By Men's Fitness Editors
For all of our fans who shoot us questions on our Facebook page, this one is for you. Each week, we will tap into our pool of editors and experts to help with any questions or challenges you are having with your fitness regimen. This week, Greg Robins NASM-CPT, of Cressey Performance answers your questions on bringing up your maximal lift numbers. You can follow Greg on his blog or follow him on Twitter
1) Stuck in a Plateau — asked by A Lax Garcia I bench-pressed 210 lbs. for 3 reps for 3 sets. When do you recommend increasing weight? And how many reps or sets would you recommend moving up?
“In response to knowing when to increase weight, one way is to continually try and do as much as possible by applying a maximal effort method. This will continually have you working to what you’re capable of on a given day. If you bench once per week, you can alternate between three different bench press variations. For example: Week 1 - bench press; Week 2 - floor press; and Week 3 - incline press. Each week, work up to one top set for a 5, 3, or 1 RM. Each fourth week, you can back off and do DB presses in a more repetition method fashion, i.e. DB Press 3 x Max Reps (cutting each set a few reps short of failure, shoot for 10 – 20 reps each set). This approach works, but is more involved than I can cover here. I think percentage-based, sub maximal training is more approachable (consider following something like 5/3/1 by Jim Wendler). As far as playing with sets and reps, you can go another route and play with volume. Have a week of high volume, medium volume, very high volume and low volume. For example: Week 1 – 4 x 3; Week 2 – 3 x 3; week 3 – 5 x 3; Week 4 – 2 x 3. At the end of four weeks, add 5 lbs. to the bar and run that again. It will work for a while, but eventually you’ll get stuck. At that point I would consider something like 5/3/1.”
2) Cardio Power Killer — asked by Colton Wheeler I'm a cardio-based "builder." Does my daily 6.5 miles of cardio affect my improvement of strength and overall muscle mass? I strength train every day with isolated muscle groups in the hopes of giving each one a couple days rest time.
"I'm going to give you some tough love, brother. To be straightforward, yes, your 6.5 miles of cardio is going to affect your improvement of strength and overall muscle mass. Additionally, your approach to strength training is also going to affect your improvement. Unfortunately, they are both going to affect it negatively. Competing demands will have a negative effect on your training, no matter what your goal is. So, if you are a cardio-based trainer, realize this is your focus. You may never be that strong, you may never get that big. If the 6.5 miles of daily cardio is the most important to you, then you should accept this and move forward happily. Let’s assume you want to continue the cardio, how should you attack the training? First, stop strength training every day. Instead, focus on big compound movements, and allow recovery by taking days off. Put more stock into less. Pick a few basic movements, and work to get those strong. This isn’t an article on nutrition, but if you want to get bigger while moving 45.5 miles a week, and training an additional three days on top of that, you need to spend some quality time with your fork."
3) Workout Change Frequency — asked by GQ Brisc I usually change my workouts approximately every two months. What would you recommend to increase my 1MR by 10 lbs.?
"First and foremost I would assess your technique. Nothing will add pounds to the bar faster than executing a lift more efficiently. Seek out someone who has been where you want to be, keep an open mind and take their advice. From a programming standpoint I would make sure that you are staying consistent with your exercise selections. Even if you change assistance work every 4 – 8 weeks, keep the upfront movements the same. Lastly, don’t miss reps; make it a point to get quality work in. This means leaving your ego in the car when you get to the gym. If you continually miss you won’t get stronger. Go in with a plan for the day, week, month and even year. Execute the plan, and make every rep look clean and smooth. Over time they will add up and you will add 10 lbs., if not more, to the bar. "
4) How Much Increase? — asked by Luis Rivas How much weight is recommended when you increase your bench press? And for how long should I stick to the same weight?
"It’s tough to make a blanket recommendation on how much you should add to the bar. One way is to work sub maximally and use a 1RM calculator to see where your rep maxes have you for an estimated 1RM. If today you can do 225 lbs. for one rep, start working at 70 – 95% of that number for reps. Take a look at what you were able to do at those percentages. As an example if you find yourself lifting 205 lbs. for 5 reps then your estimated 1RM is 235. At that point, 70 – 95% is now a range of higher numbers and you can continue to work sub maximally until you hit a new repletion personal record, and then adjust accordingly again. I wouldn’t work to the same weight every session, instead stay in that 70 – 95% range. Vary what percentage range you work in each week. For programming ideas, get familiar with Prilepin’s chart. That will help you select sets, reps, and total reps at a certain percentage for a given training session. When you hit a new rep record, you can change the 1RM you’re working off of."
5) Training Routine for Max Lifts — asked by Paul Beuttenmuller What's the best way to train before attempting a maximal lift? For example, if I wanted to increase my back squat and was planning on doing it in one month, what sort of routine would best prepare me for a PR?
“Training is a journey, and those who are successful are those who embrace this from the start. Saying that you plan to increase your squat in one month is arbitrary. You should always be planning to increase your squat. This month is no different than the previous month or the following one. The most ideal way to train for a maximal lift is to perform a maximal or near maximal lift sparingly. Set up your month of training in such a way that only one week has you performing at over 90% of your true 1RM. The other weeks should be more sub maximal in nature, staying within a range of 50 – 85%. Within that range, wave the volume (total work done). Week one high (50-75%), week two medium (65-85%), week three low (over 90%), week 4 deload (do less than you have been doing). Bottom line is you want to be fresh for a 1RM attempt, so make sure that you are slowly tapering down the volume leading up to that attempt."