Of all the coaches who have influenced me in the area of program design, the person who most deserves public acknowledgment is weightlifting coach Pierre Roy.
Although the Eastern Bloc countries, especially Bulgaria, have gotten the most press about their weightlifting methods (and, unfortunately, their drug suspensions), in Canada Pierre Roy is considered one of the most accomplished weightlifting coaches of the past several decades. Case in point: He coached two athletes at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, one being Jacques Demers. Demers won the silver medal over Dragomir Cioroslan, who went on to become the head weightlifting coach for the United States. Pierre also coached several more athletes who competed in the World Championships, such as Denis Garon, who clean and jerked 490 pounds as a heavyweight, and more than 50 athletes who competed in the Canadian Championships.
Roy is a man of a few words but is very precise in what he means. Like all geniuses, he simplifies things and loves to use principles to dictate training orientation. Here are five lessons that he impressed upon me.
Lesson #1: The Need for Variety in the Stimulus
Roy believes that a program is only as good as the time it takes you to adapt to it, and as a general rule Roy advises that athletes should change their program completely every two to three weeks. This advice alone put me ahead of the game as a strength coach.
The problem that many coaches have in applying this advice is that inexperienced athletes can often make progress for much longer on a program. A beginner who does a 5-4-3-2-1 pyramid system for the bench press can often make linear progress for months, at first adding maybe five pounds a day to their max then five pounds a week and then five pounds a month. Not knowing any better, that individual stays on the program and may believe that this system is always the ideal workout for the bench press. But although a single set-rep sequence can work for a beginner, it doesn't work for advanced athletes, at least not for very long. In fact, with many of my advanced athletes, I may change a t least one single loading parameter, such as the number of reps, every workout.
Lesson #2: The Value of Controlled Overtraining
Roy taught me that if an athlete doesn't periodically overtrain, he or she will never dig deep in those reserves that cause a supercompensation effect, enabling them to achieve the highest levels of maximal strength. Pierre's three secrets for success in strength training are 1) hard work, 2) hard work, and 3) hard work. He would say to the effect that "If your athletes don't ever complain of joint pain or show signs of depression, you are not pushing them hard enough!"
The late Arthur Jones endorsed Roy's belief in hard training, and those who trained with Jones shared stories of how he was able to motivate individuals to push themselves to exhaustion. However, the effects of such training were diminished because of the lack of variety in Jones's workouts and insufficient volume of training. Further, the reason professional bodybuilders often made exceptional progress at first when working with Jones is that they were often overtrained, and the lower volume of Jones's training allowed them to recover. In effect, fatigue masks fitness!
Lesson #3: Accumulation/Intensification Alternation Principle
Roy's basic training model involved first stressing with volume (accumulation phase) and then stressing with intensity (intensification phase). This model works both for athletes who want to develop maximal strength and for bodybuilders who want to achieve maximum size.
A popular periodization model in the US is to gradually decrease the repetitions in stages over a long period. Here is an example of such a system:
Weeks 1-4: 10 reps
Weeks 5-8: 5 reps
Weeks 9-12: 1-3 reps
Besides the lack of variety of this program, any gains in muscle mass achieved during the first month of training usually disappear by the last month of training. Here is a better alternative:
Weeks 1-2: 8 reps
Weeks 3-4: 4 reps
Weeks 5-6: 6 reps
Weeks 7-8: 2-3 reps
Weeks 9-10: 5 reps
Weeks 11-12: 1-2 reps
By performing higher-rep periods throughout the program, the hypertrophy gains stay with the athlete throughout the entire program. Further, these higher-rep periods provide sufficient time for the nervous system to recover from the intensity of the lower-rep periods.
Lesson #4: Snatch Deadlift on a Podium
Roy taught me this great "most bang for your buck" exercise, and I have used it with almost every Olympic medalist I've ever coached. The snatch deadlift on a podium is definitely one of the best exercises to train the lower back. The strength gains from this exercise always transfer to an improvement in the athlete's 10-meter time, which is a prime indicator in most pro sports of the potential to be a top money earner.
One of the reasons for the effectiveness of the exercise is that it works the major muscles of the lower body throughout a greater range of motion. This is possible because the athlete is standing on a low platform (about 4-6 inches) and is using a wider grip. Russian weightlifting legend Vasily Alexeev valued this type of exercise, but instead of standing on a podium he would use smaller-diameter plates to increase the range of motion.
Lesson #5: Structural Balance Concept
Throughout his career Pierre has made it a practice to accumulate data to determine if a weightlifter's training process is balanced, which he believes is necessary to achieve maximal results in both the snatch and clean and jerk. He is the first one to admit the concept came from a variety of discussions with coaches from the Eastern Bloc. Other such ideas he would tell me were your snatch should be 78 percent of your clean, and you should be able to front squat two reps of your best clean and jerk.
By using such normative data and applying it to other disciplines, I was provided with a tool to determine if an athlete was too fast for his strength or too weak for his speed. Using this concept as a base, I added norms for other lifts, which you will learn at the Level 1 and Level 2 PICP. That is why anybody who puts the overhead squat in a program is a dweeb. The snatch is 56 percent of your best back squat, so why use such a ridiculous load for your legs when it puts your shoulders under such tremendous strain?
Roy is a very humble man, and that is why Eastern Bloc coaches always loved and respected him and had no problem giving him great coaching tips. I have stated this many times: If I were a NFL team owner, or English Premiership team owner, Pierre Roy is the first guy I would hire as a strength coach.