Strength training programs require constant adjustment throughout the year or you risk hitting plateaux. If you are new to strength training, such a plateau usually arrives after about six months of training.
It happened to me after gym instructors showed me what I should be doing way back in 2008. I stuck with the same workouts and never shocked my body into change. My body got used to the loads and the exercises I was doing, and I hit a plateau. After 6 months of continuous weight loss, my weight remained the same and I started to lose motivation to train.
During the first months of training (especially guys) you will likely make some dramatic strength gains. Soon, however, these gains begin to level off. To continue making gains, you will need to vary your training techniques and understand basic conditioning principles. You can use the following techniques to break out of your plateau.
Increase Training Intensity
One of the easiest ways to break out of your plateau is by making your muscles work harder, rather than longer. High Intensity Interval Training works wonders. Circuits, tabatas, timing instead of reps. or simply mix up the load and sets and reps you do.
Every 6-8 weeks you should mix it about and if you usually do “low weight – high reps” try “high weight – low reps”. If you had been lifting 3 sets of 10-12 reps, drop down to 2 sets of 6-8 reps.
Always warm up for 5 – 10 minutes before lifting and lift in a slow and controlled motion to get the most out of each lift. Bouncing the weight and using momentum in your back and legs does little to build strength in the target muscle.
Vary Your Exercises
Varying your equipment or exercise (crosstraining) will work your muscles in a new way and help you develop new skills. If you always use machines, try free weights or a medicine ball for a change. If you use the bench press for chest, start doing pushups instead. Try using body weight exercises, kettlebells or ViPRs. Try circuits classes or BodyPump for a change.
This new form of training forces you to use the muscles in a slightly different way and allow stale muscles a chance to rest. It keeps your program interesting and stimulates a different pattern of motor unit recruitment.
Change the Order
Another way to break out of a plateau is to change the sequence of exercises you normally do. When muscles get fatigued in a different order they will adapt in a different way, allowing a variation in muscle strength gains.
Here’s my list of exercises that I pick and choose from, varying it each time:
Remove Some Exercises and Add Others
There may be some exercises in your routine that you have outgrown. Look at your routine critically for unnecessary or redundant exercises. You might consider scheduling a session or two with a personal trainer or gym instructor who can provide you with recommendations for adding or removing exercises you have in your routine. The rather knowedgable Andy at my gym suggested some of these ViPR workouts for me recently. 🙂
There’s always things you can learn from others, so don’t stick to your routines so much, ask others for advice and try out new things.
Get Adequate Rest
If you train too hard for too long, you will undoubtedly hit a plateau. It is also likely that you will develop an injury. Adequate rest and recovery is an essential element in continuing to make progress in your training program. Most world class athletes train in a ‘rest – recover’ fashion. There may even be times during the year that you should reduce your strength training altogether.
Proper nutrition will help your muscles rebuild as well as fuel your workouts. Don’t be taken in by the high protein hype. Protein intake of greater than 2 gr/kg of body weight per day does nothing to increase muscle growth. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for intense muscular effort, and should not be reduced or avoided in the name of performance. (I learned that the hard way for my two week food test!)
Finally, if you plateau before you reach your strength goals you have to vary your program, mix it up and perhaps reconsider your goals.
Look out for my next post ‘Top 10 ways to achieve your personal best’. The strategies can also help you break out of a slump and remind you of the key factors in developing a successful training program. By following such principles, you’ll find it easy to overcome most training plateaux. It’ll be up on here soon. 🙂
For the other posts in this series see: