Overcoming Sticking Points
by Timothy Seaver
by Timothy Seaver
Few things in the world are more satisfying than lifting weights, getting stronger and seeing results. Few things are worse than realizing after two months of pushing that you’ve made no progress at all.
With lack of progress come those thoughts of a layoff – a permanent one. You just can’t get that usual vigor and energy into your workouts. You slog through the exercises but even though you do your best to fire up, there’s simply no spark.
Welcome to the Club of Stagnation, one that every lifter has at one time or another belonged to, however briefly. But even knowing that superstars like Ed Coan and Lee Haney don’t make endless progress is of little consolation to one stuck deep in the mire.
The important question is what can be done? Take up marathon running? Cancel your gym membership and become a recruit in the booze and boob-tube brigade? Exile your weights to the darkest recesses of your basement forevermore? Or, as many others have done, do you suddenly purchase a few hundred milligrams of dianabol or primobolin from your local supplier?
Giving up lifting definitely has its appeal when you’re stuck in a rut. You rationalize: it doesn’t really matter; it’s ultimately boring; none of your buddies do it; I’M SICK AND TIRED OF STINKING SQUATS!!!
Quitting is, of course, an option, but I would like to offer some other suggestions – ideas that do not require a two-month layoff replete with twice a day pigouts, or even the pursuit of a wholly different activity. In other words, with a little application and an open mind, you can have your cake and eat it too.
First, you need to look at your present training (hopefully a record has been kept, either paper or mental) and see what you’ve been doing these last four or so weeks prior to the staleness. Have you been concentrating exclusively on very heavy weights, doing primarily singles, doubles and triples? If so, remember that few lifters, even the highly competitive ones, can make progress indefinitely with exclusively low rep (below five) training. The simple reason is obvious: lifting very heavy weights places a definite strain on the body. It is a truism among lifters that you can only go to the well so often before it runs dry.
Consider a change of focus from those heavy triples in the bench with 300 lbs. to say, maybe, sets or eight or nine with around 235. “WHAT IS THIS GUY TALKING ABOUT!” you’re probably saying. “Use LIGHT weights? I’ll lose everything I’ve worked so hard for! I’m no wimp.”
But since when has doing strict sets of high reps (8 and up for the upper body, 12 and over for the lower) been easy or wimpy? Remember Don Blue, one of the greatest deadlifters of the early 70’s? He began his training cycle with sets of 15 – in the deadlift no less. And yet on this base of high reps and conditioning (something all strength athletes need), he pulled a world record deadlift of 620 at 148 back in 1974 – a feat only a handful of lifters today at that weight could equal. And in bodybuilding, men like Sergio Oliva and Casey Viator – no lightweights – have been known to train almost exclusively with high reps. Oliva would sometimes go as high as 50.
From my own experience, doing high reps is just as demanding mentally as the max weights. The important point is that doing high reps gives the body a respite from those all-out sets. Furthermore, doing strict sets of 10-15 will do wonders for your overall conditioning – specifically for leg and back work, like squats and rows.
Still have doubts? Give this routine a go: The next time you squat, keep all your reps at 15 and up – do seven total sets, working up to say 250 (assuming a 350 to 370 single) for the last two or three sets. Thus: 135x20, 185x20, 215x15, 235x15, 250x15, 15, 15. If you can finish this workout, squatting nice and deep, I guarantee you those thighs and glutes will not only take to growing but the heart/lung connection will pump up a storm.
OK. Solution number one: go to high reps on everything, from curls to squats. But start slowly. Many lifters are amazed at how demanding lighter weights can be after a prolonged diet of the heavy stuff.
Another way to deal with the can’t-improve bugaboo would be to clean up your lifting style. Are you keeping your hips down when you bench, or do you resemble the
I know, I know! You think your form on all the movements is just great, but if you want to get out of that rut you’ll have to lose the rosy view and put on those clear lenses again. Ask yourself, “Am I cheating a little too much here and there? Could my squat be a little deeper?” Because ultimately, over the months a “little” cheating and sloppiness adds up to a lot. In other words, you’ll never receive the stimulation needed and won’t grow or become much stronger that way. And why should you? If your benches look epileptic you’ll never develop much of anything. The body is no fool! It responds exactly to the demands you place on it.
So put the ego on the back burner for awhile, reduce your poundages, and totally concentrate on doing the lifts using ONLY the appropriate muscles, with as close as you can get to perfect form. Yes, it will be a comedown, but in the long run it will be well worth every effort. Now, when you talk about poundages, you’ll be talking about weight LIFTED.
So, we have solution number two: By doing the exercises in a strict and proper manner, instead of jerking and heaving, the muscles literally reeducate and retrain themselves to contract in the appropriate sequence with minimal help from outside forces such as momentum.
A third and further method to change the training program around without changing the exercises is to simply cut down on the rest periods between sets. In the many years I have been involved in lifting, I have seen precious few lifters consciously reduce their time between sets. Whenever I’ve mentioned to a budding Joe Buff that he might increase his gains by decreasing rest periods, the response is invariably, “I need to rest that long in order to lift these weights – recovery, you know!” Recovery bullshit. Call it laziness and unwillingness to try anything different that entail WORK. If you’re squatting with 500 lbs. plus you may need 6 or 7 minutes to recover fully, sure. But resting for up to 5 minutes between sets of leg curls and the like? Come on, the jawbone ain’t got nothing to do with getting bigger and stronger unless you’re teeth lifting. I’ve seen lifters spend three or four hours in the gym and never break a sweat. Buddy, this is not training, this is garbage. If you want to hang out go to a bar; if you came to train then do it.
Suggestion number three: Keep in mind that we go to the gym primarily to train (I like to think) and we should keep unnecessary distractions to a minimum. Conversation does not mix with concentration.
And what about changing exercises, you ask? Good enough, but I think that certain movements are hard, if not impossible to beat: the barbell squat being one of them. However, if your benches have been going nowhere, and you just can’t deal with high reps, then by all means switch to dumbell benches of inclines with barbell or dumbells, or maybe even dips and pushups. A change of pace can be a rewarding relief.
My final suggestion for those up against the wall would be to simply accept it for what it is: a TEMPORARY phase that the body and mind experience occasionally, which in no way implies a permanent state of affairs. Indeed, sometimes you can learn more about yourself when things don’t go well than when they do. When your progress is coming regularly, the tendency is to take it for granted that it will go on indefinitely. It won’t. But by keeping a detailed record of your progress or lack thereof, during both good times and bad you can tolerate the letdowns and take them in stride – knowing that at some point your strength will again improve.
In the meantime, enjoy your training for what it is – an exploration of the world within.