6 Tips to Keep Trending Upward – Part I

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The most fun part of your training is your first six months, in my opinion.  Plateaus are non-existent, every time you pick up the bar you feel like Hulk, body fat plummets and you’re sprinting towards a 400 pound deadlift while snapping at babes in bars to come sit next to you.  It’s like the honeymoon phase of a relationship when you’re convinced that she is absolutely perfect.

Then a funny thing happens.

She’s not.

You stop getting away with everything.  She starts nagging a little bit, taking away a few of your guys nights and admitting she actually hates watching Sunday Ticket.

Your body will most certainly adapt and plateau after the honeymoon phase of a training program.  When that happens, don’t freak out.  It’s just the newer, stronger version of yourself telling you it’s ready for more because same-old, same-old is no longer getting it done.

Some of these tips will get you stronger in big lifts, others a bit stronger in stabilizing and performance muscles.  By incorporating these into your training you’ll ensure you are always stronger, healthier and closer to the goal of being a full-on ninja.

#1:  Linear Progression

Before we get to some of the different suggestions it’s important we first make sure you are stalling at linear progression before you move onto what’s included here.  The last thing you want to do is start worrying about fresh new rims when your engine still needs work.

The big four movements; squats, deadlifts, presses and cleans (and snatch if you choose to do those) can take you a LONG ways before you plateau.  Strength reps in the one to five rep range following a linear progression will keep you trending upward for about a year.

The ‘reps for goal’ volume format at Performance360 is meant to allow this kind of linear progression.  It’s precisely the reason we don’t aimlessly toss reps on the board with no discernible rhyme or reason.   Your work at three reps allows you to then lift five reps at heavier weight.  That heavier weight at five reps then gets your three rep work higher and they go back and forth slowly but surely getting you stronger and increasing your capacity.

Everything goes up in a straight line, hence ‘linear progression’.

So, feel free to include #2 through #6 in this series but don’t forget to continue your linear progression as the bulk of your progress for as long as it takes you.

#2: More Unilateral Work

Unilateral work has many positive effects but it often gets misrepresented in what it actually does for performance.

Stepping back from bilateral lifts like squats and deadlifts and incorporating some heavy unilateral work like lunges and rows into a workout will accomplish the following.

  • Improved athleticism – unilateral work is very important for athletes to simulate single-leg game movements.
  • Improved core stability – your core works very hard to stabilize against the turbulence of alternating one legged movements.
  • Improved injury resistance – most of us have a dominant side that is stronger than the other.  Isolating each side will help balance that as muscular symmetry is shown to prevent injury.
  • Improved balance – this is mainly an athletic carry over but still useful in the real world.
  • Gives your spine a break – sure lunges are still technically axial loaded but there is no direct weight being applied on top of the spine like a squat, if you are using dumbbells that is.
  • Improved kinetic awareness – getting off of two feet as trainees progress past beginner status is crucial to continue to develop a ‘feel’ for one’s body.

My personal preference is to treat unilateral work like lunges as the main exercise in a workout.  I do not like them nearly as much as a complimentary movement because you’re probably not working much more other than balance and stability at complimentary weight.  You want to go heavy on those buggers in order to get the maximum benefit.

Reverse BB Lunge with Front Squat Grip

Now, let’s be clear on strength carry over.

Lunges and other single leg work are great for the strength in your legs but might not have the maximum strength carryover you expect to bigger movements like a squat or deadlift.  Typically speaking, you cannot go heavy enough on lunges to challenge the central nervous system (CNS) to directly effect 1R max (100%) but they will help volume at roughly 80% of max.  That increased volume at 80% will then improve your shot at a new 1R max.

So, you are essentially improving your ability to improve.

The one exception to this rule in my opinion are barbell lunges.  Stronger athletes should be able to take those lunges upwards of 155 – 175# which will work your CNS at 2-4 reps per side.  I’ve used heavy barbell lunges to help both my squat and deadlift.  Further, there is no muscular soreness quite like heavy barbell lunges so it’s good to do them and feel like an alive son of a bitch every now and then.

Unilateral work can also apply to the upper body in the form of heavy dumbbell rows, alternating overhead press and total body work like Turkish Get-Ups.

#3: Train 1 to 3-Reps More Efficiently

This is a bit of a spin off the first point in the entry.  One of the most common mistakes I see is the “I want it now” approach to strength.  Constantly hammering out PR attempts every time you squat, press, clean, jerk or deadlift is not only going to slow your strength gains, but I will go so far as making the case it will actually reverse your gains over time.

Let me explain.

In a given workout your CNS only has so much in the tank before you fry it.  A 1R max PR attempt fries it instantly whether you hit or miss the attempt.  It just does.  Once it’s fried there is no resuscitating it back to full capacity.

Let’s say your 1R deadlift max is 385 and you are doing a workout that calls for 5×3.  If you attempt a 405# PR on set three and miss ,your upward progression is done.  Finished.   Kaput.  At three reps you should be somewhere in the range of 85% and if you prematurely attempt and miss a 1R max I promise you those three reps will now be down closer to 75%, and they’ll be shit reps to boot.

What you’ve now done is cut your workout at only two solid sets and for the remainder you are training a strength movement less than your pay grade, not only not making you stronger but over time reducing the amount you can pull.

It’s common sense.  If you constantly knock yourself down a peg during workouts, you’ll eventually set up residence at that peg.

What you should be doing is using those 1-3R days to their maximum efficiency.  Pull at weight you can complete the movement, be challenged but not fried.  Training at 1R does not mean you go for a PR on every pull during the workout.  Think singles and doubles at 85-90%.

Here is a great example of P360 member Sean Mackin completing five quality reps in the perfect load range (85%). Sean’s 1R max is roughly 435# (he hasn’t tried in about four months) and he always makes sure his load range allows him to complete clean reps at strength volume.  He’s at weight that allows him to properly activate his hamstrings and glutes and not overload his lumbar, hence the “way to use your hamstrings” comment from yours truly.

By completing smart 1R, 2R and 3R sets at 80-90% your body is at peak effort without hitting failure, which is the most ideal arrangement for getting stronger and most awesome.

To put it into perspective I go for a true PR in a given exercise maybe once every two to three months.  I haven’t attempted a deadlift PR in over two months.  Recently I hit a jerk PR, tried to hit another one the following workout, missed and will now be leaving PR attempts alone in the jerk for at least another month or so.

Quit trying to PR every time you do an exercise.  You’ll get weaker.

This is where we’ll cut it off for Part One.

The short of it for part one is to pay very close attention to you linear progression, be efficient when you are training strength by making sure you complete all of the sets above 80% and incorporate heavy single-leg work into your training.

Until next time.

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