The honeymoon phase is what I like to call that period of training when improvements are coming relatively fast and easy. It’s a glorious time filled with motivation and positive reinforcement from our accomplishments. This is usually the first 6-8 weeks. After that, our progress tends to slow down markedly and the reality of your task begins to sink in. This is where you have to make a crucial decision; do you pull up your britches, put your head down and get to work? Or do you lose focus and determination, and quit? Out of frustration most will quit. But not you, because I’m going to tell you how to get through the tough times and back on track to setting PR’s.
Here are a couple of suggestions to help you stay on the honeymoon.
REST A LITTLE LONGER BETWEEN SETS
If you’re training for strength and you’re only resting 2 minutes it will eventually cause you to miss reps. It isn’t uncommon for strength athletes to rest 10 minutes between very challenging sets of squats, pulls, and presses. Odds are you don’t need to rest quite that long yet, but if you’re only getting 2 minutes at the moment you’ll see an instant improvement by going to 4-5 minutes rest.
GET MORE SLEEP
I sense your eyes rolling in the back of your head and can almost hear you muttering things like “I wish” “If only” “Easier said than done” I get it; we’re all busy people. But let’s try to put this in a little perspective. You deserve it. If you’re getting up at the ass crack of dawn, putting in a full days work, hitting the gym, making dinner, taking care of your loved ones, doing the dishes, and folding the laundry; don’t you deserve some rest?
Your sleeping environment needs to be conducive to restful sleep. It should be dark, silent, and relatively cool.
If you must watch TV in bed, set the sleep timer for 30 minutes and leave it alone. With Netflix and Hulu you’ll never miss your favorite shows.
DON'T LET YOUR DIET GET DERAILED
This takes dedication and planning. Sometimes there aren’t any tricks; you just have to put in the work.
Have 1-2 food prep days planned in the week where you can prepare meals for the following 3-4 days.
Keep it simple. I like to cook a few pounds of chicken and ground beef at one time. I season them however I like and portion them out. You can also batch cook rice, quinoa, beans, and potatoes. All of these foods are blank pallets that you can season to your taste.
Whey protein will be a must for almost everyone. Have a couple of shaker bottles prepped with 1-3 scoops of protein. This will provide 24-72 grams of protein per shake. Your needs will dictate how much you’re taking. If you experience gastrointestinal issues with whey concentrate, switch to whey isolate or an egg protein. If you still have issues you'll just need to eat more meat. If you're a vegetarian you'll have to fix that first.
KEEP TRACK OF WHAT YOU’RE EATING
If you aren’t logging your food in some manner then you’re likely going to miss your calorie and macro nutrient goals. I know this gets old, but it’s part of the process. I recommend the Myfitnesspal app. as a food diary. It has an excellent bar code reader and extensive food index.
TAKE SMALLER JUMPS IN WEIGHT
If you've been adding 10 pounds to your work sets you're going to need to drop it to 5 pounds. If you pay attention to recovery the 5 pounds jumps can be maintained for many weeks.
Older lifters, women, and adolescents benefit from microloading all of the major lifts. They simply can't recover and adapt to the training as robustly as a younger male. At some point it's wise for everyone to microload certain lifts. Stronger lifters will need to microload the bench press, overhead press, and Olympics lifts.
Rouge sells fractional plates as small as 1/4 pound. Do yourself a big favor and buy a set. It will include a pair of .25, .50, .75, and 1 lb plates.
PROGRAM ALTERATIONS MAY BE NECESSARY
Although this may sound like the most appealing solution, it was put last for a reason - this is the last option! The best way to fix stalled progress is to make sure intra-set rest, sleep, and diet are in order first. When you’re confident those variables are in check you may explore program alterations. Entire books have been written on this topic so I can’t go too far down the rabbit hole here. I’ll simple provide some rough guidelines.
Decrease the frequency of your most stressful workouts. If you’ve been doing 3-4 hard workouts a week it may be time to remove one of those harder days and replace it with an easier “recovery” day. You can only go at full speed for so long. At some point the physical stress out paces your ability to recover. This is why we assess the recovery variables first – to make sure recovery is outpacing the stress as best it can.
Alternate high volume and high intensity workouts. If you have been performing high volume workouts (lots of sets and reps) you may benefit from alternating them with a heavier workout. For example, if you are bench pressing on Monday and Friday for 3 sets of 5 reps you can change Friday’s workout to just one heavish set of 5 reps. You can even attempt a new 5 rep max on this day if you desire. Monday’s 3 sets of 5 reps would be left alone. Even though Monday and Friday are still challenging workouts, the total volume of work has been reduced enough to allow for more recovery without sacrificing strength.
Keep your current workouts unchanged, but add an extra day of rest between them. This effectively spreads the stress over a longer length of time, providing you with more time to recover between hard workouts. Lets say you’re working out on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and all 3 days are stressful training sessions. Your new workout schedule would be Monday, Thursday, and Sunday for the first week. For the second week it would be Wednesday, and Saturday. The third week would be Tuesday, and Friday. Week 4 would start the rotation over again. For most of us, this frequency would provide ample recovery. Enough to where leisure activities (golf, cycling, hiking) can be enjoyed on one of the rest days. This type of schedule does pose an obvious problem, however. It’s not very practical for those with busy professional and personal lives to keep switching their workouts in this manner. If you can manage it I think this is a great option, though.
This is supposed to be difficult. If it were easy it wouldn't work. Learn to embrace the struggle, and push through what you thought were your limits. Real barbell training isn't for everyone. Mostly because of how difficult it is when it's done correctly. If you can learn to keep moving forward past the honeymoon phase you'll do what most people don't have the stomach for.
About the Author:
Scott is a Starting Strength Coach, USA Powerlifting Coach, Westside Barbell Strength Coach, and competitive powerlifter.
Scott’s best competition lifts are a 540 lb. squat, 391 lb. bench press, and 606 lb. deadlift in the 231 lb. men’s open weight class.