Strength Sensei Bookshelf
Overcoming Strength Training Plateaus
At 35 pages, this book is relatively small, but it packs a big wallop with some practical training advice to help you jump-start workouts that have stopped working.
Mark Sherwood was a fitness education instructor for 15 years and is the author of the self-published Overcoming Strength Training Plateaus (2016). Sherwood earned an undergraduate degree as an exercise specialist in 1986 from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. (Fun Fact: That is the same university where Fred “Dr. Squat” Hatfield taught.)
The subtitle of Sherwood’s book is “How to Avoid the Pattern That Kills Progress.” What is this pattern? Sherwood explains, “The pattern that kills progress occurs when a person trains in contradiction to the primary goal of the body and he keeps making training harder each time his body attempts to make training easier. This pattern eventually causes strength gains to cease.” Huh?
To put it another way, Sherwood apparently believes that while progressive resistance is necessary for the body to become stronger, it will reach plateaus if it is continually stressed with methods that are too intense. Many periodization models are based on this idea. For example, during a four-week training cycle, the fourth week would involve a reduction in training volume and intensity.
Moving on, Sherwood offers some sound advice that agrees with many of the methods endorsed by Charles R. Poliquin. For example, Sherwood doesn’t believe in creating excessive fatigue during warm-up sets. Let’s use an example from “Chapter 7: Warm Up Sets That Work For You, Not Against You.”
Let’s say you planned to perform three sets of 12-15 reps in the bench press with 200 pounds. Sherwood would not have you do 4 warm-up sets of 15 reps with 95, 135, 165, and 185 pounds. Instead, he would have you start with 1 set of 8 reps with a weight that you could do for 25 reps, then do 1 set of 6 reps with a weight that permits you to perform 18 reps. Now you’re ready for 200 pounds to tackle sets of 12-15 reps. If your workout called for working sets in the 1-6 range, Sherwood would have you increase to four sets in a 5,5,3,1 progression. The fourth warm-up set with 1 rep would allow you to perform 8 reps.
“Chapter 8: Traditional Approaches to Overcoming Training Plateaus” contains many ideas that followers of the Strength Sensei would be familiar with. For example, Sherwood says that to avoid training plateaus, you could change loading paraments such as the rep range (i.e., intensification and accumulation phases). You could also change exercises, so after working on barbell bench presses for a period, switch to dumbbell bench presses.
In addition to short-term strategies, Overcoming Strength Training Plateaus discusses long-term planning with block periodization, linear periodization, and non-linear periodization methods. Sherwood explains that these methods help prevent training plateaus by providing planned variation in your training.
Be warned: Sherwood provides no scientific references for his theories. It’s not that his advice for overcoming training plateaus is not sound but consider it more of a book of “self-evident truth” based on the author’s lifelong passion for weight training. In other words, “It is what it is.”
Overcoming Strength Training Plateaus is not a scientific textbook book that belongs on a bookshelf wedged between Siff’s and Verkhoshanky’s Supertraining and Komi’s Strength and Power in Sport. However, it’s a 30-minute read and offers some practical advice on how to jumpstart your training into new gains. (TSS)
— Lead photo by Miloš Šarčev