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The Fight Against Stagnation: 5 Ways to Break Training Plateaus

The frustration of reaching a training plateau is beyond infuriating, and most of us have been there before.

The scenario often looks like this: progress is steady and exciting, you are starting to see physical results, and anticipation is building. Then, all of a sudden…BAM!

You are slapped in the face by a plateau. Progress stagnates, frustration and anxiety build; and the scary part is, most people have no idea how to break through. I’m here to tell you that if you reach a plateau, there’s no reason to panic.

Plateaus are completely normal, and they will happen no matter what. It’s what you do about the plateau that determines whether or not you continue to make consistent progress.

Below are five simple ways to break training plateaus and make progress towards your goals, whether they are fat loss, muscle gain, or becoming healthier overall.

Here we go.

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1. Deload

There’s no question that hard work is the initial price of admission if you want to make progress, regardless of your goal.

However, there are times when you need to back off, and deloading is the most simple and effective method.

During a deload, you simply reduce the intensity and volume of your lifting and/or cardio routine by 50-60%.

For example, if you usually bench press 150 pounds for ten reps, during a deload you would cut this in half. So you could either reduce the amount of reps you perform to five, or drop the weight down to 75 pounds.

Your ego might take a hit, but it’s a small price to pay in order to break through a plateau.

Deloads will typically last a week, but you can make them longer or shorter depending on how you feel. After the deload week is complete, you will be itching to get back into training with your usual intensity, which is exactly what you need to reignite your progress.

2. Up the Volume

This plateau-bursting method is the complete opposite of the tip above. Yes, there are times when your body needs a break.

However, there are also times when your body is not getting enough of a stimulus to grow (or burn fat), so it simply stays the same.

Many times, the jolt your body needs to continue progressing is increased volume. This means that if you normally perform exercises in the five to eight repetition range, you could increase the rep range to ten to twelve.

Also, you could increase the amount of sets you perform for a given exercise. For example, if you normally perform two sets, you could do three or four sets.

This increase in volume should only be for a short period of time, no more than a few weeks, in order to minimize the chance of burning out and running into another plateau.

3. Switch up the Tempo

Time under tension, which is the amount of time a stress is applied to a muscle, is essential for muscular growth.

A simple tip to break a plateau would be to apply more time under tension. This can be achieved by slowing down the lowering phase of an exercise.

The lowering phase of any given exercise is called the eccentric (or the negative). For example, in a squat, the eccentric portion is when you are on the way down. Spending more time in the lowering phase of an exercise means more time under tension, which leads to more muscle gain.

This is a very common method used to break through plateaus, and it is extremely effective if used sparingly. Again, similar to the increase of volume, this should only be applied for a short period of time, because increasing time under tension is stressful on the nervous system.

The stress is necessary to break a plateau, but if you extend it over a long period of time, progress will stagnate; so tread carefully.

4. Incorporate Supersets

Supersets are one of my favorite ways to break through a lack of progress.

A superset, if you don’t know, is when you perform two exercises back to back, with no rest in between. To be most effective, the two exercises should involve non-competing muscle groups.

An example of an effective superset would be pairing pull-ups with lunges. This is a great way to do more work in less time, and it will give your body a new stressor to adapt to, leading to accelerated progress.

Supersets are also very efficient, as they increase the amount of work you can do in a given time period.

5. Have Some Variety

Although I feel that variety is an aspect of training that is over-emphasized, sometimes it’s just what you need to break through a plateau.

If you’ve been doing the same program for several months and progress is beginning to stall, you may want to think about tweaking the program to provide your body with a different stimulus.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to completely overhaul your program or switch programs completely, but a bit of variety can be helpful.

For example, if you normally perform the bench press with a standard grip, maybe change the width of your grip, or switch to the dumbbell bench press. These types of subtle changes can be very effective as they will place more emphasis on different muscle groups, providing your body with signals to grow.

Wrap Up

Patience is key.

Plateaus are undoubtedly frustrating, but you must be patient. Becoming stressed over a training plateau can only hurt you, so the best advice is to relax and calmly ease into finding the solution.

Applying these tips in the right situation will definitely give you the burst you need to stave off stagnation and continue to inch closer to your goals.

Don’t wilt under pressure, embrace it.

For more training tips and advice, head over to http://JJStrength.com.

Writer and blogger who is passionate about high performance fitness and nutrition. Avid reader and learner, helping people live a healthier life. Visit my site at http://jjstrength.com for more information.

2 Comments

  1. Sam H.

    April 26, 2013 at 10:16 am

    I have to agree with your article. What I think is best is to switch up the tempo, and always incorporate some variety into your workout. Yes you should relax and calmly ease into finding the solution, but frustration is hard to deal with sometimes.

  2. aimbeyondthesky

    April 26, 2013 at 1:24 am

    Plateaus are a result more of boredom with the particular exercise routine than physical matters. Boredom is of the mind but physical tiredness is of the body; the former has greater influence than the latter. Everybody does not have to resort or take only a particular form of exercise; if you like the gym, go for it; if you like outdoors, go for it! There are thousand and one ways one can exercise for health. The gym is more for the professional bodybuilder than it is for casual trainers or those who want to exercise for health. Walk, jog, run outdoors; these are equally good exercises for those who want to maintain a trim and healthy appearance. Outdoors should be done according to one’s ability, resilience and state of mind. It does not necessarily have to be done under the watchful eyes of a trainer; sometimes this could be frustrating when the trainer begins to introduce some professional angles which many people may not be able to follow; again plateau would begin to set in here!

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