Like many who came before me, the first time I stepped into the weight room, I got bit by the iron bug – hard. Unlike many who came before me, it took much longer to realize that training was a marathon and not a sprint, as well as a revolving door where change is the only constant.
I made the most gains early on in high school, which should not be a surprise, I was in a good place hormonally, (puberty is one helluva performance-enhancer). Later on in high school and even into college, my gains stagnated and in some cases, regressed. You can imagine how frustrating this was for me as a student athlete who loved every bit of the process, even more so than the game itself I would say – but that’s what makes me good at what I do now. Why the plateau? I made these 5 mistakes time and time again, hopefully I save you the headache and a couple years locked in a stalemate with progress.
Reason #1: You lack variety.
This was the biggest mistake I made, and I made it more times than I can count. If you present the same stimulus to the organism for a prolonged period of time, the organism will not only exhibit no further progress, but a decline as well. This is known as the Law of Accommodation, and it will punish you if you do not respect it.
The human body runs in 3-4 week adaptation waves. I have found that extroverts require massive amounts of stimulus, making it prudent to prescribe a new template every 21 days or so. Introverts, on the other hand, rarely require any change in their program, (see Jim Wendler and his book, 5/3/1).
In my experience, I have found that my lower body is much dumber than my upper body, meaning I am able to apply a given stimulus to my lower body for 3-4 weeks before adaptation occurs. Whereas when training my upper body, by the end of week 2, I am pulling my hair out from boredom and lack of progress.
Take home message? Change. Look at it this way, when a little boy or girl finally learns how to spell their name, they are never going to be able to spell it any better, they can only mess it up – same with training. To adapt is to never truly adapt.
Reason #2: You lack speed.
I have gone on record several times exclaiming how influential Dr. Bryan Mann and his work on all things Velocity Based Training (VBT) has been in not only my training, but more importantly, the training of my athletes. See Mike Robertson’s Physical Preparation Podcast for more on said reason.
Fret Hatfield aka “Dr. Squat” coined the term, compensatory acceleration, in which the athlete accelerates the bar as leverage improves throughout the movement.
Vladimir Zatsiorsky wrote about the dynamic effort method, in which the athlete is lifting submaximal weights at high velocities to improve his rate of force development and explosive strength.
If these three giants in the industry put an emphasis on speed, I find it necessary that you do as well. One can not lift a heavy weight slowly. If the speed of the bar dips beneath .3 m/s, more times than not, failure will follow. If you slow down, you go down.
Lifting with speed also has tremendous restoration benefits. Dr. Mann says, “velocity recovers everything” lifting at high speeds promotes substantial blood flow to the muscle(s), providing ample oxygen and nutrients needed for rejuvenation.
Reason #3: You lack periodization.
Unless you are a sponsored crossfitter and have made a living doing so, throwing a bunch of shit at the wall and seeing what sticks is not planning, it is planning to fail. I truly believe the best way to program is by simultaneously raising all aspects of athleticism. This is known as the conjugate or concurrent method.
Dedicating a block to each element of performance is old, outdated, and antiquated. As you “progress” from one block to the next, you are losing all the gains you worked your ass off to obtain in the previous block. Now, the naysayers will proclaim that in a well-structured program, they are not losing the benefits from the previous block as they are programmed into the current. If that is the case, they too are using a concurrent style of training.
A good, well-rounded program will consist of: maximal (or submaximal) effort method, to build intramuscular and intermuscular coordination. Dynamic effort to improve one’s rate of force development. And the repeated effort method used to build up lagging muscle groups and address weak links in the kinetic chain.
Reason #4: You lack urgency.
If each lifting session takes you approximately 3 hours to complete, you are an idiot. Don’t fret, I use to be in the gym for an entire afternoon and I would wonder why I would feel drained and stall out. This cycle continued for several years in my youth, each time I would expect a different result, I believe that is the definition of insanity.
Physiologically, any lifting session lasting longer than 60-75 minutes is going to have a negative effect on the production of serum testosterone. Sessions running longer than said time will produce more cortisol (stress) than necessary, which will inhibit recovery and progress.
Get in, and get out. You should not feel drained after a workout, but rather invigorated, that is the key to success. Keep your training short, keep it acute, keep it intense.
Reason #5: You lack deloads.
Training is stressful, extremely stressful. Don’t believe me? A training session is more stressful to the organism than that of a broken arm. Why? Training is global, whereas said injury is local. Point being, it may be in your best interest to dial it back every now and then.
I used to deload every 8-12 weeks, now I deload after every third, no questions asked. Why? I do so before I need to, this allows me to stay hungry for training, as well as supercompensate which elicits more gains.
If you neglect the deload, you are asking for trouble. There are three phases to the onset of stress:
If you venture too far into number 3, you are going to dig yourself a hole you may be unable to crawl out of – tread lightly. Cal Dietz says constantly applying stress to the human body is the single most important component of any training program, and I happen to agree with him, but there is a limit.
Training is never going to become easy, especially if you are seasoned and strong. It is harder to get better the better you get. Have a roadmap of where you are going and where you want to be, hardly anyone has a training journal anymore, what the hell?! That is your log, that is how you record progress or lack thereof. Do-Document-Refine, it is that simple.