Five Ways You Are Holding Back Your Own Strength

Article written by Matt Mills

We see a lot of methods floating around the internet, many of them touting benefits for your lifting. Unfortunately, some of these methods are not as great as touted, while others are an outright waste of your time. We have listed five in this article, check them out below:

1: Tempo work

Using tempo work is something I never understood when lifters use it to build strength.  For those who are not familiar tempo training, it is lowering a bar for a certain amount of time, then performing the concentric phase for a certain time.  A simple example would be the bench press.  Lower the bar for 5 seconds, pause on the chest for one, press back up for 5, and lockout for 1 (5,1,5,1).  There is no correlation for moving a lighter weight slowly to moving maximal weight.  With that being said, I do use tempo work from time to time.  I think it’s great for injury prevention, and hypertrophy with smaller body parts such as biceps, and calves.  The deceiving part of tempo training is that it makes you very sore, so lifters think because of the soreness, they must be getting stronger. 

 One important point to remember is that soreness does not necessarily mean you are making progress.  I have continued to increase my strength and I honestly can’t remember that last time I was extremely sore.  Our muscles consist of two different types of fibers, one being slow twitch and the other fast.  Unless you are an anatomy nerd like myself  I won’t get into the specific fiber types, but the slow twitch are built for endurance of higher reps, and to move weight slowly.  The slower twitch fibers also produce the most delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) yet barely help when moving weight explosively, or near max as you would for building strength.  

2: Using the wrong rep schemes

If you want to get strong then you have to lift heavy.  This should be an obvious one, but I still see many lifters going 80% or below in their training.  For a beginner, higher reps are best as they will adapt to nearly any stimulus to add muscle and weight to the bar, but this won’t last for very long.  The more advanced you get, the higher the intensity must be when training for purely strength.  A good place for intermediate lifters to stay is with a 5-8 rep range to continue to build strength.  Once the lifter is more advanced they can progress to heavy triples, doubles, and singles to continue to build.   One of my most effective ways to add weight to the bar is to perform multiple singles above 90% of your 1 rm.  Remember that maxing out is only a test and you are not building strength by grinding out singles every week. 

 This is a sure way to burn yourself out, and even get weaker.  You build strength doing repetitions near your max for multiple sets.  A good way to set up a program would be to take your 3rm and perform 5 singles with fairly short rest of about 90 seconds.  You can progress each week to either add another set on at the same weight or increase the weight slightly and perform only 4 sets.  

3: Training environment: big fish in a little pond

This is one that really drives me crazy.  You will usually see this at commercial gyms as plenty of guys like to flex in the mirror, and take selfies.  For those of you that do train at a commercial gym, I don’t know how you do it.  If you want to be strong then you have to train with people stronger then you.  Many lifter’s egos are too big to take the step to change gyms because they don’t want to be the weakest one.  Personally if I can go somewhere where I am the weakest one, I would drive over an hour, because I know that’s somewhere I’m going to make the most progress.  One thing I don’t understand is when people say they are intimidated to go to the gym, or to go to a more “hard core” gym.  The least judgmental people are the lifters that are the strongest and most experienced.  If you want real results, then get out of your comfort zone.  Trust me when I say no one is impressed if you are the strongest one at Planet Fitness.

4: Setting too high of goals

This is one I unfortunately hear too often.  I have had many new competitors tell me how they want to win their first strongman competition, qualify for Nationals, and go pro.   YOU NEED TO SLOW DOWN.  There are very few competitors that have ever walked into their first competition, won, and then went on to do well at nationals.  If you have this mentality, then you are just setting yourself up for failure once you don’t achieve that goal right away.  I didn’t win my first contest for over a year, and it took me over 2 years to get my pro card.  When I first started competing, I didn’t think I was going to go in and win the whole contest.   With that being said, you should always compete to win but don’t feel like a failure if you don’t.  Learn from your mistakes and move on.  If you haven’t yet this is a must read about why you should compete

Setting too high of goals also applies to the numbers you want to hit in the gym.  Let’s say you are a 405lb deadlifter and you set a goal of pulling 500.  Every week you add too much weight to the bar and maybe grind out a few ugly maxes and eventually stall out like I discussed in number 2.  Having a goal of pulling nearly 100lbs more is perfectly fine but you must work backwards.  Before 500 you must pull 475, 450, 425, etc.  Have long term goals, but remember progress is made with very small steps at a time.  Getting stronger is a marathon, not a sprint.

5: Doing what you like and not what you need

This is one that I have been guilty of many times.  It’s always easy doing what you are good at because it’s simply just more fun.  Don’t let your weak points hold you back, or more importantly lead to an injury.  This is where having a qualified coach to write your program comes in.  Having someone write your program for you will force you to do what you suck at.  Weak points are the first thing I look at when going over someone’s programming.   I highly recommend you work with a qualified coach no matter what your level is.  You can learn more on the LBEB page.

Using myself as an example: I am very slow deadlifting off the floor, but very strong at lockout.  A good way to improve this is with deficit deadlift, but I avoided these at all costs because I was so much weaker at them that I didn’t want anyone to see it.  Finally I got over it, added them to my program, and my deadlift went through the roof.  The same can be said about changing stances or using different bars if you have access to them.  If you suck at pulling sumo or benching close grip, then that’s exactly what you need to do.  If you have access to a safety yoke bar then give it a try but be ready to be humbled.  Always rotate movements, and as long as a proper deload is in place, you will continue to get stronger.

6: Not tracking your progress

I have had many conversations with lifters about why they are not getting stronger, even though it looks like they are following a solid program.  Keeping a record of everyday you train is extremely important.  And please don’t tell me that you remember all of your lifts because there is no way you can.  Maybe your big lifts and your 1rm, but there is so much more that needs to be improved upon.  Getting one more rep at the same weight, just 5lbs more, and even just performing the same weight the same amount of reps, BUT now easier with better form are all PRs.  You may not be able to increase your compound lifts every week but you can always do a little more on your accessory work.  If you are a strongman, then you better be timing your events just the same. 

 I constantly refer back to my training journal to be able to beat my previous week in something.  It’s always a competition with yourself to improve.  Another great part of having a journal is being able to refer back when you are having a bad training day.  Look back to a year and see the weights you are moving then and I guarantee you will be more motivated to lift some heavy shit after that.  Finally, if your current program isn’t working for you, then look back to a time that you were getting stronger.  Check out the differences in your training and figure out what you were doing right at that time.  

Hopefully some of these tips work for you. Let us know in the Facebook comments if you have anything to add to this list.

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