Altering the program
Is it ok to alter a program?
Yes. Within reason. Life puts a lot of various stress, and it interferes with training. Sometimes, it is better to slightly alter a program than absolutely stick to it.
For the past few weeks, I have been working on my bench press with a classic 5×5 approach, once a week, on Monday. I had another light bench session, on Friday. It worked well. Until it didn’t. When the weight started to be heavy for me, I regressed on my Monday’s training.
The issue is that on Monday, I travel, work all day, get to my hotel room, change, and then hit the gym. My stress cup is pretty filled by the time I reach the bench. The additional training tress is a bit too much to ensure quality reps. On Fridays, on the other hand, I am at home, can plan the training whenever it is practical, and I am usually well rested. It would take a lot to fill the stress cup.
So I kept things similar, but adapted the timing to match my stress cup status. Monday became the light day, and Friday the heavy 5×5.
I changed the timing on the spot. On week 1, I felt the 5×5 would not work, after I could only do 3 proper reps on the first set. I try to avoid bad quality reps, so did not start the 4th one. I deloaded and finished with two lighter sets of 5. On Friday, in the same week, I successfully worked the 5×5 instead of the light sets.
In this case, I did not change the program. I just altered it: I changed my heavy into a light day to match my stress cup. I still was able to make the planned progress for the training week.
Note that many programs have actually this “alteration” allowance built-in.
In Simple and sinister , Pavel Tsatsouline suggests to have lighter trainings on off-days, rather than a day off. For instance, instead of swinging one-handed the heavy kettlebell, swing a lighter kettlebell two-handed. Instead of heavy getups, do light getups. You may make them lighter, but still challenging: have a pause between every step of the getup. Do overspeed eccentric swings…
In a barbell program, you may do lighter squats, with a pause at the bottom.
When I changed my heavy 5×5 bench press to a light 2×5, I slightly increased the duration of the pause at the bottom. Just enough to work on technical aspect, getting used to stay tight at the bottom, feeling my lats. I did not pause too much to avoid excessive fatigue. A light day can be challenging in some aspects, it still need to be a light day.
I could have seen going lighter as a failure. I saw it as an oportunity to work on technique. Strength is a skill.
When life fills the stress cup, it is always an option to go lighter. Just do not make it an habit and use the stress cup as an excuse never to go heavy…