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How to Break Through Plateaus

It’s inevitable. You will hit a wall or plateau of sorts on your major lifts. Yes, you can cruise along for a relatively long time adding small amounts of weight each time you perform a lift. The more of a novice you are the longer this period will continue. Enjoy it and take full advantage of “beginner gains”. However, as you become more experienced and your training age increases the jumps in weight will become smaller and smaller until you hit a plateau and your increases start to flat line. At this point, an inexperienced lifter will become frustrated. He or she will continue to try the same weight over and over again until they eke out a rep even if it takes another number of weeks. On the other hand, an experienced lifter will know that this is just part of the game and will strategize and create a game plan of sorts to move past this plateau. In the following sections I have provided some of those strategies along with a few tips for less experienced lifters. Also, note that the major lifts are the bench press, deadlift, squat, and overhead press.

 

Beginners

  • Note: “Beginners” refers to anyone that is relatively inexperienced with the “big” lifts and also inexperienced with following a structured program. You can be a “beginner” even if you have been working out for years.
  • Stick to the 3-5 rule. Perform some combination of 3-5 sets with 3-5 reps.
  • Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program is perfect for this. 5 sets of 5 increasing the weight each week.
  • Start light. Give yourself time to “grease the groove” and become proficient with the technique of the major lifts. Starting light also allows for more improvement for a longer period of time.
  • Small increases in weight. You don’t need to “max” out each week. Increasing the upper body lifts by 5 pounds each week and the lower body lifts by 10 pounds per week is more than enough, if you start light. Increases smaller than this might be even more beneficial.

 

Strategies for More Advanced Lifters

Use Percentages

 

  • Once you have experience with the major lifts and your technique is at least proficient I highly recommend the use of percentages in your program. Are there programs that don’t utilize percentages all the time? Sure, I previously mentioned the Starting Strength program which I love and which also does not use percentages. However, the use of percentages will allow you to have a long term plan and goal.
  • The use of percentages ensures that you are continuing along a path that is sustainable for a longer period of time and it also gives you a clear picture of how much you are improving.
  • Two of my favorite programs that utilize percentages are Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program and Chad Wesley Smith’s Juggernaut program.

 

Same but Different

  • This strategy is probably the most difficult to follow especially if you have an inflated ego which I’m sure is not the case with most young lifters right?
  • It’s tough to follow through with this strategy because it calls for completely ignoring the lift you are trying to improve on for a period of time and doing something a little different instead.
  • It’s called same but different because in this strategy you will ignore the lift you are trying to improve upon and perform a similar exercise instead. For example, instead of performing the flat bench press you will instead program around the incline bench press. Or instead of programming the back squat you perform the front squat for a period of time.
  • This works for two major reasons. One, your mind and body gets a rest from the exercise you have been desperately been trying to improve for a period of time. In my opinion, the mental rest is just as beneficial as the physical one. Two, by working on the same movement just in a slightly different way you are actually working on a portion of the lift that may be lacking and holding you back on your “main” exercise.
  • You don’t necessarily have to do the same but different exercise for an entire training cycle but for a substantial amount of time maybe a month or 6 weeks would suffice.

I have personally done and seen this strategy work wonders in a relatively short period of time.

 

Train Weak Points

  • This is not for beginners because everything is a weak point for you. So do everything and do it often. Do not overthink this part of your programming.
  • Training Weak points will always be a necessary part of your programming.
  • The toughest thing for some people will be realizing what there weak points are. If you are one of the many people unsure what there weak points are try this; think about the accessory exercises, movements, and/or body parts that are your least favorite to execute. Those are most likely your weak points. People avoid doing what they don’t enjoy and most become a weak point.
  • If still unsure what your weak points are sit down and evaluate your program. What is missing or what haven’t you done in a while. Take note of the accessory lifts you are doing when your numbers are increasing but also take note of what you avoided when you hit your plateau.
  • You can also ask other people. Ask your lifting buddy who sees you perform the lift, ask a more experienced lifter for advice, etc.

 

Rest Days

  • Yes, rest days are important and I know it may strange coming from me, heck it feels weird typing this out. However, rest days are very important if you want to gain maximal strength.
  • This article was written to give you advice on increasing maximal strength in your major lifts when you hit a plateau. We weren’t discussing bodybuilding or any other type of training.
  • Your body needs to be as fully recovered as possible when strength is the goal.
  • If you do something the day before that is going to negatively affect your main lift the next day that is counterproductive to what we discussed in this article today.

 

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Consistency

By now, I hope that I have written enough of these articles to convey my passion for this field. I can discuss different training philosophies for days, go over cues for teaching techniques with anyone, and I’m a nerd when it comes to programming. I absolutely love the tangible part of training,. Equally interesting to me are the intangibles of training. The things that aren’t always evident from across the gym. I think that my love for the intangible aspects of training can be traced back to my athletic career where I believed from an early age that I could gain a competitive advantage by mastering the intangibles.

This has carried over to my own training experiences, where I firmly believe that what has helped me the most are taking the intangible parts of training seriously. When talking about intangibles there are different aspects that all fall under one larger idea; mindset. I believe that mindset is the single biggest factor that sets people apart that are after the same goal. Regardless if that mindset is deemed positive or negative there are different traits that arise from it. A few of those traits are consistency, or lack thereof, resiliency, intensity, and accountability to name a few. I plan on writing articles on these different traits but I will start with one that I believe has helped me the most; consistency.

I find it interesting that people ask me all the time what I eat, or what program I am doing. I get asked, “how much do you bench?” almost weekly. But no one has ever asked me what is the one greatest thing that I attribute to my success in training. If they did, my answer would be a boring one, consistency. I’m sure people would expect me to go into detail about a complex training program and talking about an extreme diet that I am currently trying. I doubt that anyone would expect my answer to be a single word.

I don’t believe I was genetically gifted or predestined to be good at training. I was a decent athlete growing up, by no means anything to brag about, and am more athletic now than at any point in my life thanks to training. What sets me apart from people struggling to see improvement in the gym is consistency. I do what I am supposed to do more often than most people. Yes, I read and I experiment and I talk to my mentors. Yes, some programs and techniques work better than others and it is important to learn them. But you can gain all the knowledge you want and if you don’t apply it consistently you will never reach your full potential. This is why consistency is a trait of mindset. You must possess a certain mindset to realize the importance of consistency. When I wake up in the morning I know I am training that day. I don’t even think about what if this or that happens. I’ll get those outside factors taken care of without letting it affect my training. I think the reason consistency comes so easy to me is because of my, Why.

Yes, let’s not forget the first question I asked of you all. I know my Why, it may change from time to time, but I always have a clear understanding of why I am doing what I am doing. By knowing my Why I have a reason for consistently going to the gym, for consistently eating the way I do. Without having a Why, a purpose, failing to be consistent is an easy thing to do. Where I see most people fail in the gym is when adversity hits them. I guess this can be life in general. It is easy to be consistent when everything is going great. I see it all the time. People are consistent when their schedule works out and no outside stress is affecting their training. They have no nagging injuries that make certain exercises impossible to do. Everything is running smoothly so of course they look forward to going to the gym and to eating right. However, as soon as something goes wrong, as soon as an injury pops up, or a new responsibility takes away some of their free time, things begin to unravel. It doesn’t even have to be that extreme. It can be as simple as they aren’t seeing results as fast as they first did and they become frustrated. It’s difficult to be consistent when it’s not as fun, when you aren’t seeing the results. But that is exactly the time you must keep consistent because it always comes back around and you will start seeing improvement again, your injuries will heal, and your schedule will lighten or you will simply get better at time management. Knowing your Why will help you possess a mindset that will allow you to push through these adversities. It will be that driving force that keeps you consistent.

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Let’s Get Started

I want this blog to be a place where people can come to for advice and knowledge in the pursuit of bettering themselves in and outside the weight room. With the help of social media, I plan to be able to interact with people who read these posts and have questions that they can ask me directly. My first challenge to you, as a reader, is to find your “Why?” Why are you in the weight room? Why is training important to you? Why
img_6047 are you currently doing the programs or exercises you are doing? These are all questions that you should ask yourself. You got the answers to these questions? Write them down, right now. The answers to these questions will lead you to the type of training you do, how often you do it, the exercises you choose, the type of food you eat, the amount of food you eat, the list goes on and on. I do not know everything. As the saying goes, the more I learn the more I realize I do not know. However, I have been doing this for a while now both personally and professionally, and I am constantly learning. I will not try and seem like I know everything. I will simply share what I do know and what works for me and the people I have trained. Training is a very personal thing. Yes, there are things that are biologically set in stone and will not change from person to person. There are, however, a good amount of variables that each person responds to differently. Things that you can expect to be covered in this blog are bodybuilding tips, strength tips, training for athletes, ways to gain mass, ways to lose fat, training for powerlifting, etc.