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Training plateaus or personal "dry spells" are frustrating for serious athletes. And what is particularly discouraging is the lack of useful approaches to bust out of them. (Ask the Experts: How Can I Break Through a Plateau?)
The most typical approach is based on the FITT (Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type) principle. Basically, you work out for increased frequency, use heavier weights for greater intensity, train for a shorter or longer of time and add variety with new types of training methods.
Yawn. Instead of FITT, use the following methods to get off your training plateau. I guarantee that you will be setting new personal bests within a month.
The eccentric portion of any exercise is referred to as the negative phase (the easiest part of a lift.) We are up to 60% stronger during this phase of a lift. (See Build Muscle Fast By Slowing Down Your Sets.)
Take a Pull-Up, for example: the easiest part is lowering your body down toward the ground. I have coached many athletes who couldn't perform a Pull-Up but could eccentrically lower their body weight down from the bar.
Start doing this at the end of each exercise with heavier weight than normal. For example:
- Assume your 1RM is 200 lbs.
- Perform three sets of eight with 160 lbs.
- Put 225 on the bench
- In a slow, controlled tempo, eccentrically lower the weight.
This requires a spotter, so make sure someone is always there to help out. Implement this type of training one or two times per muscle per week.
Isometric holds are characterized by no change in muscle length. Think of a Plank or Wall Sit. These exercises are beneficial for rehabbing an injury. They're also useful for scaling plateaus because they can help identify weak spots. (See Control Your Opponents With Isometric Training.)
Weak Spot Spotter
- Perform any exercise to exhaustion—i.e., to when your muscle gives out and the bar or your body weight begins to decelerate (move in the opposite direction from the one you are pushing)
- You have reached the point where your muscle is weakest.
Now that you have identified your weak spot, perform three to five isometric holds for five to 10 seconds with a light load. If your 1RM is 200 lbs., put on 135 lbs. and perform the isometric holds at the identified weak spots.
Type II (a.k.a. fast twitch) muscle fibers can produce high amounts of force and speed. Yet the majority of today's athletes train only for force. To overcome plateaus, they also need to train for speed, a huge untapped resource. The faster you can move the bar, the more power you can produce during maximal lifts. For example, one day a week:
- Take 30% of your maximal lifts.
- Perform 5 sets of 10 repetitions with 3 minutes of rest between sets.
- If your 1RM Bench is 200 lbs., take 60 lbs. and push it as fast as you possibly can.
At first it will seem unnatural, but your brain and muscles will synchronize so the movement becomes more fluid.
I know this one doesn't sound revolutionary, but you may have reached a plateau because you are overtraining. When was the last time you took a complete week off?
Proper rest allows for proper regeneration of connective tissue, hormones and muscles. If you've been using weights and haven't taken a full week off in the past six months, I strongly suggest you do so. You'll marvel at the results. (Check out Gain Performance Benefits From Active Rest.)
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