We’ve all been there before.
Identical weight on our shoulder press for weeks at a time. Can’t manage a single more pushup than we were doing a month ago. Leg day still leaves us limping and sore. Measurements not budging an inch (or even a quarter or an inch).
The good news is, sometimes all we need is a little change to our routine to start making progress, once again.
Below, you’ll find a list of suggestions for ‘tweaking’ your strength training program to push past plateaus.
Note that none of these tweaks will help you, if your primary reason for stalling out is lack of consistency. (Read more about the importance of consistency and progression here.).
Get consistency working for you first, then try one (or more) of the following (the easiest tweaks are listed first, with progressively larger programming changes listed later).
Tips to break through strength training plateaus:
- Swap out an exercise or two. Stalling out on pushups? Try subbing in bench presses instead. Pull-ups still a pipe-dream? Lat pull downs may be just what the doctor ordered. Sometimes, all our bodies need to break through a plateau is a slight variation on the exercise theme.
- Change the order of your exercises. Always finish chest before shoulders? Try reversing the order. Oftentimes, it’s the smaller, stabilizer muscles that limit our ability to progress with a lift. You may be fatiguing the muscles that stabilize and assist the lift with an exercise performed earlier in your program.
- Switch up the tempo of your lifts. Many people naturally perform strength exercises using a 2-0-2-0 tempo; 2 seconds to lift the weight, 2 seconds to lower the weight, with no pause at either the top or the bottom of the movement. Try slowing down the working (concentric) phase of your lifts or pausing for a second at the top. Both will change the amount of time that your muscles remain under tension; a critical factor in increasing muscle strength and size.
- Try using a different grip. When you change the grip you use to perform an exercise, you recruit new muscle fibres (and sometimes entirely new muscles); fibres (and muscles) that, when strengthened, may improve your ability to lift a heavier load. Here’s a more detailed description of grips and angles (with examples of exercises where this approach can be extremely beneficial).
- Switch your bench from flat to incline (or decline). Just like changing grips, modifying the angle of your weight bench will also lead to the activation of additional muscle and muscles fibres. Make sure to move the weights perpendicular to the floor to get the greatest benefit from this approach (and to protect your shoulders during presses, flys and rows).
- Vary your reps, sets and load. If you always perform 3 sets of 10 reps using the same weight, your body will get used to the routine and stop being stimulated to change by it. Try periodizing your workout, changing reps, sets and load in a linear and progressive fashion. Or alternate high rep/low load and low rep/high load workouts. You can even combine low and high rep exercises within a workout. When it comes to varying reps, set and load, you’re only limited by your imagination.
- Change your training style. If you’ve stalled out on body part splits, change the way your pair them. Alternatively, try a whole body program for a month or two and see if that makes a difference. Vice versa works too.
- Overhaul your program. If you’ve been doing the same program consistently (there’s that word again) for a month or more, a new program may be just what your body needs to kick start progress. Not sure where to start? Hire a fitness professional to create a program that addresses your individual goals, abilities and training schedule.
I’ve had success with each of the above ‘tweaks’; both in my own training and when training clients in the gym.
I’d love to hear your success stories.
Which of the above ‘tweaks’ have you employed to successfully work through a strength training plateau?
Have you used a technique that’s not on my list? Please share it with me and my readers!
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