The Science of Sucking it Up, making stress to make gainz.

The Science of Sucking it Up, making stress to make gainz.

0 comments / Posted on by James Plumb

10 minute read – intermediate trainees.

Here’s the thing. Getting strong involves a high element of suck. People that take joy in misery are often the ones that do the best. This is a true story when I was a teenager – if woke up without my arms being in searing pain after arm day, I’d cry. It is what it is, you have to love being sore and feeling like sh*t, or at least be willing to bear it. Here is what you need to know, and how much you need to feel like crap – not to look like crap.

 The Science of Sucking it Up, making stress to make gainz.

Why so stressed?

Adaption (i.e. gainz) is a response to stress on the body. Typically, powerlifting works in cycles on under-stress, over-stress, and recover. That’s utterly too simplistic, but its also patently true – what differs is how you make that stress, and how long that cycle lasts.

Beginners, god bless ya cotton socks, need so very little to elicit a response from training. Basically, a beginner can just lift heavier things, eat lots and life will be merry. As with all things, that phase of life is finite, and when it's done, it tends to be done forever.

Welcome to being less weak, and dealing with cumulative stress.

At some point in time, you need to train longer, harder and smarter to get stronger. This is, in my mind, for guys, the 100kg bench point. Anyone can get to 100kg, but getting beyond means getting some idea of programming and stress selection (this is obviously bodyweight and build dependent, but it’s a good general idea).

If you don’t train and recover well, you will start to attain bad stress. Crappy injuries, the fatigued musculature that doesn’t recover well, mental stress from constantly missed reps – the list goes on.

But, if you train and recover well, you still get hormonal stress, microtears and the mental stress caused by intense weeks.

The difficult thing is, you need overload. That weak guy in your gym that is always in deload – he hasn’t gone far enough. That guy who is strong but always injured, he goes to dang far.


How far do I need to go?

Depends on how much you want to progress. Everything up to your Maximum Recoverable Volume (MRV) is fair game. In general, up until that cliff, the more you do, the better you get. Once you get to MRV – you get worse. The thing is, your maximum is probably way further than you think.

Your body is an adaptive system, and to a large extent, is asymptotic. That is a fancy way of saying that the more you do, the better you get – but the more is not linear. So, first set is best, next set less, next set less again – all the way until you get to the maximum volume you can recover from.

If you are creating cycles of training, you should stick with it as long as you can. Beyond just feeling like crap – if you are still increasing intensity and hitting your numbers – you are golden. The stopping point is when you get weaker (or just before)

 The Science of Sucking it Up, making stress to make gainz.

How to increase your stress – in  a good way

Your goal, if you want to be strong (or well conditioned, or in any way better) is to be specific in building a capacity to do more. The better an athlete, the more they can do, before the need to deload. The opposite side of that coin in powerlifting is, the stronger you get, the better you get at creating stress in a shorter time. Its simply harder on the body to squat 250 than squat 70.

If you are in the process of writing programs, the most simplistic (and useful way) for an intermediate is to monitor

  1. Total tonnage
  2. Reps in relation to 1RM

Over each cycle, you should be able to lift a higher tonnage (total weight including warm-ups) every week, then deload back to around 70% - start the whole cycle again. The longer you can spend in the ‘top end’ – the highly intense weeks where reps are 2-5, and you are over 85% of max, the stronger you will get. Hang in there until you feel

  1. Joints are bashed up
  2. Your test is dropping

When your fatigue is up, cortisol is up and your testosterone drops (boys and girls). This affects your ability to recover and makes the idea of sex an annoyance (that’s really bad).

In short, just look at the numbers from the last weeks before you deload, and try to beat them. Smash them if you can. There is absolutely no reason to max out (unless you want to) – its fine to hang in for a few tough weeks, then just start again.

Cumulative stress occurs in your tendons, you can’t get away from it. You will honestly feel pretty crappy at some points. In these last weeks, promise yourself you will not call it off until you go in and finish your warmup. Many, many times, you have plenty in the tank, and your body is being a jerk wanting to call it off early.

 The Science of Sucking it Up, making stress to make gainz.

The End Point

At some point, you will enjoy walking around sore (and will be angry if you aren’t). You’ll wear your body stiffness and a badge of honour, because you will know that it means your body is stressed, and adapting to that stress. Largely, the point of this article is for you to

  • Audit if you go far enough into discomfort to elicit a response
  • Realise you're how close you get to your potential is driven by your ability to do more

There are a million things that cause stress. Your partner, your job, your lack of sleep, social anxiety, waking up in the middle of the night worried someone will see your search history on your phone. It all adds up. It's stupid to say ’12 weeks is the correct amount before deload’. It's arbitrary and lack nuance. The more stressful your life is, the more you will suffer the hormonal effects. The fewer calories you consume, the more you will suffer glycogen depletion. If you are young and eating like a fat pig (I yearn for your life) – then you can train for a long time without issue. Try to understand your body better, as no coach lives in your shoes, and can understand where you are at stress-wise.


About the author

Andrew Jansen is the co-founder and a director of DBS Barbell.

He has competed in equipped and raw powerlifting, and in Strongman comps.

His current best lifts are raw 237.5kg squat, 172.5kg bench and 290kg deadlift at 105kg bodyweight.

You can find DBS on or


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