I recently set a personal Deadlift record of 525 pounds. This is nearly 200 pounds more than when I first started deadlifting over four years ago. I look back at my progress and remember failing to complete a 315-pound Rack Pull (as shown below). Now, my Deadlift is nearly three times my bodyweight, which puts me at an elite level.
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Unfortunately, many athletes never see progress that comes close to this. They are satisfied adding a few pounds to their lifts, and don’t make meaningful gains.
The problem stems from a lack of progression. They stick to the same tired routine, failing to challenge their muscles in new ways, which is critical for making strength improvements and size gains.
Use the three strategies below to make consistent progress in the weight room.
Cycle 1: Max-Reps Training
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You don’t always have to lift near your max to get stronger. As a matter of fact, especially when starting a training program, it’s best to lift lighter weight and focus on increasing your reps to establish a base of strength.
Let’s say you can Deadlift 315 pounds for 10 reps. When following the max reps method, attempt more than 10 reps the next time you use that weight.
A great program that adheres to this principle is Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 Program. It focuses on three weight percentages performed for max reps to consistently vary the challenge of each workout.
Cycle 2: Max-Effort Training
“The best way to get stronger is to add more weight to the bar.”
I wish I could remember the name of the coach who said this to me. It’s such a simple concept that it often gets lost in the shuffle.
Following a max-reps cycle, it’s time to lift heavy. This will shock your central nervous system to help you handle heavier loads. Soon enough, your lighter sets will feel like you’re lifting just the bar.
My Bench Press is abysmal, prompting me to follow a Smolov Junior Strength Training Block, which is based on a much longer Russian Squat Training Program. Here’s what it looks like:
- Monday—Sets/Reps: 6×6 at 70% max
- Wednesday—Sets/Reps: 7×5 at 75% max
- Friday—Sets/Reps: 8×4 at 80% max
- Sunday—Sets/Reps: 10×3 at 85% max.
- Use the same percentages but add 10 to 20 pounds to the weight used for Week 1.
- Use the same percentages but add 15 to 25 pounds to the weight used for Week 1.
It’s best to do one or two blocks (four to eight weeks) of max-effort training. If you opt for two blocks, schedule a recovery week in between. Use a weight that is close to or above your previously established maximums.
Cycle 3: Maximum-Speed Training
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The final way to challenge your muscles is with one block (four weeks) focused on speed. You don’t need to use a crazy amount of weight or perform something for high reps. You just need to perform each rep as explosively as possible.
I consider this an off-cycle, where you let your body rest and give it a break from heavy weight. Don’t lift more than 70% of your max. Maintain your form with each rep even though you’re moving quickly.
Author’s Note: Special thanks to John Gaglione, who mentored me on this subject.