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How to Break Through a Strength Training Plateau
Chugging down protein shakes, regularly hitting the gym, and still not getting stronger? Welcome to the infamous fitness plateau. But don’t be alarmed: There are ways to stop feeling stagnant and move forward on that fitness quest. The key? Varying workouts!
Stale Strength — The Need-to-Know
Hit those dumbbells for the first time, and the results may be pretty immediate. But as people gain strength in a specific movement, the body requires new stimulus to grow. Research suggests that after anywhere from one to six weeks, the body will adapt to a typical fitness routine .
There’s no one reason why gym rats may stop seeing progress, but both beginners and vets alike may see their strength gains start to wane. One answer is to change things up, and we have some tips to keep making progress (and keep things fresh!) on the gym room floor.
Peace Out, Plateau — Your Action Plan
- Add intensity. Slow and steady doesn’t always win the race. Try upping the intensity to continue building muscle  . Swap out a long, slow run with some treadmill intervals, or lunge instead of walk to travel to the next exercise location.
- Change the moves. Been sticking to the bench press? Try a push-up instead. Stuck on conventional deadlifts? Switch to sumo! This will target the same muscles in a different way. . (Sneaky, sneaky!)
- Cross train. Mixing in a variety of training styles will target different muscles (and challenge the mind!). Cross training might even reduce the risk of injury as well, so hop off the elliptical and use the bike instead.
- Switch the order. Try changing up the order of strength training exercises to tire muscles at different times. (Those push ups will be a lot harder at the end of a workout.) Just remember, bigger muscle groups should almost always be worked first, and avoid saving explosive-based training for the end, advises Greatist Expert and trainer Jordan Syatt.
- Vary repetitions. No need to stick to the same number of reps and sets for every move. Switch up the number of squats and superman’s to surprise and challenge the body. Going heavier for fewer reps? Just be sure to increase weight gradually. Higher weight will stimulate hormones that aid in muscle growth, but adding too much weight at once could lead to injury.
- Change rest between sets. There’s a big difference between resting for 60 seconds, and the time it takes to fill out your tax return. To mix things up in the weight room, shorten or lengthen rest time to affect muscle endurance . Or, skip the rest altogether and head into a superset or circuit. (The rest comes after each series is through!)
- Pinpoint the problem. Here’s some tough love. Hating squats doesn’t mean leaving them out. Identify the exercise that causes some trouble, and in the words of Nike, Just Do It. It’ll only make the body stronger!
- Rest. On those days off, muscles rebuild in stronger formations. So don’t forget to take it easy every now and then (the amount of rest depends on the person) to really see that strength develop.
- Keep on keepin’ on. Don’t get frustrated by a lack of progress, and never ever give up! Need some reinforcement? Try using a workout journal or app (like Fitocracy) to keep track of workouts — and watch those new PRs stack up!
Just a little change will keep the body challenged, and that hard work will continue to pay off. And don’t forget about the importance of diet, too; what happens in the kitchen affects performance at the gym . Make sure to get enough protein, fruits, and veggies — and steering clear of too much sugar and simple carbs  . (Save the glazed donuts for special occasions!) With some hard work, patience, and a solid game plan, that fitness plateau should be old news.
Have you ever been stuck in a strength training rut? What worked best to break through it? Tell us in the comments below!
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Comments Leave a comment
Great post! Whenever I would encounter a plateau in strength training I always thought of it like this: to have something you've never had before you need to do something you've never done before. So I would change it up. By the end of college my bench max was around 300, I was weighing 155, all using the advice you just gave in your article. Of course those were the glory days lol.
@ucheonyekwere Haha that's awesome, great thinking! Your mind also is a huge component of getting over that plateau :)
Does anybody have any insight about P90x version of busting through plateaus muscle confusion. I have seen some scientific studies on this but I haven't really gotten any feedback...
@Tripp Hi Tripp, I unfortunately don't have any personal experience with P90x, but ACE Fitness does a pretty nice job summarizing a (small) study that talks about muscle confusion and how the participants responded to the workouts: http://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/1865/
Seems like HIIT is almost always a good answer for a kickass workout!