Strength by Nonprophet: Program Review
Strength and the ability to hold tension.
I was thrilled to struggle against heavy iron once again as two months of injury and illness had stalled my first attempt at the Nonprophet Strength Program.
Technically there is no program, but a manual that guides you in an attempt to inform your own programming. At any rate, I’m happy to present my results and thoughts on the curriculum.
As with Nonprophet’s other programs, the emphasis is on education and (self) development rather than an omnipotent prescription.
Strength = the ability to hold tension.
8 Week Program featuring:
1 day / week of: squat focus, deadlift focus, press focus.
Supplemental grip and pull movements.
Emphasis on re/thinking and assessing yourself.
Session structure: bi/unilateral warm ups, primary, secondary, and support movements.
Tempo lifts suck, in a good way.
Pursuit of excellence is dangerous, weigh your own risks.
Unfortunately I didn’t have concrete metrics to start with, so the below were estimated either from recent lifts or personal bests from Spring 2022.
Squat: 375 lbs E1RM (computed from estimated 300 lbs 5RM)
Strict Press: 135 lbs E1RM (computed from estimated 125 lbs 3RM)
Deadlift: 430 lbs E1RM (computed from 385 lbs x 5)
The Program In Action:
The manual identifies that “looking for a prescribed rep-set scheme is the wrong way to go about (the manual).” I made some compromises (below) to adjust volume in order to keep up my BJJ training, and to fit 8-weeks of training on a single printed page.
For example, I condensed the deficit and regular deadlift into a single session, and simplified the tempo progressions — obviously this leads to some things being lost in translation.
It’s my belief that a “simple” program is more likely to be adhered to, and admittedly I just like looking at a single page rather than flipping through a book.
Other Changes and Interpretation:
Warm Ups: Remained consistent for weeks 1-6, but tapered off in the last 2 weeks.
Primary Focus: Generally followed the program prescription regarding tempo.
Secondary Focus: Followed the prescription for hypertrophy and remained consistent.
Support: I altered these slightly every couple weeks to fight boredom (regarding grip work), though pull support remained consistent to support rear shoulder and back development. Volume was reduced in the last two weeks.
A Few Words on Deficiencies:
Discussed more at length below, progress is not always defined in terms of raw output, but also effective range of motion — “range of strength” as I like to call it. Not by coincidence, this has a stronger correlation to sport performance by being able to move and apply force more efficiently.
Physical Deficiencies (assessing myself):
Long arms (+2 ape index) and short legs (30” inseam)
Weak at pressing and squatting
Poor (front) ankle mobility
Weak mid-back (rounded lumbar)
I’m 5’ 8” with a 44” chest and 30” waist; basically a dwarven barbarian. I can easily stack strength and mass — not a deficiency, but noteworthy.
Discussed herein, confrontation requires commitment though it also eradicates (the need or desire for) speculation. This means confronting our expectations and imagined potential with our actions.
As expected, the deadlift (hinging movement) was my strongest lift and improved a good bit from last year both in total and pound-for-pound (2.53x BW).
Pull ups also improved slightly, though if I recall correctly I stopped at 20 last year because that was the benchmark I had established — note here the difference between "going to failure” and “going until quitting”. I also gained some weight (mass) so the gross output was higher.
Surprisingly, my overhead (strict) press saw great improvement. I want to emphasize that those gains weren’t solely achieved during this 8 week program. As I mentioned in the introduction, for some lifts the nearest reference point I had was several months prior.
At any rate, not only did the gross load improve, but the P4P / body weight ratio improved from 0.79x to 0.96x.
The Less Good, but Great:
In terms both gross output and P4P (2.21x to 2.03x) my performance declined in squat. However, this is what I meant when I referred to “strength of motion.” The depth and angle of my squats improved tremendously.
In addition, the prior estimates were made from a 20 rep max (I wasn’t using a spotter at the time, which was the rationale for the benchmark). The further you get from a true one-rep-max, the more inaccurate the estimate becomes (e.g. calculating from a two, three, or five rep max versus 20).
In 2022 I did 20 reps at 225, weighing 170 and at least 10 of those looked more like good mornings rather than squats.
What I Learned:
Warming Up is an art and science of its own. In general it’s a good idea to have a general warm up (blood flow) in addition to a specific (unilateral and bilateral) warm up to prepare for the main working task.
However, I had to maintain discipline to “choose my hard.” What' is the goal? Is it to burn hard on the warm up exercises so that my “primary” lifts become mediocre? Hell no.
A simple solution I wish I’d thought of sooner, was to set a timer on my phone for the 10 minute general warm up and throw my shirt over the ergometer on the Echo / Assault Bike so that I wasn’t tempted by watts / calories / RPMs, etc. I was simply guided by my Zone 2 breathing cadence.
Training Volume always takes some finagling to figure out what I can tolerate. For the past year or so, 9-10 hours of training per week is about the most I can handle and where bedtimes, cold showers, and supplemental carbs become non-negotiable.
Similar to the warm up, it helped to keep the progression mild on the secondary and supplemental movements in order to preserve energy for the primary movements. Again, who brags about how hard they warm up?
Additionally, I was reminded of the neurological (CNS) tax with strength training. Whereas immediate shortness of breath may accompany endurance work, or muscular fatigue after capacity work, a large part of strength gain is attributed to neurological recruitment. That is, it’s more difficult to assess intuitively because there’s no “grinding” or “enduring” that will lift the barbell for you; you simply aren’t strong enough, today.
Arousal Management needed confronted as well. Staring at a heavy barbell, something that will challenge you, something you’re not sure you’re capable of, requires confrontation. Do it, or don’t. You could walk away, or you could learn something about yourself.
For example, during my main deadlift sessions (E30Sec/10min) were psychologically exhausting. Having to “gear up” to step up to and grip the bar every 30 seconds was a much different experience than, say two reps in a single set every minute — which was the temptation.
Criticism, Changes, and Recommendations:
Hypertrophy is not something most people would complain about. I’m not really complaining, and as far as side effects go, it isn’t a bad one. In the interest of weight-class based sports, I’d have preferred preserve and improve upon strength-to-weight ratio without gaining mass (170 to 177 lbs).
The “Newbie” and “Novice” tracks within the manual did contain more volume than the “Specialist” track and I started conservatively in the middle with the Novice track as a foundation.
My thought process was that I could always increase the load to add intensity, however I overlooked the total session volume. True strength efforts require significant rest between sets such that recoverability (within the session) isn’t a limiting factor.
In the future I’d head this more judiciously and:
Remove hypertrophy sets.
Decrease warm up volume slightly.
Increase total session time to allow for more rest.
Re-evaluate and focus rep-set schemes (5x2, 5x3, 3x3, etc.)*
*this hearkens back to Dan John’s “Easy Strength” model of < 10 reps. 5 x 2 has been my favorite since you can easily fit a warm up set into it, a couple mids to see where you’re at for the day, and ramp up the last set or two.
The changes and criticisms above are really of myself and my chosen implementation, rather than of the manual itself. Much to the point, I’d consider the manual-program-combination a huge success!
As far as general (whole body) programs go, this is a great one. If I can be at or knocking on the door of an “advanced” level of strength while still training multiple movements per week (opposed to a dedicated squat or deadlift program for example) I’ll take it!
It seems like a natural progression to complete a general program as an assessment tool and once deficient movements are observed, those movements can be trained individually (e.g. 8 weeks of general strength followed by a 4 week squat program).
The true genius of the Nonprophet Strength Manual may be that it would serve just as well for either / any application. One could just as easily take the recommendations for squat programming and proceed with squatting every session for 4 weeks if that’s the area that needs the most development.
I want to make one last point about accepting and living with outcomes. A 20-rep-max leaves room for a lot more speculation; a heavy double, less so. I’ve explained and explored outcomes of individual movements above. But what of the process in it’s totality?
Today was supposed to be my last session, a deadlift day, my strongest lift. I botched it and had to use the numbers from last week for my final tally. Why? Well yesterday I did heavy squats, truly heavy sets of three. My nerves were shot.
I wanted to grind on. I could still get a few reps in at 75%. I could drag the program out another week and try again. Or, I could accept the results I earned and keep moving forward.
“Sometimes we need to push against something until we can push ourselves.”