That’s the second part of the article. Check out the first one here.
6. If you hit plateau, change something.
There is no point in doing something again and again if you see no results. You will hit plateau in all exercises sooner or later. If you never experienced this, then you either not consistent enough, or at beginner stage where you can progress for several months in a row without changing a thing.
There’s nothing wrong with hitting plateau, except the frustration. It is essential part of the process for strength training (as well as any other area of life). Your body adapts to the stimulus and regimen stops working. Despite what other people say, you need variety. Your body demands it. The best thing you can do when you hit plateau – is to change something. Even subtle change can lead to progress,
Variety can be different. You can implement it right and wrong.
- You change exercises and routines every training session;
- You drop one exercise completely to work on another;
- When you get back to certain exercise, you are much weaker.
- Changes are subtle. You stay focused on your goals;
- You don’t drop important exercise, you put it into maintenance mode;
- When you get back to certain exercise, you are at least at the same lever if not stronger.
In other words, variety should supercharge your training, not spoil it. Let’s break down an example. You are regular fitness enthusiast and your Bench Press stalled.
- You can change the set/rep scheme. If you were doing 5×5, switch to 3×3 or 4×6.
- You can drop down the intensity and work your way up again. If you were pressing 100 kg for 5×5, lower working weight to 85 kg and progress in small increases again.
- You can change exercise. For example, Dumbbell Bench Press, Floor Press, Paused Bench Press etc. However, you should be careful. Some exercises don’t have carryover. Still you’ll never know until you try, Also, even the slightest change can give result. For example, changing to a bit inclined Bench Press.
If you participate in sport like powerlifting, then you should understand that changing exercise completely is not an option. However, introducing variety through assistance work is a totally viable.
In addition, seems that every gym maggot likes to use “Bulgarians” to prove that variety is not important. Here’s my little note to those people. Firstly, if you haven’t actually trained with Bulgarians of that era, it is just speculation. Secondly, working to the maximum lift for the particular day is the ultimate variety, isn’t it? You rarely work with the same weight.
Take-home point: variety works when implemented properly. Stop wasting your time.
7. Get outdoors.
Yep. Right now. Go for a walk. Breathe fresh air. It is essential for your brain function. Get outdoors everyday. Don’t spend all your time in front of the black mirror. 30 minute walk everyday can improve the quality of your life tremendously. It will clear your head and get you energized. I’m going for a walk in the morning. It is the perfect time.
Maybe it is nothing new for you, but I’ve noticed that training outdoors is far superior than indoors. Let me give you an example. Usually when I sleep less than 6-7 hours, my training sessions suck. No matter what I do. No dose of caffeine can fix that. However, when I train outside, it doesn’t matter. Seems that fresh air can improve my strength in sub-optimal circumstances. This may also be true for you. If you are sleep-deprived for some reason and need to train, then try to do it outside. Let me know how it worked.
There is only one temporary downside of outdoors training. You may lose some strength at first sessions because of new environment. Everything will feel new to you and your body. However, in 2-3 sessions you’ll regain all your strength.
8. Use both low and high reps.
There are lots of debates on what is cooler – low reps or high? The right answer is both. Either of them has pluses and minuses.
Low reps (1-5) are great for building strength and learning new more demanding exercise variations. They are not optimal for building muscle when done with really high intensity. Hypertrophy requires volume. If you do 1-7 total reps, you might not experience it at all. Additionally, you can get into common low-rep trap when you decrease training volume to continue increasing intensity. You go from 5×5 to 3×3, to 3×2, to 2×1 etc. While this is usable, I wouldn’t recommend doing it often. Your nervous system won’t take too much of this.
High reps (8-12) are great for hypertrophy and strength-endurance. However, they won’t help with developing maximal strength.
So here’s the thing. If you want more strength and muscle, you need to implement both of them in your training. They both control each other. High reps will tell you when you are working too hard, while low reps will identify when you are wasting time by training too easy.
How does this work? Classic way to use both rep ranges is to put strength work first and hypertrophy second. Here is example upper body workout:
A1) Bench Press 3×3
A2) Weighted Pull-Up 3×3
B1) Ring Dips 4×8
B2) Sandbag Bent-Over Rows 4×8
Additionally, with calisthenics you won’t be able to progress in actual 3×3 or 4×8. That is where this repetition cross-section (5-8) comes really handy. When you can’t progress from current exercise to the next one, work up not to 5 reps, but to 8-10. This should make the transition much smoother.
9. One step at a time.
This is important in any area of life. Especially if you are impatient type of person and have nobody to ask. Chances are that you made this mistake before (and repeatedly).
Every novice trainee wants to have it all and at once. He wants big muscles, ripped body, maybe lots of strength, great grip etc. In some time (after watching YouTube) he might want to add One-Arm Handstand, solid Olympic lifting, bouldering, sandbag training, kettlebell training and Iron Cross to the mix. His diet should be perfect (does it really exist?), he buys all the supplements he can afford etc. In the end, of course, he drops training in 2-4 weeks. What’s the problem?
You can’t have all at once. To get results, training and diet should be your habits, not some temporary tools. The best way to nurture a habit is to make the smallest change to your current regimen. The above fitness enthusiast could have made it much better if he concentrated just on 3 exercises: Pull-Ups, Push-Ups (or Dips) and Squats. That’s it. How do you think what is more sustainable: trying to gain all at once or just training 3 exercises 2-3 times per week? I think the answer is obvious.
The more complicated approach you take, the less chances to win you have. Do you want to learn Handstand? Don’t start with the free standing one. The only thing that is waiting for you in this case is frustration. Start with the simplest thing you can do. Wall-Assisted Headstand, Wall-Assisted Handstand, Crow Stand etc. And train it 2-3 times per week. That’s attainable by anyone. Progress from there. Read this article for more tips.
The same is true for any area of life you want to improve. Do you want to read great books but don’t have time? Devote 1 hour a week to this. It is easy. With time you’ll understand that you can read every day, and you’ll be accomplishing your goal.
Do you want to learn guitar? Start with the most basic exercises 2-3 hours per week. In couple of months you’ll be nailing some simple stuff.
Besides, when you make only one change, it is much easier to concentrate on it. And it becomes your habit much faster.
10. Don’t neglect mobility/flexibility training.
If you have great flexibility, then skip this tip and know that I hate you. My mobility/flexibility always sucked. It sucked so hard that Sasha Grey would be jealous. It never bothered me. Strength in the gym was always great. However, when I started this handbalancing thing, I understood all the importance of flexibility.
Let me explain and reveal the dark truth. If you ever plan to nail One-Arm Handstand and your flexibility sucks, forget about it. Yes, you can reach regular Handstand with poor flexibility. You can make it somewhat straighter, but it is far from what you’ll require. In addition, forget about Press Handstand and lots of advanced handbalancing.
Is it possible to reach high-level positions with poor mobility? Yes, if you are lightweight and very lucky. Yet I wouldn’t put all my stakes on sheer luck.
What to do? For handbalancing and gymnastic skills in particular you’ll need to address several areas:
I wouldn’t go in too much detail because it is not the point of this article (and because I’m still experimenting). To determine what you need to work on, you should make some flexibility tests:
- You can find comprehensive shoulder flexibility test here.
- You should be able to touch your knees with your head in pike position. Your knees should be locked. If you can’t, then your hamstrings are shortened.
- You should be able to perform front splits with both sides as well as side splits.
If you meet all the criteria, then all you need is strength. If not, then you should master those positions as soon as possible.
There are lots of stretching techniques and exercises. I’ll try to cover them in future articles when I get more data.
Do you know what is the simplest diet change you can make today to get all the results you want? No, it is not cutting gluten, not fear of carbs, not low-fat nonsense, not intermittent fasting (although I love it), not veganism etc. The most simple and powerful thing you can do is to concentrate on protein. Yep, that’s it. Count actual protein grams. Shoot for 2-3 g per kilogram of your bodyweight. Don’t worry about other things. Do just this.
How are you supposed to do it? If you eat packaged food, usually you can find nutritional facts on the back of the product. If you eat real food, then use any reliable calorie counter or this bad boy. Add all the amount you have eaten throughout the day and be amazed how little it is.
If your weight is 85 kg, you’ll need 170-255 g of protein per day with sweet spot at 212.5 g. Of course, all numbers are free for interpretation. You may need up to 300 g. However, I wouldn’t go lower than 170 g.
Some people are good with low amounts of protein and I’m ok with that. Those bastards can eat what they want and be ripped and muscular. But for the vast majority of losers like us see-it-eat-it approach wouldn’t work. Count protein, get less fat and more muscle. Unless you want to remain fat, weak and lame.
12. Good programming = finding what works for you.
People always tend to look for the best approach for someone else. They look for the exact things other people did to get results. While modeling successful dudes and dudettes is great thing to do, doing exactly what they did is often recipe for failure. What you need to understand is the fact that you must find what works for you applying the principles of successful people, not blindly repeating what works for them. Exact programs of champions won’t work for you, unless you have same genetics and conditions. However, the principles of progressive resistance, manipulating volume, intensity and frequency, and concentrating on big compound lifts will work.
Different coaches will tell you different things. All of them are right to some extent. Still no matter what this or that coach says (except me, of course), if that doesn’t work for you, drop it. If it works, then remember what you did (or better write it down).
So your goal should be to collect all the techniques that work for you and to apply them. They may change with time, but most of them will remain actual forever.
Here are couple of mine:
- Handstand should be practiced every day;
- If I work hard, I’ll need a week of rest;
- I can train same muscle groups with different exercises throughout the week;
- I rarely can train same muscle groups the next day;
- If I can’t repeat the result of previous session on the first set, it is better to rest.
13. Keep it simple.
I write about this in every article. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. You may want to keep your programs and diet complex, but in reality they shouldn’t be so. Just opposite of that. The more variables in your approach the less results you get. Here is simple equation analogy. What will be easier to solve: equation with only one variable or several? The answer is obvious. The same is true for strength training and diet.
Chances are that you heard about the Pareto principle or 80/20 law. 20% of your activities give you 80% of results. This simple concept can be applied to any area of life. You won’t believe how accurate it is. Apply this law whenever you are in doubt. If your training gets too complicated, define what 20% of exercises give you the most bang for the buck. If your diet is too sophisticated, find those 20% (reread the protein tip again).
Keep it simple and start acquiring those damn gains.
Finally this article came to an end. I thought it won’t happen. I hope this amount of letters together means something to you. Thanks for reading.
Every time you don’t like and share this article, a rabbit dies somewhere.
Do you have any thoughts? Do you think that posting tips is new and sexy? Do you think that writing so much words on such simple topics is awesome? Let’s chat in comments.
Alex “Seriously, why 13?” Zinchenko
Are you tired of lack of results? Strength training seems like rocket science to you? Do you want to get strong, build muscle, lose fat and get awesome finally? Let the professional do all the dirty work for you.