Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Adapting HLM for a Competitive Masters Lifter

by | June 28, 2018

Marty Curran is a model client. I’ve had the pleasure of coaching Marty since October of 2016.  Without fail, he always completes his training despite an extensive travel schedule for work, and for a guy in the 50+ age bracket, existing far left of center on the bell curve for athleticism, Marty has also gotten pretty damn strong. Marty has competed in two strengthlifting meets to date and made remarkable progress along the way. This case study details Marty’s journey as a competitive masters lifter and the programming we’ve used to drive his success. 

When Marty started after attending a seminar in 2016, he had a good working knowledge of Starting Strength, but he was tall and lanky, and in need of building some lean body mass and strength.  Matt had started Marty on a program that combined aspects of a linear progression and the “Old Man” version of the Texas Method program, and I took over Marty’s coaching and programming about a month after he signed up. 

As we got to know each other we discussed setting some specific goals. I mentioned to Marty that I had coached several clients through powerlifting meets, but Marty didn’t show much initial interest in competition. I was a little surprised when he told me he had decided to do a meet and then signed up for the Starting Strength Challenge in the spring of 2017.  

By January of 2017, Marty had exhausted the usefulness of Old Man Texas Method (OMTM), and we needed to find new programming to prepare him for his upcoming meet. I reset Marty’s weights and started him on Heavy Light Medium. HLM takes many forms and can be extremely flexible, which makes it great for adapting to the needs of a competitive masters lifter.  

Typically I arrange HLM programming by stress, and not necessarily by load. H is the heavy or high stress training day, L is light stress, and M is a medium stress day. The week is arranged with a large dose of stress up front to disrupt homeostasis. The L and M days contribute additional training stress to continue to drive progress while also facilitating recovery, ensuring the lifter has recovered and adapted in time for the start of the next week. Occasionally the loading on the medium day may be quite high or possibly even higher than that of the heavy day, but the sets and reps scheme would be such that the overall tonnage and stress would be less than the heavy day. 

Marty had made good progress on OMTM, but he was struggling to keep good form on the heavy 1x5 squat sets at the end of the week.  I was also concerned that these intensity day sets would eventually beat Marty up as they got heavier. The initial version of HLM that I assigned to Marty changed very little from the OMTM that he started on, retaining 3 sets of 5 across on the heavy days for the squat and the pressing movement and a single heavy set of five for deadlift. Light squats and press along with chins served as the light day. Medium day was 3x5 sets across of paused squats, plus a moderate weight press and barbell rows. We used paused squats because they helped Marty learn to better set his knees on the descent and control his hips and back angle on the ascent. They’re also naturally lighter than regular low-bar squats due to the pause at the bottom eliminating the ability to use the stretch reflex to assist the drive up.  

Marty ran this version of HLM until just before the meet, followed by a short taper to dissipate fatigue and shift the targeted adaptation towards heavy singles.  He put together a phenomenal first meet, making eight out of nine attempts and setting new personal bests for all three lifts. His numbers for the day were a 315 pound squat, 170 pound press, and 452 pound deadlift, and a total just shy of 1,000 pounds (937).  

Marty left the meet ecstatic and was ready to jump right back into training – he was hooked! We picked right back up with the HLM program with no changes and resumed adding five pounds to the bar, setting new personal records each week. We also made plans to compete together at the Starting Strength Fall Classic in late October. The HLM programming continued to work perfectly, with Marty matching his old squat 1RM of 315 pounds in early September just a few months after his first meet, only now it was for 3x5 across.  

A late shoulder tweak slowed progress on Marty’s press leading into the meet, but that was the only disappointment from the Fall Classic. Marty went nine for nine, still managing to tie his PR in the press at 170 pounds, increasing his deadlift PR to 480 pounds, and smashing his old squat PR with a new best at 406 pounds for a total of 1,056 pounds.  That’s a 119 pound increase on his total, while taking his squat from 315 to 406, all from April to October, and at 51 years old. That’s some damn good progress! 

Work has been hectic for Marty since the Fall Classic, and we’ve yet to put another meet on the calendar for him.  He’ll be ready when we do though, he continues to plug along with HLM. We’ve made a few tweaks along the way, adjusting training variables to balance an adequate amount of volume at an appropriate level of intensity to continue making progress, while also managing the occasional aches and pains that come with training hard as a masters lifter. Eventually Marty will require more complexity in his programming, but for now the simplicity of HLM works just fine, and we’re more than happy to continue milking the gains. 

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