The central theses
A weightlifting plateau where the most important (usually composed) exercises for a main muscle group get stuck at a certain weight for a certain number of repetitions for at least three weeks.
Most weightlifting plateaus are caused by an imbalance between training and recovery.
In any case, you can use the simple strategies described in this article to determine exactly what you're stuck with.
It sucks to feel stuck.
It's frustrating, demotivating, and often confusing, especially when you show up and get the job done every day.
This is true for most activities and certainly for weight lifting.
And if this is not resolved, a lack of progress ultimately leads to extremism, complacency, or cessation, usually in that order.
First, the brutal, excessive exercise programs that may set the needle in motion again, but inevitably lead to burnout or injury.
Then comes the resignation – the acceptance that significant improvements are no longer in the cards – and workouts become a chore, such as brushing teeth or washing clothes.
Finally, the will to continue goes out and the towel is thrown in.
That does not have to be that way.
You may not be able to avoid training plateaus (they are perfectly normal), but if you haven't reached your genetic muscle and strength potential, you never have to stay in a rut.
With the right know-how and the right measures, you can always reach the next level of body composition and strength, even if this is only a minor improvement.
In this article you will learn everything you need to know.
What is a weightlifting plateau?
When someone tells me they're stuck in the gym, my first question is simple:
What exactly do you mean by "stuck"?
Sometimes it turns out that she is are Make progress, but not as much or as quickly as you want.
This is often the case, for example, with people whose "newbie gains" have recently expired and who are now amazed and concerned that they can no longer put £ 10 on the bar every week or two.
In this case, only the expectations and benchmarks need to be adjusted.
Once you have entered the intermediate phase of weight lifting (from year two), your goal should be to increase the weight of your key lifts for the same number of repetitions at least every two or four weeks.
In other words, to increase your strength slightly every month.
For example, if you do 5 reps at £ 400 in January and 5 reps at £ 405 in February, you're making progress.
How you accomplish this depends on the type of weightlifting program you participate in.
One may dictate certain loads based on your 1-rep max (1rpm) and increase over time (which forces you to put weight on the bar on a set schedule), while another will may instruct you not to increase weight until you have reached a specific rep-related goal with your current working weight, such as three sets of five reps (initial strength) or one or two sets of six or ten repetitions (Bigger Lean Stronger and Thin lean stronger, respectively).
Either way, unless you're new to the iron game, the distance is measured in inches rather than feet – minor incremental improvements that add up over time.
This is not a plateau. This is just life as an experienced weight lifter.
After your first year of proper training, you should follow the motto "progress is progress", not "not enough progress".
In other words, as long as your weights keep increasing over time, you're fine and you don't have to change anything.
"But what if I could? better? “I hear you wonder.
You probably can't.
And especially if you are in your third year of training or beyond, because the scope for improvement shrinks so much that every advance is valuable. And at some point there is nothing left to win no matter what you do.
Back to the original question: How do I define a real training plateau:
A real plateau is that the most important (usually composed) exercises for a main muscle group are held at a certain weight for a certain number of repetitions for at least three weeks.
That said, if you've been able to add weight or reps for chest, back, legs, shoulders, etc. for at least three weeks in a row, you're stuck.
This is also the case if you have been able to continue your “side exercises” (isolation exercises) because your whole body muscles and strength do not move when the strength machines (compound exercises) do not move.
It is also easier to force an extra repetition or two to do an isolation exercise like leg extension than a composite exercise like barbell squatting, which makes the latter a better measure of your true abilities.
Summary: On a weightlifting plateau, the most important (usually composed) exercises for a main muscle group stay at a certain weight for a certain number of repetitions for at least three weeks.
Use this training and flexible diet program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days – without starving yourself or living in the gym.
What Causes a Weightlifting Plateau?
There are a number of reasons why people plateau. However, to understand the most common one must first understand how your body adapts to the workout.
We don't have to go into the details, but the long story is short of intense resistance training that includes hormones and other chemicals released in the body that cause your muscle cells to get bigger and stronger.
This process of course makes weights that were previously difficult to move easier to handle and therefore less conducive to further muscle and strength gains.
This is why the key to continuous muscle growth is that your muscles have to work harder over time. This is primarily achieved through the use of heavier weights and more volume.
If you do, you are progressive overload Your muscles and if you do it enough, you will build more muscle and strength, and if you don't, you won't. As simple as that.
Many people don't know this and just show up week after week to do the same exercises, weights and repetitions. As a result, they look the same month after month and even year after year.
Ultimately, no progressive overload means no significant improvement in strength and muscles. Point.
So this is the mechanical explanation for why most people reach a training plateau – little or no progressive overload – and in most cases the reason they are neglected in this regard is due to one or more of the following mistakes:
Bad training programming
Let's take a closer look at each one.
1. Bad training programming
As with most things, there are a lot more wrong than right methods of lifting weights. If you're new, this can be confusing.
Everywhere you look you will find a different opinion on optimal volume, training frequency, training selection, rep range and the rest of it. Without a good basic knowledge, you are almost guaranteed to be at sea.
It is therefore not surprising that most people have no idea what to do in the gym and are constantly changing exercises, sets, repetitions, weights, etc. without rhyme or reason.
It is a good thing exercise (Move your body, train your sweat, burn calories) but not education (work systematically towards performance goals or body composition goals), because by constantly mixing the training variables, you make it almost impossible to gradually overload your muscles.
As the margins for improvements decrease, it is no longer enough to just strive for “good workouts” productive Workouts, and that requires that you pay close attention to the details to ensure that you are actually making progress.
Therefore, many people do not stop making progress.
Another common programming error that leads to stagnation is avoiding heavy, intense weight lifting and opting for a higher reps, lower weight, and milder workout. Most of the time this is just because the former is intimidating and uncomfortable.
Since you ultimately have to get stronger to get bigger, mediocre, comfortable workouts won't make it. You have to throw your shoulder behind the wheel every time you enter the gym.
Similarly, you cannot neglect compound exercises and expect to get somewhere.
A composite exercise spans multiple main joints and muscle groups, as opposed to an isolation exercise that spans only one or two joints or muscle groups.
For example, the rear squat (compound) trains the upper and lower back, torso, hips, bottom, quadriceps, thighs and calves, while leg extension (isolation) mainly trains the quadriceps.
Accordingly, compound exercises provide much more muscle and strength for the money than isolation exercises, which are more suitable for training small, stubborn muscles and correcting muscle imbalances.
For this reason, any serious workout routine worth your salty sweat is all about squats, deadlifts, and pushing, enhanced by muscle-specific work, and especially for muscle groups that tend to lag like biceps, triceps, and shoulders.
Another programming error that applies the brakes is tracking your workouts.
In order to gradually overload your muscles, you have to push a little harder and harder over time. You can only achieve this if you record exactly what you are doing. Otherwise, you don't know when to increase or decrease the volume or weight of the bar, and whether your strength will increase over time.
Instead, you just have to rely on intuition and feeling, which simply doesn't work in the long run.
Summary: Many weightlifting plateaus are caused by poor training programming, including constantly changing their routines, avoiding heavy, intense lifting, focusing on isolation exercises, and not pursuing training sessions.
2. Poor nutrition
This mainly depends on eating enough calories and protein, which is crucial for muscle and strength gains.
There are many reasons for this, mainly physiological, but we don't need to go into that here. All you need to know is that your body's "muscle machinery" works best when energy and protein are plentiful.
Many people stuck in the gym just don't understand this and don't eat or get enough calories or protein or both, but think they are eating more than they really are. This seems to be particularly common in women.
The good news is that you don't have to eat as much to maximize muscle growth.
In terms of calories, 16 to 18 calories per pound of body weight and day should do the job, and in terms of protein, 0.8 to 1 gram per pound of body weight and day is enough.
While not as important as calories and protein, carb intake also plays a role, and many weight lifters simply don't eat enough carbohydrates.
A high-carbohydrate diet is better for muscle and strength gains for several reasons:
It increases the total body glycogen stores improved Performance during intense exercise (such as weight lifting), improved Muscle regeneration and protects against symptoms related to overtraining.
It improved Post-workout genetic signaling related to muscle growth and repair.
It positively influenced Mood during intensive training, which of course translates into better performance and more pleasant training.
Low-carb diets Increase cortisol and reduce testosterone Levels in athletes that can slow muscle growth
And how many carbohydrates should you eat to maximize muscle growth?
Suppose you get 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight and about 0.3 grams of fat per pound of body weight (my general recommendation for fat intake). The rest of your calories should come from carbohydrates.
Summary: Many people do not eat enough calories, protein or carbohydrates to build muscle and strength effectively. The correction can end a plateau.
3. Poor recovery
Progress depends not only on how hard you can exert yourself in the gym, but also how well you can recover from your workout.
That said, you can take #nodaysoff, brutalize yourself with tons of volume, and perform any "advanced" training technique and still get nowhere if your body is unable to fully recover from it.
As you've probably heard before, you don't gain muscle during your workout. This happens later when your body repairs the damage and prepares for the next round of training.
To do this, you need to give your body the right amount of stimulus (training) and relaxation (sleep, downtime, relief, eating, relaxation, etc.).
If you are a beginner, threading this needle is easy.
Your body responds very quickly to exercise and it doesn't take too much to build up a significant amount of muscle and strength, and it's certainly not enough to outperform your body's ability to recover from it.
Even if you overdo it a bit at the beginning, the weights won't be heavy enough to put a lot of strain on your body.
However, all of this changes when you become a medium weight lifter.
You have to work a lot harder to continue building muscle and strength and handling much heavier weights. This makes the balance between training stress and recovery difficult.
The most common restore errors are. , ,
Not sleeping enough
have shown that getting enough sleep improves performance, recovery and alertness, while neglecting sleep does the opposite (among many other negative things).
For this reason, sleep hygiene is an important aspect of your fitness. If you don't sleep enough – and a lot of people NotBasically, if you sleep less than 7 hours a night, you're guaranteed to eventually reach a plateau.
Also keep in mind that you won't sleep enough if you are only in bed for about 8 hours a night. If your sleep is restless, intermittent, or of poor quality, you still cannot get enough.
Not eaten enough
Eating enough calories (enough to maintain or even gain weight) improves muscle building. Strength, and Moodwhile eating too few calories (enough to cause weight loss) does the opposite,
The whole point is that you regularly eat a little more calories than you burn daily. If you can, you can maximize muscle gain.
However, many people do not want this because it also involves some fat gain. Instead, they try out different nutritional strategies to avoid the need for constant calorie surpluses, such as: B. Intermittent fasting, calorie and carbohydrate cycling, but without success.
Without the regular excess of calories, muscle growth is delayed and eventually comes to a standstill.
To do too much
You have to work hard to continue building muscle and strength as a medium weight lifter. You can also subject your body to such a large punishment before the wheels drop off.
Therefore research shows that extremely high-volume training programs actually produce worse Results as low intensity (but not lower) routines. Not only do you have to exercise, you also need to recover.
So if you get stuck and do six or seven workouts with heavy and hard resistance per week or more or maybe less, but also a lot of physically demanding activities, it may be time to restrain yourself to allow for more relaxation.
Summary: Your ability to build muscle and strength is directly limited by how well you recover from your workout. The three main reasons why people don't recover from their workouts are too little sleep, too little food or too much exercise in the gym.
The 6 best ways to break a weightlifting plateau
There are a number of reasons why you cannot progress. When you're back on track, you need to pinpoint and figure out what is actually holding you back.
To do this, you need to consider the following questions:
Are you training hard enough?
Are you using a good shape?
Do you eat enough
Do you discharge enough?
Are you sleeping enough
Are you doing too much cardio?
Let us discuss the individual questions in more detail.
1. Are you training hard enough?
A lot of people are stuck in the gym because they just don't work hard enough. Plain and simple.
Either they are not training enough, or their training routine is not demanding enough, or both.
And I understand I was there myself.
Early on I spent several years kicking more or less water, mostly because I followed poorly designed exercise programs from bodybuilding magazines.
I have also had many workouts where my body went through the movements but my mind and heart were elsewhere. Maybe it was an overly talkative or lazy workout partner, or everyday worries, poor sleep, excruciating pain, or something else.
Regardless of the reason, troubleshooting is the same – more effort – but how you get there depends on what is holding you back.
Maybe it's time to let Chatty Cathy know that socializing is affecting your workouts?
Maybe you could use one Music playlist that gets you more busy?
Maybe you want to focus better on your training? If you allow yourself the privilege of putting your problems and worries aside for an hour?
Maybe you should give it a try train another timewhen you feel strongest and most energetic? For example in the afternoon?
Maybe you need to be patient while an injury, exertion, or the like heals? In other words, are you finishing reactivation and reactivation?
Or do you just have to grind better by vacuuming? If you do what the thorny part of you doesn't want?
On the other hand, it is likely that your programming or execution is to blame if you do great workouts but don't get the results you want.
The following questions will help you get to the bottom of it.
1. Do you get a progressive overload?
As you know, the primary stimulus for muscle growth is the increase in muscle tension over time (progressive overload). The two most effective ways to do this are: lift more weight (gets stronger) and make more volume (Repetitions or sentences).
That said, to continue building muscle, you need to keep increasing the weight you lift or the volume you do (or a little bit of both). And the former is more conducive to building muscle than the latter.
In other words, if your maxima for repetition on your keys doesn't tend to go up over time, you won't build muscle, and if your volume is flat too long, your maxima for repetition will likely flatten out, too.
For this reason, you cannot build additional muscles to speak of a certain total body strength. Similarly, adding volume that doesn't result in permanent strength gains doesn't have a significant impact on muscle growth.
Many people who have reached a plateau think They become progressively overloaded, but they also gain and lose strength cyclically without changing the long-term averages.
For example, you might be able to add 10 pounds to your bench press over three weeks of intense workouts. Things are moving. Yay!
Then you will lose 10 or 15 pounds over the next few weeks, which is due to poor nutrition, exercise, recovery or whatever.
However, you will return to the route and return to where you were before. You feel that you are making progress again.
You do not do that.
You could repeat this process for years and find no significant changes in your body, because you miss the forest for the trees. If you are not stronger or louder now than a few months ago, and not to forget, you will not get progressive overload.
In order to reliably grow, the strength must increase significantly and steadily and the volume must be sufficient to produce it. If you do that, you will gradually overload your muscles and if you don't, you will not.
So, if you're not sure of progressive overload, there are several ways to fix this.
A simple attempt is to give your lifts something like more weight double progression,
To do this, you must work with a certain weight until a predetermined repetition range is exceeded for one to three sentences. The weight is then increased and the process repeated.
For example, squat at 275 pounds until you get one or two sets of six reps, then increase your weight to 285 pounds. Work with it until you get one or two sets of six reps, and so on.
Or maybe that's too much and you only need to add 5 pounds to the load. In any case, the weight increases.
Another viable method to systematically increase the amount of weight you lift over time is linear periodization, in which you increase your weights on a set schedule.
Example: bench presses of 185 pounds for 5 reps a week, 190 pounds for the same reps the following week, 195 pounds the week after, and so on until you can no longer add weight. Then you unload and pick up where you left off, or switch to a system like Double Progression.
If you've tried different progression models and you're still getting stuck, you may just need to adjust the volume.
Beginners don't have to think much about it, as it doesn't take a lot of volume to load the bar every or every other week. About 10 sets per main muscle group per week are sufficient.
However, as your body adapts to the challenges of training, it becomes increasingly difficult to continue lifting heavy weights. If you don't change your approach over time, stop moving forward.
For this reason, provided you follow a well-designed training program that uses an effective system to achieve progressive overload like double progression or linear loading and eats and sleeps enough, you can find your way out of the rut by simply doing more volume.
For example, a beginner who has gained a reasonable amount of muscle and strength with 9 or 10 sets per main muscle group and week and is now running in place can often only get 12 or 13 sets a week to start moving again.
It's also worth noting that you don't have to expose yourself to the harrowing amounts of volume found in training routines like German Volume Training, Smolov, or Sheiko. For most people, such programs are a surefire way to overexert and burn out.
In most cases, you do the job by adding just a few extra sets per week and main muscle group (which get stuck) to what you're doing.
An easy way to do this is to add sentences to your compound exercises.
For example, suppose you make no progress on pressing, and your primary torso work consists of 9 sets of barbell and dumbbell bench presses and 3 sets of military presses per week, supplemented by a few sets of dumbbell presses, lateral elevations, and lateral bicep curls and triceps depressions.
To increase the volume, you can increase your bench press to 11 or 12 sets a week or your military press to 5 or 6 sets, depending on what you want to focus more on (chest against shoulders) and do nothing else in your routine.
You can also increase the volume with "special" training methods such as rest sets and training with restricted blood flow, with less strain on the tendons, ligaments and joints.
What if you already make a lot of music? When should you look elsewhere for a break-in solution?
Here's a good rule of thumb: you can profitably increase the volume up to 20 sets per main muscle group per week. Then adding more is unlikely to result in additional benefits.
In addition, you typically do not want to maintain this maximum volume for more than three to six months before reducing it to aid recovery.
But that doesn't mean you have to do 20 sets per main muscle group a week now or ever. If you make more or less everything else in order with your diet and training, you will probably find that you never need more than 15 sets per main muscle group per week to make progress.
Summary: The main instruction for muscle and strength play is that you have to achieve a progressive overload, and this usually boils down to doing enough volume with sufficient intensity over time to further increase the whole body strength.
2. Do you end most sets shortly before a technical failure?
When people talk about training with "failure", they usually refer to an absolute failure. This is the point at which you can no longer move the weight.
"Technical failure" is a less understood concept and the point at which you cannot do another repetition of the correct shape (2 or 3 repetitions that mean absolute failure for most people).
Many lifters make the mistake of training too often to fail and bringing overtraining, burnout, and injuries to justice.
They do this because they think it is beneficial for muscle and strength gains, however research shows that it is actually no more anabolic than the end, which is a few repetitions before the absolute failure.
Regular training for technical failures is not that problematic, but it can increase the risk of injury and inadequate techniques over time.
Another common mistake is to finish sets prematurely – 5 or 6 or more repetitions without complete failure. This is counterproductive because unless you are new to weight lifting does not produce enough muscle tension to trigger a lot of growth. And even with beginners, it is more effective to push harder.
So the sweet spot is the end of most of your one or two repetitions that shy away from technical mistakes, and this applies to both compound and isolating exercises. Technical failures can occasionally occur, but this should be the exception and not the rule.
This way, you can ensure that you are working hard enough to get bigger and stronger without asking about injuries or symptoms related to overtraining.
Summary: You should end most of your sentences with one or two repetitions, as this is the point at which you cannot finish another rep with the correct form.
3. Has your training been carried out properly?
Periodization involves dividing your training into different periods (hence the word) that focus on different aspects of your fitness.
When done correctly, periodization helps you to better balance training and recovery by pushing your body to its limits and then turning it off before triggering.
Die drei grundlegenden Prinzipien der Periodisierung lauten wie folgt:
1. Ihr Training beinhaltet eine fortschreitende Überlastung in Form von mehr Gewicht, Sätzen oder Wiederholungen (im Fall von Gewichtheben) oder schnellerem Tempo, längeren Strecken, komplexeren Bewegungen, weniger Ruhe oder einer anderen Methode in anderen Sportarten.
2. Ihr Training wechselt von weniger spezifisch zu spezifischer, während Sie den Plan durcharbeiten.
Im Falle des Gewichthebens bedeutet dieses Prinzip, da bei Wettkämpfen sehr schwere Gewichte für einzelne Wiederholungen zu heben sind, im Allgemeinen, dass von leichteren Gewichten und höheren Wiederholungen (weniger spezifisch für den Sport) zu schwereren Gewichten und niedrigeren Wiederholungen (spezifischer) übergegangen wird.
3. Ihr Training beinhaltet geplante Pausen, um zusätzliche Ruhe und Erholung zu ermöglichen.
Die Forschung zeigt diesen Ansatz verbessert Leistung in einer Vielzahl von Sportarten mehr als nicht periodisiertes Training, und Studien Zeigen Sie auch, dass Personen, die ihre Gewichtheberprogramme periodisch durchführen, im Allgemeinen stärker werden als Personen, die dies nicht tun.
Und da das Stärken der zuverlässigste Weg ist, Muskeln aufzubauen, bedeutet dies auch, dass periodische Gewichtheberprogramme im Allgemeinen besser zum Muskelaufbau geeignet sind als nicht periodische.
Das heißt, Sie müssen nicht unbedingt ein komplexes Periodensystem verwenden, insbesondere wenn Sie noch nicht mit Gewichtheben vertraut sind.
Wenn Sie weniger als ein Jahr richtig trainiert haben, reicht eine einfache, lineare Art der Periodisierung aus, bei der Sie sich bemühen, ein paar Monate lang pro Woche Wiederholungen zu erzielen und Gewicht auf den Riegel zu legen, bevor Sie ihn laden und wiederholen .
Zwei gute Beispiele für diese Art von Training sind meine Größer Magerer Stärker Programm für Männer und meine Dünner Magerer Stärker Programm für Frauen.
Nach dem ersten oder zweiten Jahr des richtigen Trainings ist es jedoch sinnvoll, die Methode der Periodisierung auf eine Methode umzustellen, die besser zu Ihren Bedürfnissen als mittlerer Gewichtheber passt.
Viele Periodisierungspläne für das Gewichtheben beinhalten auch das periodische und strategische Austauschen von Übungen gegen ähnliche Variationen.
Tauschen Sie beispielsweise Kniebeugen mit niedrigem Rucken gegen Kniebeugen mit hohem Rucken oder Langhantel-Bankdrücken gegen Kurzhantel-Bankdrücken oder stehende Militärpresse gegen sitzende Militärpresse aus.
Es gibt eine Reihe von Gründen, warum dies eine gute Idee ist:
1. Es verringert das Risiko einer Verletzung durch wiederholte Belastung (RSI), die sich daraus ergibt, dass Sie die gleiche Bewegung immer wieder ausführen, bis Ihre Gelenke Onkel weinen.
Durch sehr ähnliche, aber leicht abweichende Übungen stärken Sie weiterhin die gleichen Muskelgruppen und verringern gleichzeitig das Risiko, nörgelnde Schmerzen zu bekommen.
2. Es macht dein Training interessanter. Wie Sie wissen, wird der Fortschritt als fortgeschrittener bis fortgeschrittener Gewichtheber langsam und hart umkämpft sein. Möglicherweise verbringen Sie sechs Monate mit einer Übung, um nur 10 Pfund auf Ihre 1RM oder ein paar Wiederholungen auf die Arbeitsgewichte Ihres Vorjahres aufzubringen.
Indem Sie sich jedoch regelmäßig auf verschiedene Übungen konzentrieren, stellen Sie sich einer neuen Herausforderung, auf die Sie sich freuen können. Während sich Ihre Kraft nur in kleinen Schritten verbessern wird, ist es viel angenehmer, sich 3 Monate lang auf Ihre hintere Hocke und dann 3 Monate lang auf Ihre vordere Hocke zu konzentrieren, als 6 Monate lang hintereinander auf die eine oder andere zu verzichten.
3. Es ist wahrscheinlich besser für Kraft und Muskelaufbau.
research shows Das Training einer Muskelgruppe mit mehreren Übungen kann effektiver sein, um Muskeln und Kraft zu gewinnen, wahrscheinlich weil es jeden Teil der Muskeln besser stimuliert.
The evidence is light, but it’s also supported by the fact that most successful bodybuilders and powerlifters have been doing this for decades now.
The key to effective exercise substitution is to approach it strategically, not willy-nilly based on how you feel or what you see other people doing in the gym. A good rule of thumb is switching only to exercises that directly train the same muscles and swapping every 8 to 12 weeks.
This way, you give yourself enough time to become proficient at the exercises you’re doing and make progress before replacing them.
All of these reasons are why I include a variety of exercise variations in my Year One Challenge for Men and Year One Challenge for Women, which include a year’s worth of workouts from my Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger programs, respectively.
If you want to learn more about this, including which types of periodization are best, what kind of results you can expect from periodization, and how to periodize your workouts, check out this article:
Should You Periodize Your Workouts? The Definitive Answer, According to 28 Studies
Summary: Periodizing your workouts is an effective way to break through training plateaus. A simple, straightforward periodization plan that has you increasing weight, reps, or sets for a few weeks, deloading, and repeating is usually sufficient.
2. Are you using good form?
Poor form can not only increase the risk of injury, but it can kill progress too, and especially on the big, important lifts like the squat. deadlift, and bench press,
Well, there are two levers you can pull to get stronger on an exercise:
Build more muscle
Get better at the exercise
Building muscle gives you the physiological “horsepower” to push, pull, and squat heavy weights, but achieving its full expression requires burnishing your technique.
At bottom, good form is all about moving the weight with as little wasted effort as possible—getting the barbell or dumbbell from point A to point B smoothly and efficiently.
Sloppy form wastes energy, and this impairs performance.
For example, when many people squat, they let their upper back muscles relax slightly during the descent.
This is undesirable because it causes the bar to tip forward slightly, throwing you off balance and preventing you from driving upward forcefully. What’s more, by relaxing one muscle group, (your back) you’ll also likely relax other muscle groups (like your core, glutes, or quads), which will also make finishing the rep much more difficult.
They also often allow their butt to rise faster than the barbell during the ascent. This forces the low-back to work harder than it should, causing it to fatigue quicker than usual.
It’s also a mistake to let the barbell drift slightly forward during the squat because you then have to work center it over the feet again (where it should be) before you can complete the rep.
Such subtleties won’t slow down a newbie but eventually, as the weights get heavier, the energy cost of these imperfections and on-the-fly corrections becomes enough to slow down progress.
This is why one of the first things I do when I get stuck on an exercise is audit my technique by having someone take a video of me while I do it. Then, I carefully review the footage to look for faults, and I often find something that pays off.
For example, several months ago, I found that as I approached technical failure on the squat, I tended to lean too far forward on the way up. This was limiting my progress by putting too much stress on my hip flexors and low-back.
To correct this, I backed down on the weight to give my body a break and then worked on improving my form. Within a month or so, I had engrained the proper movement pattern and was rapidly moving up in weight again without undue hip-flexor or low-back strain.
If you’d like to assess your technique on the key lifts, check out these articles on how to squat, deadlift, and bench and military press properly:
How to Squat: The Definitive Guide (Plus 12 Proven Ways to Improve Your Squat!)
This Is the Definitive Guide to Proper Deadlift Form
The Definitive Guide on How to Bench Press (and the 8 Best Variations!)
The Ultimate Guide to the Military Press: The Key to Great Shoulders
Sometimes, you can’t fix a poor movement pattern easily due to mobility problems that are preventing you from freely and smoothly moving through a full range of motion.
The mobility exercises found here, if done regularly, should be enough to handle the most common mobility issues that get in the way of proper weightlifting.
Summary: Poor technique on key lifts can lead to a plateau. To find and fix technical faults, carefully review video footage of your training and address your form accordingly.
3. Are you eating enough?
We recall that our body’s muscle-building machinery works best when energy is abundant (and is markedly impaired by a calorie deficit).
Thus, if we’re not consistently eating slightly more calories than we’re burning, we’re almost certainly going to grind to a halt in our training.
For most people, 16 to 18 calories per pound of body weight is enough to keep the wheels turning, but sometimes, quite a bit more food is needed.
For example, I regularly email with guys weighing 170 to 180 pounds who need to eat upward of 3,000 to 4,000 calories per day just to gain about 1 pound per week. Often, this is because they move around a lot throughout the day and don’t realize how many calories they’re really burning.
Even more common, however, are guys who think they’re eating several thousand calories per day but aren’t. In reality, they just track their intake poorly and generally don’t have much of an appetite.
Another quirk of lean bulking is as you get bigger and stronger, the amount of food you’ll need to eat to continue getting bigger and stronger will likely go up as well.
Just as your calorie expenditure gradually slows when cutting, it gradually rises when lean bulking.
Thus, to maintain a large enough calorie surplus to keep gaining weight, you need to keep eating more. This is why it’s not uncommon for people to finish a lean bulking phase eating several hundred calories more per day than when they started.
So, if you’re stuck in the gym and your body weight also hasn’t budged in several weeks, chances are you’re just not eating enough.
To find out, increase your daily intake by about 100 calories (I prefer increasing my pre-workout or post-workout carbs by about 25 grams) and reassess after a couple of weeks.
If that unsticks you, then keep your calories there for the next few weeks and see how your body responds. If you’re progressing again, great—continue until you’re not, and then increase intake again.
And don’t be surprised if you need to increase your calories like this every few weeks as you get deeper into a lean bulk.
If, however, your lifts are stalled but your body weight has been steadily moving upward, eating more food isn’t going to solve the problem.
Summary: Your body builds muscle most efficiently when you’re in a calorie surplus, and 16 to 18 calories per pound of body weight is a good baseline for most people. If that’s not enough for you, increase your daily calorie intake by 100 calories for a couple weeks, reassess, and repeat until you’re gaining weight.
4. Are you deloading enough?
Symptoms related to overtraining can be insidious, and especially during the onset, when they’re mild and hard to recognize.
For instance, one of the first signs you’re pushing your body too far is your strength and muscle endurance start to sag. Suddenly, your workouts just start feeling way harder than usual.
This is nothing more than an accumulation of physical fatigue. To fix it, you need more rest and less training, and that’s what deloading is for. You can also take up to a week off training altogether, but I prefer deloading unless I’m feeling particularly beat up.
Either way, this is one of the simplest ways to stave off stagnation.
So, if you’re not currently deloading, you need to start, and if you are deloading but very infrequently, it’s time to make it a consistent aspect of your workout routine.
This is especially true for intermediate and advanced weightlifters, too.
Contrary to what many people believe, deloading actually becomes More important the more experienced you get because the weights get heavier and volumes larger. Train harder, rest more, basically.
That’s why beginners generally don’t need to deload more than every 8 to 12 weeks, and sometimes even less frequently than that.
Intermediate lifters, however, should plan on deloading every 6 to 8 weeks, and advanced ones every 4 to 6 weeks.
Summary: If you fall behind in recovery, you’ll plateau, and deloading every 4 to 12 weeks (more frequently the more advanced you are) is an effective way to prevent this.
5. Are you sleeping enough?
If you don’t sleep enough, your body will never be able to fire on all cylinders.
This is true regardless of whether you exercise or not, and if you do, good sleep hygiene is even more important. And the more intense your training is, the more you body needs adequate rest to perform optimally.
An insightful example of this is a study conducted by scientists at John Moores University that explored how sleep affects resistance training.
The researchers recruited eight men aged 18 to 24 and on four consecutive days, had them complete a one-rep max test for the biceps curl, bench press, leg press, and deadlift after a full night’s rest.
On each test, the scientists recorded how much weight the men could lift as well as their mood and subjective level of sleepiness.
Then, the men had to do the same one-rep max tests on only three hours of sleep per night.
After the first night of restricted sleep, sleepiness rose and mood worsened, but strength was unaffected. On the second evening, though, strength, mood, and alertness were significantly worse. By day four, all parameters fell off a cliff.
While this is a rather extreme example of the effects of sleep deprivation, other research shows even mild sleep insufficiency can compromise performance and post-workout recovery.
What’s more, while sleeping too little reduces performance, getting extra sleep can enhance it.
For example, a study conducted by scientists at Stanford University found that extending the sleep of basketball players from 6 to 9 hours to a minimum of 10 hours in bed each night helped them feel fresher and more prepared and focused when playing, run faster, shoot more accurately, and train longer without fatigue.
Keep in mind, however, these were young, high-level basketball players in the thick of their season, so it’s unlikely all of us need to sleep this much for our purposes.
That said, we should give our body as much sleep as it needs, and according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society, that number is 7 to 9 hours per night for most people.
A small percentage of people do fine with less, and a small percentage need more, but most of us fall in the middle.
Since genetics and age affect how much sleep your body needs, a simple way to determine what’s optimal for you is to pick a two-week period such as a vacation and go to bed at the same time each night without an alarm set.
Chances are, you’ll sleep longer than usual at first if you have “sleep debt” to cancel out, but toward the end of the second week, your body will establish a pattern of sleeping for about the same amount every night.
And that’s exactly how much sleep your body needs. Make that the norm and you’ll never battle with the effects of inadequate sleep.
Summary: Try to sleep at least 7 to 9 hours per night, and adjust up or down based on how you feel and perform inside and outside the gym.
6. Are you doing too much cardio?
Cardio is a double-edged sword that can both help and hurt muscle growth.
It aids muscle growth by . , ,
Improving insulin sensitivity, which refers to how responsive your cells are to insulin’s signals and impacts your body’s ability to use nutrients to recover and build muscle
Enhancing blood flow, which may help with recovery by improving the body’s ability to deliver nutrients to muscles and remove waste products responsible for fatigue and soreness
Increasing aerobic endurance, which may help you recover faster between sets
However, cardio can also hinder muscle growth by . , ,
Causing muscular fatigue and soreness that can interfere with your workouts and whole-body fatigue that can blunt your motivation to train
Changing the expression of certain genes in a way that may inhibit muscle and strength gain
Burning calories that you’ll need to replace to maintain a sufficient energy surplus for building muscle
So, how do you get the benefits of cardio without suffering the negative consequences?
Simple: don’t do too much.
Specifically, research shows the downsides of cardio only become significant when you do large amounts, whereas low and moderate amounts are probably net positives.
How much are we talking about here?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but a good rule of thumb is to maximize muscle and strength gain, do no more than 2 to 3 hours of cardio per week, with 2 hours being probably slightly “safer” than 3.
Eric Helms, a noted natural bodybuilder, bodybuilding coach, and researcher offers similar advice, instructing his athletes to limit their weekly cardio time to no more than 50% of their weekly weightlifting time. That is, if they spend 4 hours lifting weights per week, they aren’t to do more than 2 hours of cardio.
And remember that “cardio” doesn’t refer only to trotting on the treadmill—it also includes physically intensive hobbies like basketball, running, or cycling.
While there’s nothing wrong with combining such activities with weightlifting from the standpoint of your general health and well-being, it can nonetheless interfere with strength and muscle gain if overdone.
So, if you’re plateaued and doing more than a couple hours of cardio per week, rein it in and see how your body responds. Some people even need to cut cardio out altogether to get unstuck.
Here are a few more tips for further reducing any negative effects of cardio on your strength and muscle gain:
Keep each cardio workout under 30 to 45 minutes, and definitely no more than an hour. This applies to cardio at a moderate to high intensity, by the way, not walking or other easygoing activities.
Do your cardio and lifting on separate days if possible, and if you have to do them on the same day, try to separate each workout by at least six hours. Research shows this will minimize cardio’s “interference effect” on your weightlifting workouts.
Prioritize low-impact types of cardio such as cycling (my personal favorite), rowing, and swimming over high-impact options like running or plyometrics. This will minimize muscle damage and soreness from your cardio workouts.
Keep high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to a minimum and stick mostly to steady-state cardio. HIIT burns more calories per minute than low-intensity cardio, but it also causes more fatigue, muscle damage, and wear and tear on the body.
Summary: Doing too much cardio can lead to a plateau. To avoid this, limit cardio to no more than 2 to 3 hours per week, keep each cardio workout under 30 to 45 minutes, try to do your cardio and weightlifting on separate days or at least six hours apart, and stick mostly to low-to-moderate intensity, steady-state cardio.
Breaking Through a Weightlifting Plateau, Step by Step
We’ve covered a lot in this article, so I want to wrap up with a simple, flowchart summary of what to do when stuck.
First, make sure you’re training hard enough. Are you really bringing your A game to your workouts? If so, are you achieving progressive overload—using enough volume and adding weight over time? Are you ending most sets close to technical failure? Is your training properly periodized?
Next, make sure you’re using good form. Have someone take a video of you doing your compound exercises with heavy weights, and compare your form to experienced powerlifters and bodybuilders. Is there anything you can improve?
If poor form isn’t the problem, are you eating too few calories or protein? If you aren’t gaining weight, chances are good you’re undereating and need to raise your calories to at least 16 to 18 calories per pound of body weight per day. If you’re eating sufficient calories, make sure you’re also eating at least 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
If that doesn’t fix things, make sure you’re deloading enough. As a beginner you should be deloading roughly every 8 to 12 weeks, and as an intermediate to advanced weightlifter you should be deloading every 4 to 8 weeks. This ensures you don’t fall behind in recovery or get injured or burnt out.
If deloading doesn’t move the needle, make sure you’re sleeping enough. You should probably be getting at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, but you may need to adjust that amount up or down based on how you feel inside and outside the gym.
If you’re still stalled, make sure you aren’t doing too much cardio. A good rule of thumb is to limit cardio to no more than 2 to 3 hours per week, keep each cardio workout under 30 to 45 minutes, try to do your cardio and weightlifting on separate days or at least six hours apart, and stick mostly to low-to-moderate intensity, steady-state cardio.
In most cases, people don’t need to go beyond step three to resolve the problem, and if it isn’t tackled by the sixth, it’s probably time to come to grips with the fact that there just isn’t much left to gain.
That is, we all have a genetic limit to how much muscle and strength we can gain, and once we hit it, there’s no way to exceed it short of steroids.
It may take a while to reach this point—about 5 years of proper training for muscle gain and possibly slightly longer for strength—but it’s important to know that with every ounce of muscle and strength we gain, we’re a little closer to the finish line.
The Bottom Line on Breaking Through Weightlifting Plateaus
A weightlifting plateau is where the key (usually compound) exercises for a major muscle group are stuck at a certain weight for a certain number of reps for at least three weeks.
That is, if you haven’t been able to add weight or reps to any of the compound exercises for your chest or back, legs, shoulders, and so forth, for at least three weeks in a row, you’re stuck.
Most of the time, this is caused by an imbalance between training and recovery.
Sometimes it’s the opposite, though—too little training and too much recovery—and other times it’s something else altogether, including poor workout programming, nutrition, exercise form, or motivation to train.
Whatever the case, you can pinpoint what has you stuck by taking the following actions:
First, make sure you’re training hard enough.
If that’s not the problem, make sure you’re using good form.
If that’s not the problem, make sure you’re eating enough.
If that’s not it, either, deload.
If that doesn’t fix things, make sure you’re sleeping enough.
If you’re still stalled, make sure you aren’t doing too much cardio.
That’s all it should take to find and fix the problem so you can start making progress again.
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