Few things are as frustrating as heading in to the gym day in day out and not progressing. The weights stay the same week to week and results are stagnating. You were planning on pulling a 225lbs deadlift but you seem to be stuck at 185lbs with no sign of getting stronger.
What can be done to solve this dillemma? Fortunately, there are lots of effective techniques to help break through strength plateaus. Providing that nutrition and recovery are sound – there are ways to manipulate the exercises and repetitions to maximize the results.
Back in November I watched the movie Creed and went to lift immediately afterwards – I set a PR on the deadlift that workout and pulled 245lbs. Although I like to credit Michael B. Jordan’s performance as the reason I pulled that personal record – that’s not a method I’m willing to rely on in order to get strong. Fortunately the following methods you’re about to be introduced to are true and tested – and adding them into your training will definitely help bust through any strength plateaus.
Tempo in relation to exercise dictates the speed at which a movement is performed. It is usually written as a series of four numbers (eg. 4010) which indicates the duration of each part of a repetition. The first number is the eccentric (lowering part of the movement), the second number indicates the bottom of the movement and how long it is held, the third number indicates the concentric phase of the movement, and the the fourth number indicates the count of the hold at the top of the movement.
For example if a deadlift is performed with a 3112 tempo, you will:
- lift the bar up for 1 second
- hold for 2 seconds at the top
- lower for 3 seconds
- pause for 1 second on the floor before doing the next rep
Tempo can be manipulated to create less or more muscular tension. A slower tempo will illicit a higher amount of tension versus a faster tempo – a 2010 tempo for 5 reps will be easier to perform than a 4010 tempo for 5 reps. The easiest part of a tempo to manipulate to improve strength is the eccentric portion as this is the easiest part of the movement to perform in general and will allow for a controlled movement leading to better muscle recruitment and motor patterning positively effecting overall strength.
The other best way to manipulate tempo is by adding pauses where the movement is the most difficult to perform. Adding a pause at the bottom of a squat it is a great way to develop strength for people who struggle to get out of the whole. Adding a pause at the top of a bench press would help for people who fail to successfully lockout the movement. Pauses can also be used in parts of the concentric and eccentric phases of the movement instead of just the top or bottom if that’s where an individual struggles.
RANGE SPECIFIC TRAINING
Range specific training refers to hammering out any issues there may be while performing a specific range of motion of an exercise. This can be done by extending ranges of motion, shortenining ranges of motion, or performing accessory movements that are relative to weakness in the movement.
If a person struggles to deadlift heavy weights from the floor but has no issues with performing a lockout – adding a deficit deadlift (deadlift performed while standing on a platform and the bar still on the floor) would likely benefit them and increase their deadlift strength. This works by making a longer range of motion forcing the lifter to pull the bar from and even lower distance than normal. This is one way to lengthen a range.
Conversely, strength can also be improved by shortening a range – for example if a trainee has difficulty with the top part of bench press they can move into an exercises such as a floor press – which shortens the range of motion and only trains the top half or lockout of the movment. Another way to shorten a range would be to perform a rack pull where you deadlift out of the rack from a higher starting to point to train the top half of the deadlift for a strong lockout.
In addition to manipulating the length of the repetitions we can also train parts of a movement with other exercises. To continue with the example of a deadlift – we want to look for exercises that simulate similar angles to the specific ranges where we struggle.
|Bottom of the Deadlift||45 Degree Back Extension|
|Middle of the Deadlift||Seated Goodmorning|
|Top of the Deadlift||90 Degree Back Extension|
Another way to bust through strength plateaus is by accumulating volume (ie. performing a lot of reps and sets) – in essence, doing hypetrophy training to elicit a gain in muscle size. The benefit of doing this type of training is that it creates high muscular tension while performing reps on reps on reps with a more moderate weight.
If this is confusing, picture it like this – a relatively strong lifter can perform a 5×5 program for strength, but if they plateau and decided to move a 10×10 training model they are:
- going to be using a more moderate weight allowing for better muscle control and coordination which equates to grooving an amazing and flawless movement pattern
- creating a lot of muscular tension allowing for better muscle firing
- putting on more muscle – which can be trained to move heavier weights
The last way to get stronger is by maintaining or creating structural balance between muscles. This can be one of the most neglected aspects of strength by trainees – as it can tend to not feel as rewarding because it usually requires movements (often remedial) with lighters weights or performing calisthenics that leave you feeling humbled.
Structural balance is extremely important to strength and the best way to understand this to explain it by building houses. Imagine you’re building a house, you’ve created your structure and then you’ve gone and reinforced it with extra materials to make it stronger, however the house has only been reinforced in certain areas. This house now has weak links that won’t be able to resist damage as well as the reinforced partsof the house. Meaning it isn’t structurally balanced. The way to correct this is by reinforcing the weak parts.
This house is your body, and essentially if there are any injuries or imbalances between muscles from front to back (anterior chain versus posterior chain) or side to side (dominant side vs non-dominant side) these muscles need to be targetted and trained to bring them as close to structurally balanced as possible.
This is done by performing specific isolation and unilateral exercises to directly facilitate and strengthen or “rehab” the lagging muscles in training. Sometimes this will need to go a step further in terms of seeking out treatment methods such as chiropractic care, acupuncture, A.R.T, massage therapy, N.K.T, and physiotherapy depending on how severe the imbalances or injuries are and what has caused them. Don’t hesitate to seek extra care or help when addressing structural balance, especially if it’s something you’ve already been working on for a while.
Did this help you? Did you hate this? Hit me up and let me know your thoughts.