One of the biggest problems people run into is the idea that you max out in the gym regularly to strength train. This is actually the best way to plateau!
The Central Nervous System is your engine!
It does not matter if you are training the bench press, deadlift, bent over rows, etc. Your body is run by a central nervous system. This is like the engine of your car. If you red line it every time you are in the gym you are running down the engine and actually weakening your body by over training.
The key is volume within 50% to 90% of your max.
If you like to work up to a heavy single that is your max every week, than you can expect that heavy single to remain your max for here on out. Same if you want to work up to a heavy double, but you need a spot on that second lift. Don’t expect to keep pushing that number higher and higher unless you are adding weight to your body. To gain actual strength you need to work within a specific range.
Sets of 5X5 (60% of your max), 4X4 (70% max), 5X3 (80-85% max), 6X2 (90% max)
It is much better to mix workouts of 60% of your max with 5 sets of 5 reps, 70% of your max with 4 sets of 4 reps, and 80-85% of your max for 5 sets of triples. Then you can get heavy with 6 sets of doubles at 90% of your max, but that should be as heavy as you go! Leading up to those working sets of 5X5, 5X4, and 5X3 I would suggest 3-4 sets of progressively heavier weights, starting with a low warm up weight.
To gain strength your body needs to lift for an extended period of time within a workable percentage of your max. You will find though the percentage is lower than your max, the volume of lifting will be higher and you will struggle mightily during training. It is the extra reps and work that will get your stronger.
If you want to go heavier, use partial movements!
To get the body lifting even heavier, you can go over 100% of your max in partial lifts. Do deadlifts from the knees off the safety pins, and quarters squats with the safety pins high. Or put a few 2X4 boards on your chest and do board pressing (where you bench press, lowering the bar to the 2X4s and then pressing). Floor presses, bench pressing while laying on the floor in a squat rack also works to decrease the range of motion while increasing the weight.
This should be use WITH full range of motion lifting and not REPLACE of! You need full reps to gain size and strength! Heavy partials are only a piece of the puzzle!
****The author, 6 Pack Lapadat, is a National Powerlifting Champion and Guinness World Record holder in the Squats. See bio section for more info on him!****