When you start a training program, you can run into several issues that all impede progress.
The main issue being that you overtrain. This may sound absurd, but it is more rare that people overtrain than undertrain when they actually start exercising on a consistent basis.
Why? Because as soon as you see results piling up you want more and more and more an more…. The problem is the progress in strength training is never linear.
In the macro it usually follows a logarithmic curve which looks like this, which is perfectly normal :
So a lot of progress in the first few years, then progress gets slower and slower with time. Of course at some point there is a decline that comes with advanced ageing.
In the micro, for most people it usually looks more like this :
So great progress in the beginning, then a plateau you can’t seem to push past, then regression, then a small plateau at the regressed state, then sudden program with a change in the program, pushing past the old plateau, then plateau again etc….
Here is what is should look like :
Slower progress in the beginning, deciding to reduce volume / intensity, assess what the issues have been, go for another progression, program the reduction, and cycles and cycle of planned precise progression.
I have been on a quest for the past five years to find the best way to train for strength, and I am still looking. However I have learned quite a few things along the way to try and get as close as possible to the third curve.
Patience is key
If you want to crash and burn, be my guest, but people have been studying these things for more than 50, sometimes 60 years, and are still learning every day. Their take on the subject is always the same, start small, build slowly.
This is so you let your body find it’s pace, so that issues that flare up up have the time to show up, and be dealt with as progress is made.
Technique over weight
If you can’t have perfect technique on medium weights, expect catastrophe on heavier weights.
If you can’t go full range of motion, slow the bar down, do extra pauses anywhere in the lift, all while keeping the groove with 70% of your max, then you haven’t mastered the lift yet.
Trust the process
Frustration is good.
You should find your training sessions difficult, but you should seldom be completely drained, « Beast Mode » after them. After a good training session, you shouldn’t be able to train again immediately, but 3 hours later you should feel like you can do an extra session.
Maximal effort should be rare
You can try for single max reps in new lifts in order to calculate percentages later, but keep single rep maxes in the Squat, Bench, and Deadlift rare. If you go for an all time best keep it for a competition, or once or twice a year.
Max effort days ( click here for context ) are maximal efforts of 5 to 2 rep maxes usually. This means the percentages of your lifts should vary between 80 and 95% maximum. And if you have deadlifts included in those percentage ranges, only do them every two weeks.
Deload every 4 to 9 weeks
Depending on your training percentages and your goals, you should set aside a week where you train between 40 and 70% of your maximal lifts, and let your nervous system and your muscles recover. These percentages should allow you enough stimulation to not lose anything, but low enough to allow for super compensation (phenomenon after you have stressed your muscle where it builds itself back stronger).
Don’t go for maximal reps during these weeks. Stay in the 10 to 12 range. You should have a few extra reps on each of the sets. They are there so your reap the best results for the previous 6 to 8 weeks of hard work you put in.
These are Deload weeks. They can last up to 14 days if you really went very hard.
Deal with injury immediately
This is important. If you start feeling imbalances, or a tendonitis coming along, shoulders, knees, hips, or your back hurting, schedule an appointment with a Physiotherapist, Osteopath, or Chiropractor that also exercises, and let them heal you.
It can be dealt with in 3 days if you treat it fast, it can last years of you let it build up. Go get it checked out.
I would go even further and plan to see one of the above at least 4 times a years if you exercise more than 3 times week. This should keep you in check and injury free for longer.
If you follow these 6 simple rules, you should be able to make clear consistent progress over the years.
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