By Ryan Humphries
Co-Owner: Axistence Athletics
There are many principles in the world of strength, my favorite of which happens to be
"The Principle Of Initial Gains".
Here's how it works. When a newbie to fitness (or someone who's been out of the gym for a while) starts working out, they'll see rapid decreases in fat loss, while at the same time experiencing rapid increases in muscle gain. The only other time that this phenomenon happens is with performance enhancing drugs. So either being a newbie or taking time off and coming back is kinda like taking human growth hormone :) Then......well, then things slow down.
When you first start training, you're likely to hit PRs on the reg. Especially if you're hitting the gym a few times a week. All of a sudden you'll start to be able to do things you couldn't before. You'll get your first push-up or maybe your first 10 push-ups in a row. Your first pull-up, or maybe even your first set of 10 pull-ups. You'll hit a bodyweight deadlift and you'll feel pretty good....then you start getting curious as to what you're capable of. Eventually you'll get comfortable with certain movements and you'll end up working with the same weight on the same lifts. You'll feel pretty strong, but eventually you'll feel like you may not be progressing as fast as you once were. That newbie high is over. However, maybe you're not quite satisfied with where you are and you feel like you've been stuck lifting the same weight for a while.
It's possible you've hit the dreaded, dare I say, Plateau..
Aaaaaand if you keep doing the same things that you've been doing and expecting different results, well, my friends they say that's the definition of insanity.
So to make sure you're not going insane, let's break it down and break on through.
A lot of coaches and Insta gu-rus out there will tell you that the "Best Program" is just the one that you'll follow consistently. And while I do agree that consistency is the #1 factor in any program, it's still possible to be consistent with a program that's not delivering the results you're looking for.
Author, coach, programming guru, and mentor Alwyn Cosgrove has a great quote that I'll share:
"A good program performed poorly is worthless. A shitty program done with
a ton of effort is worth a lot. But when you get a good program and a
ton of effort, the results can be amazing."
I'm going to assume (for the purposes of this article) that you're already consistent with your strength training and also that you're putting forth a ton of effort. Both of those boxes need to be checked first before we can move on:) Now since everyone is talking about consistency, let's take a look at what it looks like to be consistent.
*Disclaimer* This isn't to shame anyone into working out more or less. The intent is to give a no bullshit breakdown of what consistency looks like and the results that one can expect.
CONSISTENCY broken down by days per week and the results you'll achieve:
1x per week = Working out is a fun thing to do that makes you feel good, and will most likely make you sore. You'll challenge yourself, and you'll probably get a good sweat. You likely don't have too many fitness goals other than using exercise to de-stress. I'm not trying to be a dick, I just don't want you to think that training 1x per week will deliver some sort of magical results.
2x per week = A great way to maintain your current fitness level, and perhaps even get a little stronger and more conditioned if you're newer to working out. Your workouts won't leave you as sore as 1x per week, but you'll still feel like you put in work. An advanced athlete, training 2 well-rounded days per week will likely stay in decent shape as long as their diet is dialed in. Skip a day, however, and you're back to those 1x per week results.
3x per week = This is a semi-sweet spot for the average human who wants to level up. You'll get better at all the movements because you'll see them more frequently. You'll understand what variations you should be doing and at what weights. People will start to notice that you present yourself differently. Hell, you can even miss a day, and you'll still be in maintenance mode.
4x per week = Now we're cooking with pasture-raised bacon grease! 4 days is the bees knees when it comes to a well-rounded strength and conditioning program. At 4 days, you're now much more balanced in terms of the movements you're able to incorporate. You're likely also eating better in order to have enough energy to perform well. The average human who wants to take control of their fitness likely doesn't need more than 4, well programmed days. However, switching up what you're doing during these 4 days will keep also help you avoid plateaus.
5x per week = You are someone who has very specific goals that can't be obtained with 4x per week. If you're looking to compete in a race, a weightlifting comp, etc., you're likely in this camp. 4x per week is probably good for your strength, but it's likely you need another day of either steady state cardio or supplemental movements, and probably some mobility work. This could also be the athlete who's looking to break out of a plateau. In order to train 5x per week efficiently and sustainable, your diet also needs to be on point (total calories & macros), sleep should be a minimum of 7 hours per night, and the workouts need to be programmed smartly to compliment one another. Could you train 5x per week with a bad diet, shitty sleep, and kick-your-ass metcons everyday? Sure you can! Until you can't...
Ok, let's say that you check the consistency box of 4-5x per week. You think you're "doing all the things"....but are you?
This is where we dive a little deeper :) It's possible that you're training 4-5x per week, but now we need to ask the next question:
What exactly are you training?
Well, if you're at Axistence, you know that we put a pretty big emphasis on the 6 foundational or "Primal Patterns":
- Squats (all squat variations including single leg, Bulgarians, cossacks, etc.)
- Hinges (all hinge variations, from deadlifts to swings, to cleans)
- Pushes (overhead, bench, push-ups, crawling, and anything else you can push with your upper body)
- Pulls (pull-ups, chin-ups, rope climbs, renegade rows, and any other pulling combo)
- Get-ups (Turkish style, sandbags, or just getting up and down off the floor)
- Carries (farmer's carry, bear hug carry, overhead carry, front rack carry, and just about any other way you can move an object from one place to another)
If your program isn't spending time on each one of these movements....well, in my not so humble opinion, it's incomplete.
Let's say you check the consistency box and the "All The Right Moves" box. But something seems like it's missing. Maybe you still feel like you should be getting stronger?
This leads me to my final question....
At what percentage of your max are you performing the majority of your repetitions? This may sound like an advanced question, because it is....and for the advanced athlete who wants to take their training to the next level, it's an important one.
CONDITIONING is relatively easy to increase with regular training. You'll start to notice that it's easier to breathe on runs, hikes, etc. But STRENGTH on the other hand, that takes a little more focus. It's not rocket science, but it is exercise science, and there's a method to the madness.
To put it into the most simplistic terms possible, shoot for 80% most of the time. Why 80%? Well, it turns out that humans (especially the Soviets who happen to hold records that have yet to be broken) have been tracking what works and what doesn't for a long time. As far as HOW MANY reps? That's a little more individualized, but I'd recommend starting with the idea of 100. Let's say you're training deadlifts 1x per week. To hit 100 in a month, you'd need to hit 25 deadlifts at 80% each week (That could look like a 5x5, 6x4, 8x3, etc.). Of course you could do 75% one week and 85% the next and you'd still be at an average of 80. You could also do a lighter week at 70%....but that would also mean a week at 90% too :) In fact, in order to achieve the best results it turns out that variation in these percentages from week to week are much better than using a linear progression or just the same percentage.
So if indeed you're looking to break out of a plateau (or you're just looking for a legit strength and conditioning program), ask yourself the following questions:
1. Am I consistently hitting 3-5x training sessions per week?
2. Am I including all of the primal patterns in my training?
3. Am I hitting enough reps at an 80% average?
Once you can say YES to all of these, you'll be rollin full speed ahead on the GAINZ train my friends.
As always, if you have questions, keep them to yourself, ain't nobody got time for that.
I got jokes :)
Seriously though, if you want to reach me, the best way is via email: Ryan@axistenceathletics.com
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