Consistency Trumps Intensity

Practice Practice Practice

In a podcast in February 2015, coach Paul McIlroy spoke of ‘expanding our comfort zone’ to elicit an expanded limit strength.

By not stressing our body into a self defending halt, you can gradually acclimatise the body to increased stress and thus adaptations. You body will grant you strength rather than you straining it out the body.

While hard work (efforts of 85% plus) will to an extent bring on strength adaptations for a while, the risks of injury are vast… and yes, many men and women do just fine working up to high percentage effort sets, train each move every 5 – 7 days and don’t get injured, many, many more trainees do get hurt.

Enter Steve Justa…

In his exploratory book Rock, Iron, Steel, Steve talks about people he worked with, witnessed and studied of sorts, who performed very manual jobs, lifting, moving, carrying and pushing things that most gym junkies couldn’t. Even more extraordinary, these people were conducting these feats of labour for hours on end, every day. They were not performing the labour for 5 sets of 10 either like the aforementioned gym junkies. They were not getting injured. They just seemed able to perform well for long periods of time.

Now, to be clear, these day to day feats were not maximal efforts by their standards, but compared to most gym trainees, they would be challenging.

So what? What makes these peoples jobs relative to training for strength in the gym for those who don’t have manual jobs?

The trend that was observed is two-fold.

  1. The efforts on average were well below maximum efforts. They were somewhere in 70% ish range.
  2. The efforts were performed with high frequency

Without going through the complete works of Steve Justa (who is incredibly absent from the internet actually), Steve came up with many programs, but his singles program is one of his most popular.

It is based on simply creeping up the loads in each exercise, at a 70% of maximal load. The creep per session was no more than 5lb and the loading would wave up and down. The volume would be large however to administer the gradual stress on the body.

Now onto me

I have found myself increasingly interested in working at lower effort stress levels owing to old shoulder, back and hip issues from a variety of historic injuries and wear and tear. I still like to work my ass off though!

In kettlebell training though, the idea of increasing loading by 5lb or any small increment is not possible. Coach Dave Whitley came up with a great take on the Justa singles program to accommodate for this one factor. Rather than wave the loads by small increments, let’s wave the reps up and down to expand the same illustrious comfort zone!

The premise, play with waving 5 reps per session rather than 5lb… I ♥ simple.

28s close upsSo with gusto in June, I kicked off my first wave of the varied Justa program. I worked out my max press, took 70% of it – a humbling 20kg kettlebell!

My max was 1 press left and 2 good presses on the right.

The 32kg would not go anywhere!

The program would take a waved session approach of light, medium and heavier. This is in terms of volume, the weight would not move on from the 20kg until I retest and ascertain that my new 70% is the 24kg.

Patience pending!

Please read that last sentence again. I would only be using the 20s to press with until I would retest and discover my new 70% is the next available weight, the 24kg kettlebell in this case, BY SUCCESSFULLY THE 32KG.

To press a lot, you have to press a lot, of reps that is. Much like a ‘grease the groove‘ training model, strength is a skill, practicing a skill enables enhanced skill. Got it?

Cutting to the chase, the program im following looks like this:

Double 20kg kettlebells Press, pressing at the start of each minute for 20 minutes, every second day (life pending) – simple!

  1.  1,1,1,1 until 20 minutes are up. The active rest was made up of whatever else I felt I needed to work on, Rows, single leg deadlift, ab wheel and such, but not maximal.
  2. 1,1,1,2 x 5 rounds
  3. 1,1,2,2 x 5
  4. 1,1,1,2 x 5
  5. 1,1,2,2,x 5

…. this has continued in a wave pattern kind of progression governed by feeling and autoregulation (how I feel on any given day). I did test when I reached the stage of pressing 3s for 20 minutes. I achieved pressing the 28 for 4 right and 2 left. A small increase, but very easy to do.

Currently, I am at the stage of pressing 3,4,4,4 x 5 rounds (75 presses). That’s tomorrows plan at time of typing this.

I intend to keep with this plan until pressing 5 on the minute for 20 minutes. That will be 100 presses! At that point I will retest the max press and evaluate where to go from there.

I’ll stay in touch of course. If you want to try something similar to this, please, reach out, ask. I would love to help you.


For detailed information on applying Steve Justa Singles Program to you training, please check out Paul McIlroys  artcile, Weight Justa Minute.

Leave a Reply