Snapshot of Takeaway Points
- Pointing to a weak muscle group is an outdated approach
- Intermuscular coordination must be improved
- Improve connections within the brain to improve the firing sequence
A sticking point is defined as the momentary deceleration of a lift as it travels through its range of motion. It can occur at any point of the lift and its position varies lifter to lifter. It’s a frustrating experience for a lifter as they’re giving it all they’ve got, but the bastard barbell just won’t move any quicker! Week after week, month after month, little to no progress is made.
Why does it happen?
The common theory of why this happens points to a weak muscle group. For example in the bench press, if you’re weak at the top of the movement, you’ve got weak triceps. Or is it? I’ve found the answer lies more in neurology. Simply put, your body is so used to performing the exercise at this awkward speed that it thinks it’s normal.
The body now sees it as typical to complete the movement in this fashion. Your nervous system has got comfortable doing this as you aren’t giving it the correct stimulus to adapt to and therefore improve the outcome. To fix it, new connections within the brain must be made and this is done with improving intermuscular coordination. It’s not that the triceps are too weak but rather they are firing at maximal effort too late in the sequence. In this instance look at the movement patterns as a whole and not individual muscles.
How to improve intermuscular coordination
Option 1: Accommodating resistance
This is often referred to as dynamic/speed day as popularised by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell. The key to executing this method properly are: barbell speed of 0.8m/s or quicker during the concentric, perfect technique, maximal effort.
How to incorporate: Perform 5-12 sets of 2-5 reps on your second upper/lower session of the week. Vary the type of accommodating resistance every 2-3 weeks.
Option 2: Maximal Isometrics
Isometrics will improve and re-teach the firing/activation of the muscles recruited at a specific joint angle. You must change the angle as the isometric will improve connections/coordination at 15 degrees above and below where it is performed. Isometrics can be performed against pins in a rack or a supramaximal weight.
How to incorporate: Perform 6-9 sets of 3 reps at a tempo of 1012 on your second upper/lower session of the week. Change the isometric position three times so you hit the lower, middle and upper ranges.
Option 3: OTMR/EMOM
On the minute repetitions are a great option for those not quite ready to use accommodating resistance or those lacking the equipment required. Still utilise a weight that adheres to the three rules in option 1.
How to incorporate: Perform 8-10 sets of 1-2 reps performed on the minute, every minute, in your second upper/lower body session of the week.
Option 4: 5050 reps
Slow concentric work will highlight a weakness in the movement pattern immediately and I often use it as an assessment to note where the lift is breaking down. It’s a very humbling protocol and is great to teach someone how to get tight from the start of the movement. If you’re not tight enough then you are leaking energy and leaving kilos off your lift.
How to incorporate: Perform 5-8 sets of 1-3 reps on your second upper/lower body session of the week. Speed of the bar is set so you’re only focus is perfect technique.
Option 5: Complexes
This option is more for the Olympic Weightlifters or the Strongmen that need to improve the log/axle/monster dumbbell. Trying to go through what each complex can do would be beyond the scope of this article. Assess and try to find the part of the lift that you don’t perform perfectly and put some extra time under tension on it. For example, if your hips rise in the initial deadlift then do an extra deadlift rep or apply concentric/eccentric pauses.
How to incorporate: Perform 4-6 sets of each complex on the second session of the week dedicated to that specific lift.
By performing the movement again on a second day but with one of the above methods/protocols you ensure progress. Not only are you improving intermuscular coordination you get an additional exposure to the movement so a further opportunity to refine and improve technique. You also receive additional benefits through using/improving different strength qualities.
A further tip would be to consider Sheiko style execution of lifts; no grinding on the main exercises apart from in competitions. I would add only ever one grinding repetition to be allowed with assistance work then finish the set there.