Strength Training 201: 3 Tools to SMASH Through Strength Barriers

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF)

  • With progressive overload, plateauing is inevitable. You can not continue to add weight to a bar, forever, to infinity.
  • Strength is a skill.  Your body can adapt and become more technically efficient at lifting and handling weights using proper mechanics.
  • Coaxing additional strength gains doesn’t happen as a result of hitting a plateau and your body magically adapts.  It happens by adding different tools and techniques to target positional, functional, or movement pattern deficiencies to shore up weaknesses and improve motor-unit recruitment.
  • These techniques tax your central nervous system (CNS). Rotate them into and out of your program to focus on weaknesses or breaking through strength plateaus.
  • If you are new to strength training, read this first.
  • Being strong is hard work. Don’t take any shortcuts with the tools you use or your mindset. “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man!”

RicFlair

 

3 Toolbox Additions

Let’s get right to it. The following tools can be used to get your strength to the next level.  As a byproduct, you will be making faster muscle contractions as well, so you will become more explosive as a result.

  1. Isometrics: Get up and go over to the nearest door jam, and try to push against it with all of your might for 5 seconds.  I’ll wait.  Pretty hard, right?  Now continue doing that experimenting with different positions, ranges in a range of motion, and you have a comprehensive workout tool.

An isometric muscle contraction is a static muscle contraction; the muscle contracts, but there is no movement at the joint. This generally occurs during one of two situations. The first situation is called, “overcoming” isometric contraction. This is when the muscle contracts against an immovable object; think pushing against a wall as hard as you can. The second situation is referred to as “yielding” isometric contraction. This is where something is held in place, even though it could be moved. In other words, you are applying the exact amount of force necessary to counteract the resistance. Think of wall sits or holding a crunch. There is comprehensive research available to review that majorally concludes that isometrics training has positive transfer to strength improvements, among other positive benefits such as fat loss and health improvements.

How to implement?

  • Identify areas you would like to improve, like the bottom position of the bench press, or the lockout of a Deadlift, Squat, Press, etc.
  • You can target specifically those ranges using isometrics in those positions using various methods. Having access to a squat rack with pins to press against is a valuable asset.  Set the pins to just at or below the location of your weakness. Starting with no more than the bars weight, begin hold forceful contractions of 3-5 seconds over multiple sets.
  • For strength gains, accumulate enough time to target the area completely; 30-60 seconds of 3-5 second contractions is enough to stimulate those pathways.
  • Target several areas of the body to complete a full body workout.

Grappling Application

There isn’t a position in Jiu-Jitsu that doesn’t challenge your isometric strength, offensively or defensively. While there will be carry over strength benefits from using a barbell and other isometric tool applications, here are a few quick tips for grapplers:

  1. Try performing isometric squeezes on a ball or your leg to improve your strangling strength.
  2. Squeeze the daylights out of a physioball to improve your bear-hug/takedown abilities.
  3. Use a thick resistance band to work isometric positions, such as your guard posture.
  4. Try clasping your hands together around a pinky ball to improve your isometric grip strength. Use a variety of grips to challenge your hands, wrists, and fingers.

 

2.Dead-Stop LiftsWant to make any lift instantly more challenging?  Try picking up or pressing your weight from a complete dead-stop, from the bottom position of the movement.  You eliminate the stretch-reflex that helps you rebound and use kinetic energy during the normal eccentric (lowering) and concentric (raising) muscular actions.

How to Implement?

  • Evaluate your program and target a few lifts that you can start with the concentric only portion.
  • While Olympic lifts could fall into this category, think compound movements.
  • If you can replace a few lifts with an Odd Object, I highly recommend it. Strongman-type movements like Stone lifts and Tire flips are good implements into your program to add a whole new challenge and implement the dead-stop.

These days, I rotate this application into my program quite frequently. Deadlifts, Zercher Squats, and one-arm dumbbell rows are both performed from dead-stop starting positions.  This requires me to generate force at an exceptional rate improving my ability to generate high velocities and move loads quickly from a dead-zero starting point.

Grappling Application

Jiu-Jitsu requires quick movements and adjustments to resistance on a dime, similar to dead-stop mechanics.

  1. Lifting a 200# sandbag off the ground and onto your shoulder is also a challenge you won’t soon forget.
  2. There is simply no way to generate any momentum or inertia. You must be brutally strong to get that weight up.
  3. Think of the bag as your opponent, or enemy, or friend you’re rescuing from a burning building…you get the drift.
  4. Get that bag up to your shoulder, or at least up to your chest level.
  5. Build your own sandbag.  It’s easy and cheap.
IMG_0596
I’m waiting…

3.Dynamic Effort Method: This method is used to increase the rate of force development. However, it’s done by moving light to moderate loads as quickly as possible. Most workouts consist of 8-12 sets of 1-3 reps using a weight equal to 50-80 percent of your 1RM, with short rest periods (30-60 seconds).

Your sole focus should be on moving the weight as fast as possible. To be fast, you need to train fast. Try using a (3-0-x), (2-0-x), or (1-0-x) tempo, meaning you lower the weight anywhere from 1 to 3 seconds, no pause, and you move the weight up as quickly as possible. Experiment with these ranges and add what works for you.

How to Implement?

  • These work best with the compound, multi-joint movements. Traditionally, through the Westside Barbell method, you would train dynamic effort twice a week in a four workout per week program (alternating a maximal strength day with a dynamic strength day).  Focus on the Squat, Deadlift, and Press movements, and implement this technique. You can perform this with almost any compound exercise to train your ability to generate velocity and power.  The big 3 movements will allow you to first-hand see how effective the technique can be.  It’s not uncommon to boost your 1RM on these lifts substantially after implementing this technique.

Grappling Application

You’ll reap carry-over performance on the mat if you just use the big 3 lifts.  That should be your primary focus.  If you want to try to implement this technique in a grappling-based program, you can consider the following:

  1. Locate training partners that are heavier than you, lighter than you (that move quickly) and are your size.  Use the attributes of these training partners to work different aspects of this method.
  2. I prefer to roll and drill with the heaviest partners first, while fresh.  Practice your “A Game” sweeps, submissions, and escapes.  You will likely be facing the most resistance from this partner.  Make sure to also practice your top pressure in control positions with an opponent that is larger than you. That means full, side, and rear mount retention.
  3. Evaluate your ability to execute the technique under full resistance drilling or live-rolling, as time progresses.
  4. Perform these drills while you are fresh. That way you can more accurately gauge improvements in your speed.

If you don’t have the mental capacity to be obsessed with what you’re trying to get….then you’re never gonna get it. 

– CT Fletcher

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