The Paradigm Shift - Joe Gray @Gray_Matter_Lifting

Gray Matter Lifting – The Paradigm Shift

by Joe Gray @Gray_Matter_Lifting

Sometimes in lifting you hit a wall that can’t be broken down by traditional measures. Solid progression models, deloads, hypertrophy blocks, peak weeks and other methods just aren’t budging the numbers. That is where you need to throw out the rule book and try something a little crazy. Enter, The Paradigm Shift.

When I wrote this program, my Rickshaw Deadlift was stuck at 500lbs for close to 6 months. I couldn’t get past it. I said F*%k it, and decided to do something stupid. I started with about 65% of my 1RM and did a set of 20 reps touch and go style. Each week I added 10 lbs to the bar and did it again. Some weeks I would hit 10 reps, and then get the last 10 by breathing between reps. Other weeks I just murdered 20 straight through. Regardless, I got 20 reps. By the time I tapped out, I had hit 20 reps from 320 to 470 in consecutive weeks, then 480 for 17, and 490 for 14. The last two weeks there were terrible fires in Northern California, so I could barely breathe in my gym, which I think was the key reason I missed 20 reps. 

Hitting 14 reps for 10lbs shy of my 1RM meant one big thing. 500lbs was no longer my 1RM. I hit 575lbs a few weeks later when I tested my 1RM again. Let’s be clear, I didn’t put 75lbs on my deadlift in a few months. I broke the mental barrier of 500lbs by going hog wild on something I had no real expectations (and thus limitations) on. Sometimes you need a paradigm shift, and this was it.

The rest of the program isn’t too radical. We have a 10lb increase each week on weighted carries, where we simply carry what we deadlifted that week. For squats, I went in each week and tried to hit a solid set of 5 reps for more weight than the week before. I honestly think the deadlifts and carries had such a huge carryover to my squat, that I didn’t need anything special there.

For bench I was toying with increasing my barbell bench volume, while dropping my accessory volume. This ended up in an interesting scheme of auto-regulation, meets volume and intensity progression. I transitioned in Week 1 from 12 reps, to Week 2 for 10, Week 3 for 8, and then Week 4 for 6. But the key is that we take the weight you hit for the prescribed reps, and do 5 sets of 5 with it. So, while 5 sets of 5 with your 12 rep weight is fairly easy, 5 sets of 5 for your 6 rep weight is extremely difficult. We follow that up with some High-Intensity Techniques for dumbbell presses and machine presses to keep the volume low but the impact high, AND we add in a second day for weak point bench training. 

I added 75lbs to my rickshaw deadlift, 100lbs to my cambered bar squat, and without training them specifically, 15lbs to my bench and deadlift and 35lbs to my back squat (these were tested during a week where I had a stomach flu to top it off). I can easily say, this was the most productive training cycle I have had in a long time and has had me rethink my prior limitations on what hard and heavy work really was.  

Highlights of the Program

  • 5 days a week of lifting
    • 1 day for deadlifts
    • 1 day for weighted carries
    • 2 bench days, 1 primary, 1 weak point
    • 1 day for squats
  • 1 day for active recovery cardio
    • I chose the rower, but pick anything you enjoy. As long as you are breathing hard afterwards, but don’t need a full day of recovery from it, we are good. We are talking 10 minutes of solid work here.
  • Flexible Exercise Selections
    • Pick your own exercises, just fit them into the categories/types I’ve written down
    • Specialty bars are good, straight bars are good, doesn’t matter
    • If you don’t have something, say a Machine Press, then just get creative and trade it out for something you do have
  • Prescriptive progression model for Bench, Deadlifts, and Carries
    • Bench follows the drop in reps but increase in intensity pattern
    • Deadlifts and carries just get heavier each week
  • Volume Accessories
    • I’m a bodybuilder by heart, so you have plenty of accessory work to chase that pump and get YOKED SON!!!
    • I also believe, personally, that solid blood flow work by means of typical bodybuilding accessories and mindset, is rejuvenating to the body and helps keep us in the game longer
  • Active Recovery Mini-Sessions
    • These are optional mini-workouts done often times with bands, bodyweight, or really light dumbbells, for single sets of 100 reps.
    •  Examples would be on back day, to do 100 reps of band rows and band curls.
    • If you lift in the mornings, do these around dinner time. If you lift at night, do these the next morning before work.

To start the program, simply enter your exercises into Week 1, and start lifting and recording your weights and numbers. When you hit Week 5, pick new exercises for everything except for the deadlift and weighted carry. Keep the progression going on those. Same thing for when you hit Week 9. After Week 12, you can either start over at Week 1, or take a deload and then test your 1RMs.

Who is this program for?

If you’ve been stuck in your deadlift and have tried everything, this is for you. Your deadlift 1RM should likely be in the 400s minimum, as lower weights just don’t function well with this progression model. You need to have REALLY good deadlift technique. If you are hitting 20 rep sets with anything less than 90%+ technique, you are only going to ingrain bad technique and movement patterns. For what should be obvious reasons, you probably also shouldn’t be doing 20 rep sets of deadlifts if your low back, hips, or anything else is bothering you. 

If you’ve been hammering squats with tons of volume and not making any progress, this might be a nice change of pace to try and build the squat, instead of train it. If you have done a lower volume bench routine, this might be a swift kick in the chesticles to see some growth and progression.

You need a healthy appetite for volume and intensity with a few key toys in your gym as well. I wouldn’t recommend this for a newer lifter, nor for someone making the progress they want in the gym. This is for the frustrated intermediate trying to jump to advanced. 

If you can’t progress your weighted carry numbers, this isn’t going to work for you either. That said, a trap bar is fairly cheap and takes up little space, and makes a fantastic carry implement.


Muscle & Mirth / Garage Gym Powerlifting strongly recommends that you consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.

You should be in good physical condition and be able to participate in the exercise.

Muscle & Mirth / Garage Gym Powerlifting is not a licensed medical care provider and represents that it has no expertise in diagnosing, examining, or treating medical conditions of any kind, or in determining the effect of any specific exercise on a medical condition.

You should understand that when participating in any exercise or exercise program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in this exercise or exercise program, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself, and agree to release and discharge Muscle & Mirth / Garage Gym Powerlifting and its affiliates from any and all claims or causes of action, known or unknown.

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