Get Stronger One Rep At A Time

There is nothing more frustrating for any serious athlete than hitting a plateau. Similar to most things in life, the solutions are often simple and overlooked. Recently, I hit a plateau with my two kettlebell military presses and was becoming extremely irritated. Not only was I not getting stronger, I was actually getting weaker. What a pain!

Anyway, I started thinking about how I took my bench press from 225lbs to 365lbs and found the solution to my dilemma. What I realized is that strength training is often a game of inches. What I mean is that strength rarely comes in leaps and bounds.

For example, attempting to go from 225lbs for five reps to 275lbs for reps is too large a jump and will most likely result in failure. However, going from 225lbs to 230lbs is not a large jump and will most likely result in a pattern of success.

Adding Resistance

Thus, I realized that I needed to find a way to add resistance to kettlebells. If I kept training with the same weight, I was going to get the same results. It is like the old definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insane.” Now, this sounded easy in theory, but how was I going to apply it in the real world.

The first thing that came to mind was to duck tape a 5lb plate to each 70lb kettlebell that I was training with. Thus, when pressing two 70lb kettlebells, I increased the weight from 140lbs to 150lbs. I applied a great deal of duck tape to each bell to keep the weight in place and it worked fairly well.

However, I soon discovered that a much better way was to use a product called Platemates. Platemates are magnetic weights that you can attach to any dumbbell, barbell plate, and yes kettlebell. They range in sizes from 1lb to 5lbs. I contacted the president of Platemates and told him what I was trying to do. He was generous enough to send me six 5lb Platemates and four 2.5 pound Platemates to test drive.

I tried attaching two 5lb plates to each 70lb kettlebell and it worked much better than duck taping a regular plate. However, they still moved around a little bit. Fortunately, this was addressed easily by wrapping one round of duck tape around the plates and bell. The combination of the strong magnetics and tape kept the plates in line without any glitches.

Now, keep in mind that even with the Platemates, I do not recommend using this method for swings or snatches. All it takes is one screw-up to experience the pain of a plate shower! Thus, only use this method for presses and proceed with caution.

Okay, back to the pressing. I started by attaching a 5lb Platemate to each kettlebell to increase the load by 10lbs. I was amazed how much harder pressing two 75lb kettlebells was. My body was too used to pressing two 70lb kettlebells and the new stimulus shocked my body. Since my goal is to press two 88lb kettlebells for a single, I decided to do several sets of singles with the new weights.

Contrary to what you might think doing high reps with a lower weights does not necessarily prepare you for heavier weights. In other words, you could work up to 225 fifteen times and then try 315lbs once and fail miserably. If you want to get stronger, you have to up the weight. No way around that.

Alright so here is the program that I used to work up to singles with two 85lb kettlebells. (This is where I am at the date of this article. Do the math and you will realize that I am only 6lbs away from pressing two 88lb kettlebells.) This program is a combination of “density training” that I learned from Coach Ethan Reeve at Wakeforest University and “rest pause” training.”

Here is how the program works. On the first workout, your goal is to do ten sets of 1 with 150lbs taking 90 second breaks between each set. Once you can complete all of the sets, decrease the rest periods by fifteen seconds. Once you get to the point where you can do 10 sets of 1 with 15 second breaks, increase the weight by 10lbs. This could take several weeks or in my case a week. Once you increase the weight, start with 90-second breaks and work your way down again.

Singles vs. Multiple Reps

The reason why I recommend singles, is that it is easier to put all of your energy into pressing a heavy weight with solid form on one rep, then on multiple reps. Also, if you goal is to press more weight for one rep, why do more then one rep sets when training? Of course, if your goal is to increase your five rep max, then alter the program accordingly.

Another benefit of heavy singles is that when done properly you will be fresh after each workout and your CNS (Central nervous system) will get a nice boost that blows a caffeine boost out of the water. Brute strength comes from stimulating the CNS and this program gets the job done. Once you have been on this program for 3-4 weeks drop down to some lighter kettlebells and see what happens. I think that you will be amazed at how much lighter the kettlebells feel.

Here is what my results were. On my second week of this program I was pressing two 80lb kettlebells for 10×1 with 60 second breaks. Soon after, I went to the RKC certification in Minneapolis to assist Pavel Tsatsouline with the RKC certification. At the certification, Pavel had me demonstrate the one arm military press several times and each time I used the 88lb kettlebell and did perfect singles each time. I was also able to knock off three reps straight with my right arm with out breaking a sweat.

A few weeks before, I could only press the 88lb kettlebell on a good day and it was with maximum effort. My weight remained at 180lbs. However, my physique was much harder and my strength went up considerably.

Now if you are thinking that this program only carries over to low rep strength, you are wrong. The other day I tested my clean and presses (Military presses not push presses) with two 70lb kettlebells and did 12 straight. A few weeks ago, I could only do 7 and it felt difficult. After training with 80lb kettlebells, the 70s felt like nothing and knocking off 12 reps was not a problem.

Of course, this program will not work forever. Similar to any other program, you will probably adapt in about 4-5 weeks and will have to change things around. However, the rest times are constantly being manipulated and it is possible that you can stay on this program much longer without hitting a plateau.

Written by Mike Mahler

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums –Β Get Stronger One Rep At A Time discussion thread.

How to maintain your gains post cycle – Part I

Note: This article is geared (pun intended) towards the moderate user (defined as 400mg-1000mg/week). It is not intended for the advanced user who stays on for long periods or year round and uses more then a gram per week plus Insulin, GH and other goodies.

Life is good. You’ve got money in the bank. You’re dating Barbie, the hot silicone blonde from the gym, and you’ve just amassed 15 pounds of lean muscle on your current cycle. With this newfound muscle under your belt, 24/7 pumps, heavier weights lifted with each new session, and a sex drive that’d put Hugh Hefner and Ron Jeremy to shame.

What more could a meathead ask for? Probably a whole lot more, but that’s beside the point. However, all good things must come to an end. Week 12 has arrived and you’ve just taken your last shot.

For newbies the weeks ahead will be met with mixed feelings and for the non-virgins the routine is far too familiar. Your balls are no longer swole, your pumps are going to disappear quicker than a fat lady gobbles down a Krispy Kreme, and your strength is going to drop. Oh yeah, your newly acquired muscle gain is going to take a beating. Fun stuff, eh? Of course, there’s always the option of bridging until your next cycle, but what’s the point? You’re going to have to come off sometime, that is, if you value your health and your balls enough to quit.

Granted you’ve been smart and planned out your entire cycle in advance, it should be safe to say that the post cycle therapy (PCT) portion has been designed according to the type of drugs and their reactions with each other and with your body. So, what else can be done to offset the classic post cycle symptoms? Well, there are three areas that need to be addressed.

1. Training
2. Nutrition
3. Supplements

The understanding of how to implement the proper use of each area will not only allow you to hold on to your newly acquired muscle, it may also create some more muscle tissue in the process, even if it is a small amount.

Gearing Down

Coming off isn’t a walk in the park. A user often faces multiple symptoms such as weight loss, a decrease in body strength, loss of muscle tissue, increased fat deposits due to a drop in nutrient partitioning (more on this in Part II), a decrease in motivation to train, depression, laziness and a lack of self discipline. All of this is caused by a catabolic state induced by a decrease in testosterone production and an increase in cortisol. Simply stated, you’ve got the post cycle blues. Your life now sucks. All those gains are going bye bye. Or so you think. Alas, there’s hope for your poor small-balled self.

With the proper knowledge, dedication, and testicular fortitude, holding onto the majority of your strength and size gains after a cycle is not such a far fetched idea. In most cases it appears that taking two steps forward and one step backward is the result in carrying out a properly designed cycle. However, what many end up doing, is taking one step forward and two steps backward. In other words, many people know how to build up muscle while using steroids but very few understand how to maintain that muscle afterwards. Let me explain.

Most trainees put a lot of time and effort into planning a cycle and very little into a training program. It almost seems that the majority of trainees feel that an increase in effort in combination with one or more injections a week magically solves their problem! However, an increase in effort does not and will never make up for a poorly planned program. For those who have put aside some time to draw up a program, they still tend to ignore the post cycle phase, which can bring about our worst fears, small balls, no hair, and big breasticles. A cycle doesn’t end after the last injection.

It stops when the next one is started. However, if you’re one of the rare few who’ve decided to play it safe and only plan on doing one cycle a year, understanding how to come off a cycle is extremely important as opposed to those who come off and go back on after a 2-4 month hiatus.

After a cycle, the muscles are in need of a stimulation that is at a level close to what they had been given while “on.” Unfortunately many times trainees become paranoid afterwards and continue to keep the level of intensity high. Big mistake! This causes a couple of things. For starters, it opens up the body to burn out in the form of neural fatigue. This in part, is primarily because the body can no longer cope with the demands that are being placed upon it. The hormonal system is in a state of recovery and the body cannot withstand the same amount of stress anymore. Two, injury can and often does occur as the loads used can no longer be supported by the body due to the rapid increase of muscle tissue and the lag in development of the supporting soft tissues. As a result you have a strong muscle but your tendons and ligaments cannot support the muscles that are being used to lift the loads.

Instead of sucking it up and kissing 40% or more of that hard earned muscle away post cycle, a training program needs to be structured in such a way that it allows for the body to adapt back to it’s regular state and still allows for a stimulus to be received.

For this to happen, several variables need to be examined. The two most important for our purposes are the frequency of the workouts during the cycle, the number of sets performed and the rep range. I’ve left some other variables out, however these are the main variables that most trainees change in a program. For simplicities sake I’ve drawn up a couple of generic programs that might be employed during a cycle, for examples.

The Strategy and Programs

The number of times you “hit it” is important in most relationships. If you skimp on frequency, performance suffers, and as a result your relationship weakens. The same can be said about the frequency of training sessions, the body, and the relationship between strength and size. During a cycle most people increase the frequency due to increased recovery. However, post cycle the number of sessions in a week should be altered as the body is now in a state of recovery. Nevertheless, there are exceptions to certain rules; this being one of them. If you were training five to six days a week during your cycle, the same frequency can still be maintained almost to the same degree, however one of the other exercise variables (mentioned above) involved must be changed (more on this later).

If your training has been based around a six day split, cutting the frequency down a day or more will give the body some much needed time to recuperate. Below are some examples of how your training frequency can be structured when coming off the above outlined programs. Here are five, four, and three day splits that can be used. The choice of muscles worked each day may be varied.

Increasing the Volume

Once the frequency of training has been chosen, the next step is to choose the number of sets or the amount of volume that will be used in the routine. The number of sets selected will depend on the level of intensity you’ll be using. Intensity, for the purpose of this article, can also be defined as the overall work load used in a training program (determined by the frequency and number of sets employed). For example, if you have been training to failure using a high number of sets, it should be quite obvious that you cannot continue training in the same manner. That said, to maintain the same level of intensity the number of sets employed must be lowered. You do this because there is an inverse relationship between intensity and the number of sets used in a workout session. As seen below the number of sets chosen should coincide with the frequency.

Below are some examples based upon the first two example routines I outlined above.

Spicing Things Up

Variety is the spice of life. Although clichΓ©, it’s the truth though, and most likely throughout your cycle, the repetition range that’s been used has varied. Post cycle, however, repetition ranges should stay the same if they’ve been altered. Let me explain a bit further.

High reps are known to primarily work on increasing the non-contractile proteins and the semi fluid plasma between the muscle fibers. In scientific circles the 140 pound lab techs call this sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Meatheads refer to this as “pump training.” The other type, low rep training, is called sarcomere hypertrophy. This is otherwise known as power training. It works on increasing the size and number of the sarcomeres that make up the myofibrils. Each type of hypertrophy has a different effect. Bodybuilders and those purely interested in aesthetics train using the pump method. Athletes who are in sports that require explosiveness and speed train primarily using the power method.

Training post cycle should focus on a variety of rep ranges. Low rep training focuses on neuromuscular efficiency, which in turn is responsible for strength production with minimal hypertrophy. Higher rep training focuses more on hypertrophy while placing less emphasis on the neuromuscular system. If one area is favored the other will suffer. So, to stay big and strong it is imperative that you utilize a mixed rep range in your training program. Below I’ve outlined the programs in their entirety so you can see what the programs look like once all the variables I mentioned have been added in.


Coming off a cycle isn’t fun, and it’s not an easy task. Truthfully, it sucks. However, with proper precautions taken, and by simply following the guidelines I’ve provided, the post-cycle transition won’t be so rough. It’s that simple.

Next month, I’ll outline some of the nutritional stumbling blocks that you might face after a cycle and some supplements that might offset this problem.

Note: Check it out here – How to maintain your gains post cycle – Part 2

Written By Maki Riddington