Progression in any pursuit is never linear, at the start of the journey you may see progress with every session and constant improvement, which provides you with the rewarding feeling keeping you coming back week after week. There will always come the point where that rapid progression halts and you reach your first plateau. This is the point that separates the wheat from the chaff, majority of people will hit this first wall, get discouraged and give up. On the other hand, those who persevere and push through this stage are the ones who will achieve their goals and attain mastery in their given pursuit. In this article, we will discuss how YOU can overcome training plateaus and provide 5 strategies you can implement to get you back on track and progressing once again!
What are signs you have begun to plateau?
First, how do you know that you have begun to plateau? Before you can overcome a plateau, you must be able to recognise and acknowledge your stagnation as soon as it occurs. This takes a level of self-awareness, the sooner you address the issue, the faster you can begin to make the adjustments to overcome it and continue progressing.
The most common sign is lack of progression, has it been multiple weeks/months that you have been stuck on the same weight or same number of repetitions with a given weight. Important note: if you are not tracking your training, weights and reps lifted at the gym, calories consumed, bodyweight/composition on the scale, progress pictures etc. then it will be difficult to recognise these signs. It is always best to go off empirical data, without it you are walking blind, so if you are not in the habit of tracking and logging your training, best time to start is today.
Do you feel less motivated to train? Are you feeling bored of training? On the verge of or experiencing burnout? These are very common signs of being in a plateau, if you answered yes to any of those questions, then it may be time to take corrective action.
5 ways to break through a training plateau
1.) Change exercises or try different exercise variations
Changing exercises, you perform can help give your muscles new stimulus and break through a plateau. For example, let us say you have been bench pressing for the last year, as your primary chest movement and you have reached the point where you have stopped progressing in the bench press. You could try incorporating close grip bench pressing to help improve your regular bench, close grip bench puts emphasis on your triceps which can help strengthen them more than the standard bench press. Alternatively, you could incorporate dumbbell bench press which puts load on each of your arms individually and strengthens your stabiliser muscles and shoulders. After a period of training a different variation, this will then eventually transfer over to a stronger conventional bench press.
2.) Switch up your training volume
One of the most effective ways to overcome a plateau is to increase your training volume. This means doing more sets, reps, or exercises, or reducing the rest time between sets. There are a lot of different approaches you can take with this, here is another practical example: you are shoulder pressing 25kg dumbbells overhead for 7-8 repetitions and have been stuck on this weight for a few weeks/months. You could drop down to 20/22.5kg and try to increase your overall reps and focus on working at a higher rep range.
Now with this lower weight focus on getting as many reps as you can, if you hit 11 reps one week with the 20kgs, try to get 12 the next week, and push out one more rep the next week, after a few weeks you will be pushing those 20kg dumbbells for more and more reps, so when you do come back to lifting those 25kgs, you will have a higher strength ceiling and muscular endurance to push past your initial limit of 7-8 repetitions.
3.) Take a break/rest day for recovery
Rest days give your muscles time to recover and repair after a workout. It is important to note that rest days do not mean you have to sit on the couch all day. Active recovery, such as gentle stretching or low-intensity activities like yoga or walking, can help promote blood flow and speed up recovery. Make sure you listen to your body, if you are feeling tired or sore, consider taking an extra rest day to allow your body to recover fully.
4.) Review your nutrition and hydration
Nutrition plays a critical role in supporting optimal health and well-being, which means it is crucial to your performance in the weight room. If you are struggling to perform at the gym, it may be time to review what you are putting into your body, there may be a particular vitamin or mineral you might be deficient in.
Hydration also key, so ensure you are consuming enough fluids. One thing to note is that the solution may be right under your nose, it may not be what you are putting in your body but how you are consuming it. You may be eating a big meal too soon before your training session, which may bloat you and negatively impact your workouts. Giving yourself an extra hour or 2 to digest your food can make the world of difference in your performance.
5.) Consult a qualified professional for advice
If you have been stuck in a plateau for a considerable amount of time and have exhausted different methods to break out of it, then it may be time to seek advice from a certified personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach. They can help you evaluate your current workout routine, identify areas for improvement, and create a structured plan to break through your plateau. If you feel your issues are in the nutrition department, then speak with a nutritionist.
If your problems are on the mental side, if you find it difficult to push yourself in your sessions and train to failure or close to failure, then it be worth seeing a professional that can help you push through any mental barriers you may have. Many professional athletes in all types of endeavours regularly see sports psychologists to help them continue to strive and push to be the best in their given sport.
It is important to understand that hitting plateaus is inevitable in any given pursuit and is not something to be ashamed of or to feel bad about. Reaching your first plateau is a milestone and can be a time to celebrate your progress so far and acknowledge how far you have come. Remember that progress is not always linear, setbacks and plateaus are a normal part of any journey towards a goal. While hitting a plateau may be discouraging, it is an opportunity to re-evaluate your goals and adjust your approach. The most crucial factor is your perseverance, do not give up on yourself, keep pushing, the only way to achieve something you never have before is to go beyond the limits of your current capabilities. Remember nothing worthwhile comes easy.
Stay the course.