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A.J. has traveled a long journey to find his true home at Westside Barbell. He first came to the United States as a foreign exchange student in 2001, weighing in at a mere 170 pounds. In addition, he had never lifted weights before. He began lifting on a program based on Bigger, Faster, Stronger, a basic program that included box squats, benching, deadlifting, cleans, and incline presses.
He graduated high school at 210 pounds with a 400-pound squat, a 205-pound bench, and a 540-pound deadlift. He really got into powerlifting in 2004, when he started training with Brent Mikesell, a world record holder in the SHW squat, making an 1141-pound squat at the WPO. That year was A.J.’s first power meet. He made a 545-pound squat, a 365-pound bench, and a 560-pound deadlift at 220 bwt. He made his first Elite total in 2005 at 275 bwt. In 2006, he made a 2297-pound total. Later that year, he won the WPC worlds with an 880 squat, a 699 bench, and a 705 deadlift in the 308s. He made his first 1000-pound squat in 2007. In 2009, at the SPF he made a 1008-pound squat, a 710 bench, and a 710 deadlift, for a 2500-pound total. At the Guerilla Squat Classic he made a 1035 squat, an 805 bench, and a 760 deadlift for a 2600 total.
In less than two years he has gone from a 2428-pound total to a 2600-pound total. What’s the method behind the total increase? First and foremost it’s his training partners. They’re some of the best in the world, including Tony Bolognone, with a 2705 total; Dave Hoff (Neutron), with a 2685 total; Matt Smith, with a 2671 total; and Luke Edwards, with a 2450 total and 840 deadlift, just to name a few. Westside has what it takes to reach the top, such as the Plyo Swing, the Reverse Hyper machine, and all of the bars. But without intense and logical training and helping each other, none of this would be possible.
For squatting, A.J. is just starting to hit his stride. He has always box squatted, but when we widened his stance, he blew up a 1035-pound squat. We found his hips were tight, so he started doing a lot of stretching, which made all the difference. Many have this problem but ignore the fact and become stuck or go backward in their progress in the squat and can’t lockout their deadlift. Next, A.J. started pushing up the average percent of his squat workouts. A second plus was raising the deadlift volume. He did lots of sets of 3-5 reps in the power rack with bands and ultra-wide sumo deadlifts with bands. We use the multiple sets for developing the muscles that contribute not only to deadlifting but also squatting.
On Friday, the volume must be extremely high while the intensity is moderate to moderately high. Three days later on Monday, the bar volume averages 30-60% of Friday’s workout. The intensity is 100%+ of our current physical preparedness. On max effort day, A.J. will work up to a max single 80% of the time. The other 20% is 3 reps of good mornings or 3-5 reps in the ultra-wide sumo. A.J. does a lot of special bars to squat with or do good mornings. On both days sled pulling for strength or strength endurance is done, and many times he does light sled pulling for his warmup before the speed squat or on max effort day for squatting and deadlifting. Reverse Hyper machine and glute/ham raises are two main exercises that are done in high volume. A.J. also pays a lot of attention to flexibility. Two small workouts for the squat and deadlift are done in the afternoon. His main training sessions are at 8 a.m. His bench training is typical Westside. In a span of less than two years his bench has gone from 710 to 805. How did A.J. do this? Let’s take a look.
On speed day, he will rotate from mini- to monster mini-bands to chains. Sometimes he uses a combination of chains and bands. Other times he will choke a mini or monster mini to cause an abrupt loading at lockout. He uses a close grip just touching the smooth part of bar, two inches out with little finger touching the power ring. He does 9 sets of 3 reps; sometimes after a meet he will use 9 sets of 5 reps. The intensity is the same, but the volume is considerably higher to regain muscle mass. A.J., like other Westsiders, will do a rest pause system on speed day. A.J. will do a set, then rest 10 seconds and do a second set, rest 10 seconds and do a third set, rest 2 minutes and repeat. This is done for 3-4 series, or a total of 9-12 sets. This will really stimulate your body for a change of pace. Of course he will change bars quite often. A power bar, a 2-inch-cambered bar, a football bar, a T-grip bar, or an arch bar is rotated in and out of his speed cycle. He does a couple sets of dumbbell presses with a moderate weight or two light sets of benches, one ultra-wide and one close grip for a set each with 15 reps. This is a warmup before triceps work. A.J. will rotate from dumbbell roll-backs to extensions with the elbows out. When they start to fail, A.J. goes to the J.M. press and straight bar triceps extensions. He does board press but only as a tester, not a builder. Some side and rear delt work, hammer curls, and lat work, and he is done.
Like George Halbert, A.J. thinks speed work is most important, but max effort is a must. A.J. does max effort work on Wednesday. This makes it possible to taper the heavy work 10 days out from a contest. He will do speed work on Sunday, which leaves 6 or 7 days to rest for a contest.
Wednesday is our max effort day. A.J. does not have a favorite, but the floor press with 200 pounds of chains is a main indicator of how strong he is for a contest. He will rotate between several exercises in no particular order: 2-3 board press; maxing out with chains, bands, and real weight; rack lockouts from 2 inches off chest to 4 inches from lockout; incline and decline press with a barbell using close and wide grips; and dumbbell pressing at all angles. He also does more muscle building with push-ups with weight on his back. Each week A.J. changes the max effort work, never doing the same exercise 2 weeks in a row. He will put a bench shirt on about every 4 weeks. Lots of triceps extensions have put almost 100 pounds on his bench in a year and a half.
Only time will tell where A.J. will be in the next year and a half; so stay tuned to the Westside channel and find out.