Rules of Thumb

By: Daniel Dalenberg

Rules of thumb suck.

Allow me to clarify; rules of thumb suck when applied rigidly. Allowing no flexibility to your game plan whether it be nutrition, training or meet day is bound to lead to a failure eventually. Let’s take a look at three different classic rules, think about why they suck and modify them to work better.


Any rule involving meet attempts.

Everyone has heard these rules in some form. A very common one would be that your opener should always be your PR double or triple. Why does this rule suck? Strength development is not linear. If you are in the game long enough you will have a bad training cycle and things will take a step backwards. All of a sudden that PR double from 6 months ago is much less realistic as an opener.

So how can this rule be improved? Yes, openers should be easy and typically one should be able to double or triple the opener. The catch is that you should be able to double or triple it on the day that matters. Think of this like the RPE system, how strong are you today? So rather than just defaulting to that PR double for your opener, use how your training has went over the course of the past several weeks to determine how strong you are right now, rather than in times past.

Training style just for one particular type of lifter.

Westside is only for geared lifters. I’m sure a quick review of would find this statement countless times. You can substitute any style of training here, especially ones that were heavily popularized by any one gym. This rule of thumb exists for just every style out there.


There is definitely truth to this. If you were to train exactly how Dave Hoff of Westside or apply 10/20/Life in the exact same way that Brian Carroll applies it, you probably wouldn’t have a great training cycle. Why not though, why wouldn’t you want to follow exactly what the best of the best are doing? It’s because they wear gear and you don’t, right?

That’s not the reason at all. Forget that Dave and Brian push the absolute limit with extreme supportive equipment. Their training is crafted to fit their needs. Yes, wearing gear drives many of those needs, but the needs driven by that are resolved in the details of their training not in the underlying structure of it.

Let’s talk just 10/20/Life and its major components of consistent deloads, customized warm-up’s and assistance work, using off seasons to target weak points and the method used to peak. That’s the underlying structure, the bare bones. The needs of the lifter will determine exactly how to apply those concepts. For example, a geared bench presser probably needs a lot more upper end work so he will end up board pressing a fair bit. On the other hand, the raw bench presser maybe needs more direct pec and front delt work. Both of those lifters can still use the same system but just apply the finer details in a different manner. A cookie cutter program will only work for the type of lifter it was designed for. A training system can be applied across the board.

All it takes is working harder.

This is a common sentiment. Strength training and fitness in general at the higher levels is hard work. It isn’t easy to build elite levels of strength; it takes a long time, lots of training sessions and plenty of hours put in the gym to get there. I won’t discount the value of working hard, but the idea of “no one will out work me” being the key to success lacks further explanation.

Here’s my key assumption regarding the saying “no one will out work me”. This means just working harder, sweating more, and lifting heavier, more frequently and so on. Physically out putting additional effort and pushing harder to be better than your competition.

Work harder should include so much more. Just out putting more effort isn’t enough- frankly sometimes this is the worst thing! Sometimes pushing harder will mean an injury, over training or peaking too early. Ever see a lifter get hurt, rush his rehab and start to push too hard only to end up hurt again? There are some notable examples, read between the lines and draw your conclusions- hint: your inspirational lifter hero is probably going to end up under the knife again.


No one out working you should mean no one will work smarter or more efficiently than you. Doesn’t fit in meme’s quite as well written that like, but if you are working as intelligently, efficiently and pushing as hard as needed you will probably go far.

Each of these rules does have some truth to them. However, rigid application just isn’t appropriate. The human body is far too complex and unique from person to person to sum up a “rule” in own sentence. There is so much variability from athlete to athlete that some flexibility must be allowed and the thought process behind the rules of thumb has to be more detailed than a simple statement. Rather than accepting a simple rule, think about the root of its meaning and find that flexibility to still get some value without restricting yourself and your training within unreasonable bounds.


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Daniel Dalenberg

Dan Dalenberg is a pro level raw and equipped powerlifter with elite totals in the 220, 242 and 275 class. Best official raw meet lifts include an 804 squat, 507 bench press, 715 dead lift and 2006 total. Best equipped lifts include an 950 squat, 715 bench, 735 deadlift and 2400 total at 242. Dan has been training under Brian's guidance using the 10/20/Life methodology since late 2010.
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