OMG WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!?
WHY IS IT SO HARD TO GET STRONGER?!?
I HATE WORKING OUT!
These were the top three answers based on a poll of initial thoughts when progress stalls at the gym – aka hitting the infamous plateau. Keep in mind that this was a poll of one, (me) so the results could be skewed to get my point across.
There is nothing more frustrating then when the newbie progress slows down except maybe how fast people drive when it rains. Seriously people, it happens all the time, you should be used to it by now.
Plateaus, like the freakout of a little precipitation, are inevitable. At the time that seem like the worst thing in the world. At a certain point the initial progress will stop and you’ll be left with a few choices:
A) Stay the course, eventually it will pass
B) Quit, because it’s tough now
C) Change something
And like any multiple choice test, always answer C.
Plateaus happen when you seem to have everything on point but your progress meter isn’t moving. You feel like you’re treading water… and it sucks.
Our bodies are incredibly adaptive (not bad for a 200,000 yr old piece of equipment) which is the reason we plateau. The stress we add through dieting or weight lifting will eventually become the new norm and our bodies will adapt and become more efficient. Great for a car but bad for fat loss or strength gain.
When someone fresh off the streets starts lifting weights there are a whole bunch of adaptations the body makes based on the new stress. Things like hormones, neuro-muscular connections and the ability to more effectively use calories for fuel are all being optimized. As a result that noob experiences huge strength gains within the first 6 months.
Once those processes hit a “saturation point” the strength progress plateaus. For the experienced lifter, this happens much quicker as you already have the neuro-muscular connection for the most part.
HOW TO TELL IF YOU’VE PLATEAUED
If your progress seemed to come to a screeching halt you might assume you’re knuckle deep in a plateau. Before we jump to conclusions, let’s eliminate all other possibilities.
HAVE YOU BEEN CONSISTENT FOR THE LAST 3-4 WEEKS?
Consistency is the most underrated aspect of progress. The best workout program or diet done inconsistently with give you shotty results, if at all. (That last line was pretty sweet, you might want to Tweet that to sound smart.)
Look at Sleep – Are you sleeping enough? I know we all try to squeeze the most out of our days but skipping sleep is not the answer to getting more time. All the good stuff happens when we sleep. Our hormones come out to play to reduce fat and increase muscle. If you aren’t sleeping 6-8 hours a night then you’ll be treading water for a long time.
Look at your diet – Are you sneaking some extra snacks in? Are you having more “I’ve been good, so this X is justified? An extra 100 calories here and there might not seem like much but over time they are sabotaging your weight loss progress. Open up MyFitnessPal and keep a truthful record of what you eat. Yes, even those three Tostitos Scoops you snuck in before dinner.
Look at your workouts – Have you hit all reps and sets for every exercise? Have you been half-assing it during exercises you don’t like just to check the box? Record your workouts (which you should already be doing) for a couple of weeks and keep track of how you feel after. Did you leave it all out on the field or were you there to say you were there?
If you can say YES that you sleep 6-8 hours a night, haven’t snuck a few chips when no one was looking and you have been going balls out at the gym, then yes you have hit the purest definition of a plateau.
If by some chance your progress has stalled I suggest you start with these three solutions. About 60% of the time, it works every time. But since I’m assuming you are more or less like me, those answers don’t tickle your fancy. They aren’t sexy.
If that’s the case, you may wanna tape it to your leg because I’m going to sexify the shit out of the rest of this article.
HOW TO POOP ON A PLATEAU
Pooping on a plateau is a lot more fun than it sounds. It was either this or making a plateau your bitch – poop and farts equal nonstop funny so I went with it.
Getting through, breaking down or going over your plateau requires you to change things up. This goes for weight loss and gaining strength.
Your body likes to stay efficient and it does everything in it’s power keep status quo. Switching things up throws everything into chaos and in this instance, chaos equals progress.
Eat More- Yes, you read that right. When you diet, your metabolism adjust to the amount of calories eaten. Since we are reducing calories to lose weight our metabolism slows down making it harder for us. The knee jerk response would be to eat less but that would only slow it down further until your dinner consists of half a glass of water and three leaves of lettuce. Instead, have a high calorie day every 1-2 weeks. This will throw chaos into your body and your metabolism will have to burn through this surplus of food. The result will be much better than cutting back the calories further.
Drink More Water – Water has a hand in everything that goes on in the body. If your main source of water is from the ice in your iced coffee then there is a pretty good chance you’re dehydrated. Increasing your water intake to at least half your weight in ounces (i.e. 150 lb person would need 75 oz of water) will boost your metabolism.
Get Active – Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk to the corner store instead of taking a car. Being more active during your everyday life will help you burn extra calories. Even burning an extra 350 calories a day by walking/standing or fidgeting can result in a loss of 30 pounds in a year! Find different ways to incorporate more activity into your daily schedule.
Reevaluate Caloric needs – I like to think of calories as money. If I want to lose weight, then hitting my goal would be like becoming a millionaire. In order for me to become a millionaire I need to level up my income. 60k a year will not get me to millionaire status. That same goes for losing weight. The calories required to lose weight at 200 are less than at 180. To lose weight you want to aim for about 12-13 calories per pound. Extreme weight loss can be done at 10 calories per pound. (Don’t stay at 10 calories per pound for longer than 4-6 weeks or you’ll start down regulating your hormones and bodily functions). For every 10-15 pounds lost you want to reevaluate your caloric needs when dieting by multiplying your weight by 13.
GETTING STRONGER/ PUTTING ON MUSCLE
The easiest answer would be to switch up your workout, but let’s play devil’s advocate here. Let’s say you like your workout and don’t want to switch it up. This is what you would do in that instance.
Flip your Reps – I’m going out on a limb and say you’re doing 3×10. What I want you to try is upping the weight by 20% and do 10×3. Without getting into the hairy deets you’ll be using more of your nervous system as opposed to just your muscles to lift the weight which will allow you to get stronger and lift more once you get back to your 3×10 in a few weeks.
Density Training – Density training might be the best thing I’ve stumbled across since online porn. I kid you not, it’s that freakin good. Density training will throw your muscle gainz through the roof by eliminating rest periods and increasing volume. Volume being the key component to increasing strength. Take your normal workout and string a few exercises together. Set a timer and go from one exercise to another until the time is up. Do the same thing for the rest of the exercises. Doing this for a few weeks and I bet that 10 rep max will be up 5-10%.
Add Volume – If you don’t want to string together your workout into a human centipede-esque workout then just add 1-2 more sets. Instead of doing 3×10 do 5×10. Being able to lift a weight 50 times compared to 30 times will definitely give you the progress you’ve been looking for.
Add Weight – Adding weight to the bar might not let you lift all the reps in a set of 10 but that is where progress comes in. That added stress of the weight will cause your muscle to adapt and get stronger. Aim for 10 reps with a weight 1-5% heavier than usual. If you get to 8 then you get to 8. Next week aim for 9.
Partial Reps – Partial reps, done correctly, are very useful to gain strength. Done incorrectly, you look like an idiot. The correct way to use partial reps is to focus on the hardest part of the movement. Take the bench press, the hardest part is when the bar is on your chest. In this example, do a set of 5 with a weight that is 10-15% heavier than your 10 rep max only lifting the bar from your chest to half way to lock out. Use a spotter or a safety rack please, don’t be a hero.
Slow the Tempo – One of the simplest ways to increase muscle and strength is to add more time under tension. The longer you’re sets are the longer your muscles have to work. Keep your same weight but use a 3-1-3 cadence. Meaning count three seconds to lower the weight, pause for a second at the bottom and then take three seconds to lift the weight. I can guarantee you will not be able to finish a whole set.
In reality this article is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to getting through a plateau. Often when we are plateauing it seems like it’s hopeless. Be patient, try to switch things up for 2-3 weeks and you’ll make it through. As long as you don’t give up you’ll be OK.
What are some things you’ve used to push through weight loss or gaining strength plateaus?