Archive for June, 2013

Busting Plateaus

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Busting Plateaus with Specialisation Routines

One of the most common things to happen during a prolonged period of training is that you will reach a plateau. A plateau can be in your strength, endurance or body composition and is second only to injury is probably the most annoying thing to happen to any serious trainee.

Oftentimes the causes of these plateaus are fairly straightforward and can be fixed so lets get them out of the way before we look at some methods I use to crack the really entrenched plateaus in programs.

Common causes of plateaus

Lack of progressive overload – I see this one all the time at the commercial gym I go to. It’s the guy who has been training for months or years and who isn’t making any progress simply because they have reached a level of strength or endurance and then haven’t challenged themselves with more weight or more challenging exercises.

If you have actually reached a level of fitness you are happy to live with for the rest of your life then that’s fine (not that I think anyone reading this blog falls into that category!) and you can continue to use the same loads pretty much indefinitely however if your progress has stalled just because you aren’t trying to add load on a regular basis then you need to perform a reality check and slap another plate on the bar.

Lack of variety in programming – Now, this does not necessarily mean that every 4, or 8 weeks you need to change every exercise in your program however if you are doing exactly the same program with the same exercises, sets and reps as when you started 6 or 12 months ago then you can’t expect much progress. For the record my own programs tend to be hideously boring. I squat, I bench, I deadlift and I perform a handful of accessory exercises like pullups, rows and kettlebell stuff HOWEVER what I do every 8 weeks is vary the sets, reps and loading parameters for the major exercises and I will rotate specific exercises such as the snatch grip deadlifts described below, in and out of my program to achieve specific goals.

If you’ve been doing a 5km run on Mondays, pushups and some 400m intervals on Wednesday and a 10km run on Friday every week for a year you might want to consider mixing things up and seeing if you can get some progress in your fitness.

Lack of effort and diligence – easy one this one. If you are not putting in a serious effort to train hard at least 3 times per week or if you are missing sessions and being sloppy with your diet then you will never make progress.

Solution? Harden up and get stuck in. If you can’t do it yourself recruit a friend, pay a trainer etc.

So with the straightforward stuff lets look at some more advanced strategies for dealing with plateaus.

Note that once you’ve addressed the issues above you will only plateau after you have moved from being a novice and intermediate level athlete to being an advanced athlete.

Generally this process takes at least 1 full year and may take several years of consistent training.

Typically if you are serving in the military you will be at an advanced level of fitness suitable for Infantry service and you may run into plateaus in the transition to SF preparation training. If you compete in sports then chances are you will be at the state rep level and competing at the national level.

At both these stages progress is slow regardless of how much effort you put in so be aware that no program at this level will have you improving 10 or 20% in a matter of weeks. As an example elite weightlifters are happy with gains of 2-3% per year once they get to the national/international level.

Plateau buster #1 – Specialised Specialisation.

This method is pretty simple. Fundamentally if you want to get good at something the most logical thing to do is to do it a lot. This approach works well for most aspects of training and assumes that currently you are probably doing quite a lot of different exercises or training methods in your program and that each exercise or method is only performed a limited number of times (say 1 – 3) each week.

Essentially what we want to do here is pick one thing you are stuck on and vastly increase the volume of training on that exercise or method. So say in a typical program you might only perform bench press or squats once per week in this kind of program you would increase this to 4, 5 or even more sessions of one of those exercises while holding the volume of other exercises constant more bonuses.

This method is often used by people when they get stuck with a plateau but they end up with the opposite effect as they confuse “doing more” with “doing so much you get worn out”. This means that instead of doing one heavy bench session a week or two hard interval training sessions per week they add progressively more maximal sessions until an injury or overtraining stops them dead in their tracks. The key therefore is to increase the volume of training but to moderate the intensity of most of the sessions and cut back accessory work for the duration of the specialization you also need tounderstand that just doing a large volume of training will have a positive impact on performance even if the training is not all maximal.

This method works best if there are no major technical flaws or weak points in your technique.

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Strength training

You’ve been training for a solid year and you are now pushing some respectable numbers in the basic powerlifts but after your last 3 months of training none of the powerlifts are budging.

Your program might look something like this

Monday – Bench press 5×5 with 75-80% of your max + core and lower body accessory work.

Wednesday – Deadlift 5 x 3 with 80 – 85% of your max + core and upper body accessory work.

Friday – Squat – 5×5 with 75-80% of your max + core and upper body assistance work.

Each day consists of 4-5 exercises in total and the assistance work comprises things like dumbbell bench, rows, overhead pressing, pullups and lunges etc.

Now deciding that you want to focus on your squat for a cycle here is what you might do.

I’m going to pick a classic powerlifting specialization program here called “Smolov”

Smolov involves squatting pretty hard 4 days per week so basically everything else needs to be backed right off to the minimum volume and intensity required for maintenance!

 

Monday – Squat 4 x 9 with 70% of your max + Barbell bench press 3 x 5 + 1 core drill

Tuesday – Squat 5 x 7 with 75% of your max + Pullups for 3 x 5-10

Thursday – Squat 7x 5 with 80% of your max + Overhead press for 3 x 5 + 1 core drill

Friday – Deadlift 3×3 with 60% of your max + 1 core drill

Saturday – Squat 10 x 3 with 85% of your max

Repeat this cycle 2 more times adding 5-10kg to each set of squats in week 2 and 3.

No fancy squat variations here just lots of volume on the core lift.

After 3 weeks take a light week, retest your squat and then switch the volume focus to another one of the core lifts.

Recently I used this approach with my bench press and added 7.5kg to my competition best in 4 weeks (a substantial gain considering how long I’ve been training)

The same approach can be used with something like running where you add more running sessions but vary the pace and length.

Running program

Monday run 5km

Wednesday run 5km

Saturday run 8km

New program

Monday – Run 4 x 800m maximal pace

Tuesday – Run 5km moderate pace

Thursday – Run 2 x 1.6km fast pace

Friday – Run 6 x 400m maximal pace

Saturday – Run 10km easy pace

With the second program the volume of running has increased but the addition of some harder and easier sessions means that burnout will be avoided.

 

Plateau buster #2 – Varied Specialisation.

The second method of busting a plateau calls for a similar increase in the volume of training but adds a lot more variety of exercises.

There are a few good reasons for doing this.

1. Sometimes different exercises are needed to target weak points in a movement such as the lock out of a bench press or the start of the deadlift.

2. Using more variety can avoid overuse injuries that might be caused by doing the same thing 4 or more sessions a week

3. If you are used to standard exercises then more variety can provide a novel stimulus which can have a significant effect on breaking through a plateau.

Here is an example from my current training plan.

Normally I deadlift 2 x per week, once is heavy conventional (narrow stance) deadlifts and once is a lighter session of conventional deadlifts.

At the moment I am experimenting with deadlifting up to 6 times per week using 4 different variations of the deadlift

Monday AM – Heavy conventional deadlifts 5 x 3 or 5 x 2 @ 85 – 95% of max

Monday PM – Moderate Sumo Deadlifts 5 x 3 @ 65 – 75% of max

Tuesday AM – Snatch grip deadlift off blocks 6 x 6 @ 50-60% of max

Thursday AM – Moderate Sumo 5 x 3 @ 65 – 75% of max

Thursday PM – Heavy band deloaded deadlift 5 x 3 or 5 x 2 @ 90 – 105% of max

Friday PM – Snatch grip deadlift off blocks 6 x 6 @ 50-60% of max

As you can see this is a lot of deadlifting however many of the sessions are sub maximal and are designed to work on things like my lower back and core strength and my lockout.

If you’ve reached a plateau in your training and want some advice on how to bust through it try implementing some of these strategies or, if you want a custom designed solution shoot me an email and I can put together one of my Elite programs to take care of it!

 

Snatch Grip Deadlifts – Effective Torture

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Don’s new most/least favourite exercise

Over the years I’ve discovered a few exercises that have proved somewhat of a revelation in my training. These exercises may not look like anything special at first but their effect quickly earns them a place in my rotation of exercises.

Normally these exercises are supplemental exercises that have had an unusually powerful effect on my performance in the core lifts like squat, bench press and deadlift.

My newest exercise that I love to hate is the snatch grip deadlift off a platform with a slow eccentric.

I’ve shamelessly stolen this exercise from my Powerlifting coach Sebastian Oreb who has borrowed it from Charles Poliquin who probably read about it in some Russian text book.

To perform this exercise.

1. You’ll need a sturdy block or flat plates approximately 5 – 10cm high to stand on. I tend to use a block that is only about 5cm, this seems to be plenty!

2. Warm up with a couple of easy sets of deadlifts and then a set or two of snatch grip (hands outside the outer marks on an Olympic or powerlifting bar)

3. Throw on your straps and then load the bar to about 40% of your best deadlift. If this seems too light then just wait.

4. Strap on to the bar and stand on the plates, get your hips really deep and your chest up and your lower back as extended as possible.

5. Breathe in and lift the bar as you would for a normal deadlift.

6. At the top of the movement breathe out and then breathe in again, get your chest up and your shoulder blades together with your back arched.

7. Proceed to lower the bar with a 4-5 second eccentric

8. As soon as the bar touches the ground lift it again, breathe out and in and repeat for sets of 5-6 reps

By the end of the 6th rep your back and legs will probably be screaming at you. If not then add 5kg and do another set and keep going until you’ve done 6 or more sets.

Here is me doing a set with about 120kg (about 45% of my best deadlift) somewhere inside a workout that called for 10 sets of 6. The form here is not super strict (I need to work on my back extension) but you can get a good idea of the set up and general idea of the lift.

Snatch Grip Deadlifts

I would have posted one of the later sets from this workout as the weight got up a bit but I was also working pretty hard and had removed my shirt and no one needs to see me here in just a pair of tights, kids might be watching.

Evidence from the powerlifters I know that have been using this exercise indicates that you will only get to about 50 – 60% of your best deadlift if you are doing this correctly.

So what’s so great about this exercise.

This exercise is a powerful assistance exercise for both the squat and deadlift and anything that requires a strong and stable posterior chain (so things like running, pack marching etc).

There are several factors that contribute to this effectiveness.

1. The extended range of motion from standing on a 5 – 10cm platform hits your legs very hard. Your quads, glutes and hamstrongs will get a lot of work.

2. Your entire back from your traps to your glutes will get an incredible workout and will bulk up like you started taking something illegal.

3. This will lead to a huge increase in your ability to keep your torso rigid when it is loaded through the arms or across the back.

In my case this fixed my traditional weak point in the squat of folding like napkin in the middle when the loads got high. Now I can keep my torso rigid and instead fail because my legs run out of gas (more on fixing that later on).

So if you like to lift heavy things or you need your back to be strong and tough for your job I highly recommend doing this exercise at least twice a week for 6 sets of 6 with about 50% of your max deadlift. You will hate me for it but your back will thank you!

 

Couch to Commando Available Now!

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

The Wait is Over!

My new book “Couch to Commando” is ready and has been sent to everyone that pre-ordered it.

The book turned out to be 165  pages long with over 130 pages of programs divided into 6 different levels to provide a progression suitable to take anyone from Couch Potato to Commando Candidate.

I am currently working up some extra sections and bonuses that will go out with the book but anyone who purchases the book now will receive all of the updates for the life of the book at no extra cost.

I am also offering a service where you can get personalised versions of the programs in “Couch to Commando” for a fraction of the cost of my fully personalised Elite Programs.

These personalised programs will use the programs in the book as a base but I will provide specific loads for the weights programs and will make modifications to take into account your personal schedule and access to equipment if the standard program is not suitable.

Normally a full Elite Program is $250 but when purchased with the E-Book these personalised programs are $50 for one and $40 each for two flagyl medication.

Purchase now via the button below!

All E-book sales and programs come with a 100% money back guarantee AND if you follow a program and don’t make an improvement in your fitness then I will refund you 200% of the purchase price.

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