The Dreaded Plateaus
We all hate that word: plateau. It’s a word that haunts every weightlifter and is always ready to strike. Why do we hate plateaus? Simply because they hinder our performance, pull us back and ruin all the hard work we have achieved. What’s worse is that plateaus keep coming, one after the other. You overcome one; another plateau is waiting just around the corner.
Everytime we are on a roll, a new plateau just seems to pop up out of nowhere. Well, I am with you on that! This is all really annoying stuff. I guess then the question to ask is: what can you actually do to overcome them? Well, I have an answer: one awesome method is compensatory acceleration training (CAT). This is a great method for overcoming plateaus, but if you ask me, definitely an overlooked tool in the gym.
Understanding A Sticking Point
The main use CAT in weightlifting is to help you overcome sticking points. It’s a bit of a weird word, but it highlights the point nicely. It simply means your weakest point in a movement. It is the part of a movement where your body is in the least optimal position to produce the needed amount of force to allow your muscles to overcome weight. It makes sense why it’s called a sticking point. If you think about it, at a certain point in any movement the weight will literally just stop. You will fail and be unable to lift the weight any further. Essentially, the weight is stuck at that point (we say it sticks). Hence the term: the sticking point. An important thing to remember is that you will only be able to lift in an exercise as much as your sticking point. Yes, you will always be significantly stronger in certain portions of the lift than others. But, your ultimate strength on a particular exercise will always be set by what your sticking point dictates.
When it comes to the sticking point, there will be points in every movement where you are at your strongest, and points where you are at your weakest. You have probably experienced this many times in your training? You perform an exercise and certain parts of that exercise feel much harder than other parts. Well, that is perfectly normal! If you are performing a movement and a point is reached where it becomes insanely difficult and you feel like you’re about to fail it, the chances are you approaching your sticking point. When it comes to failing a movement it will likely occur around your sticking point. So all this seems pretty negative. Can you do anything about it? Definitely! Although you can’t remove a sticking point, you can definitely utilize methods of training to allow you to overcome it. This is where CAT comes in!
- Represents the possible sticking points (SP1-3) in a typical barbell back squat: “C” just above parallel, “B” just below parallel (coming out of the hole) and “A” parallel. Typically the barbell will always slow down significantly (DC) as you approach these sticking points. These sticking points represents points in which your body is in the least optimal position to produce force. The trick, is to learn to accelerate faster through these points combatting any chance of the bar slowing down too much.
- Represents the sticking points in a typical deadlift (SP1-2). “A” represents the sticking point at mid-shin (just below knee). “B” represents the sticking point just above the knee (locking out). Again, the barbell will slow down significantly (DC) during these points as they will be weaknesses in the force production chain. Most peoples sticking points will be SP2 in which the body is in the least optimal position to produce force to overcome the weight on the bar. The trick, is to learn to accelerate faster through these points combatting any chance of the bar slowing down too much.
- Represents the sticking points in a bench press (SP). Typically most sticking points will occur at the chest, just above and mid air. These represents positions in which the body is in the least optimal position to produce force. Thus, representing the most difficult portions of the movement. The trick, is to accelerate faster through these points combatting any chance of the bar slowing down too much.
Develop More Acceleration
One thing I notice a lot of in the gym is that not many people like to lift weights with any degree of acceleration (or explosiveness). In other words, people fall into the trap of moving weights in a slow fashion. Why? Many people have been told that slow means controlled, which means safe. I see the logic, but lifting with a degree of explosiveness doesn’t mean uncontrolled and unsafe. In fact, even if you are lifting with any degree of speed, you still need to maintain good control of your body! When it comes to lifting weights, lifting them with speed doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention. In most cases, getting stronger only means throwing more weight onto the bar. I agree! Handling more weight means you are getting stronger. But, this is just half of the picture. Producing more force and becoming stronger doesn’t only mean moving more weight. It also means being able to move more weight, faster. Being able to move faster through these many sticking points is the highlight of CAT training.
“Not many people like to lift weights with any degree of acceleration (or explosiveness)”.
When you approach your sticking point you might have noticed the weight moving slower and slower. Sometimes, you can grind past your sticking point to complete the movement, but at other times, the weight will decelerate to a stop and you will fail the movement altogether. Ideally, it would be better to accelerate as much as possible rather than to slow down during this point. By learning to accelerate the weight on the bar as much as possible (safely of course!) it will increase your chances of successfully lifting through your sticking points. The question is: how do you successfully achieve this? Well, let me now introduce you to your new friend: CAT.
Welcome To CAT
The power of CAT comes through its use of bands and the resistance they provide. Essentially, when the bands are stretched, tension develops in them. So with bands, not only do you have to work against the weight on the bar, but also, the tension in the bands. Normally in any exercise without bands, weightlifters will tend to use significant amounts of momentum to help them move the weight up and, will consciously try to decelerate the weight towards the top end of a movement (so that the bar doesn’t fly into space!). The problem is, these two conditions don’t go well together if you are trying to improve bar acceleration through your sticking points. With CAT, you don’t have these problems. This time, the resistance against you actually increases as you near the end of the movement which means the bands will try to pull the weight on the bar back to the ground.
As a result, you now have to work harder by continuously trying to accelerate the weight through its entire range of motion. With bands, you can’t rely on momentum or try to decelerate at the end of the movement path. If you do, you will only risk being pulled back down to the ground by the tension in the bands. But hey! This is all great news for you. By learning to move weight faster through the entire range of motion of a movement, overcoming your sticking point will be a piece of cake.
- “A” represents the use of CAT band training in the squat. As you can see, the bands attach from the floor around the barbell. As you squat up (concentric), the band (red) stretches further. This increases the tension in the band (BT) leading to an increasing in resistance against you (R). This means that you have to learn to accelerate the weight throughout the ENTIRE range of motion. If you don’t, the bands can slam you back to the ground.
- “B” represents the use of CAT band training in the deadlift. As you can see, the bands attach to your feet and around the bar. As you pull the bar up (concentric), the bands (red) stretch, leading to an increase in band tension (BT). This subsequently leads to an increase in resistance (R) against you as you pull the bar up (making the movement harder as you near exercise completion). This means that you have to learn to accelerate the weight throughout the ENTIRE range of motion. If you don’t, the bands can slam you back to the ground.
- “C” represents CAT band training in the bench press. Here, the bands are attached to the bench rack and around the bar. As you bench the weight up into the air (concentric), the bands stretch (red) leading to an increase in band tension (BT). This will lead to an increase in resistance (R) against you, making it harder to bench the weight up as you near movement completion. As a result, you need to learn to accelerate the bar throughout the entire range of motion. If you don’t, you risk the bar being pulled back down onto your chest. Ouch!
- Learning to increase your bar speed throughout the entire range of motion, will help you move faster through your sticking points on the deadlift, squat and bench (reducing the effects of bar deceleration).
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!