Every weightlifters nightmare
I am sure most of you have experienced times in your life when everything is going according to plan. You’re making progress, meeting your goals, and motivation seems to be at an all time high. Everything you set out to do is actually happening! Naturally then, you want to keep going. Motivation is fueling you to go further, persist and not stop until you’ve reached your goal. In an ideal world, we would want this to happen indefinitely. I mean, it would be amazing if we could go through all aspects of life unhindered, uninterrupted and with no setbacks in sight. Unfortunately, this is just an ideal world scenario, and in reality, every time you try to go forward, you are always going to encounter some resistance pushing you back.
When Progress Starts To Slow
When it comes to weightlifting, this same process of moving forwards and moving backwards occurs. You will go for weeks making progress, having an abundance of energy and seeing your body make leaps and bounds. But then all of a sudden, everything slows down to a snail pace. Sometimes, this progress can cease altogether and even regress! Although everyone will experience this at some point during their weight-training journey, it’s not somewhere you want to be for a long period of time. After all, since you are putting in a lot of time, effort and energy, you want to see something back for it! The good news is this process of progress slowing down during your weight training is not random. There is a reason why this actually happens. While it’s true we all have our off days in the gym (e.g. poor night’s sleep, busy with life or just stressed), if you find your progress deteriorating over time, then it’s obvious something else is at play. The key for you will be to know WHY and WHEN this happens so that you can successfully overcome these potential setbacks to your weight training progress.
“Weightlifting provides your body with the necessary stimulus that forces your body to adapt”.
If after a while, you stop making progress in the gym, it’s always good to ask yourself the question ‘What does weightlifting do to the body?’ I know it’s a little weird. But, if you look closely at the answer, you begin to see just why progress always slows down. For us, weightlifting is a tool used to get bigger and stronger. Weightlifting provides your body with the necessary stimulus that forces your body to adapt. By adapting (through becoming bigger and stronger) your body is better able to deal and withstand the training stimulus. Whether you are in or out of the gym, your body is always presented with challenges, threats and different stimuli to which it must adapt. If the body is presented with the same stimulus again, then it’s ready for it. No need to change. From an evolutionary perspective, this is sensible. The body has no need to divert precious energy resources to adapting to something it’s already adapted to. For us weightlifters, it can be a headache. Good job there is a cure for this headache!
“By adapting (through becoming bigger and stronger) your body is better able to withstand the training stimulus”.
Progress is slowly stalling and you are not sure how to overcome this. The chances are, your body no longer finds your current training programming a challenge. In other words, your body has done its homework and done what it’s programmed by nature to do – assess the environment and adapt to whatever challenges this environment presents. In your case, your body is gradually becoming accustomed to the exercises you are currently using, the weight you have on the bar, the speed of exercise execution, the rep range/set range you are working in, range of motion as well as workout frequency. Although these are a lot of training variables, you don’t have to change all of them to avoid accommodation. However, even by making minor adjustments to your current training, your body is faced with a whole new challenge to adapt to. Of course, a chance to adapt means a chance to make new weight lifting progress.
Switching Things Up
So, in order to overcome accommodation, you need to keep your training varied. How exactly might this look like? If you are a beginner, then you probably don’t need to worry about accommodation for several months. Everything will go pretty linear. The only thing you need to think about is learning the basic compound movements, perfecting form, and progressing through volume/intensity overload. Build your foundation up first. The fun, however, starts when you want to continue your weightlifting into the longer term. It also gets a little more frustrating for us! But as you become a more experienced weightlifter, accommodation seems to have a more pronounced effect. In other words, it’s good to start getting more creative with your training as your training time increases. That’s if you want to beat accommodation. This doesn’t mean you have to make changes every time you step into the gym. It’s good to keep your routine as simple as possible and change things that are, realistically, easier to track over the long term.
“As you become a more experienced weightlifter, accommodation seems to have a more pronounced effect”.
When it comes to changing your routine variables, you are probably asking which training variables do I change? For me, I like to change the variables that are easier to measure and track: such as volume and intensity. When it comes to volume, I might try switching between low (1-5), moderate (8-12) and high (15+) repetitions ranges. This I will do for different exercises, as well as across different training periods throughout the year. How you decide to switch up your volume will depend on how your progress develops over time. What’s important is that when you introduce different rep ranges into your routine, you are providing your body with a new challenging stimulus. You can also try changing the training loads. Over time, trying to increase the loads on the exercises you do, will introduce yet another growth stimulus on the body. Aside from the more obvious training variables, there are other, let’s say ‘fiddly’ adjustments that you can make to keep accommodation at bay. These might include those ‘colorful bands’ or big rusty chains you sometimes see people using. These are really good for improving technique and fixing weakness problems on certain portions of an exercise. But they can also be good, in general, to introduce extra variable resistance to your workouts. If there is extra resistance in your workouts, then your body has to work harder to overcome it, adapt!
“Whatever you do with your weight training, try to keep it varied”.
While I have talked about a few different things here, the key point is that whatever you do with your weight training, try to keep it varied. Varied enough to keep your body challenged. By challenging your body, you are giving it no choice but to adapt, get stronger and bigger. How often you vary your training, will depend on how your progress is changing over time and how long you have been weightlifting.
A Hidden Gem
While there are many training variables we can change to combat the effects of accommodation, there is one that I haven’t mentioned yet. That is exercise selection. When it comes to battling the effects of accommodation, exercise selection is probably the most underappreciated and underused training variable. Yet, it is probably the most powerful tool we have at our disposal. Some people will tell you, it’s unnecessary and adds extra complexity to your training program.
“Exercise selection is probably the most under appreciated and underused training variable”. I would say it’s the complete opposite! By switching, from time to time, one exercise for another (similar) exercise (particularly compound movements) you are introducing something completely new for your body to adapt to. Although the movement between two exercises might be similar, and the same muscle groups will be worked, the taxing nature of the movement itself can vary. Taxing in the way that might require different levels of coordination, stability, and flexibility or for the body to adjust to slightly less advantageous biomechanical positions.
When your progression stalls on particular exercises, then sometimes doing a similar exercise might just well be the answer. It’s true that we all have our favorite exercises. Some exercises, just work! They feel good, they are smooth and they do a nice job at activating the target muscle (s). The problem is we will all stall at some point and we need a backup plan to overcome this. However, sometimes it seems that whatever we do (change volume, modify intensity, take extended rests), we can no longer progress on that exercise.
Exercise Selection: The Deadlift
Is it then time for an exercise change? Lets take the conventional deadlift to illustrate the point. Most new weightlifters will begin with this compound exercise and over the next 6 months will progress in a pretty linear fashion. Weight goes up, everything is great! The problem occurs when this progress slows down. At this point, you try everything! Reduce the weight a little, reset, work back up, maybe play around with different sets/rep ranges, or, take time off altogether from the exercise. From here, you might then just push through until some progress comes back. It might! But sadly, the progress never seems to come back full throttle until something changes. This is your body’s way of telling you that it’s gone as far as it can with the conventional deadlift exercise. The good news is that the deficit deadlift does a good job at dealing with some of these problems (particularly if you’re struggling getting the bar off the ground). Not only does the deficit deadlift provide a new stimulus for your body, the adaptation that occurs through it, will get you stronger on the conventional deadlift. Wait, what? Yes! Do occasionally the deficit deadlift to progress on the conventional. If you want to continue progressing on your conventional deadlift, then you need to get bigger and stronger. This will only happen if your body has a need to. When it comes to the deficit deadlift, starting from an elevated point will increase the range of motion of the bar from the floor. Technically, it’s a harder version of the conventional. But the point is, this increased difficulty will force your body to improve where it needs to. As a result of this adaptation, the next time you go to the conventional, it will probably feel much easier.
Small Changes Can Make A Big Difference
When it comes to accommodation, you need to think flexibility. When you begin a training program, it’s always best to keep in mind that somewhere down the line, things will need to be changed. Initially, your training will challenge your body, but eventually, it will catch up and do what it does best: adapt and prepare. But this doesn’t mean things for you have to become time consuming or complicated. The good thing here, is that even the smallest of changes you make to your program, will prove powerful enough to induce large strength and size changes to your body.
If you have any questions about the article or would like to discuss further some of the topics mentioned, then please feel free to leave comments down below. I would love to hear your thoughts on the biological law of accommodation!