Should You Use Heavy Singles In Training?

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Broadly speaking – there’s two camps that occupy opposing sides of the “how to train for powerlifting” battle. On one side you’ve the Russian / European style of doing things where you focus on lots of sub-max volume to get stronger.

…and on the other you’ve the “American” way of doing things which often involves lots of heavy near max singles.

Think of it as Sheiko -v- Westside, or Norway -v- RTS.

The basic crux of the argument is sheiko disciples argue that you can’t improve technique or build muscle using heavy heavy loads (85-90%+) since all you’ll do is reinforce bad movement patterns and technical faults, and you won’t get enough volume in to make long-term progress.

Westside disciples argue that you can’t train to lift heavy singles like ya do in competition by using 65-75% weights for sets of 3-8 reps in training.

And when you read it like that – you should hopefully think “but sides are right”. Because they are.

It’s ludicrous to think you could get better at moving 95-105% without ever training in those ranges. Anyone who’s training a long time and got reasonably strong will tell you how much difference there is between 95-100% x1 and 80ish% x8, despite both requiring around the same level of exertion relative to failure.

And you’d be nuts to think that all you need to do to get stronger is to try and lift as much as possible over and over again. You’d end up injured, broken and exhausted inside a matter of weeks.

If you’re now thinking “why not combine both and get the best of both worlds” then you’re on the right track. A lot of VERY successful programs are now using heavy singles/doubles combined with a lot of drop backs.

For example, if you’re training your competition squat, it makes A LOT of sense to do something like work up to 86% x2, or 91% x1 before dropping back to 70ish% 5×5.

While 86% x2 and 91% x1 are “hard”, they’re not loud music, slaps to the noggan, headbutting the bar hard. They give you a chance to move some heavy near max loads without requiring so much psyche up that they create fatigue.

There’s a lot of fear involved in heavy singles and if you only do them for a brief time coming into comp you’ll always be on the back foot. Buuuuut if you step under the bar at least 1x per week and handle what would traditionally be opening weights, and get near second attempt weights every now and again, you get VERY comfortable with heavy weights on your back and they stop being a big deal.

It’s something Mike T does a lot as part of his RTS programming, similarly, the TSA lads do it too. And considering the athletes they produce – ya gotta agree it seems to work.

But remember – it should be difficult but achievable singles and doubles. Something in the 85-92% range. Going above that too frequently and getting all psyched up for it ain’t gonna do you any favors in the long term.


Eoin Small