5 Tactics to Obliterate Plateaus 

By: Josh Bryant

Are strength gains no longer a foregone conclusion but just something you just enviously read about on social media feeds?

Paul Leonard says, “Weakness is a crime.” So, I am calling in the metaphorical SWAT team via five strategies that have busted the plateaus of my clients ranging from all-time world record holders to regular people.

Implement Dead Squats & Presses

On the negative portion of squatting and most pressing movements, you store elastic-like energy. These elastic-like properties help you lift the barbell out of the bottom position, similar to pulling back a rubber band and releasing it.

Once this wears off, the free ride is over and it’s up to you and your ability to generate force.

What if you eliminated the negative portion of a squat or bench press and did it in a bottom up style? It’s a helluva a lot harder!

That brings us to dead movements! Dead movements are one of the best ways to overload the bottom portion of a squat or bench press variation.   

Perform dead squats or bench presses by setting the pins in a power rack at the lowest portion of either lift, this prevents using the elastic component of the muscles, forces you to overcome inertia (which is much more difficult) and forces you to start in the stretched position.

Only perform dead movements for single repetitions, performing multiple repetitions introduces that elastic-like “free lunch”.

Because all the help generated from the negative portion of the lift is gone, you are training your body to achieve greater motor unit activation (MUA). This will increase starting strength with the ability to instantaneously recruit more muscle fibers and next you will increase your rate of force development (RFD) by producing muscular force much faster.   

I have used dead movements of some sort with virtually all of my world record-setting strength athlete clients; if they are good enough for them they are good enough for you.  And yes, you will be lifting less weight but the end result will be a bigger squat and bench press.

Dead Bench Press Symposium

Practice Perfect Technique

Any break down of technique is a breakdown of tension that should be put into moving the barbell!

Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice does.

Displaying strength is a skill; because of this, you must view every single set and rep as technical reinforcement.  Not only do we want to develop the skill of strength, we want the desired training effect.

My first powerlifting mentor, Steve Holl, said when squatting, every inch of depth too high would equate to an additional 40 pounds on the squat. In other words, squatting two inches high forfeited nearly 80 pounds of the desired training effect. If you consistently change your range of motion you lose any prayer of building a skill and you have no way to quantitatively track the amount of work you are doing!

Knock off the idle chit-chat between sets and don’t worry about updating your Instagram–use every warm-up, rep and set as a chance to become a technically better lifter!

Movement Intention

Bodybuilders talk about muscle intention—this means feeling the muscle you are working.  An example would be if you are performing a concentration curl, you would feel the biceps do the work.

For strength, I am going to introduce a concept I call movement intention.  This simply means when performing a core barbell movement, on the positive portion, you concentrate on moving the barbell from point A to point B as explosively as possible.

Even with heavy weights that move slowly by default, you still want to have the intent to lift the barbell as explosively as possible. The same holds true with lighter weights. Continually performing sets with maximal force production workout after workout accelerates (pun intended) strength gains. 

Remember, force = mass x acceleration.

Every time you lift a submaximal weight, you can still produce maximal force. Maximal force produces adaptive overload that gets you stronger.  

Lifting moderate weights with maximum force provides many of the strength-training benefits of using maximal weights.  The flip side is lifting a maximal weight with the intent to move it as quickly as possible has benefits of explosive strength.

Strength gains, in a large part, adapt to your Central Nervous Systems (CNS) intent to move the barbell explosively.  This little nuance yields some huge dividends over the accumulation of years of training.

Movement Intention vs. Muscle Intention

Prioritize Strength

If your weekend is defined by two steppin’ and long neckin’ you are sacrificing strength gains!

You need to structure your lifestyle to one that is conducive to gaining strength.  I mean structuring with proper nutrition, adequate sleep, supplementation and the right training environment; yes, this will require sacrifice.

If your deadlift has plateaued for a year, place it on a day with the most favorable training conditions.  If every Thursday is mandatory overtime with heavy labor, don’t deadlift that day.

Do what is most important first in the workout; Joe Weider called it “Muscle Priority” training principle.  Research shows that you will perform best on what is done at the beginning of a workout.

Prioritize strength training and you will soon be on the gains train.  

More Sets, Fewer Reps

Our goal here is to lift big weights! Strength is more than an equation of brute strength, it’s an actual skill. How we test the skill of strength is by the amount of weight we can lift for a one-repetition max. 

Volume is the product of weight x reps x sets; so lifting 200 pounds for three sets of 10 reps is 6,000 pounds of volume (200x 3 x10=6,000).  What if instead we did 10 sets of three reps with 200 pounds?  It’s still 6,000 pounds of volume but offers advantages to the strength seeker.

By dividing the volume over 10 sets, you get 10 first reps instead of three.  Because you are doing fewer reps, you can produce more force each rep. More first reps mean more enhancement of the skill of lifting a maximum weight for one repetition.

More sets, fewer reps are more specific for building the skill of strength.

Final Thoughts 

If you want obliterate plateaus or make a strength surge even faster, implement these five strategies.  The beauty of these strategies is they can be implemented immediately.

To a stronger you; time to hit the pig iron!

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