How To Break Through A Lifting Plateau
Lifting plateaus happen to the best of us, whether its seasoned athletes or aspiring bodybuilders. At some point, we all hit a sticking point in our progress. Now nothing is more frustrating than not making progress in the gym. You rock up to the gym with all gear, hyped up on supplements only then to use the same weights as last week, or even worse… less weight! This nightmare of a cycle continues for weeks on end.
Now although annoying, it is nothing to worry about and can be easily overcome. The solution to breaking through a lifting plateau is usually a simple one.
What Is A Plateau
Okay so how do you know if you’ve hit a plateau or if it was just a couple of bad gym sessions. Most people think they’ve hit a plateau when their progress slows and start taking drastic measures, which actually end up hurting their results.
A true plateau is when despite your best efforts you simply cannot increase the volume of your lifts. This means that if you lifted 135lbs/60kgs last week for 4 reps, next week try to aim to lift the same weight but for more reps and likewise the week after. These increased reps will provide enough stimulus for your muscles to grow and get stronger.
In a true plateau, every lift is stuck at the same weight without any form of progression.
Why Do We Hit Plateaus
The human body although organic is an absolutely incredible machine which adapts to everything you throw at it. Your body finds the easiest way to survive and ideally, would remain the same. Because of this, your body doesn’t make it particularly easy to build muscle.
The longer you train, the better the body becomes at adapting to your training regime, people stop pushing themselves, not putting in the effort and cruising through their workouts.
If your newbie gains are behind you and you’ve graduated to an intermittent lifter than I’m afraid that you are going to have to start pushing yourself harder. The main factor for muscle growth is progressive overload which normally comes from increased resistance. People who look the same for a whole year, normally are lifting more or less the same weights for every gym session.
What Causes A Plateau
#1 Not Enough Sleep
Sleep is a crucial part of building muscle that it commonly overlooked. During sleep is the main time that muscles repair, grow and get stronger. Less than 6 hours of sleep a night will compromise muscle and strength recovery.
you should be aiming for about 7 – 10 hours of sleep a night for optimal recovery. By getting enough rest you will able to perform at your best at the gym.
This is probably one of the greatest reasons for hitting plateaus. Training with heavy weights put incredible stress on the body’s muscles and central nervous system. With prolonged periods of training, the body actually becomes weaker and tired. This shows itself as a reduction in strength and muscle endurance. If you keep trying to achieve progressive overload through this it will most likely end in injury.
The only real solution to overtraining is to either take a week off of training or to perform a deload week. Deload weeks should be planned every 3 months or at the end of intense training cycles. They involve using lighter weights and lower volume to allow the body to recover.
Now, most gym goers and athletes know how important a balanced diet and good nutrition is for progress. Now a lot of the time plateaus won’t come from eating too much but from not eating enough. To build muscle mass your body needs energy in the form of calories.
As you train more and gain more muscle mass and strength your calorie intake will also have to increase to allow you to keep adding muscle. Another tip to note is to ensure your calories are coming from whole foods and in the correct macronutrient ratios ( at least 1g/lb or 2.5g/kg protein/bodyweight).
If you have hit a plateau, slowly starting increasing your calories about 100 – 200 calories from carbs (20 – 50 grammes) should give results if this is the issue .
#4 Not Mixing It Up
Doing exactly the same thing week in and week out will obviously allow your body to adapt. If you are stuck at a certain rep range with a certain weight try mixing it up. Try increasing the weight but lowering the reps, lowering the weight and increasing the reps or even just adding more sets in for the same reps and weight.
Another solution is to mix up the exercise you are doing. Mixing up the exercise you perform for the same muscle groups is a great way to provide different stimuli as well as revitalising your workouts.
Form is a crucial part of lifting, not only does it prevent injury but it also ensures you are working the correct muscles in the correct way.
Watching videos is great for ensuring you are using proper form and if you are in doubt ask someone for advice. Check out AthleanX on youtube, he’s one of my go to for advice!
Causes of improper form normally come from lack of mobility and flexibility. Ensure you that you foam roll, stretch and warm up prior to lifting.
#6 Increase intensity
If you’ve plateaued then your intensity might have decreased as well. A great way to add some fire back to your workout is by using some different training formats. Some great ones to try out are: supersets (performing exercises back to back), dropsets (performing an exercise to failure, lowering the weight and then going to failure again) and Assisted forced reps (using a spotter to help move the weight once you’ve failed).
Your positive action combined with positive thinking results in success – Shiv Khera
As usual, if you’ve got any questions or any other suggestions about plateaus and how to break them please comment below or hit me up on social media!