Have you ever noticed that most of the top level lifters have the ability to grind out heavy weights? Of course that’s not universally true, but most of them can really struggle through a lift and still come out on top. However, there are lots of other lifters who can’t grind to save their life. For these folks, when the weight hits the sticking point, it’s not only like hitting a brick wall – it’s like bouncing off of it. They hit the sticking point and immediately fail the lift. Now if you read the title of this article, it will come as no surprise to you that the ability to grind is something we can develop in ourselves and our training partners.
Who cares if a lift is fast or slow? As long as you complete it, the only thing that matters is the weight on the bar, right? That’s true in a competitive sense, but from a coach’s standpoint, there’s more to be concerned about. Being concerned with your ability to grind out a heavy weight is the same as being concerned about your weaknesses. Improving weaknesses gives us a basis for stronger performance in the future.
But learning to grind out a weight is more than just developing a skill you suck at. Often, this is at the root of weak points themselves, but to really understand this, we have to learn a little about force curves.
I’ll try not to bore you with a ton of background information on force curves. Suffice to say if you’re interested in the analytical side of training, or the programming process in general, I suggest you take a look at my new TGPSS Seminar DVD available here. There is a ton of information on that DVD that can help you understand how to customize your training to make it more effective. But back to force curves…
Consider the following graphs.
You have two individuals lift a near-maximal 300 pounds and their force output is graphed. On the horizontal axis, we can see force output. On the vertical axis, we can see time. Obviously the bar weight stays the same throughout the lift. The graph on the left is for a fairly typical lifter. This lifter cannot grind particularly well, though he’s not bad. But contrast that with the graph on the right from a lifter who cannot grind well at all. His strong points are stronger and his weak points are weaker. The end result is that both lifters end up with the same amount of weight lifted.
If you were watching the lifter on the right as he made a max lift, you would notice that he could build quite a bit of speed in the beginning of his lift. And this speed would drop quickly as well as he moved through his sticking point. As the weight on the bar gets heavier, he will get slower and slower in his weak area. At some point, he will get so slow that the bar doesn’t coast out of his weak area any longer and he cannot generate enough force in that weak area to get the bar moving again. So it comes crashing back down.
Training to grind
I’ve heard it suggested before that lifters should use Max Effort work to learn how to strain. The idea is that straining against a heavy weight will teach you further to strain during max attempts. For someone who can’t grind, asking them to strain during Max Effort work is like asking them to lift a PR through sheer force of effort. It’s not that they don’t want to strain – it’s that they can’t. Granted, they may be able to strain during some lifts, but chances are those lifts don’t target their weak area of the force curve and likely won’t result in improved performance.
So what SHOULD they do? The first thing to realize is that the best way to fix this kind of problem is not by any particular exercise. If the above example was a bench press, then many people would no doubt try a very low board press or pin press to correct this problem. That’s usually not going to work because even if you do get the board height correct, you won’t be training the same kind of strength that will transfer well to the contest lift. A better approach is by doing more reps.
The Max Effort crowd does get at least one thing right – if you want to get better at grinding (and improve your force curve), then you have to practice. But how does someone practice doing something they can’t do? In this case, it’s by doing more reps. Instead of doing max effort singles, do triples instead. Do rep work instead of speed work. How many reps really depends on where it fits in your training, but I would normally suggest 4 to 6 reps. Work up to a 5 rep max instead of doing speed work and see how that plays out in the next several weeks.
If you don’t follow the Westside template, the trend is still fundamentally the same. More reps per set. A good friend of mine developed this problem while doing Sheiko-style training cycles. He did an 8 week cycle where he kept the volume and intensity the same, but he simply did more reps in each set. So instead of doing 5 sets of 3 at 80%, he did 4 sets of 4 at 80%. That’s roughly the same number of reps and the same load, but more reps in each set. The end result was some nice PR’s and an ability to grind that he had never experienced before.
Why Reps Work
The reason for doing more reps is this – as the reps go by and fatigue starts to set in, the lifter’s force curve gets flatter and flatter. This means they are spending more time under tension in their weakest position. And that time under tension is highly specific to the way that they will need to perform when they are doing a max effort lift. Doing more reps in the contest lift is a great way to bring up a glaring weak point because it teaches you how to strain by using fatigue as a benefit. It’s certainly not easy, but it works!
There’s a ton of information you can learn from observing your force curve. This article was all about teaching lifters to grind, but another article could be written about teaching grinders to be explosive. The weak point and shape of the force curve gives us plenty of information to really customize training programs to fit an individual’s needs. It helps us determine things such as exercise selection, protocols, training methods, and other aspects of program design. I’d be happy to help you implement any of these concepts to help make your training the best it’s ever been!
|About the Author
Mike Tuchscherer is the owner and head coach at RTS. He has been powerlifting since 2001 and since has traveled all over the world for competitions. In 2009, he was the first man from USA powerlifting to win a gold medal at the World Games – the highest possible achievement in powerlifting. He has coached over a dozen competitors at the world championships, a score of national champions, and multiple world record holders.