Successful Strength Building: Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls (All the Time).
Pardon the 90's reference, but I just couldn't resist. Besides, who knew TLC would be capable of helping you boost your long term gym performance just by rethinking their lyrics.
"Don't go chasing all your PR's, just stick to the reps and the weights that your used too..."
Ok, Im done...I swear.
To the point...I've been discussing the importantance of earning your weights as you try to become stronger. It can be tempting to hit a PR and follow it with another attempt at a higher weight during the same session. You are going to come at it like a Spider Monkey...
It's even easier when your all jacked up on Mountain Dew.....or you know...your favorite pre workout.
In the moment after a PR, no matter how ugly it is, there is a feeling of invincibility. You just lifted something you've never done before, so duh; why wouldn't you be feeling fiesty?
The problem is that for most of us...that'll be all we got for the day. Attempting to go heavier just a few moments later will often lead to a failed repetition, which is going to fry your central nervous system, and more importantly, could lead to an ugly injury. Any subsequent sets thereafter are going to feel like max effort even if you cut the weight in half.
You just don't got it anymore!
Let's avoid intra-workout burnout and work towards long term success. Instead of trying to keep adding weight to the bar it may be better to focus on trying to hone in technique at an appreciable weight, or even counter the one-repetition max effort with a cardio-set of fifteen to twenty repetitions.
Let's say average Joe is deadlifting today. He 10 reps 225 with absolute ease, 5 reps 315 with two in the tank, and pulls a successful, but slow 405 for the first time. Instead of trying 410 or 415 and failing he chooses to:
Do a back down at 335 and aim to complete 5 reps.
Back down once more to 225 and do fifteen perfect repetitions.
Move on to accessory work.
Why is this a better way to do business?
Instead of failing at a weight and ruining the remainder of his workout, Joe can successfuly pull a new PR, complete time under tension at submaximal weight, and stimulate a cardiovascular response will executing proper form at a highly controllable weight...all in the same workout.
One downside to max effort strength training is that your muscles are not subjected to significant time-under-tension, which can be critical for muscular hypertrophy. This is why some ridiculously strong guys and gals don't look like they are cover models; even if they lift ridiculous weights. They have trained their muscles to create tremendous amounts of force in a short burst, and not to look like Arnold.
Take for example one of my favorite coaches in the business: Eric Cressey. In the video below he crushes 600lbs. for 3 repetitions. Now, he is in great physical shape,but I'm sure if he walked into a random commerical gym where no one knew him and asked some dudes what they think he could deadlift they wouldn't say 600 for 3, or 660 for 1. But he can...
For those not as scientifically inclined...time-under-tension (TUT) is simply the amount of time a particular muscle is subjected to a resistance. This can be accomplished by slowing repetitions down, increasing total repetitions or sets, or by eliminating the end ranges of motions (think - "pump reps' brah")
Simply put, max effort strength training doesn't neccessarily equal muscle mass training.
Dropping poundage from the bar and pulling repetitions at a submaximal weight (think 80% or so) can boost muscular hypertrophy and actually aid in the long term development of strength. Think of it as earning your repetitions. 5 repping 300 pounds is more total training volume than 1 rep at 405. Building a tolerance at submaximal weights is going to make near-max (92%) and above feel a lot more managable to your body.
Increasing your 5 repetition weight should boost your 3 rep weight and so on...
THE WAY TOO LITERAL SIDE NOTE: I'm not stating that one is better than the other, because as I've detailed in a previous post, bodybuilding is not a great foundation for athletic performance, or strength training. No one training method is superior...hence the utilization of both in this example.
Moving on...why the cardiovascular set at the end of the deadlifts?
Because why not?
Let's face it...if you are an avid lifter and are interested in trying to push your PRs on the big lifts, then chances are you look at cardio the same way a kid looks at a list of chores...
But do I gotta?
Solution then, is to incorporate a high repetition set (or two) at the end of your heavy days to boost your heart rate, get you sweating a bit more, and train in a zone that your body is not accustomed to.
Doing repetitions in this zone is going to switch your body into the two different energy systems (glycolytic and oxidative) that max effort lifting (ATP/CP) will not utilize in magnitude. The benefit will be better oxygen transport, an increase in capillary density, and the utilization of carbohydrates and fat as an energy source!
Add in the benefit of ensuring your reps are straight up apple crisp and you'll train the neuromuscular system to "own" a particular movement pattern. You'll refine technique and clean out flaws in the movement, which will likely be most impactful when it comes to achieving your next PR.
A great focus during any of the big 4 lifts is going to be "What are my shoulder blades doing?" Trust me...you can always be better at packing, squeezing, or rotating those scapulae!
Simply put, a drop down to 65-70% of your max is going to lead to significant benefits that may seem unrelated, but may actually be just what you need to push, pull, squat more weight!
This drop down method applies to deadlifts, squats, bench press, and overhead press just the same. It may actually be even more beneficial in the pressing movements where the health of the shoulders is a consideration in achieving high PR's and long term success.
It can be incredibly easy to focus only on moving your maxes upwards. You are eager to post it on the internet, share your video on every network, and tell all of your friends. You feel like the Incredible Hulk and fear nothing, so why wouldn't you add more weight? Besides "if the bar ain't bendin', then you are just pretendin'"...or so they say...
When it comes to repetitions "No, we don't want no scrubs. A scrub is a rep that you can't get off the floor" (your chest, your back) (Take your pick)
When it comes to setting new PR's, don't be in a rush "Just Creep"
Focus on developing quality muscle and making gains over time. The last thing you want to do is ruin a workout by trying to do more than you should. There is so much more to building strength than single-repetitions. There is always next week.
Note from Kevin: I'm sorry I had to add those last two. Sometimes...I just can't resist.