Farmstrength’s Weblog

What Should I Do When “X” Stops Working? by docfarmstrong
June 20, 2011, 10:12 pm
Filed under: Doc, Things I Tried, Wolfhound Protocol

I was looking at the search terms that bring people to and saw a long string that asked the above question. I’m not an expert on strength and conditioning, but I’ve learned a few things. And here’s how I handle those times when “X” stops working for me:

I ask why I think it stopped working. Am I bored? Burnt out? Injured? Just not making progress? The answer to these questions will guide my thought process initially. If I’m bored, I ask how long I’ve been on the program. As a general rule of thumb, I try to stay on a strength program for at least 3 months before changing to something totally different. If I’ve been doing the WhateverFit Barbell 8/4/9 Program (copyright) for 2 weeks and I’m bored, then I need to just stick it out. If I’ve been on the program for 6 months or, in the case of my experiment with strength ladders, 2 years; then I can safely say that I’m not just suffering from exercise ADD and make the change.

If I’m feeling burnt out, which can happen easily, (can I get an amen from the “more is much more gooder” crowd?) then I think about modifications to the existing program that will reduce volume or intensity. Or, I’ll look at reducing outside of gym activities that are impacting my performance (say “no” to overtime, reduce conditioning, get more sleep).

I’m injured…well, then I did something silly and I should know what that was. I ask why I got hurt doing it, and what I need to do to fix it. Simple right? Not when your last name is a Gaelic pun meaning “stubborn” or “obstructive”.

Am I just not making progress on the present program anymore? This one is the tough one out of the whole lot. Cause you gotta ask yourself, “Self, why am I not making progress?”. You’ll get lots of different answers for this one. I tend to respond by playing with variables within the program first, then having slammed my head against the wall for another 6 months or so…I try something different.

Now what that something different should be is another great question. And probably the sort of answer you were looking for about 6 paragraphs ago. In my life as a lifter, I started out with basic linear progression stuff (there was this book called Dinosaur Training, I used verbatim stuff from it for 6 years). Eventually just adding another 5 pounds didn’t work for me. Actually, that happened really fast. But, apples and trees, and the above mentioned family reputation…

Anyway, then I moved on to sort of a volume approach. Things like Bryce Lane’s 50/20 idea, and Shafley’s Power Ladders. They worked very well for me, I got pretty big and strong for a tall, skinny guy. But I got bored which brought be to Wendler’s 5/3/1.

I’ve been working with the 5/3/1 for about 8 months and haven’t felt stale yet. I just plateaued on my press and reset the weights to start low again, my deadlift and squat are still pathetic, and still moving up. When I feel like I’ve rode this program for all it’s worth, I’ll go back to some volume work.

So my answer, in short, to the original question would be: Assuming that you are not a beginner (have more than 5 years of consistent, intentional strength training behind you), rotate programs that utilize higher volume and lower intensity (as a % of 1RM) with programs that use a non linear periodization to work at lower volumes with higher intensities.


2 Comments so far
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You put a lot more thinking into it than I do. I tend to go with the “chaos” theory more. One thing I believe in is not really following anyone else’s program very long if at all. I tend to think I know my body better than anyone else does – of course that may be my problem.

Comment by Chris Rice

It sounds alot more cerebral than it actually is. And as you know, Chris, I tend to use principles from other peoples programs and add my own tweaks to them.

Comment by docfarmstrong

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