When it comes to training, we all have our relative strengths and weaknesses. In strongman, having a practically unlimited selection of events that can show up in a competition, everyone is going to have a weaker event or event category. Dedicating time to working on bringing up lagging events or honing strengths will boost you towards long-term goals.
A couple of months ago I wrote about how I was going to be addressing the issue of my lack of pressing strength. Between competitions this summer I spent six weeks targeting my overhead pressing in an attempt to create a better balance between upper and lower body capabilities. Having gone from making pretty good progress with pressing last summer, I was setback with a shoulder problem over the winter that left me in a weakened state.
What follows is what has worked incredibly well for targeting my weakpoint of pressing and has built bigger triceps and shoulders, allowed me to set new pressing PRs, and even eliminated my shoulder pain!
I wrote about more of the specifics with what I was doing and the reason behind it in this article here. You can also find a link to the complete training plan I used during this 6-week time frame.
Dedicate a Microcyle or Two to Targeting One Goal
The more experience I gain with lifting, the more I relaize how important it is to train with your intent on improving one thing at a time. A microcycle consists of typically 3-4 weeks in a trainining cycle with the purpose of accumulating fatigue and overreaching and then deloading or doing active recovery the last week before starting anew; ideally bigger or stronger. You'll often see the typical gym rat at your local Globogym who hits everything with equal intensity (or lack thereof) each and every week and never seems to get anywhere with it. While this can produce some results, particularly for less-experienced lifters, dramatic progress comes from focusing on one goal at at time for short bursts and then maintaining your progress while you target a new related goal during the subsequent microcycle.
Increase Frequency For One Goal During This Phase of Training
One of the main factors that I attribute to my sucess during this weak point training phase was increasing the frequency that I trained pressing movements during this time. Increasing training frequency can work extremely well for smaller and relatively weaker muscle groups, like triceps and shoulders, as they don't need much time to recover. For larger movement groups, like deadlifts and squats, greater frequency can work extremely well, if the steam is let off everything else and you really focus just on the one goal. For highly technical movements like overhead pressing, practicing the movements more frequency also means that you are getting more opportunities to develop and improve on the flexibility and mobility required of these movements.
To optimize your progress and make dramatic improvements, you need to identify what your maximum recoverable volume is and train consistently at it. When focusing on one goal at a time I have found that you have the ability to more consistently train at your MRV or overreach it to achieve and even surpass your goal, compared to if you are trying to hit everything all at once and recover from it all.
Attack the Problem in multiple ways
Focusing on one issue at a time and increasing the frequency that you train that weakpoint also gives you the opportunity to attack the problem in multiple different ways. Many lifters struggle to make progress becuase they always train at the same intensity or in the same rep range week after week. One of my favourite analogies for this rule of training comes from Derek Poundstone. He talked about how you should train the same way you would grate cheese. You can’t keep grating the cheese by hand the same way, or else it will crumble apart, you have to rotate the cheese as you grate it. To continue to maximize your progress you need to include the various training styles in a cube sort of format to include max effort, dynamic effort and repetitive effort training. During my focused microcycle I found success in condensing the typical 3-week span of a cube into about 2 weeks, as I dedicated one day specifically to technique and dynamic effort work, between either heavy max effort or repetitive effort days, which were better spread out in each week to allow for greater recovery because of the technique day. Every, single week did not include both heavy and repetitive effort days, as I found that to be too much to handle once my shoulders started feeling better and I was back to approaching past personal bests again. Having intuition into the functioning of your own body through years of training is invaluable to maximizing your progress with targeting a weak point. Also using metrics, such as tracking your HRV will help to keep you moving forward during a specific overreaching phase without crashing into overtraining.
Stay Healthy During the Process
Attacking a weak point or even focusing solely on your stronger lifts to further improve them for a microcycle comes with it downsides, as you’re hitting a single movement pattern very hard for a dedicated 4-6 weeks. Continue to put just as much effort into remaining healthy as you pursue a specific target for making strength or size gains. In addition to the mobility work you are doing as a determined athlete, spend extra time taking care of "prehab" work specific to your target goal for this training period. I dedicated extra time each day to improving shoulder mobility through stretching and mobility exercises, as well as foam rolling any tight areas that cause me pain. Having visited a sports chiropractor a number of times while addressing my shoulder issues, I was able to identify ways for me to target the tight spots in my lat., trap., and behind my shoulder blade that allowed my shoulder to move more freely and without pain anymore. I definitely attribute part of the success of this dedicated pressing phase to being able to work eliminating my shoulder pain through professional help as well as personal practice each and every day.
Maintaining and improving mobility during this time will also help you to practice with great technique which will reduce the wear-down and beating that your body takes. Proper techniquemeans you’ll be performing the movements to the very best of your ability and will utilize your body properly to make gains in strength faster. The technique work I practiced while working on improving my pressing strength focussed on learning how to better incorporate a jerk motion and getting my body under the bar, as I have always had a problem with pressing too far away from my body and not getting under the weight.
Include movements to target stability in the joints associated with your weak point or dedicated target. For example, if you are working on improving your deadlift, make sure you are also doing single leg or single hip movements in the microcycle to improve the strength and stability of your ankles, knees and hips/lower back. Including stability-improving exercises will help you to break through plateaus and continue to make progress over the longer term, as well as correct any subtle (or not so subtle) imbalances which are causing your weak point or creating a plateau in strength in the first place.
If your weak point is caused by an injury, or even if you're not sure what the imbalance is your strength is due to, make sure to invest in your health and see a sports therapist or chiropractor before dedicating a whole training block to targeting a weak point. Going into your targeted microcycle injured is a recipe for disaster and may cause you greater injury in the long run. Even if you go into attacking your goal from a weakened state, you'll make impressive progress and soon breakthrough past plateaus to set new PRs if you prioritize health first. Instead of thinking of training as a long, painful marathon, look at it in terms of intermittent sprints towards your goals and you'll soon be crushing your goals of being bigger and stronger!