4 Things To Try When You Hit A Plateau

Powerlifter

A training plateau is something that's not easy to define for each individual. You have to be honest with yourself and listen to your body. Typically a real plateau for beginner to intermediate lifters would be completely stalled progress over a few months, not weeks or days. The beginner gains WILL start to slow down. Just to keep things in perspective most elite level guys are happy with adding 10lbs. to their bench or lean muscle mass a year. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

I've hit many plateaus over the years in strength and mass gaining. The latest one was earlier in 2012 after I benched a new personal best of 315lbs. for 4 reps (video link). The next few weeks after that, my bench strength started going backwards. I was getting weaker. Here's 4 things that have worked for me to beat different plateaus:


1. Deload

Training consistently and intensely for weeks or months starts to affect your ability to recover. You might be thinking taking time off will set you back from your goals. This is far from the truth. Powerlifters take the week off before a competition and then go on to hit big lifts at their meet. I took a few days off during the Christmas holidays 2 weeks ago and put on 3 lbs. of bulk. Your muscles sometimes need that extra time to recover.

How do you know when you need time off? Everyone is different, but there are a few common signs:
  • The weights are moving very sluggishly over a few consecutive training days
  • Getting weaker
  • Loss of appetite over a few consecutive days

The idea is consecutive days of these things happening assuming your diet and sleeping pattern is on point at that time too. One or two bad training days doesn't mean you need to automatically take a week off. Those days happen once in awhile but doesn't mean to deload.

Now when I say take time off from training, that doesn't mean to sit around all day and eat like a bird (very little). Continue with your bulking diet and add in some stretching too. Try and get some extra sleep or naps in as well. You'll be mentally and physically recovered after the time off and ready for the next few weeks or months of intense training.


2. Eat More!

If you've hit a body weight plateau, eat more! There's no secret to putting on bulk. You need to eat more calories than you use on a daily basis. You might think you're eating enough because you "eat all the time" but the bottom line is if you're not gaining weight, you need to eat more. If you're having trouble getting more solid food down or don't have enough time to prepare it, using a weight gainer powder will help get those extra calories in. Check out my article on how I make my own weight gainer powder here.



3. Add in some variations.

Our bodies adapt really well to stress put on it with weight training by adding new muscle mass or becoming more explosive or faster. But those gains can hit a plateau especially if you've been doing the same exercises the exact same way day in and day out. One way I've been able to combat this is by adding in exercise variations. An example would be doing a seated machine row for the back instead of barbell rows for a day or performing the sets differently by adding in drop sets or lowering the weight and doing higher reps to shock the muscles. Read up more on those techniques in my article here.


4. Avoidance

Another way to remedy a plateau is to not even get to one! A lot of the popular strength training programs in North America like the conjugate system (Westside Barbell Method), 5/3/1 or 3/5/1 by Jim Wendler or The Cube Method by Brandon Lilly have built in programming to avoid ever hitting a plateau. Westside Barbell method has rotating max effort movements and deload weeks. 5/3/1 3/5/1 has a deload type of week too on the fourth week of a cycle. For myself, you might've seen my Bodybuilding Week training. This is after a 3-4 week cycle of maxing out on deadlift variations and 3/5/1 powerlifting. These training programs are better suited to people who have already built a good base of weight training and have decent form on the lifts.

So what can you do to avoid or delay hitting a plateau if you're a beginner lifter? Don't worry about it is what you do. If you've been training under a year, the gains will keep coming in (granted you're eating enough and lifting consistently). If and when the gains start to slow down, try doing one of the other points in this article. I started out at 120lbs. body weight. My beginner gains didn't slow down until I was close to 200lbs. which took about 3.5 years. Just keep at it and make small goals to reach your bigger goal!

Let me know if you have any questions or comments below and share this article with anyone you think might find it useful.

Words by Dan Profane

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