A workout plateau is what happens when your body adapts to the current stimulus you’ve put it under. When this happens your strength gains stall, sometimes causing your lifts to regress and for you to get weaker. What you need to do to get past the plateau is provide a new, fresh stimulus and there are three popular and proven methods for doing this.
#1 - Exercise Rotation
Exercise rotation is a simple solution to reset your strength building potential. By continuing to work the same movement pattern and the same muscles you allow yourself to continue building strength and move past your sticking point.
For example, if you were to hit a strength plateau on your incline barbell bench press you would switch out the barbell for dumbbells which would allow you to continue training the same muscles but give you enough of a change in stimulus to kick start your gains again.
You see it doesn’t have to be a huge change to allow your body to move forwards and this is what’s so fantastic about exercise rotation, it allows you to keep training the same muscle group without taking a break.
All you need to do is rotate out the exercise you are having problems with for a suitable equivalent and just like magic you’ll be on your way again.
#2 - Rep Range Manipulation
You know to apply progressive overload and drive continual strength gains you have to manipulate one aspect of your workout to continue increasing the stimulus on your body and force it to adapt.
Two of the best ways to do this is to manipulate your rep ranges and weight lifted. Depending on whether you are using a fixed rep range or a mixed rep range the method of progressive will vary a little.
Fixed Rep Range
When it comes to using a fixed rep scheme you won’t always be able to increase the weight in every session.
For example, if you were doing 4 sets of 12 reps for bicep curls starting with 5 kg dumbbells you might be able to progress steadily up to using 8 kg dumbbells but at some point it will too difficult to keep increasing the weight.
At this point you want to manipulate or stretch your rep ranges to allow you to continue progressing and increase the weight lifted.
You can do this by creating brackets for your rep ranges. For example, instead of being 4 sets of 12 reps, you would open the rep range to 4 sets of 10 – 12 reps or even 4 sets of 8 – 12 reps.
This not only encourages you to use good form throughout as you know you don’t have to get 12 reps if you can’t but it also allows for continual, steady progression.
Mixed Rep Range
When it comes to using a mixed rep range, the best way to increase the load lifted is to do it one set at a time starting from the bottom up. The reason this works so well is because you are increasing from the bottom up which means your top set will not be affected by the increase in weight.
It also means by the time you’re ready to increase your top set you will have adjusted to the new weight for the bottom and middle set. Essentially, you are building strength from the bottom up and only increasing the weight once you’ve have completed three sessions at that weight successfully.
This method works particularly well with reverse pyramid training where the top set is the most challenging and each subsequent set gets easier. Overall, increasing strength from the bottom up allows for smooth and more consistent progression.
#3 - Micro Loading
One of the most common methods of building strength and applying progressive overload is by increasing the weight lifted over time. To begin with, you’ll find you can do this most sessions and comfortably increase the weight on the bar by 2.5 kg or 5 lbs.
However, there will come a point where an increase of 2.5 kg is just too much to handle and will result in missed reps, bad form and a stall in strength. It’s at this point you would look to micro-loading for continued strength gains.
Micro-loading works on exactly the same basis as when you were adding 2.5 kg to the bar, except you’ll be using smaller weight increments. So instead of adding 2.5 kg each time you might add 1kg, 0.75kg or even 0.5kg to the bar.
Use one of the strategies covered in this post to help you overcome your workout plateau and start build strength again.