High neuromuscular capacity, low technical challenge

High neuromuscular capacity, low technical challenge

    Backfilling 101


    The grind phase uses a simple progressive strategy I call backfilling.
    Backfilling is the most straight forward rep progression strategy I know of,
    and it helps you understand precisely what you need to do to make progress
    in every single workout. Here's how it works.

    Step 1 Establish your reps the first time you do a given workout

    Each workout builds off the performance of your previous workout.
    However, your first workout doesn't have anything to work off of so you'll
    need to establish a rep baseline to start.
    To do this, select an exercise progression (covered in later chapters) that is
    pretty challenging for you to do between 5-15 reps. Do your first set and try
    to get as many technically clean reps as possible. Rest 2-3 minutes and now
    do the same thing for the second set. Again, rest 2-3 minutes and do as many
    clean reps as you can for your third set. Due to the accumulation of fatigue,
    you should notice the number of reps you can do will decrease as you
    continue the sets.

    Step 2 Backfill the lowest number set

    Now that you have your reps established for each set, your mission is to
    “backfill” the shortest set in the following workouts. At the same time, you
    want to perform the same number of reps in the other two sets.
    Doing this helps you progress in several ways. First, maintaining the reps in
    your first two sets allows you to work on the technical quality of those reps,
    so you improve your technical proficiency. You'll also become more
    comfortable with the given exercise since you won't have to push yourself to
    your very limit every set in each workout.
    The next benefit is it’s mentally easier to make progress when you know you
    need to increase the reps in one set. You don’t have to progress the whole
    workout, just that one small part. It also takes the mystery out of what to do
    each workout. You'll open up your workout log and instantly know you're
    trying to do more reps on a given set. That's your mission for the workout
    simple, clear, and direct.
    For more information on how to keep a simple and clear workout log, check
    out the official Red Delta Project Scoreboard Progression Log.
    Be aware that as you build strength, you'll want to add reps to the first and
    second set. This tendency is perfectly normal, but I do discourage it. Adding
    reps where you can in the first couple of sets keeps the incline of the sets
    roughly the same and can result in inconsistent quality over time. Instead,
    work to apply that additional strength into better quality reps on the first two
    sets. The extra strength can then "spill over" into the last set increasing reps.
    Once you've increased the reps of the third set to match the second, then you
    increase the reps on the second set only. From there, you can repeat the
    process with the next workout where you increase the third set. Continue this
    process until you "level" all three sets.
    Once you level off all three sets, reset the whole thing by once again doing as
    many reps as you can for all three sets. Increasing the first set will result in
    another downward slope, and the process starts again.
    It’s a simple system, but it can take a little practice to get the hang
    of it. Here’s a simple flow chart I made up for you to make the
    learning process easier.

    How far do you go?

    Backfilling uses the same level of resistance as you increase the reps, but at
    some point, you'll want to increase the resistance of the exercise. The point
    you increase your resistance depends on several factors like if you want to
    focus on low, moderate, or high rep training.
    I raise the resistance once I can complete three consecutive sets of 15 reps.
    Some of the more "endurance" style activities I do, like knee tucks, go as
    high as three sets of 20 reps while heavier exercises, like dips, are increased
    once I hit three sets of 12 reps. It can take some experimentation to see where
    your sweet spots are so experiment with various rep ranges and see what feels
    best for you.

    A word on “going to failure”

    The idea of going to failure is a hot topic of debate in strength training. Some
    experts claim you have to go to failure in to build muscle. Others claim going
    to failure is not only unnecessary, but it can be dangerous and even
    counterproductive.
    I’ve been on both sides of the debate and have come to the following beliefs
    on the topic:

    #1 Failure is different for everyone

    Lifting to failure can make training seem simple and easy to understand, but
    the true nature of failure is actually a very vague concept.
    There are many different types of failure. There’s mental failure, physical
    failure and even emotional failure. There’s technical failure (where you lift
    until your form breaks down) and also movement failure; where you lift until
    you stop moving at a certain speed or tempo.
    Training to failure can be unclear so it doesn’t serve as a reliable objective to
    ensure an effective workout.

    #2 The quality of your reps before failure are more effective than that
    last rep

    There is no such thing as an ineffective rep. However, those who support
    training to failure can sometimes convey that it’s the last rep that stimulates
    muscle growth. While that final rep can do a lot for you, it by no means
    makes or breaks your set.
    So don’t rush through your reps just to get to your breaking point. Put as
    much effort and focus into each rep as you can to make the whole set more
    effective.

    #3 Your success doesn’t depend on seeking or avoiding failure

    Your training success depends on how well you progress from one workout
    to the next. You can hit failure in every workout for months and still remain
    in a strength and muscle plateau. The same thing can happen if you’re always
    avoiding failure.
    Focusing on progression will give you the best chances of success. Whether
    you hit failure or not is more of a matter of circumstance in your quest to hit a
    higher number of reps or improve your technique.

    What if you can’t do any more reps?

    Inevitably, you’ll reach a point where you’ll feel you can't perform any more
    reps no matter what you do. This plateau is very natural and it's not
    necessarily a sign that you've actually plateaued or that the program is no
    longer working.
    One of the most important lessons I can teach you is that you can only do
    more reps once you’ve improved the reps you can already do. If you’re
    struggling to add reps, then it’s a perfect opportunity to work on rep quality
    rather than rep quantity.
    Sometimes I'll give clients what I call a freeze workout. This strategy is when
    I purposely "freeze" their workouts, and they are not allowed to increase the
    reps or resistance of their exercises. The self-imposed plateau forces them to
    work within the reps they are doing and work on weak links or improve their
    technical proficiency. There are many ways you can improve the quality of a
    set, but here are some of the most common variables you can address.

    Range of motion

    This variable is one of the most common types of technical breakdown. You
    start off performing big and strong reps, but the last few reps are shorter and
    more shallow. While all ranges do produce some benefit, the general rule is
    that the more range of motion you use, the better the benefit.

    Total body control

    Your technique and body position is a big influence on the resistance against
    a muscle. In an effort to squeeze out an extra rep or two, the mind will subtly
    change the position of the body to make the exercise a little bit easier. While
    this can help you get an extra rep or two, know that those compromised reps
    were not the same as the earlier reps. There's nothing wrong with using a
    little “Body English” sometimes, just know it's happening so you can
    minimize it over time.

    Tension control

    Sometimes, your mind can revert to old tension control habits as the stress of
    the set starts to build up. Some muscles may relax a bit; others might
    overcompensate, and so on. If you notice this, make it a point to maintain the
    same tension control through the full set.

    Breathing

    Controlled breathing is another thing that can deteriorate. Namely, are you
    holding your breath and looking like you're trying to pass a kidney stone on
    those last few reps? Trying to maintain focused breathing and facial
    expressions can improve the quality of your reps.

    Speed

    Lastly, you may notice a change in your speed or tempo. Try to maintain a
    steady pace throughout the set. When it comes to building muscle, use a
    speed that allows you to maintain tension in the muscle without having to use
    a lot of momentum to make the reps easier. At the same time, there’s no need
    to move at a super slow pace that can make the exercise feel tedious.
    Spending 2 seconds during the lifting and lowering phase of each rep with a
    half second pause at the top and bottom works well for most people.
    Overall, pay close attention to how your technique changes during a set. If
    you're stuck at doing ten pull-ups, I'm sure your first and last rep are not the
    same from a technical standpoint. Pay attention to how your technique
    erodes. How are the reps different throughout the set? Where is the quality of
    the set starting to deteriorate? Is your body position changing? Does your
    speed and tempo change? How does your range of motion compare over the
    set? However, you answer those questions is the answer to what you need to
    work on to make progress. So if you're range of motion is decreasing on the
    last few reps, then the goal of the next workout is to "backfill" the very reps
    themselves by improving the quality of the later reps.
    All of these strategies can help you progress the grind phase of your workout,
    which is where you'll achieve most of your results. If you're feeling
    adventurous, there's yet one more phase you use to put a nice finishing touch
    at the end of your workout.

    Phase 4 Hypertrophy

    I like to think of this as sort of a "free play" phase like back when I used to
    take swimming lessons as a kid. Most of the class was structured around
    lessons, but the last 15 minutes of the class was free time when we could
    mess around and run off the diving board or go down the water slide.
    As kids, we loved it, and the instructors were brilliant because giving us kids
    some creative playtime had several benefits. It helped us develop a sense of
    creative autonomy, so we got used to making choices for ourselves. We also
    worked on little things we didn't feel were addressed during the lesson.
    I loved to challenge myself to see how far I could swim underwater.  So consider this
    phase as your chance to play around and finish the workout with a cherry on
    top.
     For example, you might finish your leg workout with a set of jump squats, or
    lunges for distance to make your legs suffer. Alternatively, you might hold a
    plank for 30 seconds to make your abs beg for mercy.
    Another option is to practice some exercises that focus tension in specific
    muscles, sort of like isolation exercises bodybuilders use. Maybe you'll finish
    your pushing workout with a set of chest flys or hit your biceps with some
    concentration curls after your pulling workout.
    Whatever you do, be sure this last phase is somewhat brief. Remember that
    the grind phase should be where you invest most of your effort. You should
    come to this phase with just a little bit left in the tank so one or two hard sets
    should be about all you can handle. This phase is also optional. If you're
    running short on time, energy or motivation feel free to skip it.
    So that is the basic structure of a GSC workout routine. To recap: it's about
    practicing tension control, working on stability, doing a few hard grind sets
    and then finishing off with some specialized work or exhaustive finishers.
    It may sound like a lot, but it's not that much. The first two sets only take a
    minute or two and the grind phase usually takes about 10-15 minutes or so
    depending on how much recovery you need between sets. From there, it's
    more of a matter of how many exercises you chose to do in a workout. Now,
    let's dive further into the exercise methodology of the GSC program.
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