Home Blog Strength Training Programs and Life: Change is Imminent

Strength Training Programs and Life: Change is Imminent

Written on October 11, 2011 at 5:53 am, by Eric Cressey

Change is all around us, and if we’re not recognizing that and changing with it, we’ll be in a bad position in no time.

It’s imminent in the business world, where previous giants Borders and Blockbuster (and a host of other companies) have declared bankruptcy because they couldn’t adapt to a changing marketplace.

As the son of a teacher (and now principal), I’ve watched how my mother has changed education with the introduction of the International Baccalaureate program at my old high school.  This program engages students and makes them more aware of the world around them, as opposed to just having them stare at chalkboards and textbooks all the time.

The internet has changed the way shoppers shop, teachers teach, campaigners campaign, and ninjas “ninjer.”

Joking aside, change is something that applies to strength training programs as well.  In addition to fluctuating training stress and rotating strength exercises, you have to be able to modify a program based on how you feel from day-to-day.  When I was younger, I would just barrel through many training sessions even if I didn’t feel good – and I’m convinced that this stubbornness not only limited my progress a bit, but also led to some injuries along the way.

Nowadays, I’m older and wiser (and balder), and I listen to my body a lot more.  Plus, I’m a much better coach than I was back then, so I know how to make substitutions in strength and conditioning programs to maintain a training effect.  Pulled rectus femoris? Go to step-ups because they don’t extend the hip and flex the knee simultaneously (as you’d get with a lunge). Shoulder hurts?  Try a feet-elevated push-up instead of a bench press, as elevating the feet increases serratus anterior activity and you can draw stability from the floor.

More generally, though, I’m honest with myself about where my life is right now.  I’m 31 years old – which is definitely not 21 – and not competing in powerlifting anymore (although that doesn’t mean that I’m not still training hard on a daily basis).  I have a wife, a dog, a house, a travel schedule, and a ton of stuff going on professionally with training athletes, writing, consulting, and lecturing.  In short, there are a lot of competing demands.

What does this mean in the context of my strength training programs?  Well, to be straight, the “highs” aren’t quite as high, and the lows are actually “lower.”  Let me explain.

Take this training session, when I warmed up on trap bar deadlifts and felt pretty good, so made the decision to push the envelope a bit. I wound up pulling 700lbs.

As you can see, it came up surprisingly quickly.  In years past, I probably would have jumped to 720 for another attempt, or drop back down to 630-650 for some additional singles at a weight over 90% of that day’s best lift.  I might have even done some backoff sets of 3-4 reps at 600.  Instead, I just called it there and moved on to my assistance work, as I was feeling a little banged up and wanted to make sure I still got plenty of quality work in over the course of the rest of my strength training session.  That’s not to say either of these follow-up approaches would have been the wrong choice; they just weren’t the right choice for me on that day.  The “high” wasn’t so high.

Likewise, when it comes to deloading, I wind up cutting back on things a bit more than I did in the past.  In my e-book, The Art of the Deload, I outline ten different methods for deloading in strength and conditioning programs, and nowadays, I tend to go with the most conservative of the bunch.

Some might look at this piece as me telling people how to be soft and do less in their strength training programs.  The way I see it, I’m just encouraging folks to train hard, but intelligently, listening to their bodies along the way. Along those same lines, what modifications have you made to your strength training programs as life has gotten busier and you’ve gotten older? Please post your comments below!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!


26 Responses to “Strength Training Programs and Life: Change is Imminent”

  1. Gaurav Kapil Says:

    You are right about listening to body. I understood this after hurting my lumbar during deadlift and then again during Squats within 30 days.

    I’ll be 31 on this 13th and with injury I came to realize that one can fight through pain, but not through injury.

    My deloading or even rehab is simple but it works for me: 1) Weight between 60-75%, 2) Reps 10-12, 3) If I want to be more intense then I’ll cut rest time but won’t increase weight or reps.

  2. George Says:

    Lol at the weights falling off the end, waxing Bob Peoples. Nice lift!

  3. Lisa Says:

    I find having a recovery week every 3 weeks really helps to keep me going. During that week I am still lifting, but I am not pushing the envelope.

  4. Fredrik Gyllensten Says:

    Great lift! What is current 1RM in the trap bar deadlift compared to a regular deadlift?

  5. Mike T Nelson Says:

    Whooo ha! Excellent work EC!

    When I get a huge PR, I almost always end the lift there. I like to end on a high note.

    While it will vary, the odds of someone doing substaintially more are normally slim I find.

    It can happen, but I like to leave with the thought of success at a new max weight burned into my body, as apposed to otentially “confusing it” with somethign else. Not much research to support that currently though.

    It is the slow and steady PRs in volume, density and of course intensity that mark true progress year in and out.

    Great work!
    Rock on
    Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

  6. Jamie Vanderheyden Says:

    Buy this product. We all LOAD differently, and as a result, we all need to DE-LOAD differently as well. Eric does a good job making recommendations for various people in multiple situations with various goals in varying periodization time frames. This component of recovery and de-loading will make a world of difference. It is cool to try different methods as well to see what best fits you.

  7. Noel Piepgrass Says:

    Good stuff, one thing I’ve been meaning to ask you is do you allow lumbar flexion while deadlifting in your athletes? I’ve noticed in some of your videos on the conventional deadlift especially, there is inevitably some lumbar flexion at high loads (for sure spinal flexion, maybe its thoracic, but it looks like lumbar to me). I’m knew to training the deadlift and I want to know if I should be allowing my athletes to go into some spinal flexion on heavy lifts or only allowing them to lift what they can lift with a neutral spine?

  8. Rafe Says:

    You’re just messing with Tony, aren’t you?

  9. Eirik Sandvik Says:

    Nice pulling! Regarding the question: More quality work and less “junk”.

  10. Espen Nordhagen' Says:

    Great lift! Basicly less isolotaion work, more basics, more warm ups and activation work, changing work volume from week to week to let the body heal up, and change up the training programs based on real quantifiable goals as strenght and speed(not my arm sleeves) and doing a lot more GPP work on my off days… Thanks for so much knowledge on the way to new highs

  11. Shane Says:

    As i get older my warm up gets longer. Also i try to focus on what i can do today rather than what i did 5 years ago. When i start to compare my old self to my new self anger starts to happen. Great post has always Eric.

  12. Brook Says:


    Nice article and pull.

    Can you recommend alternative exercise(s) to back squats? Arthritis in my right hip has made squatting painful. I have a home gym with dumbbells, barbell and power rack. I know squats are at the core of all good programs but hopefully there is another exercise(s) that will help me achieve or come close to the same training effect as squats. Your help would be much appreciated.

    Write on Bro!

  13. charlie Says:

    My squat, and my clean and jerk were going up slowly but still making new PR. Then I ended up hurting my back somewhat, a mild strain definitely muscular, since i know what its like to pop a disc. I wisely backed off and did some new exercises. In the meantime I think i have a sports hernia. But in that process my back is heal and feeling good. So i started squatting again but am limited by the groin problem. I’ve added more reps and used lighter weight and added some single leg exercises. For me at 63 I either train intelligently or risk having to deal with constant pain and discomfort. I definitely agree with Eric that choosing the smart movement when necessary is the way to go. BTW Nice pull and you’re looking like a mean machine!!

  14. Jeff Crews - WeightTraining.com Says:

    I incorporate deloading sessions with many of my soccer players. What would you say is the best way to deload within soccer players?

  15. gene Says:

    …as me telling people how to be soft….
    …as my telling people how to be soft.
    …….me telling people how…..soft.
    …….my telling people how ….soft.

  16. Robert Says:


    Great post! I think most of us fall into this postiion as we “grow up”.
    I will be turning 30 this year and my biggest priority is spending as much time with my 2 awsome kids as I can! After work the last thing I want to do is spend more time away from my family at a gym. My training focus has been getting in 4 hard sessions on my lunch break at a local park. I carry a couple of Kettle Bells, and a 15 foot rope for a mock TRX set up, and find myself doing alot of single leg work, inverted rows and sprints.On the weekend I try to get in some trail runs, or hikes. I would love to hit some heavier weights, but this accomplishes my goals for now- Hard Sessions – Time Efficient – Outdoors.

    Thanks again for the great posts

  17. James Says:


    You’re definitely looking a lot more muscular lately!

  18. Daveprunedale1 Says:

    E.C. Great article. Don’t feel bad about the stubborness. I really didn’t learn to listen to my body and hold back until I was 39. I just think you are a more mature individual than I am LOL.

  19. Daveprunedale1 Says:

    As far as modifications for older trainers, I recomend more body weight and ball exercises and less free weights. I’m 42 and still set P.R.s in explosive lifts and squats with these training modifications. If your over 40, try it you will be amazed at the difference in your recovery!

  20. Bill M. Says:


    Great lift! Heck I’m still struggling to get back to a 425lb dead lift (straight bar), but I’m confident I’ll get there. I learned the deloading stuff from your book “Maxium Strength”, or more accurately I learned it actually worked when I followed your program. Over 50 now, so like others in the over 40 category avoiding injury is important because it takes longer to heal. Keep the great articles coming. Bill

  21. Quig Says:

    awesome form and great article! very detailed explanations inside for beginners!

  22. shaine Says:

    Dude you’re 31 not 81 years old! I know lots of guys still powerlifting at age 45.

  23. Laurie Says:

    Now I don’t feel so guilty not having done my deadlifts for the past 2 weeks. It’s better to let the body heal (I was sick) and work on those things that keep your body injury free so it doesn’t break down as quickly. For instance, as a runner, I have very strong legs, but now I am finding lots of muscles that are weaker and am strengthening those with band work. I’m tired of pulled muscles!

  24. Daniel Says:

    Hey Eric, great lift. To hold that much weight your rotator cuff injury must be healed. I am rehabbing my right r/c, no surgery as yet. I’ve had surgery on the left r/c and I learned that it needs a regular workout schedule or else it aches then hurts.
    I and your readers, I’m certain, would love to know the exercises/workout you did for your r/c to avoid surgery. It would be a big help to all of us. Thanks.

  25. Eric Cressey Says:


    You have to remember that there are different kinds of rotator cuff impingement. Mine was of the internal impingement variety, so it is likely different than yours. Give these two articles a read:


  26. Richard Says:

    When I was younger, wanting to achieve 95% of my potential was realistic. I could do so without too much risk of injury and an injury was acceptable. Now at 39 with 2 young kids, injury is NOT acceptable and the risks of injury are higher. Accordingly, there are a lot of weaknesses that the previous (younger) work got me and thus time that I need to dedicate on correcting them. This means that I cannot afford to be as specific.

    Life has many opportunity windows and high level athleticism is generally for younger people. My current window is defined by correcting weaknesses (mobility, muscle balance…) and maintaining a 70% level of fitness that is more generic versus a 95% level of specific fitness.

    I still periodize my training (6 months)for a specific competition but my expectations are based on the above rules with the exception of being a little more focus on the specific sport. Following the competition I give myself time to recover and then re-assess health to be able to correct any deficiencies.

    My younger self would think I am a pussy though 🙂 Like I said: to each period it’s objectives.

  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series