The dreaded “plateau”. We’ve all been there. It sucks. Your progress has slowed or completely stopped and it feels like the air is getting sucked from your body each and every week. You start finding ways to shorten or completely avoid your workouts. You start eating more “soft belly” foods and less performance supporting foods. Worst of all, you’re making up perfectly rational reasons why it’s OK to do these things. Before you hang up the lifting straps and park yourself in front of the buffet table, let me show you 4 ways to reverse course and get back on the “Gain Train”.
Set focused, shorter term goals
What is your training goal this year? This quarter? This month? This week? Tomorrow? If you don’t know, then you are training without a purpose. That’s got as much chance to get you “there” as the chances Jay-Z will make a bad album. Not likely.
Develop some SOLID annual goals, break them down to quarterly goals, then to monthly, then weekly and session to session goals. Write them down as you think them through, then work the hell out of them. Every session MUST BE purpose driven and moving you that much closer to your BIG annual goal. Keep records of your training and evaluate every session. Then plan for the next session.
Ask “how will the next workout get me closer to my goals or the one after that?”. I never look further ahead than the days between the current session and the next, once I’ve established my long term goals. By doing this I’m able to focus on making steady session to session progress and not always obsessing over the big fat annual goal. I have a weekly plan that I know will get me there.
Make some moves
Doing every workout the same time, same day with the same exercises in the same order is about as fun as listening to political debate (this year being the exception…). Sometimes changing one little thing can make a yuuuuge impact on your training and jump start you back to progression. We tend to turn on autopilot when it comes to our training and default to what we’re used to doing. Proposing change can be uncomfortable. NOT mixing it up a bit can turn great programs boring and kill motivation.
Here are some easy ways to mix up your program without actually changing the workout too much.
Change your training day. Why is Chest day always Monday??? Start with legs on Monday for the next 3 weeks.
Change your training time. If you are struggling during AM sessions, try training a little later in the day, if possible. I trained in the evening for years before I discovered I had much more energy in the early afternoon when I was able to do so.
Switch around the order of your exercises. If your legs session starts with squats and ends with abs, flip it and begin where you’re used to ending.
Change your set/reps scheme. Coach Dan John has his famous “Rule Of 25”. You don’t have to be married to a particular set/rep scheme as long as you’re working towards a solid 25 reps. If you usually train 5 sets of 5, try 3 sets of 8, or 10 sets of 3. Switch every 3 weeks.
Change the scenery
If you train at the same gym every session, try working out at a different gym for a few weeks. I swear the weights at my local Gold’s Gym were heavier than the weights at the gym I used to work at. But I had some of the best workouts of my life at the local YMCA. Don’t be afraid to venture out if things get stale where you are.
Every gym or box has it’s own unique look, members, employees, music, lighting and even different…smells. I mentioned earlier that some of the best workouts of my life were at my local YMCA downtown. It was wood floor, REALLY old dumbbells (the old carnival style round ones… really), homemade racks and benches and poor lighting. PERFECT. This dungeon kept out all of the casual lifters and created a serious atmosphere that I thrived in.
No other gym I’ve been a member of has been quite the same experience. It’s also why I built my gym with few frills, to help create a similar (but less scary) environment for our members. But even though I am a gym owner, I STILL love to train at other facilities in my area. I get the strangest looks.
Do some recruiting
No man (or woman) is an island. That being said, a great way to get past a plateau is to recruit help. Some people train alone and do well at it, while others fail spectacularly. If you train solo and struggle with plateaus, you may want to form your own tag team, like the Road Warrior (or Legion of Doom in their WWE years). Getting the right “gym buddy” can transform your training within a few sessions.
When you’re recruiting your partner, make sure most of these requirements are met:
- You actually like each other
- You are about the same strength
- You have the same availability to train
- You have similar goals
- You have no problem keeping each other accountable
- You actually like each other (important, so I’m repeating it)
Of course you can also hire a great personal trainer if you have the money to invest. Hiring a great trainer can take the aspects of program design, progression, motivation and accountability completely off your plate and let you focus on one thing: getting stronger. Great trainers will even have a nutrition coaching certification to help you get better at eating to support your goals.
Either way, getting a partner in your efforts is a powerful weapon in the war against training plateaus. Start recruiting asap.
Any of these methods will get you out of a training rut and get things moving and grooving again. Use them all and you are a certified BOSS. Get after it and don’t ever accept a plateau as anything more than an opportunity for personal development.
By Chad Smith, Fitness Coach