The Intelligent & Relentless Pursuit of Muscle™

Sticking Point Therapy
How to blast through your weakest link!


Sticking points are much like those really talkative, naked old men in your gym's locker room: you'd rather avoid them! Nothing's more frustrating than making good progress overall but failing to improve on the "big lifts" (bench press, squat, deadlift, military press, etc.)

Correcting a sticking point isn't easy, but with the proper approach it can be done in a relatively short period of time. I'll teach you that proper approach in this article!


What's a Sticking Point?

In a lift, the sticking point could be defined as the position where the resistance can't be overcome by the strength of the muscles. This is either due to a certain muscle weakness or a disadvantageous biomechanical position (a joint angle where force production is lower).

In the real world, the muscle lifts the bar, thus imparting a degree of acceleration to it. When you enter a "weak zone," it becomes impossible to accelerate the load because of either a muscle weakness or the joint angle. What happens is that the bar will start to decelerate.

If velocity/speed reaches zero, obviously the bar stops. Because of that deceleration, the weak zone becomes a sticking point and you miss the lift.

In this first graphic, the lifter initiates the lifting (concentric phase) by accelerating the bar (which is at zero velocity/speed at the beginning of the movement). The lifter continues to accelerate the bar (but more gradually) until he reaches the weak zone. Then the external resistance become greater than the force produced and as a result the bar speed decreases.

In this first example, the lifter was able to avoid hitting zero velocity in the weak zone. Finally, as the lifter passes the mechanically disadvantaged position, he enters a second acceleration phase and completes the lift.

In this second graphic below, our lifter isn't so lucky!

The bar decelerates too much when the lifter is in the weak zone and it reaches a speed of zero (it stops). The lifter isn't able to "restart" the bar on its positive way and it begins to go down.

As you can see, a sticking point is about speed, force, and acceleration/deceleration. Basically we can say that:


Three Ways to Cure Sticking Points

To prevent that weak zone from becoming a sticking point we can use three strategies:

Strategy #1: Develop the capacity to produce more acceleration during the initial lifting zone.

If we can enter the weak zone with a higher bar speed, it'll be much easier to avoid reaching that demonic zero velocity point. This technique could aptly be called "blasting through your sticking point."

The best analogy for this was given by Dave Tate: Imagine that the sticking point is a plank of wood and you're trying to go through it. If you approach it explosively, you have a much better chance of breaking it than if you gently approach it and then try to push it hard. This can be done by performing explosive work with 45 to 55% of your maximum.

Strategy #2: Strengthen the weak muscle group(s).

During a complex movement (e.g. bench press, squat, deadlift), several muscles come into play. Generally, the relative participation of each muscle will vary depending on the position during the movement.

For example, in the bench press the triceps are mostly responsible for the last half of the movement, while the chest will be most active in the later portion of the first half. The shoulders/lats participate the most in the first few inches of the initial thrust. By analyzing the position at which your sticking point occurs, you can establish which muscle is holding you back. Strengthening that muscle will thus help you reduce the severity of the weak zone.

Strategy #3: Strengthen the weak zone itself.

In other words, you use exercises working specifically on that weak point in your lift, thus allowing you to overload it. This can either be done by using position-specific isometrics or partial reps starting just before the weak zone.

Weak Muscles: Some Examples

Here's an example of the possible weakest link in the main three power lifts. Knowing which muscle is holding you back will allow you to correct that weakness and blast through your sticking point.


Bench Press

1. Sticking point close to the chest:

Most probable weak muscle: pectorals
Another possible weakness: anterior deltoids

2. Sticking point mid-way (elbows at 90 degrees):

Most probable weak muscle: anterior deltoids

3. Sticking point during the last portion of the press (past 90 degrees):

Most probable weak muscle: triceps


Deadlift

1. Sticking point in the first portion of the lift (floor to below knees):

Most probable weak muscle: quadriceps
Could also be: tight psoas

2. Sticking point around the knees:

Most probable weak muscle group: lower back muscles
Another possible weakness: rhomboids

3. Sticking point in the last portion of the pull (from mid-thigh to lockout):

Most probable weak muscle: glutes
Another possible weakness: hamstrings


Squat (regular squat, not a competitive powerlifting squat)

1. Sticking point in the first portion of the lifting motion:

Most probable weak muscle: glutes
Another possible weakness: hamstrings

2. Sticking point mid-way (knees at 90 degrees):

Most probable weak muscle: quadriceps
Another possible weakness: glutes

3. Sticking point in the last portion of the lift (very rare):

Most probable weak muscle: quadriceps

Strengthening the Weakest Joint Angle: Overcoming Isometrics

Overcoming isometrics (pushing/pulling against pins) is a very effective way to increase limit strength at a specific point in the range of motion; in our case, the weak zone. Furthermore, max intensity isometrics also improve the capacity to "grind" through a sticking point when bar velocity almost reaches zero.

Bench Press

Weak zone (WZ) in the first portion
Weak zone mid-way
Weak zone last portion

Squat

WZ: 1st portion WZ: 1st portion WZ: last portion

Deadlift

WZ: 1st portion WZ: mid-way

When performing limit strength isometrics, you want to use sets of 6 seconds for 3-6 sets. To strengthen the weak zone it's also possible to use partial movements starting just before the beginning of the weak zone. This is done with heavy weights for 3-6 sets of 1-5 reps.


Chain & Links

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. To improve, you must strengthen that link. However, to do so you need to understand what a weak zone is and how you can correct the problem. Just hammering away on a ton of non-specific exercises won't cure the problem, in fact, it might make the situation worse.

Hopefully after reading this article you have a better understanding of what causes a weak zone and a sticking point, and will be able to make the right choices to cure the problem!

 

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