the previous "progression" stage is consistent with most sources' definitions. So, consolidation is the same as "maintenance" and "recovery". Such definitions are inadequate. Maintenance implies NO PROGRESS and NO CONNECTION to PROGRESS. At best it implies recovery from the high demands of the previous training stages but to maintain is simply to stop gaining. There is nothing in the word maintenance that implies consolidation.

Since most sources severely overestimate the amount of training needed to maintain maximal strength levels they would therefore underestimate the amount of training needed to consolidate. This makes sense because most so-called strength training sources are simply not concerned with maximal strength in and of itself but speak of the more nebulous concept of "fitness".

Consolidation is not "something other than" progression. They are connected and one cannot exist without the other. Take that statement as far as you would like. Ultimately, it means that there is no right or wrong time to consolidate your gains.

"When a powerlifter is squatting with a weight close to his limit, he knows he’ll progress much faster if he periodically attempts adding repetitions to this weight rather than simply trying to peak out with a maximum every week or so, thereby training on “nerve” in place of common sense…By gradually adding repetitions to a 90% limit weight and eventually going into increased sets and repetitions with this weight, not only will our limit single attempt increase, but our muscular size and repetition strength will increase also, since we would be progressing as fast as our system would be capable of without using “artificial aids” (steroids)." - Anthony Ditillo in "The Development of Physical Strength


Ditillo, in the quote above, is describing a process of consolidation. Notice that in no way does he imply that progress ceases. Just the opposite! He is saying that consolidation is part and parcel with progress.

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Why consolidate?

We have a long and very informative discussion on consolidation in the comments to Anuj's post The Importance of Progression.

I tend to think that I am at my best when commenting informally or spontaneously so I invite you to read that discussion before continuing this article. It may seem a little rambling but sometimes a good ramble is just the thing and I sometimes think that the difference between rambling and writing (for me) is simply a matter of editing! You can read it complete with typos so that you know this was not contrived.

The system

1. The first thing I must firmly establish is that this "system" is not a training program and is meant to be used for one or two exercises at a time. If doing two exercises then one should be lower body and one upper body. NEVER try to do two upper body movements or two lower body movements in the same training period. This method is EXTREMELY AGGRESSIVE. If you thought I was about to describe a way of "backing off" from training, then think again. This isn't a deload. There is no way of gauging the effect of this for every individual. This is one or two exercises a week each done ONE DAY a week.

2. For hybrid or "full-body" movements this should be used for only one exercise. So, also for Olympic lifts, for which caution should be used and the numbers given should be reduced.

3. For deadlifts and squats, consider making this a deadlift only or squat only day. You stand the best chance of success this way. At the most, throw in some static core work or some single joint exercise. But it would be best to get in and out. So, in this way, we are "backing off" our total volume for that day.

4. This one is not so much a rule as a guideline. Read through the The Singles Scene. Before using this method of consolidation it would be beneficial to have some experience using singles. It is NOT required but using this method assumes that you have some experience with maximal training and specifically, experience using singles. If you've never systematically used singles training, most of the numbers I suggest will probably have to be greatly reduced, perhaps by as much as half. However, I have great confidence that after you read "The Singles Scene" you will be excited and will WANT to use singles in your training, at which time you will experience great gains in your strength. Meaning this method can be saved for a rainy day. But all the basics are included here.

5. NOT FOR BEGINNERS! The intensities used in this method are inappropriate for beginners. That includes those just now switching from bodybuilding training to strength training, unless that training included dedicated strength training as part of it's philosophy. If you are not sure, ASK! I cannot, and will not attempt to give a universal definition of beginner, intermediate, or advanced, trainees. All you really need is a reasonable mastery of the lift(s) and experience doing those lifts at intensities of at least 85 percent or higher with at least some emphasis on intensities greater than ninety percent.

Before describing it, I once again have to give props to Anthony Ditillo. I did not realize (or remember) until reading back through "The Development of Physical Strength" that he described something very similar to this just after the quote I used above. Undoubtedly when I developed this I must have been influenced by that. I read so much that I don't always know where everything comes from but at least part of this comes from Ditillo.

However, in terms of intensity, I am a bit more aggressive in my training philosophies than Ditillo, although that is because of our differing definitions of the word. I am going to spell out this method step by step. Single, Double, and possibly triple progression will be used at the end and, again, I owe much to Anthony Ditillo for that. But again, my ideas are an "adding on" and take many other concepts into consideration. Ditillo is big on the idea of "intensity cycling" (although he doesn't call it this) and this is a concept that I personally despise:

From "The Singles Scene" by Joe Weir and Eric Troy:

"This type of buildup may be necessary for the extremely advanced or elite lifter, but that constitutes so few of us it is practically worthless for our discussion. This is nothing more than “intensity cycling” or intensity deload. Most trainees will have very little need to cycle back intensity but rather will need to cycle volume. For these trainees it is much more efficient to stay as close to their maximal intensity as possible during near-maximal lifting activities. If they spend an appreciable amount of time away from this maximal intensity they will simply be detraining maximal strength and a percentage based program becomes nothing more than playing catch-up. In strength training, never lift lighter when you can lift heavier safely."

A few points:

  • We are not "setting back the weight" and working back up by adding reps and sets in single, or double progression. We are using a near-maximal weight and adding reps to that (single progression).
  • We are not basing our starting weight on a "limit" weight or a one rep maximum. Basing this type of training off a maximum established a few weeks ago or even last week would have us use a weight that was much too low or much too high. This type of thing is what is sometimes called a "raw" max and it is a silly and ill-defined concept. Instead we will use a "relative max".
  • What to do with the rest of your training is not a topic that can be covered in this article. A good choice, if in doubt, would be to deload all your training except for this. However, if you want in-depth advice simply ask an in-depth questions by posting a comment after this article.

Relative max is a term I use to describe a trainee's best single for any given day. This best single may or not be a personal record. So the max is relative to your ability on that day.

The Plan

The initial period of this plan is 4 weeks. So call that "phase one" if you like. This phase will be establishing a baseline from which to proceed, using the single, double, and triple (if possible or desirable) as mentioned above.

I'll describe it using deadlifts as the exercise but it can be any compound lift, especially the slow lifts. The word "DAY" is the same as WEEK. So "DAY ONE" is also "WEEK ONE".

Day one:

Begin by following the same procedure for doing a singles workout as described in "The Singles Scene". Find your relative max for the day (your best quality single).

Here is the procedure (with example) for finding your max taken from the article:

You should have enough experience to make a pretty good guess as to your maximum lift. If you have no idea what to shoot for, then you are not ready at all for this. As you go about the warm-up and acclimation you should be getting an even better feel for how much you can lift that day. You should also try to avoid making large ‘jumps’ in weight when it comes down to your working sets.

To begin, make an educated guess for your max. Let’s say you think you can hit about 150 (on whatever exercise). After your foam rolling (should) and dynamic mobility warm-up (should again) you will perform warm-up sets for your chosen lift….

Using squats as an example and projecting a max of 150, it may look something like this:

Bar X 6-8
75 X 3
95 X 3
100 X2
125 X 2
125 X 1
135 X 1
145 X1 (MAX)…

By the time you get to 135 you should have a pretty good idea of how it is going to go. Again, do not make huge jumps.

Again, I encourage you to read the article in full before applying this plan.


After establishing your max go for eight to ten singles at 90% (around 90% you don't have to be exact…88.6789 would be fine as well). The max that you just did will count as ONE of those singles (so 7 to 9 more singles, in reality).

Unlike a regular singles workout, ALL the singles will be at the SAME WEIGHT.

So using the above max of 145 pounds, we have:

145x1
130x1
130x1
130x1
130x1
130x1
130x1
130x1

Notes:

  • Don't worry if you can't get eight to ten singles. Don't push yourself if that means sacrificing quality a great deal. If you can only do, for instance, five singles, then your next workout will be adjusted accordingly.
  • If using a weight that is ninety percent of your max seems too heavy and you are sure that you cannot get the singles in then by all means reduce the weight. The intensity is simply a guideline to get you in the ballpark.

That is it for day one.

Day Two:

Follow pretty much the same warmup as for the first day (depending on your needs of course) and repeat the same relative max you did on the first day….this can be a few pounds lighter if you want.

The reason you are repeating the same max is basically for a staged effect…potentiation.

Then…after the max warmup and max from day one take the same weight as you did the 8 to 10 singles (counting the max) with on day one and attempt 6 to 8 doubles.

Note that this is a HUGE jump in workload but no jump in intensity.

Adding reps to the singles is an example of "single progression".

That is it for day two.

Day Three:

Same procedures…same weights…

Except try for 5 to 7 triples.

That's it for day 3.

Day Four:

Take the same ~90% weight you used for all the singles and perform two to three sets for reps to near failure. You should feel like you have at least one good rep left in you. On the last set you can go to failure, meaning that this is the last rep you feel that you can do with reasonably good form (in other words, even if you could do another rep it would be a 'forced rep' or a 'cheat rep', which is unacceptable).

For example, using the 130 pounds given in the example above:

1.Do a set of 130 pounds to NEAR failure…that maybe about 2 good reps left, or one good rep left, or 1.5 good reps left..that depends on how it works for you. Doesn't matter how many reps. Even if it's only 3 that's fine. Or 4 or 5. Whatever happens happens.

2. After a GOOD rest..and I mean as long as you want or need up to 5 or 6 minutes, do another set, same as first. This time TRY to repeat the same number of reps because that will just make it easier to progress off…don't bother doing more reps than the first set unless it is just ridiculously easy..which is doubtful.

Take your time between reps so that you can be thinking whether this set will be it. The best way to no that is if this second set is more to failure than the last. In other words if the second set feels much like the first set then you can probably move on. If the last rep is the LAST rep, you're done. If you do not understand what I am getting at here then you probably lack the experience to be doing this in the first place!

3. Only after you gauge the toughness of the second set should you try to go on to a third. There is no need to push it. Two sets is fine. If you do go on to a third set don't worry about what happened on the first two. If you only have two reps in you then just do two. If all you have is one rep in you…then you probably shouldn't have bothered moving on to the third.

Lets suppose that on triples day with our 130 pounds we performed 5 triples. For day four we may do something like this:

130x5x1
130x5x1
130x3x1

Now we have established a base from which we will work and this concludes day four, also concluding the formal phase of the method. The remainder consists of taking the baseline we establish and progressing using single, double, or triple, progression.

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This page created 05 Sep 2009 16:45
Last updated 02 Feb 2012 16:37

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