Progression Obsession 3: Even More Gains

This week we are going to wrap up our series on how to keep the gains coming when adding weight to the bar just isnt feasible or isn’t a big enough stimulus to significantly add to the workload you are doing. 2.5 pounds just isn’t all that taxing on the body, some times you need to throw away the chisel and break out the jackhammer.

In Part One we talked about adding weight on a set by set basis, jacking up the volume with extra reps and sets, and increasing the density by shrinking the rest intervals down.

In Part Two we talked about some approaches that had nothing to do with adding weight or reps, but rather mastery of the weight and confidence.

This week we are going to talk about the more demanding methods of progression. The ones that require the most intensity, tap the deepest into your recovery ability, and for this reason should be used sparingly and for short periods of time.

Eccentric Volume

The eccentric portion of the lift is the “lowering” portion. Bringing the bar to the chest, lowering the weight into a squat position from standing, or bringing the bar from overhead down back to the shoulders are a few examples.

elevator
Going Down

 

The eccentric portion is also where most muscle damage, and thus muscle soreness, comes from. It’s part of the reason body building routines only train a muscle group once a week, while Olympic and Cross Fit programs can train them more frequently… Body Builders general do more reps, and thus are doing more time in the eccentric phase, while Oly Lifters and Crossfitters can be seen dropping the bar in some cases, bypassing it all together.

The way I like to build up eccentric volume with a weight you are having trouble getting passed is to keep the load consistent, but increase the eccentric time from 1 second to 3 seconds. Basically a “controlled descent” becomes a “slow and controlled descent.” To conceptualize it, in a regular rep the bar is almost falling, and the lifter would have a hard time reversing it. In a slow and controlled eccentric the lifter maintain constant tension on the bar during the lowering phase, and could easily reverse it at any point along the rep.

This method is quite taxing, and I recommend you stick to this for 3-4 weeks, then try and up the weight and go back to “regular reps” that dont stress the negative quite as much.

Finishers, Intensity Techniques, and Fatalities.

Call these whatever you want to… These are the bread of butter of a Mike Rashid approved workout. The true sign that you are at the end and have officially earned the right to call it a day. When “regular” sets and reps just arent doing it, and even the techniques we’ve talked about so far in this series aren’t getting the gains trains moving on the tracks, it’s time to break out the biggest guns there are.

These techniques all generally fall under the umbrella of “beyond failure” … You essentially do a certain weight for as many reps as you can do, and then somehow extend the set beyond that by stripping some weight off, resting just a little bit, or changing the movement slightly before continuing on until you again reach muscular failure. This can happen several times in a single set.

Some Favorites:

Drop Sets – 3 drops is generally a good starting point, and will get a large amount of volume done in a very short period of time, while hitting every muscle fiber along the way. Here are some ways to do them:

  • Run The Rack / Strip Sets – A CT Fletcher Favorite, Using a DB movement (presses or curls generally) you basically start at a weight you can get 20 reps with, and when you do you drop to the next smallest dumbbell and continue on until you are handling weights that anorexics will laugh at you for using.
    • For the truly sadistic… Run the weight back up. It seems impossible but somehow you can do it if you truly gut it out. Check out Big Rob and Mike doing it below with DB Tricep extensions. Many a Metro Flex arm day has brought men to their knees with this gauntlet.

  •  Double Double – With this method you will drop two times. Cutting the weight in half both times, BUT doubling the reps. It generally works best with 6-12-24, but anything works really… 5-10-20, 10-20-40, 25-50-100 for those really looking to have some fun.

 

  • Wheels Away – For the truly strong and truly insane, start with as many 45’s as you can per side and when you hit failure take one off each side and keep on repping. Continue down until you finish up with one wheel per side. Spotters are hugely useful here, both to strip the weight and the keep you safe during the set… Its brutal and with the muscular fatigue here safety is definitely a concern on any big money lifts. The more mortal among us can use 25’s for this method to the same effect.

Minimal Rest Sets

This intensity technique has many variations, but unlike above where you end up using very light weights by the end of the drop set, you are going to be using heavy ass weights the entire time and the rest periods are going to be cut WAY down. 2-3 minute rest periods have no place here. Here are some ideas:

  • DC Style Rest Pause – The staple of DoggCrapp training, these are considered so brutal and effective that the entire DC Routine is built around doing only one such set as the entire workout. Yikes… You do them by picking a weight you can get 8-15 reps on the first “set” … Then take 10-15 deep breaths and go to failure again, followed by another 10-15 breaths, and go to failure again.
  • Cluster Sets – Take a weight you can do for approx 5 reps, and do a single rep. Rest 10 seconds and do another rep… Keep going until you know you cant get another rep. This generally allows you to get 8-10 reps with a weight you can normally only get 5 reps with.
  • 5-4-3-2-1: This time start with an 8-10 RM, do 5 reps and rest 10 seconds, do 4 reps, rest 10 seconds, 3 reps, rest 10 seconds, 2 reps, rest 10 seconds, and finally 1 last rep. You have now done 15 reps with a weight you could normally only get for 8 reps… These are brutal. Credit to CT over at T-Nation for this one and the next.
  • Hard 5’s – Again pick a roughly 8RM, Do 5 reps and rest 10-15 seconds, do 5 more reps and rest again for 10 seconds, and a final set of 5.

These techniques don’t quite have the intensity and WOW factor of drop-set-style sets… But the weight is much higher, which brings the intensity way up as well.

Again, these techniques are extremely stressful to the body and should be used as a plateau buster of sorts, or as a once-a-month challenge kind of thing.

Get to Gaining

So there you have it, tons of methods for stimulating new gains. I hope I have shown you that more weight isnt the only way to make gains, and it certainly isn’t the only thing to focus on when lifting. Even these 3 articles are only skimming the surface of ways to challenge your body in new and novel ways. For an even greater list check out Mikes “Book of Fatalities” to really get some direct guidance on how, when, and what to do in your own workouts.

Open The Book, Shut The Mind Off... And Grind it Out
Open The Book, Shut The Mind Off… And Grind it Out

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