What is Sponge Training?

What is Sponge Training?

Jul 2, 2013

I have referred to my training as a “Sponge Training” in previous articles (Now a days it seems almost a necessity to have a training program that has a name.) Well, finally (3 months later), this article will explain what it is and the logic behind it. You may be intrigued or scoff at it and say that is overtraining which is sort of the idea.  Well before I continue a brief background of my training.

After training over 23 years I have tried many programs .I started touching weights at 15 when I weighed about 105 pounds. I graduated at 138 pounds. I started competing as a bodybuilder at 19. That lasted 2 years because I was awful at getting ripped (except for one show). The last show I did I did it all. Strict diet and took Aqua Ban (over the counter water diuretic women use when they menstruate to alleviate water bloat.) I came in with veins in my abs but placed 4th behind a guy who had a muffin top. I later found out his mom’s best friend was a judge. That was it for me. I also was doing bench meets at the same time and was benching 315 at 150 lbs raw. It was after this shop I started powerlifting.

What does this have to do with anything? Well it was from here some the basis of my current routine was established. I was doing, at that time, 4-8 reps in the off season for adding size with weight that I would struggle for the final rep of the set. I did get stronger also. As I morphed my thinking and training into a powerlifting mindset I learned to try different programs. However my training seemed to come out of Powerlifting USA where I would try the workout of the month for 6-8 weeks and keep the rest of my training the same. Of course being young and fresh to the sport almost anything works. It is when you have a few rings in your lifting life is when you learn or need to learn your body better.

At this point I started changing not just a movement workout (deadlift of the month) but the whole cycle. From the days I lift, to the combination of movements, to the amount of rest (days) between movements, and light/heavy days. We all have tried everything after 15 years from individual movements to philosophies.  I have found something that works for me.

I have tried the speed day and max effort day. It is a West Side training philosophy. From that we have seen variations of it. I like to think Louie Simmons was the Bill Walsh of powerlifting training cycle. Just like there are variations of the west coast offense there are variations of the speed/max effort days. Granted you need to realize there is a difference in the gear and supplementation of his athletes. Because of that you have to adjust some expectations.

This style does not work entirely for me.  Loved the speed days, helped heal the joints if they were tired from a meet but my body seemed to drop off its strength on the off season.

My contest season training needed 3 weeks to acclimate to heavier weight and I noticed I was forcing myself for bigger jumps in each workout to make up for the slack which lead to overtraining .If I had a 7 bench workouts in a contest cycle it seemed 3 of them were to try to get use to heavier weight for the full reps. I was used to cycling into a cycle but it here it was like jumping right in cold turkey. So that left me with 4 workouts to peak for the meet and, wala, disaster.

After a couple of years of tweaking I never got comfortable with this philosophy and looked back in my books. I seemed best after having an offseason where reps were involved. After doing some research from my books I put together a routine with the combination of WestSide and my older routines. I need full reps with heavier weight and not partial movements being heavy and full being light. So I blended the two styles, mine and the max/speed style.

Example, I will do band work but for 8,8,6,4 with the last 3 sets just getting the final rep. I am not focused on speed alone.

Another example, I may do speed bench but 3 sets of 3 but 3 times for a total of 9 sets. Each grouping has 30-45 seconds breaks but each grouping is progressively heavier.

225 3 reps 3 sets 30 second breaks then a normal break of a few minutes before

275 3 reps 3 sets 30 second breaks then a normal break before next group

300-315 3 reps 3 sets 30-45 seconds.

After doing 2 meets I saw a likable difference. For the last 3 years I have stuck to this with plenty of variation so I am never bored. I like to call this the …..

Sponge Method

                How did I come up with the name? Well first when does a sponge absorb the most liquid? When you squeeze it then put it in the liquid and release. If you drop it in it will absorb water and be completely saturated but that requires more time. I apply this thinking to my training. In this training I actually look forward to my contest training more because, after you see the numbers below, it is almost like a recovery cycle. Huh? Yes you will do considerably less in volume and time.  I like beating my body in the offseason with reps where I am getting the last rep with maybe enough for one more in me each set. (Some routines don’t apply). Then when the contest cycle starts I am looking forward to it. I want to, almost in a sense overtrain my body then hit it with all the positives (shown in the next paragraph). Think about it how would your body respond? Giving it all this extra attention and rest plus add supplements (and gear if you train that way). There is nothing but a bright bulldozing mentality that lies ahead. Each contest cycle workout I’m more recovered physically then the previous. Mentally I start feeling invincible.

Think about this. First workout of a contest cycle you are done training at almost 50% of the reps from the last off season workout. Now advance to week 2. Your body is thinking on the 7 day it is time to train because it is use to every 7 but instead you give it to additional 2 days off in addition to the 47% less reps from the previous week workout!!! My body is like”Wow we are done?” and starts soaking up all the extra rest.  We are creating a snowflake to a snowball to a snowman to an avalanche of momentum. With so much focus on rest your body will SUCK it in and respond with appreciation by producing.

This is the positives I find out of this routine between off season and contest season (To make the seasons comparable these are based on a 73 day contest cycle.):

  • Provides 2 extra days rest between movements
  • 3 less workouts per body part
  • 55% less volume
  • 35% less reps per workout
  • 8 extra days rest
  • 11% more days off

For me this carries over physically and mentally reloading.  Below is an example of a bench/chest routine.  I use this for all my training. The numbers reflect off to contest season. I used my most recent chest/bench cycle (offseason) and compared it to my most recent last bench contest cycle (Prague). Since my contest cycle is 73 days I did a 73 day off season.

Here is a link to a previous article of my breakdown of workouts


Offseason I train every 7 days same body part. Contest is every 10 days. So I bench on day 3 in offseason which gives me 11 chest workouts compared to 7 contest workouts. You already see the difference.

Charts below are averages give or take a rep or pound or two. Some workouts may have more reps which means more volume. Depending on the situation things can be fluid.

Total for 73 day cycle


Off season


Total reps per cycle



Total volume per   cycle

178460 lbs



Breakdown in halves


Off Season

Contest Season


1st 5   workouts reps per workout



47% less

1st 5 workouts reps total



58% less

2nd 6   workouts reps per workout



47% less

2nd 6 workouts reps total



73% less

1st 5   w/outs volume per workout

17360 lbs

15140 lbs

13% less

1st 5 workouts total volume

86800 lbs

60560 lbs

30% less

2nd 6 w/outs volume/ workout

15276 lbs

6670 lbs

47% less

2nd 6 workouts total volume

91660 lbs

20010 lbs

78% less



As you see towards the end of the contest cycle things diminish even more. My rep load is 47% less and my volume load is 67% less (then the 1st 4 contest workouts)!!

Couple of things to consider with my numbers.

  •      I train with gear on the bench 4 workouts from the meet. 4-5 max sets are with the shirt while the rest is raw. Considering 3 sets are anywhere from a 1 to a 3 board you have to discount some of the workload.
  •    In my second set of contest workouts which is a total of 3 the last one is only to my opener. Then I shut it down, maybe a couple of sets with a Titan Ram and couple of incline. In a way this workout is a deload week.
  • The CNS has time to recover in the final week, the deload. I never find the feeling of overtraining either mentally or physically on the bench.

The negative and erroneous interpretations of the results

Give 2 people stats in anything and they can be interpreted differently. You can make what you want to with numbers. So I will save you the contrarian views.

First, some of the off season sets/reps are with weights like 275 for 8 on the bench, he is not struggling on the 8th rep. True and actually I do that weight or range maybe twice out of the 5 sets BUT factor where they are in my sets and fatigue has to be considered.

335 for 8

275 for 8

365 for 4

275 for 8

335 for 8

Notice where they are sets 2 and 4 where my muscles are somewhat tired and confused with the roller coaster ride on the bench.

Second, my contest season warm ups which are 3-4 sets over 225 is not included which makes the volume and reps inaccurate. True but I don’t add them in the offseason either. I however count all work sets in both seasons so I am consistent.

Third, I use the shirt and a Titan Ram in the contest season which reduces some of the volume in actual work of the muscle since the off season has NO supportive gear. Yet I count the volume as 100%.

Fourth, I do not go over the other body parts which I do pay attention to .So these workouts are factors that also dictate the success of the bench. ”The whole is only as good as the sum of its parts” is another perception of this training. This is the only spot if I train them too much I could overtrain so I watch my workload on them during the contest season.

Fifth, the numbers alone gives the impression my contest training is insignificant. Actually quite the opposite I have more quality sets with constant heavy weights. ( I have only heavy workouts no light workouts in the contest cycle)


After looking over the numbers and how you are actually making a contest season look like a vacation by the lighter workload( remember numbers can be looked at both ways here) you are setting yourself up for a great day BUT there is more to it.  Nutrition, rest, life and other variables can negate all of this but at least you can’t say you overtrained.

Well that is it. Make of it as you will. It works for me. Could it work for you?  Maybe. Can you modify it to get you out of a slump? Of course.  I learned over time ignore nobody because that person can be your next vehicle to a pr!!  Training and knowledge is invaluable. Doesn’t matter who gives advice someone weaker then you can offer you advice that can help. Make the most of it and SUCK it up. (I know kind of a lame pun)

Till next time. Focus First.


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  1. Matt Smith /

    Interesting. I like that you took elements of Westside and adapted them to your needs rather than rejecting the program as garbage. Too many people, notably raw and single-ply lifters (I would like to add that these are two very distinct groups of people) completely disregard the conjugate system because they don’t like board presses, box squats, speed work, don’t use steroids, or whatever else. If a single element of a program doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean that you cannot learn anything from the thought process behind that program.

    • Thanks Matt. Even Westside is a whole different animal as in supplements and gear, I agree we can still learn with modifications. As long as we understand we will not make their gains but we can still make gains. Thanks for the read and feedback!!!!


  1. E=mc2 | Iron Authority, Inc. - […] your seasons up considerably. I look forward to contest training. If you read this article : http://ironauthority.com/what-is-sponge-training/ you will…

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