3 Ways to Unstick Your Strength Training
A sticking point. A plateau. Stuck in a rut.
We want to keep our strength training and these sayings as far away from each other as possible. Nothing is worse than going to the gym and not seeing results. When it comes to getting stronger, more weight on the bar is a great metric. Of course, this process isn’t linear. If you could just add 5 pounds to your bench press every week you’d have a world record in two years, right? Well, you’re human so the math isn’t always a straight shot.
What is reasonable then? About every three to four months you should have a personal record. This varies based on your abilities. If your squat is 185 you could add 50 pounds to it in just 12 weeks. But a 405 squat means that bumping up to 420 is a huge success too, even if you didn’t add 50 pounds.
Not seeing results like that? It’s time to add in one of these techniques:
- Heavy Supports
Heavy supports involves trying to trick your nervous system. You have this thing called the golgi tendon organ, or GTO. The GTO’S job is to detect if things are safe; if it feels like a weight is too heavy, the GTO will literally shut your muscles down as a protective mechanism. Heavy supports are a way to tell your GTO’s that all is well and you can handle more weight. A workout would look like this:
A1. Bench Press Heavy Support – Begin a bench press how you normally would but only lower the bar about 1/8th to ¼ of the way (there shouldn’t be much bend in your elbows). Hold that for 10 seconds
Rest 60 seconds, lower the weight by about 15%, then….
A2. Flat Bench Press x 3, 3-0-1-0, rest 180 seconds
The initial hold is teaching your nervous system that it’s okay to lift heavy things. The normal bench press is done so you can still train the muscles through a full range of motion.
- Pause Work
Sometimes pausing in the bottom position of a lift is all you need to break past that plateau. When you lower the weight, you’re using energy that gets stored in your tendons. That energy than helps you return the bar to the starting position. So your muscles are getting a bit of assistance with the weight.
Pausing in the bottom forces all that energy to be lost as heat, causing your muscles to do more of the work. Keep in mind that that energy being stored is not necessarily a bad thing, but we want to temporarily eliminate it so you can get stronger. Go back to lifting weights normally and you should be able to handle more weight.
A front squat workout would look like this:
A. Narrow Stance Front Squat – 6 x 3, 3-2-1-0, 180 seconds rest, (3-2-1-0 means lowering the weight in 3 seconds and then pausing for 2)
3.Weak Muscle Group
Your plateau could be from a weak muscle group. You may just have to do accessory work for what is your weak link in the chain. This is common practice for a lot of powerlifters, who will do endless amount of direct triceps work to supplement their bench press. In this case, your weak triceps tell the rest of the body that “this is not safe” and thus that barbell gets stuck on your chest. You simply need to build more mass.
You would do your normal strength routine followed by accessory work for the lagging muscle group. High reps work best here with 6 being the bare minimum you should do. A bench press routine would look like this:
- Flat Bench Press – 3 x 5, 3-0-1-0, rest 180 seconds
- V Bar Dips – 3 x 8-10, 4-0-1-0, rest 90 seconds
- Triceps Pressdown – 3 x 10-12, 2-0-2-1, rest 75 seconds
What exactly is weak is the tough part to figure out. Having trouble locking out the bench press comes from weak triceps. Getting stuck in the bottom of squat can stem from weak quads. And dropping the bar in the middle of a deadlift could be because your low back isn’t up to snuff.
Getting stuck in strength training is part of the process. So is getting out of that rut. Implementing these three techniques could mean that you spend less time being stuck, and more time making progress. And that’s what training is all about.