How to Avoid and Break through Stubborn Plateaus

arnold-training hardWe all go through times of frustration about our lack of progress in the gym. Some people can train with high intensity week after week, pushing heavy weights and eating, what seems to be a conveyor belt of food, only to feel failure from little or no further increase in gains… you’ve have hit a plateau!

A common issue for us humans is that we fall into routine or rut very easily. The same routine without any change for a long period of time will have negative consequences when it comes to building muscle, strength or whatever you’re physical goal may be.

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Henry Ford (1863-1947)

What is a Plateau?

A plateau is a rut where you find that you are no longer progressing in the gym. You may find that you’re not able to increase weight or squeeze out any more reps out. You’re stuck at benching 100kg and can’t seem to get any more that 6 reps, for weeks. You’ve been trying to keep making gains in muscle growth, but every time you step on the scales it just doesn’t move any higher.

It’s very frustrating and confusing to see all progress come to a stand still when you feel you’re doing things right to make keep making gains.

If you’re experiencing a struggle to meet your goals – whether they are to lose fat, build muscle, or increase strength – then you may have reached a plateau. Additional signs are fatigue and lack of motivation towards training. These are the psychological responses to the body’s inability to progress any further.

How to Burst Through a Plateau?

To see a continued progression towards your goals, you must first keep these two principles in mind. These are progressive overload, and overtraining. The first principle should be incorporated into your program, and overtraining should be avoided.

Progressive Overload Progressive overload is the most important concept that you should understand to build muscle and avoid plateaus. If you don’t follow progressive overload then your body has no reason to adapt and get bigger and stronger.

If you are not doing this then you’re results will be limited and you’re guaranteed to hit a plateau, fast!

Example of progressive overload:

If you’re able to bench press 80kg for 8 reps it will become easier to lift this weight as your muscles get bigger and stronger. If you keep lifting this same weight you will not make any more gains and will hit a plateau.

To keep getting bigger and stronger you must gradually increase the weight, so next time you do the bench press you will add an extra 5kg to the bar. Now you’re benching 90kg for 8 reps, as this weight gets easier you add another 5kg.

This is progressively overloading your muscles to keep them adapting and to keep your gains moving forward.

slow gains

Over Training – You will notice fatigue and a decrease in performance if you have over trained your body. This happens due to excessive training without the proper amount of rest and recovery.

Other symptoms include depression and irritability, increased chances of injury, and lack of motivation to exercise. If you want results, then you need to avoid overtraining. Give your body the proper amount of time to recover and rest in between intense workouts. Otherwise, you’re asking for a plateau.

Overtraining is not something to be taken lightly. It can result in injury, long term damage to joins or your immune system. In normal cases, you will cause overtraining by doing too much in too short of a period of time or doing way to many sets in the gym. It’s very common with new lifters, who are very motivated and make the mistake of following the high volume training routines of pro bodybuilders.

More sets and reps does not equal more muscle, less is more. It took me a few years to realize this fact!

Tips to Beat the Plateau


1: Rest is the most important part of recovering from training! This is the time when we get bigger and stronger. Some people hate to take any time off from working out. They fear that taking a week or two off from the gym will result in losing muscle and strength.Well let me tell you now, you will NOT get smaller and weaker, you will get bigger and noticeably stronger.Taking a week or two off can work wonders for your body and will allow your muscles and CNS (central nervous system) time to fully recover. I recommend at least one week off every three or four months, but remember to continue eating like you would during training.

You will feel refreshed and motivated when you finally get back into the gym. Every time I take a week off I come back to the gym STRONGER!

2: Your eating habits can have a significant impact on breaking through plateaus. Many times the diet is overlooked as the possible problem when someone hits a plateau. Eating properly will ensure that you have the right amount of energy throughout the day and are getting an adequate amount of protein for growth. The 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight should be followed as you gain lean body mass.

Calories are equally important if your goal is gaining muscle. You should gradually increase calories as you get bigger. To work out how many calories you need, use this BMR calculator and use the figure in the ‘Daily calorie needs’ section. Just like you progressively overload your muscle to keep gaining, you have to increase calories to support and grow more muscle.

3: Getting more sleep will help you recover better. Recovery and rest are incredibly important to break through a plateau. Following a consistent sleeping schedule will have a significant positive impact on your energy levels throughout the day and will aid in recovery.

4: Keep your workouts down to less than an hour. You are stimulating growth, you should not be trying to train for as long as possible. This will result in overtraining.

5: Challenging yourself in the gym will help you push more weight for more reps. This is key to growing the muscles and increasing your strength because overloading the muscles will help you break through plateaus.

If you are bulking, do not worry too much about burning fat. If you are eating to lose fat but lifting weights to build muscle, you may not be giving your muscles and body enough nutrients. Limit yourself to just a couple of light cardio sessions each week.

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