Training Plateau's

Insight on plateaus before we get into techniques to shorten the length of the plateau and ways to keep the body progressing.

Plateau noun

1.        a usually extensive land area having a relatively level surface raised sharply above adjacent land on at least one side

2.        a region of little or no change in a graphic representation


1.        to reach a level, period, or condition of stability or maximum attainment

Anyone that is training and is struggling with a plateau needs to consider one very important part of the struggle: you are on a journey challenging yourself every step, and you are not standing still, and although climbing up to this plateau was definitely a challenge, you are now experiencing a different type of challenge; one of patience. We certainly love instant gratification, but I would strongly argue that this is not the way of the natural world that we do our best to forget about.

To maintain a positive attitude, remember where you started from. I could place a large bet that you started from somewhere “lower” (in terms of physical landscape) than where you currently stand. Consider this quote from aikido master George Leonard and his view of plateaus; “To learn anything significant, to make any lasting change in your self, you must be willing to spend most of your time on the plateau.”


Techniques on shortening plateaus

1.        Assess how long you have been on this plateau.

2.        Review your routine during this period and leading up to it. Progress stopped 2 months ago: for the 3 months before the start of the plateau and until now, what have you been doing? (Exercises, rep ranges, volume, style, variations, etc.)

3.        Examine the things that have stayed the same. You can compare muscle groups to exercises and determine which things are progressing and are not. (The regular bench press has stayed the same, but you have been improving on incline bench.)

4.        After determining what has been the same without progress, plan to change it in some way, and take the exercises that are improving and make them a priority. There comes a point where you have to take into account the definition of insanity: are you doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? If you have kept your exact same bench press routine doing the same style of everything, your body will adapt and it will not become stronger.

5.        Make (or attain somehow) a plan or program to keep yourself from falling into your old routine, and change anything that hasn’t improved during the plateau. This can be: reps, style of exercise, tempo, intensity, workout style, exercise modality, anything to introduce change.

6.        Track your workouts and see what progresses and what does not. If you pick an exercise that isn’t progressing in any way after a few weeks, you may want to try something else. When you find an exercise you feel strong with and is improving, grab the bull by the horns! (Tracking is critical for plateaus because at some point you will be making progress but it may not be as substantial as it was at one time… yet it is still progressing)

7.        Keep the long term goal that you are chasing in mind, but make smaller goals based around your new routine and what things you want to see improve. If your regular style bench has stalled and you switch to a different bench for 8 weeks, when you go back to your regular bench there is a possibility that (a) the different variation made your regular bench stronger or (b) after going back to regular the body will be shocked from the change and it will strengthen.

A few ways to be proactive and avoid plateaus 

1.       Make a program for 4-8 weeks and after that program is completed, go onto a different program. They may be working towards the same goal, but assess things you would like to see change or better, make the adjustments, and stick with them until that program is complete. Failing to plan is planning to fail.

2.        Follow the double progression through exercises so that you are always making progress. Start with 6 reps of 135 lbs, the next time do 8 reps, and work the reps up until 12 reps, then increase the weight to 155 lb and drop the reps back to 6.

3.        Track your workouts!!! If you keep guessing off of memory every time you do a workout you will not be doing yourself any favors… maybe if you are younger and you don’t have as much on your plate, remembering exactly how much you bicep curled 3 weeks ago is possible, either way writing down what you do with the weights is important if you care enough about it to want to battle a plateau.

4.        Train your weaknesses and embrace your strengths. If an exercise is making good progress and you feel strong then utilize it, attack it, and get stronger! But at the same time, do the exercises that you really hate to do. Most likely you hate them because you need them (the obstacle is the way). If you are doing those exercises that really suck and aren’t progressing, then pick something else that will target that weak area to progress through. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

5.        Don’t be afraid to try something new. If you don’t know of other exercise or workout variations than what you are doing, ask someone else, and then try what they say. Some things will work for someone that doesn’t work for someone else, but you don’t know until you try.

Just remember, a plateau is a large flat section that is raised sharply. You have to climb and earn your spot on the plateau! Embrace the journey and the positive change you acquired while climbing!

Ryan Sensenig

(Notice that there are bigger mountains to climb… don’t settle for where you are! Always seek to progress and better yourself. There is no limit.)