Anyone who has any experience in the world of strength training has been there. The newbie gains run out, your strength stops increasing and maybe even your lift numbers start backsliding. You’ve come so far and yet… here you are, struggling to put up numbers that you had no trouble with even a couple of weeks ago.
This is a strength plateau and it’s very common in the world of fitness. You want to keep progressing but unfortunately, the kind of linear progression that you experienced as a beginner is all gone. Now you need to start thinking very creatively about how you plan to get over the hump and start bringing strength gains back into your life.
How exactly you do that is the problem of strength training. It takes a lot of thought and even a little bit of creativity to break those plateaus. But it’s something you will simply have to do time and again if you want to start your numbers moving onward and upward again.
Understanding the Plateau
Before we go any further, it’s necessary to understand what fitness plateaus are and why they happen. While your human body is very adaptive and can quickly adjust to the demands that you place on it, this adaptiveness has limits.
Beginners have no trouble continually making gains week over week because of the rapid adaptability that your body is capable of. However, if you could just add 15 pounds to your squat every time you go to the gym every time that you go in, you’d soon be squatting Herculean world records in powerlifting every week. So obviously, you eventually hit a wall and need to start reinventing the wheel a little bit.
Monotony is fuel for the engine of a plateau. Your body has become bored in a sense, so you need to change things up a bit. For example, if you’re used to back squatting, change it up to front squats, change your bar position from low bar to high bar, or focus on single-leg movements like Bulgarian split squats or heavy lunges. “Muscle confusion” is very real, but you’re also engaging your muscles in ways they’re not used to, which can ignite growth in areas that are lagging.
Adjusting Your Routine To Break Plateaus
Changing up your lifts is one very important way to start breaking plateaus. However, there are lots of others. For example, if you’re intensity-oriented, lifting heavy weights at low reps, consider taking a few weeks with lower intensity and higher volume to build up muscle. Then use that new muscle to go back and hit the intensities that were defeating you. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with five sets of 10 for muscle growth.
On the other hand, if your muscle growth has slowed, maybe it’s because you’ve gotten a little soft on yourself with regard to intensity. So do the opposite: Switch from five sets of 10 reps to something much more focused on intensity, like five sets of five or even five sets of three. Pushing the limits of your strength will certainly pay dividends over time when it comes to your size.
Another way to break that plateau is periodization. This is where you focus less on making a new PR every time you go to the gym and more on the long haul. For example, if you could add five pounds to your squat every month, rather than every week, you could add 60 pounds to your squat over the course of a year. That’s absolutely nothing to sneeze at.
Eat, Sleep, Train, Repeat
Of course, your plateau might have absolutely nothing to do with your training. There are a number of other factors that could be impacting your ability to set new PRs at the gym.
For example, overtraining can lead to plateaus or even regression in strength. Remember that your muscles don’t grow while you’re training. They grow during the times when you are resting. So making sure that you’re getting enough sleep every night is a crucial component of allowing your body to repair and to grow stronger.
Rest might also include a “deload week” where you reduce your training volume and intensity to allow for enhanced recovery. This helps you to avoid burnout, reduces the risks associated with overtraining, and sets the stage for further gains.
Another problem might be how you’re eating. Eating at a caloric deficit because you want to lose weight is not, strictly speaking, compatible with making gains at the gym. You need to be eating big if you want to grow big and lift big. Protein, in particular, is essential for muscle growth. So you either need to accept backsliding numbers while you get your body fat on point or else eat bigger.
The main thing to remember is that you’re in a marathon, not a sprint. Gains are made over months and years, not weeks and days. So be patient, incorporate some of the strategies we’ve suggested, and embrace the notion of “two steps forward, one step back.” You might find it frustrating on individual days, but over the long haul, you will be extremely pleased with your gains.
How have you broken fitness plateaus? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!