You Don’t Step In The Same River Twice

you don't step in the same river twice

Why am I not making any progress?

Many trainees make excellent progress for 2-3 years, only to find their progress come to a screeching halt. Despite their best efforts they can’t seem to break through the dreaded training plateau. In some cases trainees even find themselves slowly regressing.

I can’t tell you the number of men I have spoken with who have been stuck at a 3-plate bench or a 5-plate deadlift for years on end. These are certainly respectable lifts and represent something far beyond what the typical gym-goer will ever achieve in their lifetime. However, all-too-often these same individuals are frustrated by their inability to progress further in the iron game.

If this resonates with you, consider the following:

You don’t step in the same river twice.

What do I mean by this? Actually, this quote is from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

This principle is relevant both in terms of your short-term and long-term program design.

With credit to Dave Tate, the program that gets you to bench 300 lbs may not be the program that gets you to bench 400 lbs. The stronger you are, the more complex your training needs to be in order to continue to gain strength. A beginner’s training program may consist of improving proficiency in the barbell lifts. On the other hand, an internationally competitive power lifter’s training will be very complex indeed. 

One of the biggest pitfalls of program design is the following:

Failure to vary your workouts at pre-determined intervals.

Every time you repeat a routine it becomes less effective. After all, strength training is really nothing more than a biological adaptation to a biological stimulus. The stimulus that you present to the body needs to be able to disrupt the body’s state of homeostasis such that it perceives a threat to its survival.

When this happens the adaptive processes begins, which ultimately allow you to become bigger and stronger. If you repeat the same workouts over and over your body will become extremely efficient at that routine. In fact, at some point the adaptive process will come to a screeching halt and you will just be eating into your recovery reserves for no gain.

How often should you vary your workouts?

This can be a very confusing topic as there are many different schools of thought on the subject. Some individuals prefer to literally never do the same workout twice in a row, while others prefer to stick to one program for many months at a time. Who is right?

Are you ready for the truth? In reality, they are both right… but they are also both wrong! How can this be?

Everyone has a unique neurotransmitter profile that ultimately dictates the type of program that they respond best to. Some trainees respond best to intensity, some respond best to volume, and still others respond best to variety. As Charles Poliquin liked to say, if you are a cheetah, you should train like a cheetah. If you are a grizzly bear, train like a grizzly bear. If you are a mongoose on PCP, train like a mongoose on PCP. Only a fool would train in a manner that is not suitable for their own unique physiology.

As a general rule of thumb, most individuals will do best changing their routine every 2-4 weeks for a given bodypart. You may want to consider changing some or all of the following variables when designing your next routine:

  • Choice of exercises
  • Order of exercises
  • Sets
  • Reps
  • Tempo
  • Methods of contraction
  • Modes of contraction
  • etc.

Remember, your routine is only as good as the time it takes for you to adapt to it. If you continue to use the same routine after the adaptive process has run its course, you will only be digging yourself into a hole.

Of course, this all begs the following question when implementing a new strength training routine:

How do you know if your training is working?

Simply put, you cannot say with certainty if your routine is working for you unless you precisely record all of your workouts in a training logbook.

You must write down your exercises, sets, reps, rest intervals, and of course the tempo at which you perform your lifts.

As a general rule of thumb, you should be able to increase the load on a given exercise by 1-3% every time you repeat a workout.

This is generally true, regardless of whether your primary training objective is fat loss, hypertrophy, or strength gains.

If you are unable to improve by at least 1% each workout, then you know something is wrong. This is why recording your workouts in a logbook is so crucial.

Many trainees will hack away for months at a time without making any progress because they have nothing to compare their performance to.

If your loads are not improving then you can look into varying something as simple as your training frequency or as complex as your overall program design.

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Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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