Strength Training Recovery: Don’t Get Stuck

Rest, Eat, Sleep, Repeat

You’re running the Novice Linear Progression and you’re training the squat, press, bench, and deadlift. If you’re a little further along, maybe you’ve added the power clean. You’re adding weight to the bar at every session, and you’ve seen great gains in your strength. Life is good.

And then, you get stuck.

What do we mean by “stuck?” We mean that workout-to-workout progress grinds to a halt, long before we should expect it to. If you’re five weeks into a linear progression and you can’t keep adding weight to the bar from workout to workout, then something’s wrong. One way or another, you’re not executing the program correctly.

The good news is that we have a very straightforward approach to diagnosing the cause of this problem. Coaches and trainees, confronted with this scenario, have to ask the first three questions.

The First Three Questions

  1. How long are you resting in between work sets? If the answer is “2 or 3 minutes,” we have our diagnosis. The objective of the program is to make you stronger. Conditioning, or intentionally shortening your rest periods, comes later. The goal is not to shorten the time between work sets – the goal is to accomplish the work sets. You have to rest long enough between work sets to insure that you can meet your immediate training goals.
  2. How much weight are you adding to the bar each session? If you’re more than a week or so out from starting your training and your answer is “20 lbs per session,” then we have our diagnosis! This is an error of greed, or at least impatience, and punishment will not be long delayed. For the squat and deadlift, 10lb increases might be sustained early on, but they’ll quickly have to be adjusted to 5lb jumps for most, and for the pressing exercises there will usually be a transition from early 5lb jumps to 2.5lb jumps or smaller. For older, more detrained athletes, jumps may be much smaller than this. Remember, this is a long-term project, not a race. You’re the tortoise, not the hare.
  3. Are you eating enough food and getting enough sleep? Nutrition in strength training is a big topic, but suffice to say that if you’re a novice lifter and you’re eating less than 2,000 calories a day and less than 150 grams of protein, you’re off target. The vast majority of lifters (we didn’t say all lifters) should be eating considerably more calories and protein. Sleep is also critical, and often overlooked. The metabolic and hormonal changes that occur during healthy sleep are critical for muscle growth and development.

These three questions all really address the same issue: RECOVERY. You have to recover between work sets, you have to give your body time to recover and adapt to get strong enough to add weight to the bar, and you have to support your body with the right amount of the fuel and healthy sleep. As Mark Rippetoe has said, “You don’t get stronger by lifting weights. You get stronger by RECOVERING from lifting weights.” If you keep this central principle of training in mind, you’ll be a lot less likely to lose your way and get stuck.

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