In the short time that I have been involved in strength training and powerlifting, there are many things that I’ve noticed throughout that time, and something that sticks out more than most of the atrocities that I come across. That is the act of “program hopping”. Yep, I’m talking about your friend that in one month is on 5-3-1, the next month is on Conjugate, and the next month is doing the Bulgarian Method. Your buddy begins to wonder why he never progresses in his strength endeavors, and places blame on the program themselves. The thing about strength programs is that you have to give them time. Just like you need to give a coach time to get accustomed to you and how your body reacts to a certain stimulus, such as how well you recover and how much total work volume you can take before you start digging yourself in a deeper hole than you can get out of.
Running a certain program for 3 to 6 weeks and not hitting a PR during that cycle isn’t a good way to judge whether or not a program is working for you. As I’m sure you’ve all heard before, building strength is a long-term goal. One doesn’t go from benching 135 to 500 overnight. Now, hopefully that is not the way that you thought people who benched 500 pounds got that way. I am still learning myself that these things take time. Try not to look at things from a weekly perspective, or even a monthly perspective, but where will you be strength-wise in another year? If your current 1 rep max on bench press is 300lbs, and you find a style of training that can add 15lbs to your bench every year, then in 6 years you’ll be 10lbs shy of a 400lb bench. In 10 years you will be pressing 450lbs! That’s some pretty good progress if you ask me.
The thing that you have to realize is that there are a ridiculous number and variety of programs out there to choose from, and you cannot expect one out there to magically give you the numbers that you dream about hitting. What really matters is that you choose a program and stick with it for longer that 4 to 6 weeks. Run a program for a year, and then see what has it done for you. Even if it doesn’t make you stronger, at least you now know that this particular program is not right for you. That doesn’t mean that it won’t work for everyone, it just means that it didn’t for you.
Another thing I would like to mention is that it isn’t always the program. Sometimes it’s you. If you’re just picking and choosing what you want to do and don’t have any type of consistency in your training, well duuhhh! Of course it isn’t working, you aren’t even doing it! Additionally, there are numerous factors that contribute to whether or not you come out stronger after running a program for a period of time. Are you eating only twice a day? Do you only get 4 hours of sleep a night? Do you train with any type of intensity, or are you a timid, and scared lifter? Do you have training partners, and if so, do they push you outside of your comfort zone to make you a better lifter? These are just a few things that can help to determine just how well a program will work for you. Like I said, the biggest factor is that you are on a program, and you are sticking with it.
Obviously there are changes that you can and will need to make eventually. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Law of Accommodation. I’m not going to make this a scientific article and plunge into that topic, but your body will adapt at some point to the stressors that you are putting on it and will need a change. Once you’ve run a program for an extended period of time, think about what some of your weak points are and how you can make changes in the program to target them. It is through this process that you can begin to find out what works for you, and develop your own style. You can put your own twist on things. My coach has had me on the same type of programming for almost two years now. There have been small changes made here and there throughout the training cycle, but I’ve stuck with it. In this time, I have been able to add almost 250lbs to my total. Now, a good bit of that probably has to do with me still being fairly new to the sport of powerlifting, but you can’t argue with numbers.
I will admit, there have been times in that almost two year period that I have said how sick I am of doing this particular type of training, and how I wish I could do something new. In the long run, I stuck to my guns and kept going, and it has paid off to do so. Sometimes if you think a program isn’t working for you, you need to take a step back and determine if every other factor is in check, and give the program a little more time before you decide to ditch it and move onto the next. Just my opinion.