I can't remember that word.
What's the spice of life?
It's on the tip of my tongue and it tastes great.
The body has a marvelous capacity to adapt.
This is a plan for survival, and it also benefits us to a certain degree in the strength development process.
At some stage, however, this adaptation deters progress -- which means that in order to move to a higher level of strength fitness, you must incorporate some changes into your program.
Even so, they don't always have to be major changes. On the contrary. The alterations can be quite subtle and still be very effective. Change doesn't mean completely revamping your entire routine, although in some cases that's a smart move if your current program isn't bringing you the desired results.
It has always been my philosophy that the best program for an individual is the one that works for him or her. [Think about that for a minute.] If a program is helping you gain your goals of more size and strength, then I suggest you stick with it. In far too many instances a person will be making consistent gains, then read about some other routine recommended by an expert and switch over to the new program. Only when he finds that his progress has stopped will he be wise enough to then return to his former routine.
So, the changes I'm suggesting aren't really drastic, but typically even minor alterations are enough to allow you to break through former barriers and move on to a higher level of strength.
Whenever people come to me and tell me they're stuck, progress-wise, I usually suggest that they incorporate some changes into their routine instead of discarding it completely. Usually, they counter with, "Do you mean change the sets, the reps or the exercises themselves? Or should I change the way I do the exercises?"
"All of these things," I generally reply, which leaves them quite confused.
To clarify, I will go through a number of exercises for the various bodyparts and explain how to make some minor changes that will get the lifts moving once again. I'll begin with the shoulder girdle and upper-body exercises . . .
The core movements I recommend are bench presses, incline bench presses, dips and overhead presses. All lifters are interested in moving their bench press, so I'll start with that exercise.
People invariably hit a sticking point on the bench press, often because they've been doing the same routine for too long. Some use the basic form of 5 sets of 5, which is fine routine, for it helps establish a solid foundation. Others prefer higher reps, 8's and 10's, believing they need to stay with lighter weights until they hone their technique.
The best way to blend some changes into your bench routine is to start switching the set-and-rep sequence each time you perform the exercise. Even a minor alteration is enough to stimulate new strength development. For example, instead of doing 5 x 5, do 3 sets of 5, then 3 sets of 3. That's for the heavy day. The next time you work heavy, do 3 x 5 followed by 3 sets of doubles or singles. Switching from triples to doubles to singles may not seem like much of a change, but you'll quickly discover that the lower reps involve the attachments as well as the muscles in an entirely different manner.
Increasing workload is another method of changing your routine. Let's say that for several months you've been doing what I described above, performing 3 x 5 followed by 3 heavier sets of 3. That's worked well -- up to a point. Now you need something more to get the bench moving again. The first step is to calculate your workload: 135, 185, 225 for 5's; 255, 265, 270 for 3's. This puts you at just over 5,000 pounds. The change to increase the workload can be accomplished in several ways.
You can do more top end sets, more intermediate sets, or start including a back-off set. For example, should you choose top end sets, do 2 additional sets of 3. The weight may have to be less than you've already handled, however, since the fatigue factor comes into play. You may have to use 260, then 250 to get the desired number of reps, but that will increase your workload for the lift a little more than 1,500 pounds. You can also increase your workload rather easily by doing an extra warmup set. An extra set of 5 reps at 205 is simple to do, but it adds another 1,000 pounds or so to your workload. The third alternative -- and the one most people like -- is to add a back-off set after finishing the top end sets. The weights feel much lighter by comparison, so the set is relatively easy to do. A back-off set of 10 reps with 205 is not at all tough, but it adds a ton to the workload.
Another useful change is to alter the angle of the lift.
This technique fits the incline press more than any other upper body exercise. I do change the angle on the flat bench, but only on close-grips, for I believe establishing the right groove is critical for improving the lift. The incline, on the other hand, is the ideal exercise for the kind of change I'm talking about.
Each time you do inclines, change the angle a bit. You'll find that even the slightest alteration brings a new soreness in the high chest, indicating that you brought some new muscles into play.
I do not advocate changing the angle on the dip or overhead press. In those cases stick with making changes in the set-and-rep sequence. Trying to alter the angle on the overhead press or the dip only creates shoulder problems. Nevertheless, there's yet another technique for changing your workout that's useful for overhead pressing: Speed of Movement . . .
Instead of always pressing the weight, which you should do in a controlled manner, try performing some push presses. You can do them in a dynamic fashion . . .
wait a second. Just in case, Here:
"The only difference between a strict press and a push press is that you elevate the bar with a knee kick. it shouldn't be so much of a knee kick that you don't have to press the weight at all. That's a push jerk. You should press the weight out the final few inches. It's also extremely critical to stay very tight throughout the push press, and the line of the press is more exact than in a strict press."
Man, it woulda been fun to still have those 60-or-so Starr articles on this blog to refer to and cross reference. That was the plan but no worries here. I set it up for myself with a cross-referenced index of links. The articles are still out there; just find 'em and do likewise if you like and go as deep as you want with the cross-referencing. People whine on about wanting a Bill Starr article compilation book. Make your own. Or don't. The sliver spoon to eat your caviar should be placed on the left . . .
Push presses, continuing . . . You can do them in a dynamic fashion, and the minor change will activate new muscles, which is a good thing in strength training.
Another viable change is to change your grip, but that has limited practicality for upper body exercises because whenever you press a weight, whether it's a flat bench, incline or overhead press, your elbows should be directly under your wrists and your forearms should be vertical. Otherwise, you diminish your power base. The lone exception to this rule is close grip benches. The grip shouldn't be so close that it places stress on your wrists, however, and you should use the movement strictly as an auxiliary exercise, which means high reps.
Now let's move on to the pulling exercises.
There's a much greater range of change for the lifts that develop your back. You can alter the sets and reps, the speed of movement and also the grip quite easily. The technique for changing sets and reps is the same for all lifts, so I won't cover it again.
Changing the speed of movement is an excellent method of triggering new growth in the back. Some movements, out of necessity, must be done deliberately; for example, deadlifts and good mornings. It's a mistake to attempt to speed up those exercises, and since there are so many others you can do dynamically, it's not necessary. Power cleans, power snatches, clean grip high pulls, snatch grip high pulls and shrugs can all be performed explosively. The quicker action causes you to activate many new muscles. Also, the above mentioned exercises all involve different groups.
By switching from the standard grip on power cleans and clean grip high pulls to the wider grip on snatches and snatch grip high pulls, you hit a whole new set of muscles in your back and shrugs can be done with a variety of grips. Try starting your shrugging routine with a very wide grip, then bring it in slightly on each subsequent set.
You can also change your grip from wide to close on lat pulldowns, bentover rows and chins.
Leg work provides lots of opportunity for changing the routine.
Squats are, of course, the cornerstone of any strength program. As a rule you should perform them in a controlled manner, but there's no reason that you can't do you back-off sets a bit faster than usual, for you'll be warmed up by then. Also, by including front squats in your routine, you automatically bring the factor of speed into the equation, since front squats must be performed more rapidly than back squats.
Note: That, that right there. Where else did Starr mention that about front speed vs back? Pretty handy thing to have, that index is. Go get 'em, Tiger.
You might also try going in the opposite direction and doing some sets extra slowly. If you get sore, you're on the right track.
An often overlooked way of altering a squat workout is to change your stance. I don't put this into programs right away, for it's very important for a lifter to learn proper technique, but all my advanced athletes do it on their light days. They do two warmup sets of 5 reps, then three work sets of 5 with a relatively light weight. As a rule, "light" means 50 pounds less weight than what they did on their heavy day. So, if a lifter does 365 for 5 on Monday, he should plan on doing 135, 225, 315, 315, 315 for 5 on his light day. Basically, it's a simple workout, but by altering your foot stance on those three top end sets, you call new muscles into play. Many of my athletes tell me they get more sore after the Wednesday session than they do on their heavier days. They always do the first set with the heaviest weight, using the standard stance. They use a wider than normal stance on the second set and a closer than normal stance on the third. How wide and how close? Depends on the individual, but even if you change the stance only slightly, you stimulate new muscles and attachments -- especially the adductors on the wider stance. That's one of the very best ways to hit the adductors if there's no machine available.
Another very effective to change your program is to speed up your total workout. People often forget this because they get in the habit of moving at the same pace at each session, and they usually discover the benefit of this type of change by accident. One day you're pressed for time, so you complete your usual hour and a half session in 45 minutes, and to your surprise you find that you get extremely sore, even though you handle the same numbers that you've been dealing with for several weeks. Try this technique on your light day, since the weights are well within your reach even if you're huffing and puffing.
Changing the order of exercises can also be most beneficial. If you have a bodypart that's obviously lagging behind the rest, it may help to move it to the front of your workout for a time. As a rule I always have my lifters squat first, and there are a couple of reasons for that . . .
If people can discipline themselves to always do the most demanding exercise first in their programs, they'll continue to train for a very long time. What's more, while the squat is the exercise that requires the most energy, when I notice that lifters are moving their squats to a high level but their shoulder strength is hardly improving at all, I have them start their workouts with an upper body exercise. We may not do the full upper body routine at that time, for I still want them to have plenty of energy for their squats. It may just be three or four sets to give their weaker groups a bit of priority.
A final idea on the subject of change is to constantly alter your weekly program. Now, I know what you're thinking: But didn't you say at the beginning that I should stick with any program that's producing results I did, but the changes I'm talking about aren't major; they're only minor, and they'll keep your body off balance and keep it from getting in a rut.
The best way to accomplish this is to set up two programs, one for week A and the other for week B. Here's the way the heavy day works; you can easily apply the same idea to the light and medium day programs [if you have half a fucking brain in your head, so I won't present a stinking excel file for you here and charge 80 bucks for the "program," idiot. Maybe if I had a dipshit kid's haircut and a youtube channel of errors and non-entertainment.]
Squat, 5 x 5 / 1 x 8 (back-off)
Deadlift, 5 x 5
Flat Bench Press, 3 x 5; 2 x 3; 1 x 8 (back-off, Buster)
Incline DB Press, 2 x 20
Squat, 4-5 x 10
Incline Press, 3 x 5; 2 x 3 (I said fucking back off, Buster)
Clean Grip High Pull, 5 x 5
Dip, 5-6 x failure
Make changes on the other days by doing seated instead of standing good mornings, or substitute almost straight legged deadlifts for good mornings. Do front squats or lunges in place of squats, or go inside the power rack for even more variety.
Many people find that changing exercises in their weekly programs they can do a heavy week and then a less demanding one. This bit of alteration allows them to recover more easily.
There's also a place for auxiliary exercises. You can do curls, fore example, with a straight bar, and EX bar or dumbbells. You can work triceps with straight arm pullovers, pushdowns or close grip benches; and you can hit deltoids nicely with dips and dumbbell presses, along with front and lateral raises.
The two things that I don't recommend changing are the time of your workout and your desire for improvement. There are occasions when you must alter training time, but the second point, DESIRE FOR IMPROVEMENT should never be altered FOR ANY REASON.
Enjoy Your Lifting!