Something that I have noticed in the strength training world is the lack of commitment to one’s strength program. Particularly among beginner or intermediate level lifters, whenever a lifter’s progress stalls, they look for another program hoping that it’ll help them break a plateau. This phenomenon is commonly known as program hopping. This is a very bad habit and is much more counterproductive than a lot of young lifters realize. Strength training takes time, a long time. We’re talking a span of years. One of the most important things lifters need to understand is that time and consistency leads to gains in strength. Those days as a beginner are pretty much over. You aren’t going to add a hundred pounds to your press in four months like you saw in the beginning. Hopping from twelve week program to twelve week program won’t solve anything.
Manipulate Your Programming
One of the easiest ways to get more out of your programming is to manipulate the sets and reps of your exercises. Adding an extra set on your primary lifts or adding higher reps to your accessory lifts can help you see gains again. Adding to your sets and reps can stimulate your body without having to abandon your current program. Sometimes, volume can help provide the stimulation necessary to continue progression. You can also try doing different variations of exercises to help stimulate growth. For example, if your squats are stagnating, try doing some box squats or front squats. If your deadlift won’t budge, trying switching to sumo or vice versa, or maybe try pulling from a deficit. Trying different variations will force you to lift the load using different leverages and angles. They can help address weaknesses or deficiencies in a lifter technique that could help push through a plateau. Specialty bars also provide different types of stimulation that can challenge the body and promote growth. You can use safety squat bars, cambered bars, duffalo bars, tsunami bars or bamboo bars. Each speciality bar disperses the load differently and forces the lifter to adapt to the changes, thus causing stimulation and growth. Take the cambered bar, for instance. The low placement of the weights causes the load to be unstable on the lifter. The lifter has to focus on stabilizing the weight throughout the lift. This will translate to the lifter being more stable under increased loads when back under a standard bar. The safety squat bar puts the load of the weight forward. The lifter will need to focus on bracing as hard as possible to move the weight in a linear movement. When transitioning back to the standard bar, the lifter will be better able to brace under heavy load and lift more weight. Adding volume, working a different lift variation or using a specialty bar can all be done without having to make drastic changes to your program.
Eat Some More Food
Unless your goal is to lose weight, this is almost a surefire way to make gains in strength. Eating more food will supply your body with more nutrients and energy to promote hypertrophy and increase strength. Start off slow by eating an extra hundred calories or so a day, and ramp up as progress increases. Make sure that the extra food intake comes from good sources. Shoving down ice cream and potato chips might help gain some strength, but they won’t have the same benefits as eating whole foods like beef and vegetables. You don’t have to be a fatty to gain strength. Don’t be afraid to eat carbs, as well. Carbs supply your body with energy to perform at a high level. To omit them from your diet would be a disservice. There are dozens and dozens of fad diets that claim to be the best. The truly best thing you can do, with the exception of medical or allergy restrictions, is to eat a balanced diet of meat, carbs and vegetables. Nutrition goes hand in hand with strength training. Learning how to feed yourself properly will make big differences in your progress.
Check Your Technique
Strength training isn’t just about throwing plates on the bar and working numbers. It’s a skill that requires practice and technique just like any other sport. A lot of times, a lifter can’t display his or her strength because there is a flaw in a lifter’s technique. The best method would be to consult a strength coach. If none are available or hiring a strength coach is outside of the budget, ask an experienced lifter for assistance. Preferably, you should seek out someone who has lifted for years and has competed in a meet. Experience and competition are great teachers, and most lifters of a high caliber will be more than happy to share their knowledge. If neither a coach nor an experienced lifter are available, then record videos of your sets. There are many tutorials from highly reputable strength coaches on the internet. Compare your videos to what you see in their videos and see if they are similar. Keep in mind that it’s okay if your lifts aren’t exactly the same. Everyone has different biomechanics, and lifts will look slightly different from person to person. As long as you can display proper technique within your biomechanics without getting injured, you are on the right path.
Are You Recovering?
Gains in the gym are made in recovery. No lifter leaves a gym stronger. A lifter leaves the gym sore, tired and hungry. What you do after a training session is just as important as what you do during one. If you cannot recover from your training, you will not see progress in the gym. Make sure that you are eating enough of the nutrients you need to help your body repair the exhausted muscles you trained. As previously stated, if you don’t eat enough, you won’t recover well and have the energy needed to complete the next session. Lifters also need to make sure that they are getting enough sleep every night. Sometimes that can be very difficult, especially for people who are balancing training with a job and raising a family. If possible, the best thing to do is to have a set bedtime. Do everything possible to not deviate from that bedtime and try to get a full night’s sleep. Sleep hygiene is also important, as it affects the quality of your sleep. Put away the phone, turn off the TV and read a book until you are ready to sleep. Staring at a screen will keep you awake. I find the best thing to do before bed is to read a book. It makes you smarter, and it helps you feel sleepy. Consuming alcohol before sleeping can lower the quality of your sleep, too. Even though it makes your sleepy, alcohol interferes with your deep sleep cycles (REM cycles). I appreciate a pint of porter and two fingers of bourbon just as much as anyone else, but it’s best to not drink alcohol before sleeping. Improving your sleep will pay dividends in your strength training. I am also a believer in the active recovery method. Instead of spending your time off lying on the couch, go do something physical. I like to go on walks, especially with a weight vest. Weighted walks are an easy, low impact way to get blood flowing to the muscles to promote repairs and recovery. If walks in the park bore you, play a game of basketball. Ride your bike. Go run around the yard with your kids. Do something to get blood moving around your body. I also encourage the use of exercise bands. Bands are an excellent way to get blood into your muscles without having to be under a heavy load. Whatever works best for you, find the modality that helps you recover and get ready for the next session.
Learn the Science of Strength Training
One of the best pieces of advice I can offer someone is to learn about strength training from an academic standpoint. I don’t necessarily mean taking college courses about it, but take the time to learn more than just the how-tos and numbers. Learn about the different styles and variations of programming. Learn the laws of accommodation and adaptation. Try to read up on what muscles and bones move when you do specific lifts. There is an unlimited library of knowledge from highly reputable strength coaches available at your fingertips. Take the time to read up on what’s current in the strength training world, and find out why certain fundamentals have stood the test of time. Become a student of the art of strength training. A smarter lifter is a better lifter. The more you expose your mind to, the more you will be able to adapt to your own training. Don’t be afraid to test the waters and look at things from another person’s perspective.
If you’re looking for help with your own programming or you’re looking for the perfect place to experiment new philosophies, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure you like us on Facebook here and follow us on Instagram here. If you’re feeling like you’re in a slump, check out strikeforceenergy.com for some high quality energy supps and use promo code ATLASSTRENGTH to receive 20% off of your order.
On October 30, 2021, the Atlas Strength Shop will be hosting its second annual strongman competition, the Rougarou Classic in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. If you want to compete against tough strongmen and strongwomen while having a great time, you can visit the Rougarou Classic Facebook page, or you can visit ironpodium.com for more information.
“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious.” -Vince Lombardi