STRENGTH TRAINING CAN BUST PLATEAUS
Ever had one? A plateau, that is. Well if you’re a FLEX reader and you said no, you’re lying and you can stop reading here, and go back to your perfect world. It’s inevitable. It’s also the downfall of training for regulars of the strength world. Without doubt, continually lifting heavy will cause a plateau. So why would we suggest strength training to bust them? Easy, you’re not doing it now, right? Or you will engage back in a good volume and/ or hypertrophy program soon enough and you’ll plateau at some point down the road. Besides, a single strength workout or two mixed in to your normal routine isn’t enough. Instead, embark on a six-week challenge and reap the benefits of real strength. The truth is that plateauing is not unique to any one kind of training, including the hard-to-understand (pun intended) muscle confusion advocates. The body strives for normalcy and will make even the toughest tasks in the world normal with enough practice. So for those who regularly strength train, you need a different stimulus to break plateaus (save that for another time), but for those who work on their physique, this strength program will get you over the hump in addition to giving you more to work with when you go back to your standard program.
METHOD TO THE MADNESS
Since strength is finite and wanes very quickly, instead of slowly ramping up your strength sets, you need to have a quick warmup and hammer out the big weights early. This ensures that maximal muscle recruitment occurs and that you haven’t fatigued those much-needed muscles before the heavy weight. But before you get to lifting that big set, you need to make sure that you’re properly warmed up. Each day of the program starts with 2–4 warmup sets of the first exercise you’ll do in the program. For example, you’ll do 2–4 warmup lighter-weight bench presses, before going on to your first actual workout set. You’ll then do the prescribed number of bench press sets before moving on to the next exercise (such as incline press). Note though, you don’t need to perform warmups before any other sets that day, just the first.
Next, a unique thing to strength over hypertrophy training is that exercises are targeted by function, not by muscle group. In strength training, there is no chest day, rather it’s bench day. While for many those seem like the same thing, they’re quite different, as follow-up exercises are designed to increase your bench, not necessarily target the pecs. Exercises are chosen based on a particular phase of a single-rep max. So for bench and squat you have: a lowering phase, a brief pause (or at least you should pause briefy to save your sternum and knees from certain doom) component, a drive-out- of-the-bottom big push, and a lockout or finish. For pulls you have: an initial drive phase, a pull-through-the-movement- to-the-end portion, a brief pause, and a controlled lowering phase to finish the rep. After you perform the major exercise you’ll do specifc exercises that work those portions of the lift. It’s like solving an equation. One step at a time, you deconstruct the lift and attack the segments. Strength training uses low reps sets, from three up to a max of six, but anything more, and you’ll start to cross over and your strength gains will be limited. Four sets are the norm, five sets are preferred for the first few exercises of each training day. This six-week program adjusts your reps at the midway mark, dropping them from the standard five down to three. Of course, when you do this, you should up your weight by 10– 15 pounds. Rest periods should be at least three minutes up to 5–6 minutes. Rushing through will limit your gains. That means that these workouts will require a little more time than normal, so plan on it. I constantly get this question: “What should I do if I don’t have enough time?” My answer: Make time! If it’s important enough to you, you’ll find the time. With big strength, you’ll only hit each movement once per week. At first that’ll look like it won’t do the job, but if you lift like it’s the last thing you’ll ever do, you’ll wonder if you should’ve taken up bowling or billiards instead. Oh, and don’t worry, we add an extra day, bringing your total to five days, to nail your arms and shoulders one more time—this time for size and shape. And lastly, each week you should be increasing your weight. Don’t be a wuss—get on it.