Sunday, November 17, 2013

Have it all... and then some: perfecting Bryce Lane's 50/20

Aris DeMarco

Wondering what 50/20 is? part one

The prior entry detailed some of the strengths and weaknesses of the general 50/20 protocol. In short, the pros: simple, short workouts, extremely fast results, increases in strength/size/endurance across the board, and ideal for those who have minimal equipment. The cons: burnout comes quickly. This is really the only problem--you get stale and you get stale fast. So working with 50/20 becomes an effort to outrace your own progress with changing things up just enough to keep yourself moving forwards. Intelligent exercise choices, basic cycling plans, and carefully planned deloads can all help you get the most out of 50/20 (or any density training plan).

I don't really have any relevant pictures to put up, so this blog will have random videos I've liked recently to keep you from being bored. Don't ever say I didn't give you anything. 

So, exercise choices. Something Charles Staley, the progenitor of the original density training idea, advises is to use 'small' exercises the first time you go through a density program. "[It is] based on my preference to avoid technical or coordination-intensive exercises (such as squats or deadlifts) while in a "panicked" state of mind. In theory, this program can be done using more technical lifts as long as you remain 'present' or 'in the moment'." (The EDT workout he advises can be found here.) So, maybe the first time you try 50/20 or a similar routine, keep things light. Maybe stay away from full squats and C&Ps and stick to a split squat variant and then chins/dips, or something. 

When you do want to load up and go for broke, something I've found is that lifts that begin with an eccentric are much more practical to use. The benefit of the stretch reflex should not be underrated, especially if you're trying to grind out 50 total reps of an exercise. Thus, choosing a bench variant (or perhaps push presses) over standing presses might be a good idea. RDLs are probably a better idea than conventional or sumo deadlifts, since breaking the weight off the ground every rep (or at least every set, if you're going touch-and-go) will just tear you up, believe me. Often, once fatigue sets in the concentric will be your limiting factor if you start with it, so pick lifts accordingly; starting with a negative will help you get more work done. 

Chen Yibing. Lord of the Rings, right there. 

Deloads. This is a big one with 50/20. Bryce advised going 3 on/one off in his original article. That is--do two, maybe three big lifts each twice weekly for 3 weeks, busting ass and trying for a new PR each time. Then, take your fourth week completely off. Alternatively, test your 1RMs on the fourth week, hopefully having gained something along the way. Pretty simple, but it can be a lifesaver. Staley advises stopping the density program and switching to a more Pavel-esque routine of 3-5x3-5, 3-5x/week, if you fail to break your PR twice after backing off a bit (check that article out here). The difficult thing here is making yourself deload; the PRs stack up so quickly and a 'challenging' weight will rapidly become pretty darn light, so the temptation to keep pushing is always strong. Discretion is the better part of valor, though. Stopping while you're ahead and taking that fourth week off is often the difference between taking a big step forwards, and burning out.

Cycling comes in handy here too--cycling the lifts you use, that is. Bryce's original example was this:

3 weeks:
M/R Barbell C&P, 50/20
T/F Full squat, 50/20

1 week:
MWF C&P work up to a near-max single
TRS Full squat work up to a near-max single
(by that third session you should hit a new PR, after a bit of 'practice' with heavier stuff on the other two days)

...Then you switch lifts to keep yourself moving forwards.

3 weeks:
M/R barbell bench, 50/20
T/F pull (DL variant), 50/20

1 week:
MWF bench work up to a nearmax single
TRF pull work up to a nearmax single

...And so on, and so forth. Switch back to squats and presses, possibly.

Another cycling/deloading plan Bryce advised was going 6 weeks on, 1 week off, but changing up the big lift every two weeks. Thus, do the lift twice weekly for 50/20, for two weeks, then change. So you get four sessions with each lift before moving on. I think he advised rotating between rack squats, deadlifts, and sumo deadlifts. The way I'd do it? For lower body, rotate between quad dominant, hip dominant, and posterior chain dominant lifts. For upper body, rotate between pressing or pulling angles. This is something of a bodybuilder's attitude but works well here. So for example:

Weeks 1 and 2:
M/R seated barbell press (shoulder dominant press--start with the eccentric, remember)
T/F full squat (quad dominant)

Weeks 3 and 4:
M/R Incline press (chest dominant)
T/F Box squat or sumo deadlift from low blocks (hip dominant)

Weeks 5 and 6:
M/R floor press (tricep dominant)
T/F romanian deadlift (posterior chain dominant)

Week 7 off. Week 8 start the rotation again.
...And of course you can do the same focusing on pulls for upper body, or using bodyweight/kettlebell exercises, or whatever you want. Lots of possibilities here.

Ksenia. Incredible technique--she's done 178 with a 24kg, ONE hand switch. Those Russians, man. 

Well, there you have it--a few more options to really get the most out of density training. The key really is (and isn't it always?) knowing when to push forwards, when to back off, and when to change things up just enough to keep going. 

Next up: The latest piece in the "lifter profiles" series. I've got at least two more articles coming for 50/20, with options to help you maintain your 1RM while focusing on the density work; cycling weight, repetition, and time variables; and rotating lifts in the course of a single week--all good stuff! 

As always, comment below or send an email to with any questions or comments.


  1. Very nice blog!
    Ksenia just did 189 yesterday at WC in Russia...

  2. Yeah I saw, posted it to FB yesterday. She's crazy!


  3. What would you do for a 50/20 variant that used kettlebell swings? 200 reps in 20 minutes?