Saturday, June 7, 2014

WHY ABBREVIATED TRAINING (STARTING STRENGTH, STRONGLIFTS, 5X5, ETC) FAILS: PART III

For those of you that missed Parts I and II, you can find it here

http://mythicalstrength.blogspot.com/2014/05/why-abbreviated-training-starting.html

http://mythicalstrength.blogspot.com/2014/05/why-abbreviated-training-starting_25.html


5:  They don’t understand the difference between stalling and struggling

Unfortunately, those that employ abbreviated training tend to be beginners, and as such, they have no frame of reference for what training is like.  They attempt to fill the void of experience with knowledge by reading everything they can on training, but in doing so, they absorb a lot of crap.  One of the biggest fallacies of training that is being spread is this idea that, while engaging in abbreviated training, if you do not hit every set of every rep in a training session, you have “stalled”.  Additionally, there is this rule that, when this happens 3 times, you have completely stalled, and now need to reset.

Let us have a discussion on the definition of progress.  If a trainee squatted 135lbs for 3x5 on Monday, and then on Wednesday squats 140 for 3x3, this person has made progress.  In fact, this person has set a lifetime PR on Wednesday, and should be immensely proud of their work.  Simply going up in weight in any capacity is progress, as the body has now been stressed with a higher weight than it had previously.  Additionally, if this same trainee squats 140 for 1 set of 4, followed by 2 sets of 3 on Friday, they have in turn also progressed.

Beginners on abbreviated programs have an unrealistic expectation of constant direct linear progress every training session, not understanding that this tempo is unmanageable within a short period of time.  Adding 5lbs every training session may be feasible during the earliest stages of training, where improvement on lifts can be more attributed to rapid adaptation and improvement on form/grooving the motor pattern of the movement compared to actually becoming physically stronger, but eventually this fades.  When this happens, it’s not a sign that one is “stalling”, or that the beginner gains have ceased, or any other such internet drivel, it simply means that now is the time to actually start working.


Life is not a video game.  You do not get stronger by constantly fighting lettuce.  Eventually, you need to take on a demon.

Prior to this point, gains came so easily to the lifter that they were conditioned to believe that the level of “intensity” they were employing was all that was necessary to make progress, and as such, when they reach a point where real effort must be utilized and discomfort experienced, they assume it must be a sign that something is amiss.  They wish to replicate the feeling they had before, when training was simply a matter of showing up and going through the motions while making gains that were leaps and bounds every training sessions, but unfortunately, now is the time where they need to grind and sweat for every single rep, session after session, in order to make progress.  Staying at the same weight for multiple training sessions isn’t unheard of, and in fact, is a pretty common experience for those that are successful with these programs.  You eek out reps each session, with the goal of eventually getting your rep total goal (whether it be 3x5, 5x5, 4x4, 5x3, or whatever combination you manage to come up with) before increasing the weight and starting all over again.


6:  They reset way too often, and when they do it, they do it poorly

This relates to what was mentioned in the above, for when beginners feel that they are stalling, the internet’s first (and usually only solution) is for this person to reset.  Nothing drives me crazier than watching how frequently beginners employ resetting in their training, as it always happens once they reach the point when they actually need to start working, which means they just spin their wheels, hitting the same numbers for months, if not years on end.


"Oops, very slight buttwink.  Better deload to bodyweight with reverse bands and work up from there"

Resetting is the definition of insanity.  A trainee is no longer succeeding in their approach, so they decide that they are going to do EXACTLY what they did up until this point in order to bypass their current sticking point.  When written like this, I hope the madness of the method becomes illuminated.  This approach is operating under the false premise that one can start building momentum to break through plateaus by lowering their weights and trying to mimic the beginner gains they once experienced.


You don't learn nuclear physics by going through K-12 over and over again

This approach tends to work with more advanced trainees due to the fact that they have far more room to play around with in this domain.  Jim Wendler proposes a “5 forward, 3 back” approach with the 5/3/1 program, wherein a trainee advances for 5 cycles before resetting back 3 and starting the process over again in order to constantly maintain momentum and progress (especially when paired with his “start light” approach).  If we take a 600lb deadlifter, this trainee can possibly reset their training weight back down to 500lbs in order to start making progress.  However, if we take a trainee that is stalling on a 95lb press, there is not much room to reset with before they start running into the exact same issues they were having before.  They just simply do not have the room in their programming to be able to afford to reset.

However, the reset itself is not without merit, it just needs to be used intelligently.  Simply performing the exact same program you were doing before and just starting the weights over is a recipe for achieving the exact same results.  This means that, in order to make a reset successful, one must reset AND do something different.  An effective approach is to change the movement to something similar but different.  For example, instead of benching, do incline bench, dips, play around with various grip widths (narrower or wider), or use pause/touch and go as applicable.  By changing the movement, you are starting the program over at a light weight, but will be building strength at a different angle/through a different motor pattern, and should be able to elicit some carryover to your other lift, along with develop the musculature at a different angle.  Aside from changing the movement, you could also add sets, reps, reduce rest times, or employ various other approaches to ensure that you are doing something at least somewhat differently than you did before.  This ensures that you are actually achieving something with your training time by developing different aspects of your strength and physique, rather than just recycling some sort of “greatest hits” playlist for your body, in no way challenging it and forcing it to adapt.  

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