You’re looking to push size and strength to the next level, so it’s time to fire up the old “tried and true” program that has worked well in the past. Only this, time the gains aren’t coming like they once did.
There are four major reasons for this common problem:
Not enough overall training volume to elicit change.
Have reached a strength level that requires more advanced loading schemes to progress to the next level
Weak part of the lift has become so far behind that it needs addressed to bring up the load total
Training has become too specific and needs to be changed to recruit greater skill acquisition and motor control
Not enough overall training volume
Training volume is one of the most important variables of success for any strength and size program. Not reaching enough volume or “stimulating reps” that elicit change is usually the overarching problem; lucky for you, it can be an easy fix.
It’s easiest if you’ve kept a training log. If you have, go back to the last time you worked the program and see what type of overall volume (weight x reps) you were using. Is the current program pushing that number? If training has been steady since the last time the program was used, overall accumulated volume is probably higher, meaning additional load and/or reps are needed to push the needle.
Jim Wendler uses a simple equation in his very popular 5/3/1 programfor calculating volume for the major lifts that works great:
Weight x Reps x .0333 + Weight = Estimated 1RM
Ex. If you squatted 300lbs for 5 reps last week, based on this formula, that would equate to about 350lbs of volume for that set.
This is an important rate to calculate on all the major lifts of the program, especially as increased repetitions, the “stimulating reps”, are responsible for driving the most change in overall strength and size progress.
Once you know the number, push to beat that number; even if only by 1lb a workout, and progress will ensue. Slow and steady gains.
2. Strength level has reached point where more advanced loading schemes must be deployed
Contrast Trainingis basically the use of both heavy and light, dynamic loads alternated within the same set. This can be a very effective method to creating strength and size gains together.
Christian Thibaudeau dives into many different methods in his book “Theory andApplication of Modern Strength and Power Methods” with one very effective protocol as follows:
2 reps at 80%, 2 explosive reps at 50%, 2 reps at 80% and 2 explosive reps at 50% - That is one total set. 3-5 sets of this method should be used.
Example (275lb 1RM Bench Press)
Reps 1 & 2- 220lbs
Quickly strip weight down
Reps 3 & 4 – 140lbs (done with speed)
Quickly load weight back on
Reps 5 & 6 – 220 lbs
Quickly strip weights down
Reps 7 & 8 – 140lbs (done with speed)
This type of protocol works very well with the barbell, but can be utilized with any training implement, keeping the underlying principle intact.
Wave Loading is the method which involves moving the load used up and down each set within the same workout. This can be very effective in those “in between” times when the higher load cannot be used for straight sets due to fatigue. The reintroduction of the lighter weights in subsequent sets allows for higher neuromuscular efficiency; due to increased overall sets you’ll see an increase in bar speed and overall training volume.
Here is an example of how to utilize this method:
275lb 1RM Bench
Set 1 – 4-6 reps 80% (220lbs)
Set 2- 1-2 reps 90% (245lbs)
Set 3-4-6 reps 85% (235lbs)
Set 4- 1-2 reps 95% (260lbs)
Set 5- AMRAP (technical failure *) 65-70% (175-205lbs
*Increase % up 1-2% each week for 4-6 weeks, if 20 reps are achieved on set 5, then increase overall max weight 5lbs
3. Weak part of the lift has become so far behind that it needs addressed to bring up the load total
Sticking points are going to happen. By staying aware of what part of the lift is challenging you can go a long way in keeping progress rolling.
There are 3 common sticking points in a lift: right before lockout or completion of the rep, the bottom of the rep or just after it, and the middle of the rep.
Utilize slow eccentrics or isometrics focused at that sticking point to bring it up to par.
Common Bench Press Fixes –
Weak lockout – Board Presses and more tricep work
Middle stick – “Spoto” presses (stop bar 2’’ off chest and pause for 2-3 count, explode up) or Pin presses from stick point
Bottom – Banded Benches to improve speed or full pause benches from chest
-Another way would be to focus on the overall hypertrophy of whatever particular muscle is the prime move for the stick point.
Squats are not moving – more direct quadricep and hamstring work.
Lastly, never forget the core. Often underestimated, direct core work should be added in any program to keep force absorption and distribution of increased load on the bar balanced…especially as you you take on more compound movements. Proper core bracing, stability and overall strength can make or break a higher percentage lift!
4. Training has become too specific and needs to be changed to recruit greater skill acquisition and motor control
Sometimes it’s as simple as changing up a foot stance, an implement, or a rep scheme to create the bump necessary for change. Some easy change-ups include:
Switch from a conventional stance to a sumo stance on deadlift, extra wide or narrow on the squat, or hand width distance on bench press; a little can go a long way.
Train more unilaterally (single arm pressing, split squatting, lunging, rowing, etc).
Use dumbbells, Kettlebells, and/or bodyweight ONLY for a training block. This will put forth any needs for overall mobility or stability to light and can decrease accumulated CNS fatigue from long term heavy barbell programing.
If 4-6 reps have been primarily used, go up to 6-8 or 10-12. Same idea goes for those that have been going in the higher rep ranges; try dropping down to 2-4 or 3-5 for a cycle or two to push the needle forward.
Add in fat gripz or bands to the barbell into the mix to create different adaptions for greater skill acquisition and overall nervous control over the movements
*Apply change up method for 1-2 training blocks (~4-10 weeks) before returning to previous stuck movement.
Just because the program worked the first time, doesn’t mean it will again. The body and its structures change and become more resilient over time; the program and the tools/methods you use must do the same.