One of the most annoying things that can ever happen to you in the weight room.
Other than someone taking the only squat rack
to perform bicep curls.
But stalls are brutal.
We all go into the weight room with one goal only:
And when that doesn’t happen on a weekly basis, frustration sets in quickly.
This is especially true when training with RPT programming.
You only have one “max effort” set per week with this sort of minimalist, hardgainer training methodology and style. If you don’t nail your max effort set, you’ve gotta wait a full 7 days to try again.
It can easily ruin your day.
So, we want to do everything in our power to bust through stalls, break through plateaus, and do everything in our power to move one step closer to our genetic, maximum muscular and strength potentials.
Firstly, what is a stall? Let’s define that term.
When we first start weightlifting, if we have any sense whatsoever, we aren’t using RPT.
We are using some sort of a Starting Strength template, with straight rep sets of the Big 3 – deadlifts, squats, and bench.
Whether you do 5 x 5, 3 x 5, or 3 x 8 is relatively inconsequential.
You’re mostly learning the correct form and paying close attention to your body.
With this progression scheme, assuming you start very light (which makes sense), you will be able to make 5-10 pound jumps per workout.
Eventually, as the weight increases, so does the difficulty. Once you get to the point where you can’t “get” your prescribed reps, it’s time to move into a different lifting style more suited to those incremental jumps.
Using RPT, your goal is a prescribed rep number as well. If you hit that rep number, you go up 5 pounds. If you don’t hit that rep number, the following week you try to do more reps and “get” your prescribed number again.
Which leads me to the definition of a “stall”.
Stall (n.): When you take a lift to complete,
momentary failure, come back the next week,
and with the same weight, you cannot perform
a repetition number greater than the weight
from the previous week.
A few thoughts about this:
1. Just because you didn’t get all your reps doesn’t mean you have “stalled”.
If your rep progression has you aiming for 8 reps, and you only get 6, this doesn’t mean you have stalled.
You will certainly get to the point, lifting wise, where an extra rep per week is a colossal achievement.
Which is normal. If that wasn’t the case, the world would be teeming with 1,000 pound deadlifters.
2. You must take your lifts to failure. No questions asked.
If you don’t take your “max effort” set to failure, how do you have any clue if you could have gotten another rep or not?
You’d be very surprised what your body is capable of.
If you find form slipping or are in fear of injury, please, stop the set.
But if it’s “hard” and you are afraid to try to grind out another rep, you’d better get comfortable being uncomfortable – no questions asked.
This means you’ll have to grab a spotter for bench press and set the safety pins for squats.
That’s what they are used for.
3. Partials are progress, too.
Just because you don’t get a full rep doesn’t mean you can’t count the progress on the partial rep you attempted.
If one week, you get 5 reps of bench, and the bar doesn’t come off your chest, and the next week, you get the bar half way up before momentum stops, guess what?
That’s progress. Not a stall. Slow progress? Sure. But progress nonetheless.
And as always, before we get into how to fix the problem, let’s hit up the list of exactly what NOT to do:
A) THE ANSWER IS NOT TO………………..freak out.
Repeat after me: This is normal. This is normal. This is normal.
It’s an issue, sure, but we will figure it out.
Don’t let it ruin your week.
B) THE ANSWER IS NOT TO…………………..do more.
It’s so tempting. You miss your bench press reps, so you say, “Damn! Time for more sets! Paused sets, board presses, incline bench, dumbbell bench, decline bench, push-ups, cable flyes! That’ll make up for that crappy bench press set!”
Wrong. The answer might be you need a bit more rest.
Is this the way to go about getting more rest?
You have a plan. In your hand. It’s called a training log.
Don’t deviate from the plan.
C) THE ANSWER IS NOT TO………………..de-load or take a week off, assuming you’re cutting.
If you are cutting, one of the WORST things you can do is to de-load or take a week off completely.
Our plans have two components: training plan and nutritional plan.
The nutritional plan helps you lose fat.
The training plan helps you preserve/gain muscle.
Eliminating the training for a week while in a caloric deficit is a very risky venture.
Even if your numbers are going down, you need to get those “max effort” sets in.
Your body must be reminded why the muscle is there. Lift hard. No matter what.
The rules differ in a bulk.
The caloric surplus should keep catabolism at bay. De-loading or weeks off *can* be beneficial if utilized.
But never, ever, ever, ever, EVER in a cut. Ever.
D) THE ANSWER IS NOT TO………………….program hop.
Programs exist because they work.
A properly designed program should be run for a good year or longer.
Some have trained for decades on the same programming and methodology.
Go ask Jim Wendler when the last time he used a program other than 5/3/1.
Or go ask Martin Berkhan the last time he trained without using RPT.
Don’t program hop. It’s unnecessary. And will cause you more harm than good in the long run.
Alright. Let’s get a checklist together. Things to think about when it comes to stalls, in order of importance.
1. First, check out………………your relative strength.
If you’re in a cut, your primary training goal is muscle retention.
Strength/muscular gains are a bonus when they occur, but aren’t a given.
Sometimes you might find your lifts decreasing slightly.
This is especially true of your “pushes” – bench, overhead press, etc.
But your relative strength should never decrease.
If you weighed 200 pounds and you’ve dropped down to 190……..
And your bench has likewise decreased its 1RM from 225 to 215……
Let’s see what our relative strength is.
225 / 200: 1.125 times body weight
215 / 190: 1.131 times body weight
Even though we are technically overall weaker after our weight loss, relatively speaking, we are stronger.
This is why weight classes exist in powerlifting and wrestling.
If your relative strength is still in tact, you actually have not stalled.
Wait until your cut is over and you can incorporate more calories. It *should* solve the problem.
2. Second, check out…………….your caloric deficit.
Although I’m not a big fan of the tables which show maximum fat loss potential per week, they do serve an extremely useful purpose.
I don’t think anyone with good amounts of weight to lose should ever set a deficit over 2 pounds per week. Unless your life is in danger from morbid obesity and extreme measures must be taken.
However, if you’re stalling, you need to make sure your deficit isn’t large enough to cause muscle loss.
When you’re losing weight, your body pulls its energy from one of two sources: fat or muscle.
The “calories in” are less than the “calories out”. The energy must come from somewhere.
Counting macronutrients properly and setting a (relatively) small deficit helps us preserve the muscle we have.
Our bodies can only eliminate so much fat each week before muscle gets tapped.
Do a maintenance estimation using this link.
Then calculate your average, daily caloric intake.
Then estimate your body fat percentage using this link.
Then see where you fall on this chart (scroll down) to see if you’ve set your deficit too high.
If your deficit is too high………..eat more. It should help.
3. Third, check out…………….. your programming.
Are you in a cut? Using RPT? You should be.
I’ve moved people off of Starting Strength, Texas Method, 5/3/1, and a few other programs onto RPT.
Every single one has increased strength substantially – while losing weight.
I have no reason to believe it’s not the optimal choice when losing weight.
Try it. You’ll see.
Your sessions should be between 3-5 exercises with 2 sets of each exercise.
The exact programming instructions are found here, along with mistakes many people make.
Make sure you’re not making one of those mistakes.
If you are, correct it.
4. Fourth, check out……………….your other factors.
Are you consistent with your macros? Or do you go under often times?
Do you get a good dose of starchy carbs after working out?
Or does IIFYM have you eating nothing but Skittles?
How’s your sleep?
Stressed out at work?
Personal life getting you down?
How about hydration? Getting enough water?
Are you taking BCAA powder if training fasted?
If there’s something you’re lacking on, fix it. See if it helps.
Alright, so, you’ve covered all of those bases.
Time to take a look at the answer.
This is harsh.
But tough love is the best kind of love.
If you’ve covered all those bases…………..and there’s still an issue…………
You’re a wuss.
Okay, okay, don’t get all butthurt. No reason to send hate mail.
Let me explain.
If all of those factors have been ruled out, physiologically speaking, there’s no reason to be losing muscle mass while in a cut.
If you’re getting optimal sleep, getting optimal rest, are operating at a moderate caloric deficit, have no other outside factors prohibiting progress, and you’re still stalling?
You’re either at your full strength potential (doubt it), or you’re simply not lifting intensely or effectively enough to preserve strength.
When you’re taking a lift to max effort, you need a few things.
First off, you need some…….ahem…………cajones.
For a lack of a better word.
Here’s some tips to help those lifts if you’re struggling with pushing yourself to max effort.
1. Get in the zone.
Get focused. Put in those headphones. Eliminate distractions.
Stop having conversations. Crank the volume.
You don’t have to have your spotter slap you or anything.
You can, I guess, if that’s your thing.
But whether you jump around like a moron, or focus in a zen-like state……….
……..you need to be ready.
So get ready.
2. Get a “cue”.
A “cue” is a way to “feel” the lift, physically, in order to ensure optimal performance.
Cues are things like “try to put your shoulders in your back pocket” or “squeeze your scapulas together”.
Their sites are filled with valuable cues and tips when it comes to optimizing performance.
See if you can find one that works for you.
3. Tinker with form.
Sometimes, your own personal body leverages cause traditional form recommendations to have to be tossed out the window.
I’m tall. 6’8″.
A common deadlift due is to “put your nose behind the bar”.
I followed this for awhile.
Until I stalled.
Once I tinkered a bit, I realized when I “put my nose behind the bar”, my hips were out of place.
I changed my cue to something different.
And I solved the problem.
Sometimes, cues don’t work for you.
Sometimes, they are just what you need to get over the proverbial hump.
But you may have to tinker and adjust things to find what works for you.
4. Visualize a successful lift.
Seriously. You might feel stupid doing it, but before your session, visualize what you’re going to do.
You hear about big league pitchers pitching entire games in their head before they take the mound, right?
You practice giving speeches before you get up in front of a crowd, right?
The same logic applies.
You’re an amateur powerlifter now. Start acting like it. Visualize success and you will be more successful.
And finally, if all else fails, you’ve tried everything you’ve read about in this article…………….
The answer simply might be………………….
Sorry, man. You’re in a cut.
You might have to sacrifice
a bit of strength to accomplish your goals.
It’s a tough pill to swallow.
But if you’re spending your time counting macros and hitting the weights………
You understand the concept of sacrifice anyways.
Hopefully you found this information useful.