The best training method is the one you aren’t doing. Simply put, it is the stimulus you haven’t adapted to. The other side of the coin is that consistency is needed to drive results, and if you continuously program jump, you won’t see meaningful progress. As strength coaches, we must navigate these contrasting ideas to best utilize our time with the athletes we train.
This article is part of a series aimed at providing time-tested training methods that actually get results with athletes. As strength coaches, we all want to do a great job and help facilitate success with our athletes. But as humans we naturally have a built-in fear of being left behind when we see the newest trends popping up around us. This fear of missing out on the newest trends has caused many strength coaches to go far down rabbit holes of purposeless training.
We’ve all been programmed to demonize the coach who says, “I’ve always done it this way, and I’m always going to do it this way.” But let’s be real, that guy really doesn’t exist anymore. Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung drastically the other way, and we have a generation of coaches who listen to a podcast or see a video on social media and think to themselves, “This changes everything.”
I think the “this changes everything” coach is more terrifying than the “always done it this way coach” because at least the “always done it this way coach” is grounded in a belief system, whereas the “this changes everything” coach values what they do so little that they’ll switch up everything at the drop of a hat. There needs to be a balance.
There are many ways to find balance between convention and innovation, but in its simplest form, coaches can find balance by using previous experiences to guide future program design while simultaneously being receptive to new ideas that enhance decision-making.
But what if you lack a strong foundation in previous experience? That’s okay. It doesn’t make you a bad coach, and we’ve all been there. Some of the best wisdom I can offer is “success leaves clues.” Look around you and figure out what the best strength coaches have in common. Then go down rabbit holes on the similarities between these coaches.
Video 1. Depletion-style workouts require great technique and careful programming to work. Incorporating advanced training methods with an athlete and coach who are not able to do the basics isn’t recommended.
As an entry-level coach, I put together a list of who I thought the best college strength coaches in the country were for the sole purpose of figuring out what they had in common. Indeed, there were many differences between them, but what they shared, amongst other things, were well-thought-out, highly organized, and technically executed training programs.
The longer I’m in the team sport setting, the more I appreciate the nuances of training strength generalists compared to training strength specialists. Weightlifters, powerlifters, strongmen, etc. are strength specialists and have advanced training ages with the barbell. Team sport athletes are strength generalists, and to be honest, very, VERY few ever reach an advanced training age. This is because what we do in the weight room for team sport athletes is simply a means of saturating attributes in order to enhance transference to sport.
In the practical application of strength training, this means that we don’t see many athletes advance past the intermediate level, and we must program accordingly. When we first start with our athletes, the majority of their gains can be attributed to improvements in neuromuscular coordination. Essentially, they get better at learning a motor skill. As they move into an intermediate level of training, gains are best achieved by consistently applying intelligent progressive overload schemes to proficient movement patterns. This is where I see a lot of lackluster training, and where I hope to provide value with different training methods in this series of articles.Sure, old training templates from the 1950s might not be sexy, but many of them have withstood the test of time for a reason—they work, says @CoachAlanBishop. Click To Tweet
Don’t get me wrong: There is a time and place for the vanilla “straight sets” methods of the 5×3, 3×5, 3×10, etc. approach to training, but that time and place isn’t the entire 4-5 years as a college athlete. Going back to “the best training program is the one you aren’t doing” concept, we need to do better than this. Sure, old training templates from the 1950s might not be sexy, but many of them have withstood the test of time for a reason: They work.
Over the course of this series of articles, I’ll dive deeper into many of my favorite methods. Many of these methods are well known, others might be considered lost arts of training. They all work when applied into a well-thought-out and intelligently coached training program.
Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets
A muscle fiber that is recruited but not fatigued is not trained. – Vladimir Zatsiorsky
Drop sets are a technique where an exercise is performed to technical failure and the weight is reduced to continue getting reps until failure is reached again, at which point weight is reduced a final time to continue extending out the set until a concluding bout of technical failure is reached. While there is no limit to the number of weight drops in a set, three different weights used each set is common.I believe mechanical advantage drop sets to be a more “functional” drop set for athletes trying to simultaneously develop strength and hypertrophy attributes, says @CoachAlanBishop. Click To Tweet
While traditional drop sets have a time and place, mechanical advantage drop sets (MADS) are a method I really like using to extend out a set after technical failure has been reached. I believe MADS to be a more “functional” drop set for athletes trying to simultaneously develop strength and hypertrophy attributes. If you want to get big and strong, you have to lift heavy weight for reps.
From my experience, the final weights used in traditional drop sets are far too light to elicit a “functional” training adaptation of strength and size. If we’re trying to saturate athletic attributes, I don’t know that using vastly submaximal weights will do much more than elicit a localized muscular endurance response.
To perform MADS, we select three variations of a similar exercise and perform each exercise to technical failure before “dropping” to an easier (more mechanically advantageous) exercise in the series. This sequencing allows the athlete to extend out a set and continue getting reps even after the muscle is fatigued. The resistance can be applied via dumbbells, barbells, bodyweight, etc., but the key is to maintain the same weight for all exercises. Example sequencing of exercises include:
- Exercise 1: High Incline Press; Exercise 2: Low Incline Press; Exercise 3: Flat Press
- Exercise 1: Pull-Up; Exercise 2: Chin-Up; Exercise 3: Neutral Grip Pull-Up.
For athletes looking to pack on size while still gaining strength, excessive volume is not a good thing. We need to find effective AND efficient exercise selections to get as much motor unit recruitment and muscle fiber stimulation as possible without endless volume. With MADS, we can efficiently stimulate and fatigue muscle fibers in fewer sets by effectively recruiting more muscle fibers as the exercise drops to a more mechanically advantageous position.
I have traditionally implemented this over the years in one of two ways. The first is by using it in my A series of exercises for the day with 3-4 work sets before moving on to accessory work. This is something I’d program if accumulation is the goal of the training card we’re on. When performed as an A series exercise, I tell my athletes to finish one rep short of failure at each variation. This is done when our time is limited, and we need to find a way to get more done in fewer sets.With MADS, we can efficiently stimulate and fatigue muscle fibers in fewer sets by effectively recruiting more muscle fibers as the exercise drops to a more mechanically advantageous position. Click To Tweet
The second way I implement it is by using it as a “finisher” at the end of a training session for one all-out set to failure at each variation. This is something I might program when intensification is the priority of the training card, but I don’t want to fully neglect the benefits of added volume as part of accessory work.
Training goal should dictate loading parameters, but I recommend that the number of reps in the first exercise be determined by training goal. For example:
- Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy: Select a weight that can be used for 10-12 reps on a mid incline press, stopping one rep short of failure. Move to a low incline press and again working to one rep short of failure, then move to a flat press working to one rep short of failure.
- Myofibrillar hypertrophy: Select a weight that can be used for 6-8 reps on a mid incline press, stopping one rep short of failure. Move to a low incline press, again working until one rep short of failure, then move to a flat press working to one rep short of failure.
- Strength: Select a weight that can be used for 3-5 reps on a mid incline press, stopping one rep short of failure. Move to a low incline press, again working to one rep short of failure, then move to a flat press working to one rep short of failure.
Consistency is needed to drive results, and I’d encourage you utilize this method for three weeks before moving on to a new method. Mechanical advantage drop sets have been around for many decades. They have withstood the test of time and been an effective training tool for many athletes. If you end up utilizing this method, please reach out to me afterward and let me know how it went.
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