Article written by Jace Derwin
Every once in a while, I take a look back in my training logs and see where my training has progressed. Over this last year, my training situation has improved and allowed me to be a bit more inventive in my training. I’ve isolated a few of the things that have really made an impact in my development as a lifter and overall athlete. Like most things in my life, a lot of the information below is based purely on mistakes I’ve made, but through such trial and error I have some pretty concrete philosophies that maybe you can implement in your own training. This advice isn’t for everyone, but maybe you can take away few things to make your training a bit more efficient.
1.) Force yourself to take a deload.
We’ve all been there. 5 weeks straight of hard training, each week better than the last. But it is week 6 now and the cracks are starting to show. It’s a Tuesday, but your hamstrings are still sore from the RDL’s on Saturday. Each warm-up weight felt like gravity had a personal vendetta against you. Doesn’t matter though, right? Just bite down on some leather and grind out every rep till you’re numb…. Wrong. Deloads are not the enemy, and they most assuredly are not a sign of weakness. There will always be limits to how much stress we can place on our bodies, and developing an understanding when your body is asking for a break is a necessary skill. You will eventually get burned out, sick, or obtain an injury if you don’t have yourself a light/off week. The body will stop compensating and go into an alarm state, which brings fatigue, irritability, and increased stress hormones that will inhibit your progress. I used to shutter and gag when I heard the term “deload.” I thought I was impervious, and that to intentionally take a lighter week was damned un-American. One nagging hip injury and drawn out cold later I knew I was wrong. Backing off is not only necessary, but key to let your body super-compensate. A standard model is to always deload every 4th week, allowing three weeks of progressive intensity followed by a light week to recover and come back rested and ready to roll hard for another three weeks.
2.) Make deloads interesting, but not intense.
While we are on the topic, deloads don’t have to be boring. While I hate the idea of backing off as much as the next, I found that I can still find some enjoyment during the times I break away from my standard training schedule by mixing in some movement I don’t get a chance to train that often. Mixing in new technical movements, or playing around with different variations makes the reduced training intensity a bit more bearable. As long as you don’t run yourself into complete exhaustion, you can get away with higher volume sets. On my deload weeks, I play around with different barbell complexes or try and hit new rep PR’s on tall snatches or squat jerks. Ya know, fun stuff. Sot’s presses are a great example of combining mobility and strength training without adding unnecessary poundage to your weekly total. Deload weeks are also a perfect time to mess around with other disciplines. Try rowing, learn a muscle-up, go play Frisbee golf, it doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you back off the intensity.
3.) Live on the GHD.
Neglected too often, posterior chain isolation training is a prime component of performance training and a key piece of keeping a lot of athletes injury free. I made it a point to end each training session with some GHD work, and it has paid off big time. By concentrating on hamstring, glute, and erector development, my pulls have had an extra bit of zip that didn’t exist before. I still can’t receive the bar worth a damn, but I can pull the bar to the roof. It has made a real difference in my hang variations, for the eccentric control and stretch reflex from the posterior chain is stronger and more responsive. I rotate between glute ham raises, banded reverse hypers, and back extensions daily. Adding resistance with a plate or empty bar can really ramp up the difficulty, but the room for improvement and progression is infinite.
4.) Add 1-2 sprint/High intensity sessions per week
I’ve talked about sprinting before, and we’ve written about adding conditioning drills to your training, but whether or not you implement them is a different story. Adding high intensity sessions can adds some needed cardiovascular stress and can put that extra gear into your engine. Nobody likes being the last kid up the mountain on a hike and seeing some veins in your arms isn’t a bad thing. 1-2 days per week are all you need and typically no more than 10 min to perform. These sessions can be anything from hill sprints, sled pushes, to kettlebell swings. The goal is to hit high-end effort and attempt to maintain for a brief period of time, then allow enough time to recover to do it all again. These sessions shouldn’t be so intense that they affect your regular training program, so make modifications if need be. If you only need 5 minutes, do 5 minutes. Doing some is better than none, and progress is always the main goal.
5.) Get another set of eyes
If you’re training alone, you’re going to be hard pressed to progress as quickly as someone who trains with a group or a partner. Having someone see your lifts helps to identify the small breakdowns that eventually occur. They can help film you, which saves you having to awkwardly set up a camera randomly on a stack of plates. If you’re anything like me, then you probably need the criticism to keep you from trying to add weight when you have between 3 to 30 technical errors you haven’t addressed yet. Having another set of eyes can help you solve more problems than without.
6.) Lay the hammer down on your weak spots
If you have a weak point technically, or physically, my best advice is to get after it. Train the hell out of it each session. If you have weak pulling mechanics, do some sort of rowing movement each training session or add in pull-ups to build the necessary strength. Try bent over rows on Monday, chin-ups Wednesday, and supine rows on Friday. Hit them all for volume, progressively adding intensity for three weeks, and see what kind of difference that makes. If your overhead position is weak, train up the mobility and strength of your shoulders as much as you can. There is always time to hit some dumbbell lat raise. Mobility? That is probably to most available thing online to learn about, so go and start making improvements. With enough consistency, you can turn your weaknesses around and start progressing farther than before.
It’s all fairly simple stuff, but each one can make a huge difference if applied in the right way. I highly recommend you record your trainings either daily or weekly, for it gives you a deeper spectrum to see how effective/destructive your training is to your body. And as always, be sure to eating enough food to maintain your training and sleeping enough to recover. There is always room for an extra protein shake and there is always time for a nap. Naps rule.