So you're not a beginner anymore
I’ve seen it many times, you might have seen it many times too. Someone gets really passionate about strength training. They get on a solid beginner strength program and make progress pretty much every time they step into the gym. They got it all figured out! Obviously, because no one else at their gym is making the same kind of progress. Then all of a sudden strength stops coming, the bar is getting heavy and those PB’s are no longer dropping like flies. Congratulations, you’re not a beginner anymore.
You're probably not a genetic wonder
By the way, that little introduction wasn’t meant as a dig against, to be honest, a large amount of beginning lifters. It’s understandable to think you got it all figured out when gains come that fast. If your training is correct and you’re at the very least genetically average it should happen like that. But unless you’re a genetic freak (Ed Coan comes to mind) you won’t be able to enter the gym and hit PB’s every time until you lift more than just about everyone else.
This is pretty much where I draw the line between beginner and intermediate lifters. Perhaps you’ve been on one of the many 3 sets of 5 or 5 sets of 5 variations out there and you can no longer add the prescribed amount of kg’s anymore. Or perhaps you’ve been on some sort of bodybuilding split you picked up in any of the bodybuilding media outlets. What to do now?
So what to do?
Let’s start with the latter. You’ve read that you should do about 100 sets of about a million reps of every tiny little exercise known to humankind. If that’s you, your best bet is getting stronger in the big lifts with lower reps. Not necessarily doing 1 rep maxes (1RM) but at least going down to 4-6. You see, it’s very hard getting bigger without getting stronger and the big lifts are the bang for the buck things to do when you want to get stronger. Or as Chuck Sipes said “if you want more size then go for strength”. Chuck knew what he was talking about.
Alright, so what about the person who has already been focusing on getting stronger? Should we reverse the process? No, a lifter needs to be a lifter and the goal of the lifter is strength – size is a side effect. That’s why the lifter simply needs to move the goal post.
Don’t shoot for a new PB (1RM or otherwise) every session or even every week. Think in terms of 3-4 weeks. Maybe you’ve done 5 reps with 100 kg. Plan your training so that you can make 6 or more reps in 3-4 weeks, or perhaps 5 reps with 102.5 or 105 kg in 3-4 weeks. Sounds like too slow a process? Welcome to the world of lifting. It only gets slower. Guess why Dave Tate says that so many super passionate lifters quit after a few years. It’s true.
Recommended listening: Episode 1: Dave Tate & the conjugate system
It doesn’t need to be that tangible kind of progress either. The more advanced you become, the more goals will have to be changed. It could mean doing multiple non-max singles with a given weight or it could be a goal in a non-competition lift. It could mean doing more in less time or it could mean more solid technique. I do find that this clear goal setting works on a fairly high level, even with advanced lifters who might make a PB once or twice in a year. You can also try the advice given in the article ‘Super simple periodization’.
Recommended reading: What to do when hitting a plateau
The intermediate lifter is by far the most common person who seek our help. It probably boils down to people sticking to the same thing for too long, or jumping into some super complicated periodization scheme because it’s allegedly some Russian secret and making no gains whatsoever. By the way, the super complicated stuff, I’ve not even found it very useful even for advanced lifters. Simplicity trumps complexity almost every time. Using a simple progression, setting a clear goal, and eliminating what’s not useful for that goal is what will get you to the goal post. Not aimlessly wandering around with unnecessarily complicated maps.
One of my more recent lifters stated: “you make me train so much less and I get so much stronger” after being on some program with tons of reps and sets she found on the internet. That’s why the intermediates often fail. They don’t know what to do with all the options out there.
If you’re one of the many who’ve recently felt like you got a bit stuck in your training (or perhaps been stuck for quite some time) you should consider a Everlifting subscription. You’ll get a properly individualized training program with the best support in the business. Contact us and let’s talk.
But if you still want to walk alone then there’s no shame in that. Dig through the Everlifting Modular Repository and see if you can find a module that will take you through your plateau.