Q: When should I wear a belt?
A: Belts and other supportive equipment can have a valuable role in your training, but training without it can also be valuable tool to build the body. Training without a belt will help you ‘build your own belt’ of strength and muscle through the midsection but you can’t train beltless for a whole cycle and expect to hit a belted PR as soon as you add the belt back in. Within the context of a 12 week training cycle for a lifter who competes in belt and wraps, I would dedicate the first 3-4 weeks towards beltless training and higher frequency squatting. The next 3-4 weeks would be for belt only training and slightly decreased frequency and then the last 3-4 weeks would be dedicated to full equipment and the lowest frequency/highest intensity. Not using a belt during higher frequency training is the best option because it will reduce your output capability. The belt will cause the limiting factor of your lifts to be your back though, so to ensure that your legs are provided with enough stimulus to improve you must reintroduce the belt to use heavier loads. Take times in the off-season to work without equipment and build your body and as competition approaches become more specific and use your competition equipment.
Q: When should you wear knee wraps?
A: There is no distinction by strength that needs to be made in regards to wearing knee wraps (i.e. you don’t need to squat X amount of pounds before you wear wraps), but as with the belt, working with less equipment will allow you to build your strength and musculature while equipment will allow you to overload your body and accommodate your CNS to heavier loads. As I have mentioned with the SlingShot though, an overload of more than 10% will be at the point of diminishing returns for the raw lifter. Squatting in wraps is a specific skill outside of just squatting, but I would say the time to acquire this skill is fairly minimal and for this reason I would advocate squatting in your wraps fairly rarely to allow your body to work harder under less maximal loads and also build the strength in your joints. Of course there are some very successful lifters (Andrey Malanichev and Eric Lilliebridge) who almost always squat in wraps (and maybe this is my aversion to wrapping my own knees talking), but ultra-tight knee wraps can actually add stress to the knees. Wear your wraps as much as you need to feel comfortable in them and accommodate to the heavier loads, but do not neglect heavy wrapless work as well to build your body and joint strength.
Q: How often should I squat/bench/deadlift?
There isn’t a right or wrong answer here, and what is right for me may be wrong for you or vice versa. I know that probably sounds like a cop-out, but it is the truth. Different people with different training backgrounds, life stress, genetics, etc will respond better to different programs. As an extremely general rule of thumb, the newer a lifter is, the higher frequency they need and will respond to. They need this due to a lack efficiency in their technique, which doesn’t allow them to be elicit as significant of a stimulus with low volume training compared to a higher qualified lifter. On the other side of the coin, an advanced lifter may need to utilize high frequency training to continue progress as well. Programs like Sheiko, RTS and Smolov are all tremendously successful for higher qualified lifters. So often people just look at manipulating volume and intensity as factors in training but forget about frequency. Increasing frequency allows for more practice of the competitive lifts, and more quality practice equals better performance.
Mike Tuchscherer explains this concept very well in A Case Against Specificity.
Q: I had XYZ injury, how should I progress back into training?
A: Well first off, I’m not a PT or a doctor so I would encourage you to reach out to Dr. Quinn Henoch of Darkside Strength who coaches our Juggernaut Mobility Clinics along with Ryan Brown. My general recommendation though is, as soon as you are cleared for activity, return to whatever scaled version you can handle of whatever activity you are trying to return to. So if you had a back injury deadlifting and need to return to deadlifting, start pulling from very high blocks or pins (this may only mean a few inch range of motion), each week progress by moving the start height down a small increment until you are pulling from the floor again. I would also advocate reverse band work during a time like this. Most likely in this scenario, your back would hurt the most during the start position of the pull, so using reverse bands would alleviate the stress in the most vulnerable position while still allowing you to go through a full ROM and properly retrain your movement patterns. During a time like this, it is critical that you employ high frequency training, even up to 6x/week depending on how low intensity you are using.
Q: How should I choose between pulling sumo or conventional (or squatting high bar vs low bar)?
A: Train both and choose the one you are best at. When making any technical adjustment, grip width, stance width, bar position, etc or programming change you need to give yourself adequate time to accommodate to it to know if it is really working. For a technical change, give it a minimum of 6 weeks, and a programming change, a minimum of 12 weeks. This type of dedicated time is necessary because very often, a technique change may be a one step back, two steps forward kind of situation because you may not be immediately comfortable/confident with the new change and it may be causing you to change your leverages and utilize muscles that have been neglected in the past, though it could yield you greater results in the long term.
Q: How should your approach your accessory work?
A: I refer to this as secondary work
supplementary work = compound movements that aren’t the competitive movement or a variation of it
accessory work = single joint and machine movements.
The goal of both of these are to build the competitive movement through improving strength in lagging body parts and allowing you to better hold your technique under maximal loads. Testing these secondary lifts should not be your goal, but rather training them with volume at submaximal loads. Use the same supplementary movements for a minimum of 3 weeks at a time, though 6 weeks is more appropriate typically. Smaller accessory movements can be rotated more frequently as their carryover is much smaller and they are simply used to give your muscle some stimulus. Don’t try to set PRs on accessory work during the course of a meet training cycle; save that for the off-season. Pushing these exercise with less transfer to the competitive movement, and pushing them too hard will detract from the energy you could otherwise put towards the exercises that matter most.
Do they have value? Of course. Just understand where they fall in the hierarchy of your training.
Q: What changes should you make to your training when you get sick?
A: Illness is a huge stress to the body and, like any stress (training, emotional, etc), it must be accounted for. As I’m not a doctor, please don’t take this as medical advice, but training while sick can be done, though adjustments need to be made. A 30% reduction in intensity is a good rule of thumb for training while sick or recovering from sickness. Adding stress to the system with high intensity training will only make recovery from illness more difficult, and taking a week or two off is a very small thing in the grand scheme of your training career. Keep in mind to do the least amount necessary to get the desired result when approaching training around an illness.
Chad Wesley Smith is the founder and head physical preparation coach at Juggernaut Training Systems. Chad has a diverse athletic background, winning two national championships in the shot put, setting the American Record in the squat (905 in the 308 class, raw w/ wraps) and most recently winning the 2012 North American Strongman championship, where he earned his pro card. In addition to his athletic exploits, Chad has helped over 50 athletes earn Division 1 athletic scholarships since 2009 and worked with many NFL Players and Olympians. Chad is the author of The Juggernaut Method and The Juggernaut Method 2.0.Facebook, YouTube, Twitter