One of the biggest problems that lifters face is the workout plateau. You continue to work hard, put your time in, and be dedicated, yet you still see little to no results for your effort. There are many things that could cause your workout plateau. The following is a list of things to keep an eye on to ensure you keep making gains.
If there’s any nemesis to lifters bigger than the workout plateau, it’s overtraining. Whether it’s physical overtraining or nervous system burnout, having trained too hard, too often, or too long can all but wreck your gym efforts. Everybody has an off day, but if you find yourself consistently feeling or experiencing the symptoms of overtraining, it could be time to take a deload week.
Symptoms of overtraining can be quite varied. Anything from extended lethargy and soreness (lasting multiple days or even weeks), to digestive issues, or even a complete loss of desire to hit the gym could all signify you have overtrained. When it doubt, reduce your training load and/or frequency for at least a week and reassess.
While overtraining often results from training too much, under-recovery usually goes the other direction. In other words, your workouts are probably in line with where they should be, but something is throwing your rest and recuperation off. As a result, you can’t benefit from your workouts like you should be able to. Recovery being worse than normal could be attributed to a lack of sleep, increased stress, or an inadequate diet. Use our macronutrient calculator to get a rough idea what your diet should look like. You can also read our article on the importance of sleep on training goals.
While you don’t need to switch up your training routine every single workout, doing the same thing for an extended period of time can lead to a workout plateau. This is because no matter how well you’re working your plan, your body has simply adapted to the program because of the SAID (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands) principle. Try changing things up for a week or two to kickstart your gains. This could be as simple as changing rep ranges, using a push/pull routine, or even changing to working out one body part a week (i.e. chest on Mondays, legs on Tuesdays etc.).
You know that a mind-muscle connection can dramatically improve your results. Well, not having a good mind-muscle connection can also stall your progress. If you dread going to the gym, your brain is going to shut off and it’s going to be that much harder to make gains. Instead of drudging your way through what you think you’re “supposed” to do, you’re much more likely to see improved development by starting a program you actually enjoy. Consider building a new program based around exercises you enjoy, as well as those you haven’t tried before.
This isn’t saying you’re depressed when you hit the gym, but if you’ve trained alone for a long time, that could be why you’ve hit a workout plateau. Humans by nature are social creatures, and some people simply just do better and work harder when surrounded by the right people. Try finding a training partner for a few weeks and see if your workouts don’t start going better. Having someone to ‘spot’ you also means you’re likely to get more reps in per exercise as well.
Falling into any sort of routine for too long could hinder your training evolution. One way you might not think of is training in the same place for too long. Just like how you sometimes just need to get out of the house or go out of town for a change of scenery, finding a new place to work out could revitalize your motivation.
You don’t necessarily need to find a new gym, though. Doing some intervals at a nearby high school track, going hiking through a local forest, or even bringing a dumbbell and medicine ball to the park for a circuit workout can all be a great change of pace. Adding any of these are a great way to mix things up.
Maybe what you need is to not overhaul your entire program, but just make a little tweak here or there. Instead of barbell bench press, use dumbbells. Superset your exercises (i.e. alternate sets) instead of just performing all your sets of one exercise in a row. Drop your “burnout” set from the end of your workout. Add “rest-pause” reps. Instead of lifting heavy and slow, drop the weight and move a little quicker. You can get some more ideas by reading our types of strength training article.
By shifting emphasis or how you do a few specific things here and there, you can keep your program still largely unchanged, but different enough to stimulate new growth.
While a workout plateau can be demotivating, they can be rather easy to break through. This is true whether you take a break for a week, make a radical change such as hitting up a new training environment, or just tweak a few things here and there. Regardless, keeping yourself from stalling progress will ensure you’re always moving forward and coming closer to achieving your training goals.