Forced Change in Training Programs
Two years to the day I had an accident which prevented me from participating in my normal training routines. I mistakenly cut my wrist trying to pry a knot open which was covering our wood pile. When I entered the emergency room the nurse asked "was this self inflicted?"
Knowing what her motive was I answered: "yes", and after a short delay followed up with a smile "but not in the way you're thinking". Needless to say after the stitches I couldn't perform any of my Olympic lifts, most upper body exercises, and all of my lower body barbell exercises. So instead I decided to create a bodybuilding program for my lower body consisting of all machines. At the time I focused on strength training, not hypertrophy training. So my weights were heavy, typically following a 5 x 5 routine, or something similar.
Now I was performing 4-5 sets with 8-12 reps per set on the leg press, quad extension, leg curl, calve raise, and gluteal machines; which was definitely not like me. Typically I avoid machines at all costs. But switching to this lower extremity body building program after about 4-6 weeks I was already seeing an increase in my muscle size.
After about 4 weeks, I slowly incorporated light weight upper body exercises and lower extremity barbell movements, still wearing the brace to prevent any excess movement in the wrist. When I felt comfortable, I incorporated wrist extension stretches to help get my range of motion back. After 6 weeks I finally included my barbell lifts, but continued to perform them in a hypertrophy training training program.
About 2 months after my injury I started incoporating the strentgth training again, confident that my wrist could withstand the extra force. Because I still trained my lower body via machines, my strength did not decrease in my lower extremities, as it did in my upper extremities. However, shortly after I resumed strength training, my barbell lifts (squat and deadlift) improved greatly. After only a few weeks I was lifting more weight than prior to my injury. Over the next 6 months my max squat increased from 245 lb to 305 lb. and my max deadlift improved from 265 lb - 315 lb. I didn't resume Olympic lifts for months after the accident.
Prior to my injury my increases in strength were slower than I had wanted. Imagine my surprise when I started growing stronger after changing my program. For this reason many strength coaches incorporate hypertrophy training for their athletes anywhere between 4 weeks to 3 months to one year. The increase in muscle fiber size gives way for improvements in strength. I mean larger muscles can move more weight (to a certain point). After building bigger muscles you can then focus on training your nervous system to fire the appropriate motor units at a faster rate and transition that hypertrophy training into strength. That is why it is important to incorporate multiple types of resistance training and not limit yourself to one training type.
Remember that when you are training for a goal, and if your training matches the type of goal you set, you may not see the results you want. This may happen if you have been performing the same training program for a long time and your nervous system has become accustomed to that particular type of exercise. We then become very efficient at that exercise, thereby decreasing the amount of stress it delivers to our body. Keeping in mind that it is the bodies response to stress and tissue damage that promotes recovery and growth. So less stress = less response.
If you feel like you are in a plateau, try changing your routine, in small ways or dramatic ways. The results may surprise you.