Making Improvements as an Experienced Lifter
We are all aware of how easy it is for a beginning lifter to make significant gains in the first two months of training. Beginners can show a massive improvement in a short time.
When you begin in a weak and/or deconditioned state, it is easy to gain quickly. Then the gains slow as they overcome their initial deficits. The beginner quickly masters some elementary movements, gets their muscles working together a bit better, and stimulates some muscle growth.
Industry statistics show that over 90% of the people who begin a fitness program will abandon it within roughly a month. Those who continue to train seem to reach a performance plateau within a few months.
In my observations over many decades, two things happen as novice lifters begin their second six months of training. Most will continue to train but make minimal improvement in their technique or workout programming. My unscientific observation is that most people hit a plateau at what would be called an advanced intermediate level.
These folks follow the same basic training patterns year in and year out. They will become better conditioned and add more work volume. However, their peak lifts remain stubbornly stuck at a certain level with little or no progress from one year to the next.
A tiny fraction of the lifters who continue to train diligently (perhaps 5%) will make gradual improvements each year or be able to do peaking cycles that put them at or near their full biological potential for lifting heavy.
Making improvements (lifting heavier weights) when you are near your maximum biological potential is extremely difficult. The approaches that worked for beginners and novices dont yield desired results.
IMHO this is because the typical reasons for increases less experienced lifters enjoyed came because of changes in work volume, set and rep ranges used, cycling days for heavy practice to allow for recovery, and refining lifting techniques.
Bottom line: just doing more of the same things that produced progress at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels of lifting will not produce an elite level performance.
IMHO there are three things that can help the elite lifter approach their biological maximum. These are practices that are only taught well by elite coaches. Because these practices are different than what one does during a standard weight training workout, most people will either ignore them or be completely unaware of them.
By the time a lifter reaches the advanced or elite level any new training techniques or practices will yield only a small increment of progress. That is because you are already operating close to your biological limit and any progress will be small.
The key is to capture the small amounts of progress that can come from these techniques and use it to your advantage.
The first of these practices is whole body muscle mobilization.
Almost every advanced lifter is aware that they must develop full body tension in order to do their one rep maximum.
Any muscle group that is relaxed during a maximum attempt is like a leak in a hydraulic system. Power dissipates quickly through the opening.
When it comes to practicing and developing the skill of full body mobilization into different lifts, most lifters I have observed devote little time to wringing the maximum benefit from body tension.
Most will become fully tense when setting up for a bench press. However, once they begin the lift, they will often inadvertently relax some muscle group while performing the lift.
It is essential to practice body tension at different points in the lift to generate maximum power throughout the movement.
This can be done with very light weighs or an empty bar.
A second technique that I have almost never seen practiced in power training is conscious muscle control.
This is the ability to flex or tense a muscle on command in any posture or position. This was routinely done by the old-time strong men (19th and early 20th century).
This practice is often done by bodybuilders as part of their posing routine. However, I have never seen it used in power training.
One key objective of muscle control is to be able to powerfully contract a muscle when it is fully extended. Many lifters cannot do this.
Practicing muscle control in different positions is not something that is part of most powerlifters training. However, it can be helpful in adding an increment of power that was not available before.
Muscle control has the added advantage that it is not tiring in the sense that regular workouts are tiring. The goal is to be able to contract a muscle fully in each position of a power lift. This takes building the connection between your conscious thought and your muscle.
Building the skill of controlling the contraction can be done when sitting at a desk, walking the dog, or standing in front of a mirror admiring your handywork.
A third technique that is rarely overlooked by elite lifters is to develop near perfect technique. This means doing a lift in a manner that allows you to have maximum mechanical advantage for your own body.
Some of us train with coaches or partners who can critique our technique. If not, it is extremely useful to take videos of your heavy lifts and look for minor flaws.
IMHO it is very important to have your lifting technique critiqued by an elite coach on a regular basis. These are the people who can spot tiny flaws that can be costing you many kilos on your total.
One easy way to do this is to arrange to have a coach critique a video of your lift. This is not ideal since you may do something that is not clearly visible in the video. However, it is better than not having the critique.
Minor flaws in execution can prevent you from putting out the maximum level of intensity you could. Every kilo counts in a contest. No sense in giving away anything.