Are You Asking The Right Questions?
How can I improve my, add in generic favorite lift here? Good question, but nowhere near complete. Don’t get me wrong, I like simple, simple is good, especially when it comes to training. I hate it when people try to make rocket science out of training. Usually that is an excuse not to destroy yourself with the iron. “Well if you’re in the third trimester of the second period of the third week of the fourth workout, you might not be doing enough reps on your second 60% exercise.” Give me a break. OR – “You’re probably not isolating your triceps enough. Have you tried single pinkie supinating cable tricep extensions done in 12-4-8 rotating cadence while visualizing your outer tricep head fibers becoming buff and in a deep spandex-induced meditative state?” Sometimes I think they do that just to tick me off….
The original question, isn’t as simple as it sounds because it does not answer or ask specific questions that address this lift and why it hasn’t progressed. Related questions for all lifts are; What have you been doing for it? What is your experience level? What are your specific and overall goals for that lift and your whole program? Is your form optimal for your body and for your goals? Do you have any weak links? Nearly everyone is going to have a different answer for each of these questions; therefore everyone’s program will differ in at least some points. The good thing about this is that we are all basically of the same structure, so much of this is the same or overlapping for everyone. Only you can decide the specifics for yourself.
In practice these things may come out different. For instance, perfect form has some of the points the same for everyone, but must always be adjusted for each individual structure. This also applies to exercise choice. Grip and stance width are very much personal, but basic body mechanics principles are the same. For instance people deadlift with conventional, frog and sumo styles, dependent on their goals, and their structure. You might lift the most weight in competition in sumo style, but for building your practical back strength for other purposes (sports, development, etc.) it may be best to use conventional. Both still train basically the whole body, both still lift the weight from the ground to lockout, both still require basically the same body mechanics. (Back straight, hips down, arms straight, tight body, push the floor down.) but they meet differing needs and differing goals. Common weak links in this lift are the grip and or the abs. An example that can be applied to any lift with a little thought. Here I would like to point out that isolation is not the most effective way to correct a weakness even if it was possible (total isolation is not) it would be impractical. Even if you could improve only one muscle without affecting the others it wouldn’t be helpful, because your body wouldn’t have the coordination to use that strength in improving a compound lift or athletic performance. Some compound exercises however, put more mechanical stress to one muscle group as opposed to others, and may be helpful to bring up weaknesses to improve a compound lift or athletic performance. Stiff leg deadlifts, for instance, are still a deadlift, still a compound exercise, but put more stress specifically as the low back and hamstrings. Dips still hit the chest and shoulders, but can really blast the triceps.
Other relevant ideas here may be; are you attempting to use from 200 to 250 or from 700-750. Your levels of experience will dictate how well you know your own body and what must be done to make the improvement. New lifters can make improvement (and sometimes it doesn’t hurt old lifters either) simply with better form, others may have to work harder, recover better, change things around, add or delete an exercise, or “even out” strength by shoring up weakness. Have you just come off a peaking or high or low volume program? What is your current physical state of readiness? Are you coming off a layoff, or injury, or a change in goals? Is the exercise or exercises specific to what you want to accomplish? For instance if your goal is to compete in powerlifting you need to bench press, but if you want to do other athletic activities, there are probably better exercises for upper body development as it is related to sports. (Some say period. Very well could be right.)
Giving a blanket answer will sometimes do the job and there is some good logic in this. Norbert Schemsky is famous for giving the answer to someone who asked him how he could add more weight to his squat. “Squat, put more weight on the bar, squat again.” This idea will go along way toward improving a lift, and most people never get to the point where some honest work on the lift itself alone won’t give improvement. The point is first look to see if you’re working the lift itself hard enough before you look for anything to add or anything exotic or fancy to do to avoid hard honest work at the lift itself but still look for improvement. But still allowances must be made for individuality and structure. Most people will squat better with some form of back and ab work in their program. Most will bench better with some shoulder work, but nothing excessive. There is no reason to just add and add and add to a program when the benefits don’t equal the work. More (in the form of number of exercises) is just not always the answer and if you look at things from an empirical point of returns (at least in my experience) it just doesn’t add up.
The next time you’re analyzing your training, look a little deeper; comb through looking for the right things. Make sure you’re asking the right questions. A lot of this information is contained in my book and video, at least as it pertains to squats. Also, if you send me a training question, please take these things into account and send me the question with as much specific, pertinent information as possible. It will help me to answer you more easily and with more practical information and quickly. God Bless and good training.