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How to Break Through Plateaus

It’s inevitable. You will hit a wall or plateau of sorts on your major lifts. Yes, you can cruise along for a relatively long time adding small amounts of weight each time you perform a lift. The more of a novice you are the longer this period will continue. Enjoy it and take full advantage of “beginner gains”. However, as you become more experienced and your training age increases the jumps in weight will become smaller and smaller until you hit a plateau and your increases start to flat line. At this point, an inexperienced lifter will become frustrated. He or she will continue to try the same weight over and over again until they eke out a rep even if it takes another number of weeks. On the other hand, an experienced lifter will know that this is just part of the game and will strategize and create a game plan of sorts to move past this plateau. In the following sections I have provided some of those strategies along with a few tips for less experienced lifters. Also, note that the major lifts are the bench press, deadlift, squat, and overhead press.

 

Beginners

  • Note: “Beginners” refers to anyone that is relatively inexperienced with the “big” lifts and also inexperienced with following a structured program. You can be a “beginner” even if you have been working out for years.
  • Stick to the 3-5 rule. Perform some combination of 3-5 sets with 3-5 reps.
  • Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program is perfect for this. 5 sets of 5 increasing the weight each week.
  • Start light. Give yourself time to “grease the groove” and become proficient with the technique of the major lifts. Starting light also allows for more improvement for a longer period of time.
  • Small increases in weight. You don’t need to “max” out each week. Increasing the upper body lifts by 5 pounds each week and the lower body lifts by 10 pounds per week is more than enough, if you start light. Increases smaller than this might be even more beneficial.

 

Strategies for More Advanced Lifters

Use Percentages

 

  • Once you have experience with the major lifts and your technique is at least proficient I highly recommend the use of percentages in your program. Are there programs that don’t utilize percentages all the time? Sure, I previously mentioned the Starting Strength program which I love and which also does not use percentages. However, the use of percentages will allow you to have a long term plan and goal.
  • The use of percentages ensures that you are continuing along a path that is sustainable for a longer period of time and it also gives you a clear picture of how much you are improving.
  • Two of my favorite programs that utilize percentages are Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program and Chad Wesley Smith’s Juggernaut program.

 

Same but Different

  • This strategy is probably the most difficult to follow especially if you have an inflated ego which I’m sure is not the case with most young lifters right?
  • It’s tough to follow through with this strategy because it calls for completely ignoring the lift you are trying to improve on for a period of time and doing something a little different instead.
  • It’s called same but different because in this strategy you will ignore the lift you are trying to improve upon and perform a similar exercise instead. For example, instead of performing the flat bench press you will instead program around the incline bench press. Or instead of programming the back squat you perform the front squat for a period of time.
  • This works for two major reasons. One, your mind and body gets a rest from the exercise you have been desperately been trying to improve for a period of time. In my opinion, the mental rest is just as beneficial as the physical one. Two, by working on the same movement just in a slightly different way you are actually working on a portion of the lift that may be lacking and holding you back on your “main” exercise.
  • You don’t necessarily have to do the same but different exercise for an entire training cycle but for a substantial amount of time maybe a month or 6 weeks would suffice.

I have personally done and seen this strategy work wonders in a relatively short period of time.

 

Train Weak Points

  • This is not for beginners because everything is a weak point for you. So do everything and do it often. Do not overthink this part of your programming.
  • Training Weak points will always be a necessary part of your programming.
  • The toughest thing for some people will be realizing what there weak points are. If you are one of the many people unsure what there weak points are try this; think about the accessory exercises, movements, and/or body parts that are your least favorite to execute. Those are most likely your weak points. People avoid doing what they don’t enjoy and most become a weak point.
  • If still unsure what your weak points are sit down and evaluate your program. What is missing or what haven’t you done in a while. Take note of the accessory lifts you are doing when your numbers are increasing but also take note of what you avoided when you hit your plateau.
  • You can also ask other people. Ask your lifting buddy who sees you perform the lift, ask a more experienced lifter for advice, etc.

 

Rest Days

  • Yes, rest days are important and I know it may strange coming from me, heck it feels weird typing this out. However, rest days are very important if you want to gain maximal strength.
  • This article was written to give you advice on increasing maximal strength in your major lifts when you hit a plateau. We weren’t discussing bodybuilding or any other type of training.
  • Your body needs to be as fully recovered as possible when strength is the goal.
  • If you do something the day before that is going to negatively affect your main lift the next day that is counterproductive to what we discussed in this article today.

 

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Why Women Should Lift Weights

From the title, you can infer what I will discuss in this article but what you may not realize is that this may very well turn out to be one of the most important articles I ever write on this site. I get asked all the time what is my favorite team to work with. Most assume its football with me being a former football player and the reputation for football player’s love of the weight room. Although my answer can vary depending on the time of year, and personality of the teams, most are shocked when I tell them how much I enjoy the girl teams. As a strength and conditioning coach that works with every sport at one of the biggest high schools in the state and also a personal trainer and online coach, I have the opportunity to work with literally hundreds of females. Women, no matter whether they are training for sport or just to be fit, are a lot of fun to work with. A big reason I love working with females is that whether it’s a shy high school sophomore who has little to no confidence in the weight room or a mom working out for the first time in years, the look on their face when they achieve something they might not be naturally comfortable doing is priceless.

The Misconception

Working with women often comes with obstacles that are not present with men. Of course, this is not true for all women but in my experiences it is a topic that needs to be addressed. A big part of the population has a misconception about weight lifting and its effect on women. Again, not all women but a large number are afraid that lifting weights will make them bulky and masculine looking. I get told “I don’t want to look like you” or “I don’t want to look like a guy” more frequently than I would like to recount. In my experience, most women view cardio or aerobic type classes as the type of training they need to achieve their ideal physique. They split it right down the middle, if you’re a male, you lift weights and if you’re a female you do cardio. In fact, a study in 2014 showed that of the millions of women that belonged to commercial gyms less than one-third picked up a dumbbell. I attribute this to both a lack of readily available information and misinformation thanks to social media and the internet.

Go Hard. It’s Okay. I Promise

Another misconception that I battle on a weekly basis is that resistance training is actually okay for women as long as it is light and low intensity. I can only assume this is why there are classes for women that include dancing with five and three pound dumbbells. Luckily, I did my homework and found another study that was done with college aged females. The study proved over a significant time period that a high resistance weight training program increased lean body mass, decreased fat percentages, and showed no change in body weight. It literally says at the end of the study that the results showed no masculinizing effects meaning they did not start looking like dudes.

We Aren’t the Same

Life isn’t always fair. Not everyone is created with the same genetics, skills, etc. In this case, for women who are afraid of bulking up with resistance training this is a good thing! Because women literally cannot gain muscle the same way a male can. I have told this to some women and it’s like they don’t hear me. It is a scientific fact that women cannot gain muscle like men can because women have significantly lower natural testosterone and significantly higher levels of estrogen. “But, you see those women on line that look like dudes, I don’t want to gain muscle like that.” Notice I said natural testosterone. Those women with insane amounts of muscle mass are not natural. Period.

To Get HOOGE You Have to Eat

“But I don’t want to get muscular, I just want to get tone.” Just slap me please. When someone says they want to tone up what they are really saying is that they want to gain muscle and lose fat. Also, gaining the amount of muscle mass some women are afraid of gaining does not happen overnight or even within a few months. It not only takes a lot of time and hard work to gain a significant amount of muscle but also a surplus in calories. If you aren’t eating more calories than you are expending you will not gain muscle. So for women who resistance train a few days a week and eat healthy but not in excess, you have nothing to worry about in terms of too much muscle mass. It happens all the time, someone will ask me details about my training, they comment on how much time and work I put into the gym, food, etc. to gain the amount of muscle I have, then turn around and are afraid they will gain too much muscle in a week lifting for thirty minutes. I don’t let it upset me too much because one of my favorite lines is “They don’t know what they don’t know.”

More Serious Matter

Although, I have discussed the importance of weight training for helping women achieve their ideal physique, there is a far more beneficial reason women should resistance train especially for the long term. Resistance training strengthens bone. It strengthens the bone density which in turn can fight off osteoporosis which is a medical condition in which the bones become brittle and fragile from loss of tissue. Although both men and women are vulnerable to osteoporosis women are more prone to suffer from it especially postmenopausal. Age-related sarcopenia or muscle loss is also a concern for women. A significant loss of muscle mass as a woman ages can make everyday activities more difficult and can eventually lead to falls, which brings us back to the dangers of osteoporosis and broken bones.
As always, thanks for reading and be sure to support the site by subscribing with your email.

References:
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10671315.1974.10615291
http://jandonline.org/article/s0002-8223(98)00094-7/abstract
http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/33/3/190.short
http://www.acsm.org/public-information/articles/2016/10/07/strength-training-for-women
https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-s/strenght-training-builds-more-than-muscles
https://www/nwacc.edu/c/document_library/get_file?uuid+1269b4e5-c398-4e1e-a07e-6700bbceb9a9&groupd=216833&filename=4%20Advantages%200f%20weight%20training%20for%20women%20by%20julie%20%20gabbard-1.pdf

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My Story, What’s Yours?

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I first started training to get bigger and stronger for football in the middle of my eighth grade year. I immediately fell in love with weight training. I loved seeing myself get bigger and stronger. This continued throughout high school, and into college where I continued my football career. After tearing my ACL for the second time, ending my football career after my sophomore year, is when I first began to look at weight training as something more than just to get prepared for football. I started reading articles and visiting websites about powerlifting. I knew I would love it because I already loved the barbell lifts and being as strong as I could be. However, I knew I wanted to train to look good also which lead me to dabble in the bodybuilding lifestyle. As time went on I realized there was no reason why I had to pick one set way of training. So I started training in a way that is now commonly called “powerbuilding” which combines bodybuilding training with training for power and strength. Up to this point I have never competed in a competition of any sort but I am currently training for a push-pull (deadlift and bench) completion in early April. The reason I am sharing this with you is so that you can see that I am in this with you. I have faced or am currently facing similar challenges as you. This is important for me to share with you because when I first started working out I often wondered if I was doing things right or if people were facing the same problems as me. I would look at older, bigger guys and think “man they have it all figured out, they have to know everything there is to know.” Well, as I started reading and watching videos of famous powerlifters and bodybuilders I started to realize that they face the same problems I was facing. Growing up my favorite people to follow were the ones that showed their human side. They showed their failures and struggles but they also showed how they overcame those problems. I found it refreshing that someone at the top of their “game” could face the same problems as me. This gave me confidence that certain challenges I faced were normal and I just had to find a way to overcome them. Because of this, I will share my failures with you as well as my successes. I look forward to in the future getting feedback from you, the readers, about what topics you would like me to write about. I think that we will find that many of you have the same questions about certain things.

Let’s Get Started

I want this blog to be a place where people can come to for advice and knowledge in the pursuit of bettering themselves in and outside the weight room. With the help of social media, I plan to be able to interact with people who read these posts and have questions that they can ask me directly. My first challenge to you, as a reader, is to find your “Why?” Why are you in the weight room? Why is training important to you? Why
img_6047 are you currently doing the programs or exercises you are doing? These are all questions that you should ask yourself. You got the answers to these questions? Write them down, right now. The answers to these questions will lead you to the type of training you do, how often you do it, the exercises you choose, the type of food you eat, the amount of food you eat, the list goes on and on. I do not know everything. As the saying goes, the more I learn the more I realize I do not know. However, I have been doing this for a while now both personally and professionally, and I am constantly learning. I will not try and seem like I know everything. I will simply share what I do know and what works for me and the people I have trained. Training is a very personal thing. Yes, there are things that are biologically set in stone and will not change from person to person. There are, however, a good amount of variables that each person responds to differently. Things that you can expect to be covered in this blog are bodybuilding tips, strength tips, training for athletes, ways to gain mass, ways to lose fat, training for powerlifting, etc.