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Overcome plateaus with Bigger Faster Stronger system

This is an excerpt from Bigger Faster Stronger by Greg Shepard

By Greg Shepard


With any form of strength and conditioning, athletes experience plateaus, or a leveling off or even a dropping off in performance. Athletes can become frustrated, depressed, and ready to quit because of this phenomenon. Leveling off happens to everyone, but there are ways to prolong upward movement and overcome plateaus.

In 1946, endocrinologist Hans Selye introduced a theory of how the body responds to stress. He explained this theory in a model he called the general adaptation syndrome (GAS). Selye found that when people are subjected to any kind of stress, they go through all or part of the phases outlined in the model. The phases are commonly referred to as shock, countershock, stage of resistance, and stage of exhaustion. The BFS rotational set-rep system is based on Selye’s model.

Using the stages described in the GAS, a young woman goes outside and is ready to jump into an unheated pool. Her friends say, "Come on in. The water’s fine once you get used to it." So she jumps in. First she’s in shock, but then she starts to get used to it. That’s countershock. Soon she is jumping in and out and having a great time. This is the stage of resistance. Eventually, depending on the temperature of the water, she will start to freeze and will even die if she stays in. This final stage, exhaustion, usually happens quickly. In two-a-day practices, for example, most athletes reach the stage of resistance by the fifth or sixth day. The problem is how to prolong the stage of resistance throughout the entire season and not enter the stage of exhaustion.

Selye’s GAS model can easily be applied to sets and reps in weight training. If an athlete performs three sets of 10 reps every day with the same exercises, the stage of exhaustion will occur in about four weeks. The same would be true of one set of 8 to 12 reps or five sets of 5 reps.

To avoid going into the exhaustion stage, athletes must vary the sets, reps, and exercises on a weekly basis. Every time a variation is inserted into the program, the stage of resistance is prolonged. The BFS rotational set-rep system offers a great deal of variation. Every day is different; a given workout occurs only every fifth week. The system of breaking records is highly motivational, and the weekly variety in sets and reps helps prolong the resistance stage. Here are some other ways to keep athletes disciplined and working hard:

  • Use charts for motivation and design them so that everyone feels successful.
  • Regularly set dates for competitions against other athletes or schools or for new maximums.
  • Use motivational films and stories.
  • Use awards such as T-shirts and certificates.
  • Vary time, place, days, partners, sequence, intensity, or diet.
  • Increase diet, sleep, or rest.
  • When athletes return after a layoff, have them forget all past achievements and start an all-new set of records.

The challenge for coaches is to find the optimal balance between regularity of routine and appropriate variations that will enable athletes to make continual progress and avoid plateaus. By using programs such as the BFS rotational set-rep system that prolong the stage of resistance, coaches will undoubtedly prolong their coaching tenure.

This is an excerpt from Bigger Faster Stronger, Second Edition.



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