By: Josh Bryant
EJ “Doc” Kreis leading Colorado onto the field
In 2004, I drove 100 miles each way for an unpaid internship with the legendary strength and conditioning coach, Doc Kreis. Doc was old-school; he knew one way– heavy weights and extreme conditioning.
The internship was at UCLA on Mondays and Tuesdays. On Mondays, I would stay after, train heavy before camping out at “six in the wood”, the rugged ass Motel 6 in Inglewood. As Fred Hatfield would say, “I was living like a priest with one definitive purpose, the acquisition of gaining strength and learning the process.”
Before Doc entered the college ranks, he was the athletic director in the Georgia State Penitentiary system. In the “greybar hotel”, Doc had some legendary power teams and mentored prison-powerlifting sensation, Chuck “The Truck” Braxton, among others. After these inmates were released, Doc hired them as assistant coaches at Middle Tennessee State University and even at the more the posh, Vanderbilt. Doc wasn’t about being politically correct or appeasing the country club donor class—it was only about results.
Doc was the antithesis to poodle dickery, but I can’t say the same for everyone else hanging around the UCLA weight room.
One day after I was done training heavy, a cat that looked like Ashton Kutcher sporting a physique like an Olsen twin offered me a Met-RX shake, so in the words of Kinky Friedman, I replied, “Why the hell not?!”
I was exhausted and sat there in fatigue and duress as this moonlighting strength coach gave me the equivalent of the Gettysburg Address related to Prilepin’s Chart and its infallibility to all things strength.
Prilepin’s Chart recommendations of intensity, reps and total volume
Admittedly, this pseudo strength symposium sounded polished.
Then and now, my only concern was results. So, I looked past the messenger to investigate the message. At the conclusion of my research, I knew Prilepin’s Chart did not have direct applicability to powerlifting and strongman, I am going to share five reasons why.
The first and most obvious reason is the chart was not designed for powerlifters and strongmen. A.S. Prilepin was a USSR weightlifting coach who analyzed the training logs of over 1,0000, weightlifters (Olympic lifters) in the Eastern bloc. From here, he reverse engineered weightlifting programs based on averages of volume and intensity. Olympic lifting is a test of strength-speed and highly technical, essentially gymnastics with the barbell in hand, opposed to powerlifting, which was founded in rebuttal to the tedious technicalities of the Olympic lifts and thus is much more an equation of brute strength, not to mention it tests limit strength, not strength-speed. Would one train for a pro agility test the same way as a 200-meter dash? Strongman tests limit strength, lactic threshold and explosive power over dozens of events; powerlifting and strongman are not Olympic lifting. So, even if these 1,0000 + weightlifters 50 years ago had the perfect training plans, they were training for a different sport!
The analysis was done only on elite weightlifters. Frequently, elite athletes are outliers, so using them as the average creates potential flaws. Even if mindset and genetics are equal, none of these weightlifters had a job outside of weightlifting. Post training, Russian weightlifters had nutrient-packed food and massage therapists at their beckon call, contrast to a powerlifter who trains at 4 AM then heads to work 12 hours in the oil fields. Furthermore, most elite athletes are “fast gainers” meaning they require less volume and intensity to optimize gains compared to slow gainers. The average age of an Olympic gold medalist in weightlifting is 25; world class strength in powerlifting is usually achieved past the age of 35. Odd Haugen competed in professional strongman into his 60s.
*Josh talks about the 7 Granddaddy Laws
The chart is too broad. Fast gainers cannot do near the amount of reps as slow gainers at the same relative intensity. Not to mention the fact anyone that anyone who has ever lifted seriously knows there is a hell of a lot of difference between 80.1 % and 89.9%; to classify such the same, is like putting Budweiser in the same class as the Trappist monk brewed Westvleteren!
Too Much Submaximal Work. I love submaximal Compensatory Acceleration Training to maximize force production and grease the groove in powerlifting. However, sets that require a balls-to-the-wall effort are required to maximize gains in powerlifting and strongman. No one ever “grinds” a lift in Olympic lifting, you bet your ass you will, darling, when it comes to a true max in the powerlifts or strongman. Even the most explosive lifters in the world, like Jeremy Hoornstra, have gotten better by acquiring the ability to grind out weights. The ability to grind is built with performing repetitions and lifting maximal weights. These volume and intensity zones, outlined by Prilepin, even for most fast gainers, do not approach the threshold to force a lifter to grind.
Too many other variables are not addressed. Volume at lower intensity does not have the same fatiguing effect as higher intensities. Ten singles at 90 percent plus will fry you a hell of a lot more than six sets of three reps at 55 percent; both which fall within the realm of the chart. What about training frequency? Does the fitness-fatigue model apply the same way throughout the chart?
As any good historian will tell you, it is vital to look at the context of the times. The context here is a completely different sport, that has completely different demands!
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