Tag Archives: squats

Why You Should Be Squatting With A Safety Squat Bar

Specialty bars have grown in popularity since Westside Barbell introduced them into their training. While the straight bar may always be king, especially for powerlifters who must use a straight bar in competition, variety never hurt anyone and in a lot of other cases, may prove superior to standard training. Enter the safety squat bar.

Continue reading Why You Should Be Squatting With A Safety Squat Bar

Built to Perform: Strength Standards For Lifters

As a strength coach, I take the “strength” in strength and conditioning seriously, regardless of what your involvement in the iron game is.

Before you say “No Tank, I don’t need to actually be strong to reach my goals”, try to name a me circumstance where “stronger is not better”.

Even if you’re not a traditional strength athlete but rather a bodybuilder or bikini competitor, the stronger you are, the better your body will perform in the weight room and eventually look on stage. There is no way around that argument…

Regardless of whether you’re a bodybuilder, powerlifter, football player, or a gym rat, you should be backing up your looks with your performance. In other words, looking jacked but lifting like a pussy ain’t cool. It’s false advertising and nobody likes a fraud.

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But what numbers should you be aiming for?

Strong can be a very subjective word depending on perspective and your audience. To Uncle Rico you might look like the next coming of Dan John but to Dan John you may look like, well, Uncle Rico…

So let me break it down for you. Here is a list of my strength standards for both men and women.  These strength standards begin with above average performance. (Being average sucks so no need to know what it means to be “okay”).

These strength standards would be accepted in most serious strength circles as a fair and accurate measuring stick.

Men’s
  • Deadlift
    • Good: 2 x bodyweight
    • Elite: 2.75 x bodyweight
  • Squat
    • Good: 2 x bodyweight
    • Elite: 2.5 x bodyweight
  • Bench Press
    • Good: 1.5 x bodyweight
    • Elite: 2 x bodyweight
  • Overhead Press
    • Good: 165lbs
    • Elite: 225lbs
Women’s
  • Deadlift
    • Good: 1.5 x bodyweight
    • Elite: 2 x bodyweight
  • Squat
    • Good: 1.25 x bodyweight
    • Elite: 2 x bodyweight
  • Bench Press
    • Good: .75 x bodyweight
    • Elite: 1 x bodyweight
  • Overhead Press
    • Good: 65lbs
    • Elite: 95lbs

molly

So what does “good” and “elite” really mean?

Good

Being in the “good” category means that most average people would consider your lifts strong and that it would take a decent amount of training to get to those numbers. I would call someone in the “good” category an intermediate lifter.

Kudos to being here but if you have been lifting for a number of years, you should be building off of this level and aiming to progress above these benchmarks.

Elite

“Elite” means you are stronger than 95% of the population. If you consider yourself as someone who takes strength and conditioning seriously, this is the category you should be aiming to get into. Not everyone will get there but it never hurts to have a goal.

(One caveat: While being in this category makes you stronger than 95% of the average Joes out there, this does not mean you are elite by any standard when comparing yourself to other athletes and/or powerlifters/strongmen.)

Wrapping Up

It’s not “strength training” unless you’re getting strong.

Knowing how you measure up is key to monitoring your progress and setting goals for yourself, so use these strength standards as a measuring stick for your training.

Not everyone will sniff the “elite” category, but everyone should be able to enter and exceed the “good” category. If getting stronger is your passion, build off of being “good” and work towards being “elite”.

Strength is a journey…enjoy the ride…

All the best,

— Tank

The Importance of a Dynamic Warm Up

My first few years in the gym I would be so cranked up on pre-workout and oozing testosterone that I could walk into the weight room and start cranking out sets with authority. No warm up, no stretching, just my dumb “meatheadness” and bulldog mentality.

Fast forward to today and I don’t touch a weight without a fairly thorough dynamic warm up. Part of that is I’m 32 now and can’t meathead my way through workouts anymore, but more importantly I’m a much smarter lifter than I was in high-school and my 20’s.

I was costing myself a ton of gains by not getting my body properly fired up before training. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. Your muscles are not warm and elastic when you first start lifting, which hinders performance and mobility
  2. It takes a while for your central nervous system (CNS) to fire properly and activate your motor neurons at peak performance

Translation is that you don’t perform optimally until partially through your workout, meaning the first exercises (which are usually the most important) you are hitting are probably getting neglected or not performed to their maximum potential.

I came across this from a recent study on warm ups. Note the difference between jump performance when no warm up was performed versus a general and dynamic warm up was completed. In this case, “general” means aerobic activity (light jogging, jump rope, etc.). If you want the full study, you can find it under this title: Effect of Various Warm-Up Protocols on Jump Performance in College Football Players, by Pagaduan, Pojskić, Užičanin and Babajic, in Journal of Human Kinetics, 2012.

I’ll take another example from a very recent experience of mine. I had been experiencing pain in my lower back after squats and deadlifts. I diagnosed the problem as underactive glutes. So the other day when I was scheduled to squat, I expanded my dynamic warm up to target my glutes and get them firing in full force before I started squatting.

The result?

I had one of the best squat days I’ve had in a while and finished the training session pain free.

You can probably take an example out of your own training if you don’t do a dynamic warm up. Think about your performance in the first exercise you do and compare that to some of the things you do 20-30 minutes into your training. I bet you are much more focused, your muscles have stopped being sluggish and are firing on all cylinders, and you are cranking out sets much more efficiently than your first couple of the day.

Do not jeopardize your gains or perform sets sub-optimally because you don’t want to take the time to properly warm up. Every set matters…

Not to mention the injury risk you pose to yourself by going full Hulk smash the first 5 minutes you enter the gym…

hulk-smash1

There are two components to a proper dynamic warm up.

#1: Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is a must before a training session to break up inflamed tissue, promote blood flow, and boost performance.

I usually hit my quads, hamstrings, glutes, IT band, adductors, and any trouble spots in my upper body.

You only need to foam roll for a few minutes. I don’t advise rolling a certain area for more than “10 rolls” because too much foam rolling can actually irritate muscle tissue rather than benefit it.

#2: Dynamic Stretching

I don’t really advocate static stretching in a warm up until after I hit some more dynamic movements. Forcing cold muscles to stretch for long durations of time when they aren’t elastic isn’t optimal.

Dynamic stretches that I promote include bodyweight squats and lunges, squat jumps and other jump variations (broad jumps and small box jumps are good options), skipping, jogging, and animal walks (bear crawls and partner walks are awesome). RDL’s with only the bar are great to hit your hamstrings as well.

I also do a series of resistance band stretches (overhand and underhand pull-aparts, and disclocators).

band pull apart
Dynamic stretching is an easy, low-impact way to get your CNS firing, warm up your muscles, and tune up your mobility prior to lifting.

** Now only after I have done some dynamic stretching, I will incorporate some static stretching into the mix, specifically to target my hips and glutes. **

Sample Primal Warm-Up

This entire dynamic warm up should only take about 10-15 minutes to complete.

  • Foam Roll
  • Band Pull-Apart Circuit (10 each movement)
  • Walking lunges: 10/side
  • Bodyweight Squats: 10
  • Skipping: 10/side
  • Standing broad jump: 8
  • Single-leg broad jump: 6/leg
  • Jump squats: 10

After the foam rolling, you could do several rounds of the other exercises to get your body primed for some heavy lifting. The dynamic warm up should be up-tempo with little to no rest in between exercises and rounds.

— Tank

Building Lifting Programs: 4 Vital Characteristics

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll notice I don’t put a ton of lifting programs up on my site.

That will probably change in the near future but for now there are many reasons that I don’t. The overarching reason is because I pride myself on educating lifters so they can think for themselves, not just follow a program blindly. The fitness community is inundated with thousands of lifting programs that people can follow, but ask the average user to develop their own program and describe the inner workings of their training and they likely can’t.

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime”

I’d much rather teach you how to do your own programming so you can sustain yourself over a lifetime, rather than trying to find the next greatest thing after the end of an 8-week cycle.

Log-Press
So in designing your own lifting program, what are the major factors that you need to develop it around?

#1: Your Goals

Far too often when I talk to someone about lifting, they don’t have a clear definition of what their end game is. When embarking in lifting programs, you need to train to both your short-term and long-term goals.

Do you want to add on mass? Or do you want to gain total body strength? Maybe your goal is lift specific and you want to add 25 pounds to your bench press?

You need to have your end game in mind. If you want to add mass, doing programs meant for powerlifters may not add a lot of hypertrophy, and inversely, if you want to get stronger, high-volume bodybuilding style programs probably won’t get you there.

All of your training must be done with intention.

Never Change The Goal
#2: Volume-Intensity Relationship

To induce a training effect you have to stimulate your body with enough volume under heavy enough loads.

Training to your goals will take care of a lot of this dynamic. Strength seekers will favor less volume with more intensity and the mass seeker will probably favor more volume with lighter intensities.

Knowing the relationship between volume and intensity is paramount and may take some manipulating to make the gains you are looking for. Throughout the course of your training life, you will come across periods where your body needs more volume to induce growth, whereas other times you may need to add weight to the bar to boost your gains. Unfortunately there is no magic recipe for this. This comes down to your knowledge as a lifter, understanding what your body is telling you, and your ability to manipulate your programming to what your body needs.

For some general guidelines on volume and intensity check these out:

How to Add More Volume To Your Training

Crank Up the Intensity

What Rep Range Should You Use to Gain Mass?

#3: Training Frequency

This is how often you train, and more specifically, how often you are stimulating your various muscle groups.

Depending on how you break-down your training sessions, your training frequency may vary but typically you should be training at least 3 or 4 days a week.

Your training frequency will also be dictated by the volume-intensity relationship as higher-volume or intensity sessions may require more time in between training sessions. Rule of thumb for Primal lifters is that you allow for 48 hours rest in between muscle groups.

#4: Exercise Selection

This is a big one for me. I’m a firm believer in recruiting more muscle to build more muscle, so I favor a lot of compound lifts. However, you must be careful when using a lot of compound movements and ensure that you are getting proper recovery and not over-training your nervous system.

This is not to say isolation movements don’t have their merits, but you just have to know when and how to use them.

arnold-squat-franco-300x271
In Summary…

There are four major components of program design:

  1. Your Goals
  2. Volume-Intensity Relationship
  3. Training Frequency
  4. Exercise Selection

These are the only things you need to think about when designing a lifting program.

Any time I write a program for Primal, I am building it around these components. So as you progress in your lifting career, these are the things you need to think of in order to give yourself the proper programming to make both short and long-term gains.

As a parting thought, I want to finish by saying that there is no such thing as a perfect program. It just doesn’t exist.

Something may work for a while, but your body will adapt and your gains will stall. This doesn’t mean the program is garbage, it just means that you need to manipulate a portion of the program to reach your desired end state. This is what I call the 25% rule. To read more about the 25% rule, stay tuned for my next post…

— Tank

How Deep Should You Squat? The Squat Depth Debate

Proper squat depth is a hotly debated topic in the strength world and you’ll get a lot of different answers depending on who you ask and what their perspective is.

My answer?

It’s two-fold.

  1. In an ideal world, you’d squat to parallel or below. Deep squats are actually healthy for your knees and they engage your posterior chain far more than partial reps.
  2. In reality, most people lack the flexibility and mobility to squat below parallel with good form and without rounding their back. So in the real-world you squat as low as you can with good form, and then you work on your strength and mobility over time until you can squat deeper. Form trumps all so better to squat a little higher safely, then crush your back trying to go below parallel.

Is Squatting Below Parallel That Important?

Outside of power-lifting and some sports (that require a high-degree of mobility), squatting below parallel is not totally necessary. However, the deeper you can squat, the more benefits you will receive and I believe everyone should aim to squat deeper.

If you think about it, we are born with the ability to squat deep and we simply lose the ability to do so over time due to poor lifestyle habits and inactivity. I watch my two year old on a daily basis squat “ass to the grass”, so as adults we should be striving to regain that lost ability.

What Can You Do To Increase Your Squat Depth?

#1: Cue Yourself

Whenever I teach someone to squat properly, I’m usually amazed about how much progress they can make in the first 5 minutes of training just by me cuing them.

The top 3 cues I use are “Chest Up”, “Spread the floor”, and “Sit in the hole”.

  1. “Chest up” cues the lifter to stick out their chest and keep it high, allowing them to maintain good posture throughout the lift and focus on sitting back into proper position.
  2. “Spread the floor” cues the lifter to spread their knees apart. Legendary lifter Dan John said that squatting takes place between the knees, not over them. So “spreading the floor” allows the lifter to get in between their knees and engage their glutes and hamstrings. Otherwise, the lifter tends to make the squat quad dominant and they get out over their knees. Really bad position to be in if you want to stay healthy…
  3. When you “spread the floor” you create a void (the hole) in between you knees, which is where a parallel or deeper squat is made. By “sitting in the hole”, you naturally squat deeper and get a deep knee bend while engaging your glutes and hamstrings.

By cuing yourself, I can almost guarantee you will squat deeper from the outset.

squat depth
By “spreading the floor”, this lifter is able to “sit in the hole” and squat deeply. Notice how his abdomen and torso slide into the void (the hole) created in between his knees.

#2: Crush Assistance Work

Assistance exercises are vital to training your mobility and flexibility that will lead to a deeper squat.

Other than barbell squats, you should be hitting a few of these exercises on your lower body days:

  • Goblet Squats
  • Front Squats
  • Zercher Squats
  • Single Leg Squats
  • High-box step ups

These exercises won’t load the spine and allow you to naturally squat deeper than you would on heavy barbell back squats. My typical rep range for assistance work is 6-12, so a few sets in this rep scheme on lower body days will help you develop the mobility for a deeper squat.

#3: Isolate Your Posterior Chain

One of the few times I recommend isolation work is to bring up weaknesses. In this case, most people have weak hamstrings and glutes. This prevents them from squatting properly, and in some cases causes them knee pain.

Bringing up your posterior chain will alleviate both of these issues. Focus on glute ham raises and hip thrusts. Often times in my warm ups, I do several sets of glute ham raises, meaning I’m hitting my posterior chain directly at least 4 times a week.

Departing Caveats

  • I mentioned this before, but form trumps all. If you can’t squat parallel or below, work with the 3 strategies I outlined and you will be able to squat deeper over time.
  • Injuries, blown joints, knee pain, and other circumstances may prevent you from ever squatting below parallel. With this in mind, squat as low as you can while maintaining a neutral spine. You can still get great benefits from partial rep squats, and then crush the assistance work I outlined to augment your back squatting.

— Tank

Contrast Training To Boost Strength Gains

Contrast training is one of the most effective ways to increase your strength levels, power output, muscle mass, metabolic function for fat loss, and overall performance levels.

contrast training
Sprinting with a parachute or sled, followed by sprinting with no resistance, is a great example of contrast training.

I first read about contrast training in Yuri Verkhoshansky’s Supertraining, but I have seen it employed elsewhere for a variety of different training goals and applications.

The concept is simple. Taking an example from Verkhoshansky and something we’ve probably all done in our lives, imagine picking up a can that was half full of liquid when our mind thought it was full. Typically what happens is we move the can with much more force than we intended and make a big mess. Our nervous system was primed based on past performance and therefore muscle capability was enhanced.

Now apply this to strength training. There are two different ways I use contrasts in my training. I use contrasting movements (an explosive movement after a heavy lift) and I use contrasting tempos (lighter loads with explosive, faster tempo than normal).

Using either of these, think of the above water example. Working in explosive movements/tempos after a strength movement recruits more motor units and produces more force. The benefits are straightforward. The more muscle you recruit, the more explosive, strong, and powerful you are. Contrast training also increases the amount of work you are doing giving you a greater metabolic boost than normal training. And obviously, the more muscle you recruit, the more hypertrophy you can induce (although you may want to up your reps slightly for a hypertrophy focus).

Putting Contrast Training Into Practice

Ok, so you get the concept, but how do you actually implement it? As mentioned before, I use contrast training in two different ways.

#1 Contrasting Movements

Start with a 5-8 rep set of a heavy lift and pair it with an unloaded explosive movement with the same rep scheme. For example, a heavy set of squats followed by a set of box jumps; or a heavy set of bench followed by a set of plyo push-ups; or a heavy sled drag followed by an all-out sprint.

contrast training
Heavy squats followed by max effort box jumps will increase your strength and explosiveness.

Your unloaded contrasting movement should be done with maximal effort. Rest times in between your heavy lift and contrast movement can vary and is goal dependent. If you goal is maximal strength, rest for 3 minutes. If your goal is for increased athletic performance or fat loss, rest for 30 seconds or no rest at all. For hypertrophy, split the difference somewhere in between.

Four to five sets (of each movement) will do the trick. Use the lower end of the rep scheme for maximal strength, and the upper end for hypertrophy and fat loss. You don’t need to use contrast movements every training session, as I don’t recommend training maximally for extended periods of time, but continuously keep it as part of your training toolkit.

#2 Contrasting Tempos

For this, you are doing the same movement (bench, squat, deadlift, etc.) for three sets, but varying the tempo in which your perform it. You start with a set of slow tempo emphasizing the eccentric movement of the lift, then perform a set faster than normal, and then perform a normal one. Here is an example:

Set 1: Using a moderate weight (70-80% of your 1 rep max), you use a very slow tempo (about 5 seconds on the negative portion of the lift) and then pause near the bottom of the lift for 2-3 seconds. For squats the pause would be at roughly parallel, for bench, the bar just above your chest, etc. The idea here is that you keep full body tension. After the pause, you perform the concentric part of the lift normally. This set is done for 2-3 reps, and then you rest for 2 minutes.

Set 2: This set is done with lighter weight (60-70%) but done explosively. You control the eccentric portion, but explode from the bottom applying as much force as you can. This set is for 3-5 reps, and then rest for 60 seconds.

Set 3: This set is done with the heaviest weight (80-85%) using normal tempo (2 seconds down, no pause, 2 seconds up). This set is for 4-6 reps and then you rest 3 minutes.

You perform this series of sets (all 3) 2-3 times, giving you a total of 6-9 sets.

After your last set, try to end your training with the tempo that is most conducive to your goals. For example, if you are a strength athlete always end your training with the heaviest set. If you’re a an athlete and are trying to develop explosiveness, then add in an extra set of set #2 at the end of the series. For hypertrophy, end the series with an extra set of #1.

contrast training
This is perfect position for pausing at the bottom of the squat.

Training Smarter, Not Harder

Use contrast training to help boost your performance, but know how to tailor them to your goals based on the recommendations I gave above. These are easy to integrate into any strength training program, so use them to your advantage and break through your plateaus. But as with anything else, do not overuse them to the point that they lose their effectiveness.

— Tank

Best Exercises You Aren’t Doing

best exercisesSome of these may seem obvious to you, but inevitably we all can neglect some of the best exercises for building size and strength.

Take a look back at your training logs and see how much time you are devoting to these. I bet you’d be surprised at what you find. I meticulously plan my workouts every single day, but when I look back on my records, I can always find at least one these best exercises that I’m neglecting.

Missing something from this list in your training? It’s time to make it a priority. Maybe that means scrapping something else from your current training plan to fit these in, and in that case, you are welcome for the intervention.

  1. Deadlifts – What? Everybody does deadlifts right? Wrong. The average gym rat doesn’t spend enough time making these a focus, or they commit one of the greatest gym sins of all by not deadlifting period. They are one of the greatest tests of overall body strength, and if you aren’t doing these with regularity, I can guarantee you that you aren’t meeting your full strength potential.
  2. Pushups – Amazing that such a classic can get overlooked, but it happens on a regular basis. Hall of Fame NFL running back Hershel Walker claims he built his body totally from push-ups. Not sure I buy it, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. An easy way to make sure to get these in is by incorporating them into a warmup or a finisher.
  3. Pullups – Same as above. After you can do 15 perfect pull-ups, vary your grip and start working on some of the variations.
  4. Glute Ham Raises – Weak hamstrings are the single most pervasive muscle imbalance across the planet. Weak hammies will hinder you in the deadlift, squat, sprinting, and a myriad of other athletic performance activities. If you don’t have access to a glute ham machine, there a variety of different techniques to perform them, or you can substitute in Romanian deadlifts, good mornings, hip thrusts, hamstring curls and boxsquats. If this list was a top 15, all of these would be on there.
    best exercises
    If you don’t have a glute ham machine, there are a variety of alternatives.
  5. Farmer Carries – These are a must and one of my favorite exercises. They make a great training finisher and will work wonders for your upper back, grip strength, forearms, and mental toughness.
  6. Squats – Kinda goes hand in hand with #1. If you don’t want to look like a lightbulb, you gotta squat. Squat often, squat for a lot of reps, and squat heavy. As I mentioned with pull-ups, work in some of the squat variations like front squats, box squats, and single-leg squats. All of these will help improve your flexibility, technique, and strength.
  7. Hang Cleans – Performing these will do wonders for building mass on your entire upper body and for developing your explosiveness. Hang cleans produce 4 times as much power as squats and deadlifts, and 9 times as much as the bench press, according to some research. They are also fairly easy to learn, making them a great addition to the classics like bench, squats, overhead pressing, and deadlifting.
    best exercises
    There are several starting positions for doing cleans. I like hang cleans because they require more upper body strength and force and the technique is much easier to learn than full cleans.
  8. Kettlebell Swings – These are the easiest of the kettlebell lifts to learn and one of the most effective. Benefits for your legs, shoulders, hips, mobility, explosiveness and power make this fat burning lift a must for your strength training routine.
  9. Hill Sprints – Get outside and run some hills for fat loss. I always feel sorry for the suckers I see on the stair stepper or treadmill for hours on end when they could be outside doing 20 minutes of hill sprints and get a far better training effect. Hill sprints are the single most efficient way to burn fat. No more elliptical, I’m begging you.
  10. Hanging Leg Raises – In my opinion, these are one of the best core exercises you could do. Not only do they strengthen your ab muscles, but they target your hip flexors as well. They offer a great range of motion and help improve your mobility.

— Tank

7 Primal Principles of Strength and Muscle Building

There are certain principles that you must follow in order to build strength and muscle. Consider these principles as the foundation for your training.

Hopefully this all sounds familiar because I’ve mentioned these before in other posts, but now I’m making it easy on you by putting them all together in one place. These are all actionable principles that you can incorporate into your training and lifestyle immediately.

The burden is on you, so spare yourself with the excuses, take action, and get it done. If you do, I can guarantee you that you will get results. I give you the knowledge, but you have to put in the work! squats for muscle building

#1:  Focus on Compound Exercises

Ditch the isolation work and swap it out for more compound exercises like squats, bench and overhead presses, deadlifts, row variations, pull-ups, and farmers carries. To build more muscle, you need to recruit more muscle, and by doing isolation work you are reducing the amount of muscle you could be stimulating.

#2:  Lift Heavy

For me, lifting heavy always trumps volume. Keep your intensity within the 70-85% of your 1 rep max at a minimum. I’d take heavier sets of 6-8 over medium sets of 10-20 any day. Muscle is built best in —> this range <—. By lifting in this rep and intensity range, you will ensure that you are building both strength and muscle.

#3: Deadlift

It’s the number 1 muscle building exercise of all-time. You should be deadlifting at least once a week. This is the one exercise where your reps may stay relatively low most of the time. Sets of 5 or less will do the trick, and keep stacking weight on the bar.

#4:  Train Full-Body or With an Upper-Lower Split

Body-part splits are the most mimicked thing in the gym, but are a nightmare for the normal dude that just wants to get jacked. If you are a competitive bodybuilder, have at it, but if you aren’t, you need to be training full-body or with an upper-lower split. Not only will you hit your muscles with much more frequency this way, it forces you to plan your workouts carefully and eliminate sh*tty, worthless exercises.

#5:  Train Like A Strongman

Gym strength doesn’t necessarily translate to the real world. Once a week throw in some odd-object lifts like kegs, stones, sandbags, or even a yoke. Strongman training is stressful on your central nervous system, so don’t overdo it, but this will help bridge the gap between gym strength and being ‘functional’.

Strongman training for muscle building #6:  Train Movements, Not Muscles

Not balancing your movement patterns leads to muscle imbalances, poor coordination and degraded muscular efficiency. Primal Strength Camp was based on using the “7 Primal Movement Patterns” to train the body and not focusing on muscle groups. Don’t look at things through the lens of biceps and pecs all the time, but rather how efficiently you function as a whole unit.

#7:  Dial In Your Diet

The old saying goes “You can’t out-train a bad diet”. You can be a total-ass kicker in the gym but if your diet sucks, you will not build muscle. Count your calories and macro-nutrients (proteins, carbs, and fats) and make sure you are getting what you need to make all that hard work in the gym pay off.

— Tank

4 Ways to Bust Through Strength Plateaus

If you’ve been lifting long enough, then you’ve probably hit strength plateaus before.  It’s inevitable.

While it’s an awesome feeling to be breaking personal records (PR’s) day in and day out, the reality is that it’s just not sustainable.  Enjoy it while it lasts because as soon as you hit a sticking point, the process of getting past it can be damn frustrating.

strength plateaus

But it’s okay.  I’m here to help.  Here are 4 surefire ways to help you eclipse those strength plateaus and get back on the fast track of smashing PR’s.

#1: Supramaximal Adaptation Training

I came across this technique in one of the bibles of strength training called “Supertraining” by Yuri Verkhoshansky.

The technique is fairly simple and the logic is sound.  The idea is that you get your body familiar with training loads that are much greater than your current 1 rep max just by supporting the weight or training with the weight in a limited range of motion.

If you have ever done drop sets, the logic is similar.  In a drop set, you take a load and do it for a specified number of reps, and then reduce the weight and do another set.  On the lighter set, the weight feels much lighter than it actually is because your body just trained with a heavier load and your body is able to pump out more reps (usually).  Drop sets are normally used in high-volume training and focused on hypertrophy, not 1 rep maxes.

Supramaximal adaptation training is built around a similar premise, but is treated in a much different way than you would a drop set since we are going for pure strength gains.

For one, the loads that you use will be considerably higher than your 1 rep max.  I used this type of training to get over a sticking point in my squat, and the loads I used to do it were over 100 pounds more than my 1 rep max.

Secondly, you will probably use this type of training for several weeks before you attempt a new 1 rep max.  For my squat, I trained with “supramaximal” loads for 2 weeks before going for a new PR.  Unlike a drop set, you don’t simply train one set with a higher load, and then immediately go for a new record.  Patience is key, and take the time to let your body adapt.

Third, this type of training is not meant to be done with a full range of motion.  For some, just supporting the weight may get you to where you need to be.  When I used this to train for a new squat PR, I regressed to box squats with the higher loads to get my body adapted to the much heavier weight.  Then when it came time for my new PR, I ditched the box and went for it.  I set a new PR by 10 pounds.

strength plateaus

#2: Set New 2 and 3 Rep Maxes

If you get stuck on a 1 rep max, it is natural for you to keep going after it until you break it.  I wouldn’t fault anyone for that as long as you are doing it smartly.  Take the time to tweak your technique, change the intensity of your warm-up sets, or even take some time off.

But sometimes, none of this will work and you are truly stuck.  No biggie.  Instead of focusing on a new 1 rep max, focus on 2 and 3 rep maxes instead.  Don’t even mess with your 1 rep max weights for a while.

If you can set new 3 rep maxes for instance, your body will be much better adapted to handling a new 1 rep max.  This sort of falls in line with the Principle of Progressive Overload, but sometimes this basic principle gets overlooked when you are trying to crush some new weight.

Like the first tip above, be patient with this.  Just because you set a new 2 rep max doesn’t mean you should attempt a new 1 rep max immediately after.  Strength is a journey and a process, not a race.

#3: Tweak Your Warm-Up

This is one of the biggest mistakes I see people make.

Don’t get me wrong, you need to be properly warmed up to be at optimal performance and reduce your chance of injury.  But there is a fine line between being warm and overdoing it.

You can approach your warm-up 2 different ways when you are trying for a new PR.  You can decrease the number of sets you do, but increase the intensity on each set.  This will require you to make much bigger jumps in weight on your warm-up sets.  Here is an example for bench press:

  1. 135 x 6
  2. 185 x 6
  3. 235 x 4
  4. 265 x 2
  5. 285 x 2
  6. 305 x 1 (new PR)

The second approach is to keep your warm-up sets the same, but decrease the number of reps each set and use lower increments of intensities.  A lot of guys I see will hit 8 reps or so a set, but if you are trying to set a new max, you may be expending too much energy leading up to it.  By decreasing the number of reps, you are leaving “some gas in the tank”.  Here is an example (bench press):

  1. 135 x 4
  2. 165 x 4
  3. 185 x 4
  4. 225 x 2
  5. 255 x 2
  6. 275 x 1
  7. 295 x 1
  8. 305 x 1 (new PR)

If you are a slow starter and it takes you a while to get warm, this may be your best bet.  As compared to the first approach, your body is making an adaptation to higher weights more gradually with 2 extra sets, but you are still doing less total reps (18 versus 20).  While 2 reps may not seem like a lot, if you are going for a new 1 rep max, those 2 reps may be your saving grace.

deadlift strength training

#4: Take Time Off From Heavy Lifting

There is not much to say about this one really.  The title speaks for itself.  After repeated failed attempts (over the course of weeks I mean), your best bet may be to just take some time off.

This is not a cop out or a wuss move.  Your ability to break through the barrier may just be your body’s way of telling you to take a break.  Any smart lifter always knows to listen to his body.

I had to resort to this strategy last winter with my deadlift.  I couldn’t beat my personal best. After 2 months of trying other strategies I decided to just step away.  After 3 months of not lifting heavy I came back with a vengeance and beat my personal best by 30 pounds within 2 weeks of lifting heavy again.

So, bottom line?  Listen to your body.  If other strategies don’t work, lose the ego and take some time off.  Time off should be a minimum of 2 weeks, but could span months depending on how long you have been lifting heavy.

Wrapping Up

Keep in mind also that these are just examples, and you can tweak what I’ve laid out here but still stick to the premise and logic that I’ve given you.

So give these a try when you reach strength plateaus.  I’ve personally tried all 3 of these, and they work.  The key is being patient and methodical.  Strength is a journey and lifelong pursuit.

You may spend weeks or months trying to hit a new PR, but you will get there!  Stay strong and never, ever quit…

Evolve!!

— Tank