In almost any context, stagnation is a dirty word. In the outdoors it means dirty water and to look for a new water source. In the training world it means lack of progress to look for a new source for stress and stimulus.
We all know that feeling of stagnation. Where for weeks on end you feel like you haven’t made any progress. Your shuttles aren’t getting faster. Your lifts aren’t going up. You are in the gym, working hard, but your wheels are spinning and you feel like you are stuck in a rut. Maybe it’s the team you coach, and every day, the trudge into the weight room, do a half hearted warm up, and crawl their way through their card.
While stagnation is certainly a negative part of training, there is a silver lining. If you find yourself stuck in that physical rut, there is no better time to sit back and evaluate your program. Sometimes, as coaches, we get so focused on our plan, we have a hard time stepping back and questioning what we are doing. You need to be in constant state of evaluating what you are trying to accomplish and how you are trying to accomplish it.
We are all familiar with words like accommodation and adaptation. But the reality is, your plateau may not even be a physical one, but instead a mental obstacle. We have all been in that place, where the monotony of your routine wears you down and it’s hard to get excited or motivated to train. In the team setting this is where I like to introduce a little competition into the program. Even in my program I try to add a little competition, but if not with a training partner, then I compete against myself.
Here are a few ideas I have used in the past to try to crack that glass ceiling in my own training and with my athletes.
#1. Timed Sets. Sure, once the weights are in your hands or the bar is on your back, it is easy to change your mind abou how man reps you are going to do. But the clock doesn’t lie. Set the clock, say for 30/45/60 seconds. Pick an exercise that is challenging, but will not cause injury if technique breaks down (no back squatting/cleaning/maybe some pulling from the floor if done right), and do as many reps as you can in that time frame. You can rest whenever, but you have a finite amount of time. My personal favorites are to do pull ups/DB bench press/Farmers Walk/or push the sled for time. These are exercises I can grind out, push hard, and finish without getting hurt.
Here’s is the important part. The next set, or the next week, or whatever, I have to beat it. If I did 20 pulls up in 60 seconds one week, I need 21 next week. Or 20 pull ups with 10 lbs around my waist. If I pushed the sled 200 yards in 60 seconds last week, I damn well better get 220 this week.
#2. Find a way to measure speed/power output. I have written about this previously in my article on using technology to train. I mentioned how I really like using the Tendo in the team setting to measure bar speed and power output. You will be amazed at the effort you get when you have access to objective feedback. It also leads to some great competition in the weight room when you have athletes trying to reach the highest bar speeds or power outputs.
The downfall is, not everyone has access to a Tendo unit. There are other tools available. Our Keiser rack measures power output and it’s a great tool for pulling/squatting/pressing. There are cheaper options out there, and I know the technology is still getting developed. A number of years ago I was asked to try out the Myo-test, it was a small accelerometer that could attach to your waist or to a barbell and give you similar results. I liked it, but there were some kinks that needed to be addressed.
You don’t really need fancy tools for this. There are some tried and true methods for measurement that will still bring out max effort from your athletes. Use a stop watch, time some 10’s, 20’s, shuttles, whatever. Especially in the team setting, I like to do competitive shuttles and agility work.
#3. Try Something New for your Fitness Work. Running shuttles and pushing sleds are great ways to get fit and raise our work capacity. But running shuttles and pushing sleds is always a grind, and honestly, it is just as mentally draining as physically. There are many, many ways to add variety into your fitness work. BB/DB/BW complexes. Rope slams. BW GPP work. Swimming. Biking. You do interval work with virtually any piece of equipment or mode of transportation. Broaden your horizons.
#4. Rest. This is the less popular option for a lot of you. I know, it’s tough to rest, you feel like you or your athletes should always be doing something, and that’s fine. But understand that “something” can mean flexibility and mobility work, or other recovery work. It is important to understand how the body adapts to physical stress, and that rest is just as important as stress in the adaptation equation.