Have you ever attended the gym for a weight training session, attempted to lift slightly more than you usually do for the said repetitions and failed miserably? The funny thing is if you drop those few additional kilograms and perform the exercise with your usual weight then it becomes an absolute breeze. This scenario can be summed up by the phrase ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ – making reference to a point which you simply cannot go past.

So how can you work through this plateau phase and continue to progress your training? Before answering the million dollar question, it’s important to note that this phenomenon should not concern you. It is by no means a failure or limitation in your training. The truth is if you’ve never experienced a training plateau then you’re either not training hard enough, or conversely, you’re lying!

Without moving too far into scientific explanations, each and every individual has a point where they simply cannot shift the weight that is placed in front of them at that particular moment in time. If you think back to the first time you attended the gym and performed weight lifting this most likely occurred on a daily to weekly basis. Gradually, over a period of time adequate stimulation of the target muscle will bring about adaptations and gains will continue to be recognised.

During the early phases of your training, overcoming these plateaus is relatively straight forward as the bar is set relatively low, giving your target muscle a large capacity for improvement. However, as you move from a novice level this room for improvement begins to diminish and although the gains you will see become more impressive, they are much more subtle and difficult to achieve.

Breaking a Plateau

You will be relieved to know that there are numerous methods available to assist you in breaking through these plateaus and support your body whilst it continues to develop physically. This article aims to identify a selection of these methods which can be applied directly to your training as and when you require them. Before taking a look at these, let us first consider several signs demonstrated by an individual that they have reached a plateau in their training:

  • Restless nights sleep for more than two nights.
  • General loss of appetite despite training habits.
  • Lack of motivation towards exercising.
  • Lack of training progressions in several workouts.
  • Decrements in strength of the target muscle.

It is important to note that the above signs closely resemble those demonstrated during periods of overtraining and it may be that your body is physically drained and requires a period of rest and recuperation away from the gym. If you don’t believe overtraining to be an issue then there are several methods, as stated above, which can assist you in breaking through these plateaus:

  • Ensuring your diet is adequate: Carbohydrates are required to provide your body with fuel whilst protein is the essential component for both recovery and repair following exercise. If your diet is not sufficient then this will soon translate into your training.
  • Utilising relevant supplements: Are you an individual that lacks energy levels at the gym or struggles to take on adequate protein in your diet? Supplements such as creatine and protein have been scientifically proven to provide exercise enhancements.
  • Altering your training: If you can press 100kg for 10 repetitions but struggle with 110kg then why not reduce the repetitions to 6/8 and gradually build back up to 10. Remember you can alter your training by weight, sets and repetitions as well as the exercise itself.
  • Utilising partial repetitions: For example, the bench press. If you do not possess the strength to complete the textbook technique then simply lower the bar half way before pressing again. This allows you to initially develop your strength over a lesser range. Gradually, this bar can be further lowered until you are moving the required distance.
  • Locating a spotter: Training alone has many benefits but it sometimes means you don’t have the confidence to lift heavier than you usually would. A spotter can give you this confidence and be on hand if you require assistance in beating a sticking point.
  • Cheating your way through: The idea of this method is as it suggests, is cheating slightly. For example, during standing shoulder press you may assist the lift by also pushing up through your knees. This technique allows you to shift additional weight and is great towards the end of your repetitions, although care should be taken to avoid injury.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but the six methods highlighted above, whether utilised in a combination or independently, have the potential to allow you to continue to make the necessary progressions during your weight lifting. They might just be worth bearing in mind next time you struggle to lift that bar.

As mentioned above, the necessary levels of carbohydrates and protein are required on a daily basis to both refuel and rebuild your body. If this does not occur optimal progressions are unlikely to result. It is also worth noting that individuals undertaking regular weight training require up to double the amounts on their protein intake compared to a sedentary individual.