How to get stronger without a lot of weights and breaking the plateau!
Years ago, a friend of mine fell in love with barbell training. It was something he avoided for a long time. But after years of steering clear of it, he “stepped up to the bar” and gave the barbell training a try.
After a couple of weeks, everything in life and training felt way easier for him. That also led to more and more pound plates to the bar…easily.
As the weight continued to shoot up, so did his confidence. Within a year it felt like the coolest thing he had ever done.
But once he hit a specific amount of weight, the weight just stopped increasing the way it had been over the past several months. I call this the newbie gains. In the beginning, everybody takes off like a fighter jet until…they stop rising!
This is where experience proves to be a cruel teacher.
One day my friend lowered the bar back down for his second rep of deadlifts and suddenly felt like somebody just smashed his lower back in with an aluminum baseball bat.
He followed a basic training method called “progressive overload”…
But what exactly is progressive overload?
“This principle involves continually increasing the demands on the musculoskeletal system to continually make gains in muscle size, strength, and endurance. Simply put, in order to get bigger and stronger, you must continually make your muscles work harder than they’re used to.” — Chris Goulet
So, in a nutshell, your goal when you walk into the gym is to push yourself and your muscles harder than the last time you trained them.
Adding weight to the bar is one way of doing that, but the problems begin when that’s constantly the only thing you’re doing to progress.
But what could you do once you hit your plateau in weight by using the method of progressive overload?
Below are four examples of how you could do it, and how my friend is doing it today.
#1. Unilateral variations
A great alternative to the traditional barbell bench, squat, and deadlift would be the unilateral alternatives — such as the single-arm floor press, the Bulgarian split squat, and the single-leg Romanian Deadlift. And there are multiple benefits to incorporating them into your program.
For one, when performing a unilateral exercise, you will be forced to develop greater core stability to balance the weight on one side of the body. Greater core strength means greater strength all around — so once you do revert to the standard bench, squat, and deadlift, you’ll likely find yourself handling more weight than you could before.
Unilateral movements are also overall less taxing on your central nervous system, so cycling in these variations in place of their bilateral counterparts will help to prevent you from becoming chronically overtrained (like my friend from above clearly was).
Cycle these in for 3–4 weeks at a time and strive to get progressively stronger on them every week. Use weeks 1 & 2 to allow your body to learn the fundamental movement pattern of the exercises; use week 3 to push yourself on the exercises once you’re comfortable doing them; on week 4, go all out and try to beat your own personal best performance from the week prior.
#2. Pause reps
Let’s face facts; for the vast majority of us, piling on extra weight makes us feel strong and “cool” — so much so that we will often sacrifice immaculate form for an extra 20 pounds on the bar. Utilizing paused repetitions is a surefire way to force your ego to be checked at the door, because not only will they demand you to exert a high level of control over the exercise, but you will be forced to drop the weight to a manageable level.
Figure out how much weight you’re currently working with on your main compound movements. Subtract 20–30% from those lifts and perform all of your sets of those exercises with a 2–3-second pause at the bottom of the lift. You will be humbled.
You could cycle in paused repetitions for 3 weeks at a time. Week 1, take a 1-second pause; week 2, a 2-second pause; week 3, a 3-second pause. On the 4th week, go back to performing the movements with no pause — while maintaining good form — and you will be amazed at how much lighter than heavyweight used to feel.
#3. Time under tension
If your someone that lives in the 6–8 rep range and never has a set that lasts more than 20 seconds total, overhauling the set/rep scheme, in general, can not only provide some nice variety via an unfamiliar stimulus to your body, but it can also serve as a much-needed break for your joints by dropping the weight and focusing more on the length of the set rather than the number of pounds you’re using.
For example, a 3-week progression could see you performing all of your sets for 30-second intervals during week 1, 35-second intervals on week 2, and finally ramping up to 40-second intervals on week 3. A sample workout could look like this:
Sample Lower Body “Time Under Tension” Progression:
- TRX Rows: Week 1, 3×30 sec. — Week 2, 3×35 sec. — Week 3, 3×40 sec.
- Push-Ups: Week 1, 3×30 sec. — Week 2, 3×35 sec. — Week 3, 3×40 sec.
- Single legged Deadlift: Week 1, 3×30 sec. — Week 2, 3×35 sec. — Week 3, 3×40 sec.
- Goblet squats: Week 1, 3×30 sec. — Week 2, 3×35 sec. — Week 3, 3×40 sec.
- Roll Outs: Week 1, 3×30 sec. — Week 2, 3×35 sec. — Week 3, 3×40 sec.
I have personally utilized this system of training for a 4-week cycle in the past and when I did make my way back to the heavyweight, I found myself moving much more smoothly, with less little “aches and pains” than before.
#4. Break your plateau with EMS
If you are like my friend coming back from a serious injury, or can’t move big weights, or just want to set a new stimulus then EMS is a great tool to use. EMS Training is been around for a while in the fitness industry. But most of the time we connect that kind of training with people who do not like to train and looking for a 20min wonder for their lazy body. Also, EMS Training in the old days was more isometric holding against the resistance of the electric stimulus. Plus: You wear a cold, wet suit and fight against a lot of cables like C3PO from the early star wars movies.
Do you want to train with your TRX? Fine. Put your EMS suit on and combine it with your TRX routine. And the list of adding training tools goes on and on…!
The big advantage of combining EMS with traditional training is that you not only activate extra muscles, but you also stimulate typ I and II muscle fibres at the same time. This increases the training stimulus without putting extra weight on the barbell or running more faster on a treadmill. It is the most healthiest training tool that you can get these days to become more fitter and of cause stronger!
And you can use your EMS suit with unilateral variations, pause reps, and time under tension methods!
Progress for life
No matter what your personal goals are, you’re training for your health first and foremost. Progressing in all facets of your training will keep you coming back for more while keeping your body healthy and ready to perform at the highest level — for life.
If you want to see how the Visionbody Suit looks like click here:
If you have any questions about EMS or the other three training methods above please leave me a comment in our comment section!