Breaking Sticking Points by Avoiding them

Posted: September 28, 2020 in Uncategorized
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Auburn throwing athlete Maura Huwalt on her way up to 400(pictured)

This is the most common thing I hear from high school athletes. “I can’t move my bench and my knees hurt from squatting and I can’t get low enough. My poundages are stuck!”

“How often do you train?”, I ask.

“We max out every week and bench 3 days and squat or deadlift 3 days.”


“But we are using the reverse pyramid, dynamic, hypnotic bungee cord, 12/10/8/6/4/2/1/1/1 BFS, triple decker 3 dimensional path to progress system,” they say.

“We use wobbly bench press bars and bamboo sticks and we squat all day on BOSU balls.”


Listen. If you can CORRECTLY Bench 275, Squat 375, Clean 185 and Deadlift 400 then go for some crazy ACCESSORY work. If not then be concerned about getting to these lifts first. Benching correctly means you are not ricocheting the bar off of the back of your spine and your spotter is not pulling 50 of your 275 pounds. Squatting correctly means you are not bouncing off of a plyo box set at 1/2 Squat position and that your spotter is not bear hugging 50 pounds for you. Cleaning correctly is too hard to describe in words so I will not. Deadlifting means if you start your lift in a neutral lumbar position you finish it there. You are not riding the bar up your thighs by doing the limbo and standing up with it. Every Deadlift you hump will have a cost later in life trust me.

1 or 2  leg and push/pull days per week is plenty and often just 1 for legs.

Most individuals need to be concerned with how and when to add weight and how much effort is to be put forth at each training session. An effective training cycle allows trainees to make continual progress in size and strength cycle after cycle. Sticking points can be avoided by focusing on how the body adapts to training stresses and rolling with your body’s unique recovery ability as opposed to fighting against it with no results forthcoming. Don’t confuse this with lack of effort.

            This is a very simple periodization model and one actually has workouts where you are not going to all out failure. Read that again.

            There is much scientific evidence that supports the concept of cycling your training efforts. One such bit of proof comes from the many works of Dr. Hans Selye.(1) Yes I know it is very generalized but the concept holds true.

            One particular experiment involved imposing work upon rats. Rats that were given time to adapt to moderate levels of work(5 weeks or more) could then handle increasing intensities of work for months. Rats that were not given time to adapt at the moderate level could not handle increasing levels of work as the other rats did. The rats that did make it to the higher levels eventually failed to adapt any further despite increased amounts of food or even a return to levels of moderate work again. Performance continued to diminish.

            Does this sound familiar? Let me provide an analogy. I had been stuck for a year at 465 for 5 reps in the Full Squat. After a layoff, I would play with 415 or 435 for a few weeks before my assault on 465. I would push as hard as I could every leg workout to get the sixth rep. Occasionally I would switch exercises or try doing 20 sets to shock the exercise upward. Wrong answer. I was like the poor rats who did not have time to adapt to moderate levels of training stress. Older and wiser as they say. During one approach to the 465 pound wall I decided to hold back my efforts at the 415 pound mark. I added 10  pounds per week for 5 weeks and lo and behold, I hit 465 for 5 reps easily. I was behaving like the fortunate rats who had time to adapt to the moderate levels of stress. It did not stop there. I continued to add 5 pounds per week and went to 470, 475, 480, and then to 485 where I got stuck for 4 weeks. If I knew then what I know now, I would have terminated the cycle after 2 weeks of being stuck, rather than wasting 2 additional weeks. I had proceeded through what Dr. Selye described as the General Adaptation Syndrome.       This includes three phases: (1)Alarm Reaction(The weeks leading up to 465), (2)Resistance(The weeks leading up to the point that I adapted up to 485), and (3)Exhaustion(The 4 weeks I was stuck at 485).

            This is a very simple example of how to apply cycling efforts to your training. Rolling into the gym and doing what you feel like will lead to failure.

            The exhaustion phase inevitably comes on using any cycling approach. No matter how much effort is put forth, further gains are not forthcoming. I would stay at this point for 2 or maybe 3 weeks, to confirm that you are just not having a bad day. Remember, no matter how much effort one puts forth, one cannot bully their way through the exhaustion phase. Use common sense, bite the bullet and take a light week to recharge for the next training cycle. 

            In closing, I have used a cycling approach in some form or other for the last 35 years. I had thought I was at my genetically imposed limit before I tried it. It has allowed my strength and size to reach a level that I had previously thought unreachable. I strongly suggest that you give it a try in your own training.

More on the nuts and bolts of an effective cycle method on how and when to add weight in a future blogpost.

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