The Intermediate Strength Athlete

Last week’s blog covered the ins and outs of the Beginner or novice strength athlete. This week I want to speak to those intermediate athletes looking to take it up a notch. While there are no distinct lines or a moment in time that separate the beginning strength athlete from the intermediate, there are programming considerations which help differentiate the two. As I covered in Last Week’s Blog, the beginner’s priorities are:

  • Correcting muscular imbalances
  • Increasing workload and conditioning known as general physical preparedness (GPP)
  • Acquiring stability strength

Every individual who begins a consistent resistance training program will and should adapt to it in their own way and progress at their own pace. Some people are like race horses out of the gate and programming must advance along with them or stagnation will occur. On the flip side, there are others who might suffer from mobility issues or prior injuries which dictate their attainable level of training and subsequent programming. Priorities or goals must also be taken into consideration. Some people are striving for a healthy lifestyle, and want to feel better about themselves. I think it’s important to understand that many people who incorporate resistance training into their lives will never need to graduate from beginner to intermediate based goals and expectations. It’s, however, my non-humble opinion that every single responsible person breathing air today should at minimum:

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  • Have some type of nutritional education and strategy
  • Spend 3-4 days per week attempting to restore their bodies to its intended function
  • Maintain an acceptable degree of fitness and acquire enough stability in their joints and surrounding muscles so that they don’t become chronically injured

If everyone over the age of 12 years old were to follow this simple recipe, we as a country could transform in a matter of months the entire medical and health insurance establishment. Imagine the ridiculous political debate about health care among Republicans and Democrats becoming a moot point. If we truly want a universal health care system, the only law we need passed is one charging each citizen with a required minimal level of self-prescribed wellness. It’s really that simple…

While general fitness will check all the boxes for much of the population, there are many others who will fall in love with the process of strength training. Become infatuated with the sensations and experiences that accompany a consistent weight training regimen. To me, there is nothing more exhilarating and empowering than watching your body transform into its intended glory and then realizing that this process is one that you can manipulate by simple tweaks in program design. Basically, your body is a lump of clay which can be kneaded and sculpted any way you like. The only limits are those you place on yourself. Next week I’ll get a lot more into this subject matter as we venture into the world of the advanced strength athlete. Stay tuned!

The empowerment one senses as the body is literally transformed because of proper training and nutrition can become as addicting as any drug on the planet. If you’re gonna be addicted to something, why not Iron?

Image result for Superhuman I truly believe, and have witnessed for over 30 years, that anyone willing to pay the price of admission can take their bodies and minds to any level they choose. I can personally testify that I do not fall into the category of “lucky DNA club member” blessed with superhuman genes. I had horrible asthma as a kid and was sick more than not. I am almost fifty years old now but years of a consistent weight training practice has transformed my body and spirit in such a way that I continue to get stronger every year. I am, in many ways, a better athlete today than when I was twenty. You simply must believe you can do it first. Then act on it

While there may not be a graduation day complete with gowns and diplomas, if the beginner has decided they want to take their bodies to the next level, programming should be adjusted accordingly. Here is a short list of programming considerations for the intermediate lifter:

Intermediate athletes should demonstrate:

  • 6 months to 1 year of consistent weight training
  • A high level of GPP
  • A basic understanding of form and function of all major lifts (squat, deadlift, press, rows etc.)
  • The ability to perform and critique all major lifts to high degree of efficiency

Difference in a beginners and intermediate strength program:

  • Frequency of training will increase
  • Intensity of training will increase and be measured not just in heart rate but also amount of weight lifted (% of 1RM)
  • Type of training will shift: (roughly 50% of training will continue to focus on GPP while 50% will focus on increasing levels of hypertrophy and strength)
  • The athlete will be introduced to failure at this point in terms of both reaching maximum heart rates, repetition maximums and endurance levels


Monday-         30-minute HIIT (whole body circuit 80% max HR-100% max HR)

Tuesday –        Body split – 30-45 minutes (chest and back 65%-90% max HR)

Wednesday     Recovery Cardio or Yoga

Thursday         Body split – 30-45 minutes (arms and shoulders 65%-90% max HR)

Friday             30-minute HIIT (whole body circuit 80% max HR-100% max HR)

Saturday          Strength training- 45 minutes to 1 hour (focus on powerlifts or Olympic lifts 65%

90% max HR)

Sunday            REST

If followed, the schedule recommendations listed above will create a structure which allows the intermediate strength athlete a seemingly infinite opportunity to advance. Inside the parameters of these recommendations are an endless possibility for the athlete to continue to increase volume by increasing reps, sets, progression of exercise difficulty, and an increase of intensity in both heart rate and weights used.

This shift in programming will be quite a jolt for the beginner and for several weeks an increase in fatigue and discomfort related to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) will become noticeable. As always, I recommend a slow, mindful progression as these variables and workouts become more difficult. Consistency to the programming and bullheaded tenacity are required at this point to transition from beginner to an intermediate level.

Please be mindful, if the athlete begins an intermediate program and turns tail the second soreness or failure is experienced, subsequent intermediate programming will be fruitless. At this point it’s my advice to go back to a novice/beginner program until the athlete is 100% motivated and physically able to make this transition. My experience is that 7-14 days are required for physiological adaptations of both the nervous and muscular systems to begin to allow for disruption in homeostasis caused by an increase in programming volume.

Long story short, if you are serious about stepping up your level of training you must be willing to suck up a bit of discomfort and fatigue along the way or progression will never occur. If you are serious about transforming your body and mind and desire a continued increase in performance levels, you must become best buddies with the SUCK.

In the Biohacker, I spend a whole chapter discussing this topic. As a coach, I don’t think there is anything more important I can offer my clients than an introduction to the infinite learning potential created by the SUCK. In many ways transcending from beginner to advanced is not just a measure of programming it’s how much SUCK you’re willing to endure. The finest swords weren’t forged in the coldest fires and the greatest athletes no matter how gifted, didn’t just wake up champions. Hard work, discipline, dedication and tenacity are required by the strength athlete if they hope to continue to advance. At the end of the day the best programming, equipment and technology are wasted without the human spirit aspiring to be great, leading the charge.