Barrier Buster: Tips For Busting Through Plateaus!

Sticking points are bad news, but everybody suffers from them from time to time. The cure, simple though it is, is usually hard to take. Learn how specific exercise training is the key to breaking plateaus!

Article Summary:
  • You can stick start your progress by changing your routine.
  • Try to incorporate multiple training partners and increase your reps.
  • Large muscle group exercises are the most conducive to gains in strength and muscularity.

Sticking points are bad news, but everybody suffers from them from time to time. Sometimes the cause is staleness, brought on by overtraining, and the cure, simple though it is, is usually hard to take. You may know, deep down inside you, that what you really need is a complete layoff, but the very idea tastes like a dose of castor oil. At other times, when staleness and overtraining are not the cause, your progress can be kick-started by changing to a completely new routine.

When Staleness And Overtraining Are Not The Cause, Your Progress Can Be Kick-Started By Changing To A Completely New Routine
+ Click To Enlarge.
When Staleness And Overtraining Are Not The Cause, Your Progress
Can Be Kick-Started By Changing To A Completely New Routine.


Break The Barrier On Specific Exercises

However, for the purposes of this article, let's assume that you're not stale or overtrained, and that you don't need a complete change of exercises. You've decided that what you really need is some way of breaking a poundage barrier on one particular exercise, say the bench press or squat. This is a situation where the multi-poundage, or descending-pyramid system, can work wonders.

RELATED VIDEO: Pyramid Training
What Is Pyramiding?

Pyramids - Increasing the weight with each new set while decreasing the number of reps. The weight is then reduced and the reps increased.

The idea is not new; in fact, it was first publicized many years ago by Henry Atkins, who ran the Viking Gym in London about fifty years ago. (Henry was also heavily involved with the publication of VIGOUR magazine, which he started in the mid forties.) Henry, who now lives in America, was something of a pioneer in those days, and one of the first British coaches to take a scientific approach to training methods. When I say "scientific" I'm not referring to the science that comes out of the eye of a hypodermic syringe.

The system is based on a simple principle. Everyone knows that in a set of say 8 or 10 reps, it's only those last 2 or 3 that really count as far as growth stimulation goes. Okay, here's a system where you keep doing "the last 3 reps." What's that you say? "How can I always be doing the last 3 reps? And if I'm always doing the last 3 reps, what's happened to the first 7?"


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The How-To Details
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Let's suppose that the exercise in question is the bench press, and your training partners are standing by. Notice I said training partners, in the plural, because ideally you need two spotters for this system. If you can't recruit two, then it's possible to make do with one. We'll assume that you've already done a few progressive warm-up sets on the bench and are ready for the working sets.

Load the bar to a weight with which you know you can only perform 3 or 4 reps, and you're ready to start. Press the bar for 3 reps and as you complete the third one -- while you're in the locked-out position at arm's length -- your partner(s) should whip, say, a 20-pound plate off each end of the bar. You then grind out another 3 reps, and at the end of the third one you have another plate taken off each end of the bar.

Then you do your final 3 reps (or maybe you can even squeeze out 4), albeit with a much lighter weight than your starting poundage. If you've got it right for you, the last 3 reps are just as hard as the first 3, and the burn is something else. Your final poundage may look light, but it will feel like a ton.

You've now completed your first set of 9 or maybe 10 reps. If you do 3 or 4 of these sets you'll note a degree of pump, congestion and burn as never before. The reason, of course, is that you've been working at almost maximum effort all the time. A maximum of 3 or 4 of these multi-sets should suffice. You'll also find that you'll need a longer rest between sets than is normally the case.

This "super pump" in itself will give you a psychological boost and spur you on to greater muscle growth. However, it's not the only "perk" you'll get. Because you've only got to do 3 reps with the initial weight, multi-poundage work gets you used to handling heavier weights than you'd normally use in straight sets for higher reps. This, in turn, makes for greater strength. The benefits should be felt when you go back to normal-set training.

Some experimentation will be needed to find out what size of poundage reductions best suit your strength, and this will vary across different exercises. Once you've established this, you'll be able to pre-load the bar with your finishing poundage for a given exercise locked on with collars, and then load the "floating" discs outside the outer collars -- ready to be whipped off by the handy help.

RELATED POLL
Do You Incorporate Pyramid Sets Into Your Workout?

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Not Yet - But I Will Now

In the big muscle group exercises, like the bench press, squat and deadlift, the finishing poundage may have dropped to as little as 60% of the starting weight, but it will still require all your effort to finish the set. Describing the feeling experienced on those final 3 reps, one satisfied convert said, "The bar doesn't feel heavy, it's just that you can't move it!"

The bench press used in the example above lends itself well to this system, but the squat is equally adaptable. You can also apply the multi-poundage system to dumbbell exercises such as curls and presses. For the dumbbell movements you don't need any training partners. You just need good clear access to the dumbbell rack.

Let's take the dumbbell curl as an example. You start by curling, say, a pair of fifty-pounders and after 3 strict reps you change them for forties, pump out another 3 reps with these, and then go for the final burn using only 30, or maybe even 25, in each hand. You'll find the effect is quite different from what you experience in normal training.

For The Dumbbell Movements You Don't Need Any Training Partners. You Just Need Good Clear Access To The Dumbbell Rack.
+ Click To Enlarge.
For The Dumbbell Movements You Don't Need Any Training Partners.
You Just Need Good Clear Access To The Dumbbell Rack.


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Caveats
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This method of training is very strenuous, and naturally it follows that you can't do a whole schedule composed of multi-poundage exercises. I would recommend that you use the system for only one exercise in your schedule at any given time. Use regular sets for the other exercises in your program. Best results for multi-poundage work come on the compound, or large muscle group exercises. It's generally acknowledged that these movements are the most conducive to gains in both strength and muscularity.

The system is definitely not for beginners or anyone with less than 6-12 months of steady training behind him. It can pay great dividends for the experienced ironslinger who wants, or rather needs, something different to shake him out of the training rut.

I've put various pupils on this system. I've tried it on widely differing exercises and body parts, and found it to be extremely effective especially when used for one exercise for a period of about two months.

In the quest for increased poundages I found the system to be a winner, and I also found that it was very effective in breaking what I like to call psychological poundage barriers. That's my name for those milestones that mark the weight trainee's progress -- those benchmarks (no pun intended) like the 200, 300 and 400-pound hurdles which often seem to block one's path to progress.

As I said earlier, this multi- or descending-poundage system is not my invention, nor is it new. At the time of its innovation it was certainly widely tried and tested, and received wide acclaim. Nowadays with many magazines full of "new" and "secret" systems and exercises, the multi-poundage system seems to have fallen by the wayside and is virtually unknown.

Best Results For Multi-Poundage Work Come On The Compound, Or Large Muscle Group Exercises
+ Click To Enlarge.
Best Results For Multi-Poundage Work Come On The Compound,
Or Large Muscle Group Exercises.

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