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For the Love of Training – What to do When the Progress Stops

kalleob

Article By Dreadnought Strength

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I’ve had some great discussions with other health professionals lately, discussing different client types and the trends we see in those that do very well. Funnily enough, despite what our target demographics are (bodybuilding, strength athletes, gen pop, etc), there are recurring trends in the clients we all see doing excellently.

Imagine this – you’re fresh in the gym. You have no real program or idea what you’re doing, only know that you want to tone up and possibly get a bit stronger. You do dozens of completely pointless exercises, curl in the squat rack, avoid squatting because it’s hard – all the things you’re told not to do. Despite the least ideal training modalities ever, you start seeing results – you notice pants are getting looser around the waist and tighter around the legs, you finally have what resembles a bicep growing on BOTH arms and you even notice a vein or two; shit is getting REAL!

After a few months of these sweet, sweet beginner gains they start slowing down and you realise you have to start setting some bigger goals and start thinking about your training sessions. Whether it’s losing the extra kilo or ten you put on over Christmas, or being able to do a couple of chin ups, you start tailoring your training towards your goals. Initially you see some good progress when training is easy, but as it gets harder the goals get further and further away. Finally, after a longer period of time than it took from being a complete beginner to a novice, you reach your goals and again decide it’s time to reach further.

Ridiculous muay thai shorts? Check. Zero idea what I was doing? Check. Did I have the most fun and saw more gains in a short period of time than I've ever seen since then? Double check.

Ridiculous muay thai shorts? Check. Zero idea what I was doing? Check. Did I have the most fun and saw more gains in a short period of time than I’ve ever seen since then? Double check.

Next up, something lofty. Whether that’s getting on a stage in minimal clothes in front of a heap of strangers, or nailing a bench press that might be a good warm up for the Chinese female weightlifting team, the goal posts have been pushed further and further out. Again, the process becomes harder due to the laws of diminishing returns – training sessions become longer and you need to be much more dedicated to other aspects of health (recovery, nutrition, etc). Training becomes a GRIND. Somewhere along this path, progress slows down dramatically. Despite your lofty goals and pushing yourself to reach them, nothing you seem to do gets you the results you’re after. You no longer enjoy training.

This is something I see occurring in the majority of clients and people I know. It might take 6 months of training or it might take 6 years. You’ve hit that ‘plateau’. The general consensus is to do MORE, however this won’t always work for all people. If you’re the sort of person that’s hit a plateau that you can’t beat, I think you should try something else – interrupt the process and get back to enjoying training! Funnily enough, there is almost a PERFECT correlation between clients enjoying training (and obviously I am talking about enjoying the struggles, the DOMS, etc as you did at the beginning – not just the good stuff) and inadvertently getting themselves one step closer to their goals without deliberately trying to. This is very obvious in any female that starts training to get ‘toned’ but focuses mostly on strength training – while enjoying the process of getting strong, most find themselves leaner and with a heap more muscle mass.

What I believe is happening is this – eventually, as you shifted from enjoying the process to focusing solely on the goal, all your efforts are shifted from the present to the future. As you push harder and harder, you slowly and subconsciously lose motivation, so your efforts into the present are lessened further. This negative feedback loop only increases the harder you push, further hindering your progress.

Now, while I am 100% for the idea of having lofty goals and working hard to achieve them, the moment the process becomes a chore, then I think you’re much, much less likely to achieve them.
Again, I’m not saying every training session or step in the journey will be fun. Hard work is a vital part of achieving anything great, but you should enjoy the battles. Every challenge you receive along the way, no matter how big or small, is exactly what you need at that time to make yourself into the person deserving of achieving everything you set out to do. Did you ever wonder why you don’t see many success stories of people who nailed everything the first time, but dozens of stories of people who battled on despite all odds and achieved greatness? They were never getting there if they hated what they were doing.

Core Strength Fitness, easily one of the top sports performance gyms in the country, is all over big on the basics. Here’s director Matthew demonstrating a brilliant unilateral squat variation – reverse lunge to step up.

 

If you are suffering from these problems, I suggest get back to the basics – I’ve developed this program to give everybody a break from highly specific, competition-based training and just perform the basic 5 movement patterns, 3x a week, rotating through three modalities of loading – unilateral, bilateral and conditioning. While I don’t think this is particularly efficient for hypertrophy or strength, it is pretty fun and sessions are short (3×45 minute sessions weekly, instead of 5×120 minutes that you would spend concentrating on hypertrophy or strength alone). Everything should be done raw raw raw, allowing you to work with lighter loads and less things to concentrate on or worry about. Along with this, you will train one particular body part you wish to see the most improvement on 3x a week, with rotating loading (light/medium/heavy) for a maximum of 3 weeks in a row. The benefits of this setup is you can literally perform any exercise you want and feel like, and still see some progress long term – you’re not just pointlessly lifting. The basic template looks like this:

Day 1 Movement Loading Day 2 Loading Day 3 Movement
Squat Conditioning Squat Unilateral Squat Bilateral
Upper Body Press Unilateral Upper Body Press Bilateral Upper Body Press Conditioning
Hinge Bilateral Hinge Conditioning Hinge Unilateral
Upper Body Pull Conditioning Upper Body Pull Unilateral Upper Body Pull Bilateral
Carry Unilateral Carry Bilateral Carry Conditioning
Target Muscle Group Heavy Target Muscle Group Light Target Muscle Group Medium

 

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Planning out a whole week, it might look like this:

Day 1 Exercise Sets/Reps Day 2 Exercise Sets/Reps Day 3 Exercise Sets/Reps
Squat – C Prowler Marches 2 minutes Squat – U Split Squat > Step Up 10 Squat – B Safety Bar w/chains 12
Upper Body Press – U Kneeling DB Press 15 Upper Body Press – B Floor Press 10 Upper Body Press – C Lumberjack Press 1 minute
Hinge – B Snatch-Grip Deads 15 Hinge – C Trap Bar Deadlift 1 minute Hinge – U KB Pendulum 12
Upper Body Pull – C Alt. Kettlebell High Pull 1 minute Upper Body Pull – U 1 Arm 45* TRX Row 10 Upper Body Pull – B Wide-Grip Chins 12
Carry – U Plate Pinch and Carry 150m Carry – B Trap Bar Carry 100m Carry – C Kettlebell Carry 250m
Front Delts Front Raises 5×8 Front Delts Arnold Press 100 reps total Front Delts Incline DB Front Raise 12

 

The way it’s performed is this: set each exercise out and warm up on everything (yes, you will take up a lot of room!). Perform the squat exercise, wait 30-90 seconds, then perform the upper body press exercise, same break, repeat down the list. Once you’re finished the carries, start over again – perform 3-6 rounds of each. The target exercise should be repeated for no more than 3 weeks then switched for something else you work on (for the majority of people, a focus on glutes/hamstrings/delts would be strongly suggested as these are typical weak points). You can rotate between rep ranges (3-6, 6-10, 10-15 over a 3 week block, for example), however I suggest everybody start on higher reps to help build up work capacity. The weights for each day can vary, however it should be hard work with 2-3 reps left in the tank on every set.

You can even perform crazy variants of standard exercises like this 'earthquake' trap bar for carrying. Just don't do anything excessively dangerous while having fun!

You can even perform crazy variants of standard exercises like this ‘earthquake’ trap bar for carrying. Just don’t do anything excessively dangerous while having                                                                                  fun!

If after the first few weeks you’re finding this easy, there are many ways to progress – adding weight, increasing difficulty of exercises (ie. moving to a high bar squat over something like a safety bar squat), changing rep ranges, increasing number of rounds or decreasing rest breaks. You could even vary these day to day – remember, the goal is to train hard but have fun and do things you wouldn’t normally do. If you were moving out of an ‘off season’ and back towards competition, I’d slowly switch things out to getting more specific to your goals, however just barbell squatting/benching/deadlifting 3x a week isn’t the point of  this program.

This isn’t something I’d suggest following forever as it’s never really specific enough to get you great results in any strength sports, however by increasing the frequency of each movement pattern and working on weaknesses, I’d expect most people to see significant improvements once they go back to training for a dedicated purpose. It’s simply a great way to drop some fatigue (that will build up with long periods of time training for one single thing, even with deloads), do something different and bring some enjoyment back into your training.

Australian National Womens Gridiron player Jess demonstrating another brilliant hinge variation, the poorly named Bowlers Squat

Australian National Womens Gridiron player Jess demonstrating another brilliant hinge variation, the poorly named Bowlers Squat at another brilliant sports performance gym in Brisbane, Campvs.

Drew is a competitive powerlifter and strongman, who realized that strength training had a massive positive effect on other areas of his life. After realizing he was much better at teaching others how to be lift than lifting himself, he decided to step down off the platform and create Dreadnought Strength – an online and in-person coaching business that dedicates itself to allowing regular people to experience the transformative power of strength training. He is available for online coaching from  Starting Strongman.

You can follow Drew & Dreadnought Strength on Facebook & Instagram

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