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The four seasons of lifting Part 1

Articles / 14 March, 2017 / back, mind-muscle connection, muscle, rear deltoids, rhomboids

By Christian Thibaudeau

I recently gave a seminar at my old stomping ground and got to see one of my old friends with whom I used to coach. Now, this man could be anywhere between his late forties and mid-fifties because I know he is older than I am, but he doesn’t look a day older than he did when we worked together. In fact, he doesn’t look older than 35. He is lean, muscular and very athletic. How does he train? He uses a system called “the four seasons of lifting”. It’s a very innovative and effective way to train, especially if you are not interested in specializing on one thing only (e.g. only getting strong or only getting muscular). In this first part we will cover the first two seasons.

If you are someone who wants it all and who loves all types of training, this might be an approach for you!

What does the system look like? My friend divides the year into 4 phases (pretty much coinciding with the seasons). Each phase is focused on one type of training:

Autumn: bodybuilding

Winter: powerlifting

Spring: metabolic conditioning or Olympic lifting

Summer: track and field

Note that I am referring to the general inclination of the training. For example, in the spring he trains like a weightlifter but in his case, it’s mostly doing variations of the power clean, power snatch, power jerk/push press, squats and pulls, not the full technical lifts.

All the phases include at least a minimal amount of hypertrophy work to maintain the gains acquired in the earlier phases.

Here is how you can use this system. Note that this is my interpretation of the concept and not my friend’s actual program.

Autumn is for bodybuilding

The training split used is a pull/push/legs split. This is either done using a weekly split in which you are training 6 days a week, with Sunday off (pull/push/legs/pull/push/legs/off) or using a 3 on/1 off split (pull/push/legs/off/pull/push/legs/off), in which case it will take you a bit more than a week to go through the whole rotation. If you have issues recovering you can use a 2 on/1 off schedule, again stretching the rotation over a longer period. Not optimal due to the lower frequency per muscle group, but it will work for people with bad recovery capacities. It would look like this: pull/push/off/legs/pull/off/push/legs/off

In that split, every pressing muscle is trained to some extent on pressing days, but there is a certain focus (delts or pectorals). Same goes for pulling days, where every pulling muscle is trained but there is an emphasis (thickness or width). For legs, the emphasis is either on quads or on the posterior chain while still hitting everything to some extent.

For example:

Pull workout 1 – Thickness

Traps superset

Rear delts/rhomboids superset

Horizontal pulling (row variation)

Vertical pulling

Brachialis superset

Biceps superset

Push workout 1 – Pectorals

External rotators exercise

Pectorals isolation exercise

Bench press (or DB press) variation / heavy

Bench press (or DB press) variation /volume

Pectorals superset

Lateral raise variation

Triceps superset

Legs workout 1 – Quads

Quadriceps isolation exercise (most often leg extensions)

Squat variation / heavy

Squat variation / volume

Unilateral quad-dominant exercise (Bulgarian split squat, shot step lunges, backward lunges, etc.

Low CNS stress posterior chain exercise (glute ham raise, reverse hyper, back extension, leg curl, etc.)

Pull workout 2 – Width

Lats isolation exercise (straight-arm pulldown variation, pullover variation)

Lats pre-fatigue superset (lats isolation exercise superseded with vertical pull)

Rowing exercise (supinated seated row, T-bar row, Meadows row, chest-supported row, etc.) / heavy

Rear delts/rhomboid superset

Brachialis / heavy

Biceps / heavy

Push workout 2 – Delts

External rotators exercise

Deltoid superset (here I like to superset a lateral raise and a front raise variation)

Overhead pressing exercise

Deltoid width superset (two lateral raise variations as a superset)

Triceps superset

Pectoral isolation exercise

Leg workout 2 – Posterior chain

Glutes or hamstring isolation exercise

Deadlift variation / heavy

Deadlift variation / volume (normally a RDL or Goodmorning)

Hip extension exercise (reverse hyper, rope pull-through, KB swing, back extension)

Knee flexion exercise (glute ham raise, leg curl variation)

Quads isolation exercise

Some general notes:

* We rely heavily on pre-fatigue during this phase. Either by starting the workouts with isolation work before doing the main lift or by using supersets.

* “Heavy” in a bodybuilding phase normally means sets of about 6 reps.

* “Volume” refers to using slightly higher reps (8-10) with a slower tempo or extended sets methods (rest/pause, drop set, partials at the end of the set, holds at the end of the set). The numbers of sets itself is not high, 2-3.

* Most of the exercises are done for 3-4 sets, and with the heavy work we can do up to 6 sets, but only the last 3-4 are really challenging.

* You can change the isolation exercises every week if you want

* On the isolation exercises, you can use methods like slow tempo, added partials, added isometric holds, etc. The goal is maximum pump in the target muscle.

Winter is for powerlifting

The overall frequency of training will be a bit lower (4 heavy sessions a week) but you can add some conditioning work (sled drag, prowler pushing, farmer’s walk) once or twice per week for no longer than 25-30 minutes per session. The goal is to use these sessions for recovery, not to drain you further.

The split used is lower/upper body. Ideally using the following schedule:

Monday: Lower 1 (deadlift)

Tuesday: Upper 2 (bench volume)

Wednesday: OFF

Thursday: Lower 2 (squat)

Friday: OFF

Saturday: Upper 2 (bench heavy)

Sunday: OFF

On your workouts, you train the main lift for strength and then use assistance exercise exercises to fix your weak link and “bodybuilding work” to build the key muscles in the lift.

A weekly schedule can look like this:

Lower body 1 – Deadlift

Glutes and/or hamstring exercise (activation)

Deadlift for strength

Lift to target the weak link in your deadlift (floating deadlift, Sweeping deadlift, Romanian deadlift with hip band, Zercher deadlift, etc.)

Lats exercise (straight-arm pulldown variation, pullover variation)

Rowing exercise

Hip extension exercise (reverse hyper, back extension, cable pull-through, etc.)

Upper body 1 – Bench press volume

Bench press variation other than the competition bench (slight incline, slight decline, close-grip, floor press, etc.) done for volume

Press variation with emphasis on eccentric (slow tempo, weight releasers, manual eccentric overload)

Triceps exercise / heavy

Triceps superset

Deltoid superset

Pectorals superset

Rowing exercise

Lower body 2 – Squat

Glutes and/or hamstring exercise (activation)

Squat for strength

Exercise to fix the weak link in your squat (front squat, high bar squat, safety squat, Zercher squat, Frankenstein squat, etc.)

Low CNS impact leg movement (leg press, machine hack squat, lumberjack squat)

Unilateral leg exercise

Upper body 2 – Bench press heavy

Bench press for strength

Exercise to fix the weak link in your bench (close-grip, floor press, board press, pin press, wide grip)

DB press variation (incline, decline, flat, neutral grip, etc.)

Triceps exercise heavy

Triceps superset

Rowing exercise

Some general notes:

* “for strength” means utilizing a plan to work toward improving your max lift in 10-12 weeks. It could be something like the 5/3/1 scheme, or using a periodized approach like my 915 or Power Look programs on T-nation.com or Dr.Squat 80 days powerlifting plan. Or if you are of the max effort school of thought you could ramp to a 3RM for 3 weeks,  deload one week (only do 3 triples at 90% of your 3RM), ramp to a 2RM for 3 weeks, deload for one week (do 3 doubles at 90 of your 2RM), ramp to a 1RM for 2 weeks, deload for one week (do 3 singles with 90% of your 1RM) and then test your max on week 12.

* The first assistance exercise (done after the main lift) is normally done for 3-4 sets of 5-6 reps. The other exercises are trained like you did in the “bodybuilding” phase; for maximum pump. Exercises where “heavy” is mentioned are normally done for sets of 6.

* The main lift of each workout stays the same for the whole phase but assistance work can vary. The main assistance lift is selected based on the weakness you saw in the execution of your main lift that day so it can change as your lift evolves. The other assistance exercises can change at every workout since they are only there to simulate growth; as long as you feel the target muscle doing the work, you are fine.

STAY TUNED…

This covers the first two seasons of lifting: Autumn is for bodybuilding / Winter is for powerlifting. In part II I will talk about the other two seasons: Spring is for metabolic conditioning or Olympic lifting / Summer is for track and field. Don’t miss it!

— CT

Christian Thibaudeau

Written by Christian Thibaudeau

Christian Thibaudeau has been involved in the business of training for over the last 15 years. During this period, he worked with athletes from 28 different sports. He has been “Head Strength Coach” for the Central Institute for Human Per…