Here's what you need to know...
- The conventional wisdom is to add more volume to bust through a strength plateau. However, what works in theory doesn't always work in real world practice.
- The real enemies are specific weaknesses, like missing a lockout on a deadlift because you can't extend your hips. To fix it, you need to strengthen the weak point directly and improve body tension.
- After strengthening your sticking points with heavy weights, increase the total stress on the muscle with submaximal loading. This will build strength, stability, and awareness.
- You're only as strong as your weakest link. You need to hammer your weak-points with high-tension specific lifts to push your leg training forward.
Getting stuck on a lift is part of the game. You crush your squats and deadlifts, day in and day out, and then, wham! Homeostasis. Your strength gains stop dead in their tracks. Sticking points are the plague of high-performance bodies... unless you do something about them.
Don't Make This Mistake
Conventional wisdom says to add more volume to break through a sticking point. Lifters commonly add a squat specialization program or a skin-splitting finisher. There's some validity to these ideas. Higher frequency improves CNS efficiency and technique to drive strength.
But what works in theory doesn't always work out so well in the real world. There's more to breaking through a plateau than blitzing your body with volume i.e. adding more work. The real enemies are specific weaknesses: sticking points that require special attention. Missing a lockout on a deadlift because you can't extend your hips is an example.
In that case, the weak zone is above the knee, when the hips need to extend and your glutes need to fire to finish the lift. The weight becomes impossible to accelerate because of muscular weakness or a poor biomechanical position. To fix it, you need to do two things: strengthen the weak point directly and improve total body tension.
Strengthen the Weak Point Directly
By using exercises that work in the joint angle similar to your "stuck" lifts, you're able to overload the movement pattern at its weakest point. Use partial reps starting just before entering the weak zone to build movement-specific strength. This teaches you to hold maximum tension at the most difficult portion of your lifts, along with teaching you how to drive through the concentric (lifting) part of the lift to blast through your plateau. Here are three ways to do that:
1. Bottom-Up Front Squat
This forces the glutes and core to fire and stabilize your body before the legs initiate the lift from the pins. That way, you'll hammer the weak points – core strength and spinal position.
2. Bottom-Up Back Squat
This uses the same technique and the same principles as the front squat. Your core and glutes have to fire to stabilize before the legs take over and squat.
3. Deadlift from the Blocks
If you get stuck on the top of your lift, the deadlift from blocks lets you train that particular sticking point. If you get stuck on the bottom of your lift, you'll be able to approach near-max weights that will fire up the CNS without causing the stress of a full lift.
Improve Total Body Tension
After strengthening your sticking points with heavy weights, increase the total stress on the muscle with submaximal loading. Use the following four plateau boosters with lighter loads (50-70% of your 1RM) to train "off the nerve." This will build strength, stability, and most importantly, awareness through your sticking points. There will also be significant time under tension to boost muscle growth.
1. The Hang Deadlift
Also known as a one-and-a-half deadlift, these require a full deadlift followed by a deadlift to the base of the knee before locking out. This provides a ton of time under tension, reinforces trunk stiffness, and adds volume.
After your main lift, perform 3-5 sets of 6-8 reps with 50-70% of 1RM, resting 90 seconds between sets.
2. The Deadpull
This is a dead-stop deadlift to mid-shin, followed by a paused hold for 3-5 seconds before returning the bar to the ground. Since most lifters miss lifts off the ground, this reinforces perfect off-the-ground pulling position. Plus, as a muscle builder, this lift builds insane strength and size in the erectors and quads. For variation you can pause at mid-shin, below the base of the knee, or just above the knee.
After your main lift, do 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps with 60-80% 1RM, resting about 120 seconds between sets.
3. Front-Foot Elevated Paused Split Squat
This is essentially a reverse Bulgarian split squat with a 15-second pause before your reps. This is both safer and more difficult than the Bulgarian split squat. By elevating the front foot, you'll lean forward slightly to hammer the legs through an extended range of motion without a break from tension. This increases the hypoxic environment, stimulating more muscle and metabolic damage for growth while building tons of unilateral strength and stability.
As an auxiliary movement, perform 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps per leg, starting with a 15-second pause at full depth. Rest 30 seconds between legs and 60 seconds between sets.
4. Double-Paused Front Squat
Most lifters miss their front squats because they're weak out of the hole and unable to hold t-spine extension under load. By adding in a double pause at the half and full squat positions, you'll build insane isometric strength through the most difficult ranges of motion while putting the body under strength-building tension.
After your main lift, perform 4-5 sets of 4-5 reps with 50-70% 1RM, resting 60 seconds between sets.