Written by Ben Prinsloo
Frustratingly, our bodies are highly developed organisms, and the result is that we adapt to pressure quickly. This means that a very difficult training regime, which yields great results for 10 weeks, yields little results thereafter. After this point, we hit what is called a plateau, where our progress remains stagnant. This is a difficult state to break through. That being said, there are a few tricks to breaking through and avoiding these plateaus completely, which work well.
Hitting a plateau means that you have benefitted from your current regime, and there are no longer any substantial benefits available from your regime, as it stands. Depending on your regime, your plateau will begin somewhere between 6 – 12 weeks, generally. This means that you keep your eyes dead set on your current goals and process for at least the first month or two, after which, you can begin to plan the next step. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the more you progress, the harder progression becomes. Whether you are trying to lose weight, gain muscle, or just get fitter, your ability to develop is declining exponentially.
If you are 10kgs overweight, it’s much easier to lose the first few kilos than it is if you are only 3kgs overweight. Equally, if you can bench press 70kg, getting yourself to 100kg is easier than getting from 100kg to 130kg. Your plan needs to accommodate for this – you can’t necessarily expect to get the exact same proportional results from your first regime, as you do from your second. Your goals for each plan must, therefore, be realistic.
The first trick is for the aesthetic trainers – if you have been bulking, do a cut, and equally, if you have been cutting, do a bulk. The change of stimulation for the body will yield good results, and it means that when you go back to the process you were previously doing, the results will be good. Try not to lose strength or stamina if you go into a cut, as you want to try and go back to your bulk as close to the strength level you finished at as possible. Do not feel obliged to follow this. For some desperately trying to gain weight, or lose fat, doing the opposite is obviously counter-productive. If this is the case, the second trick should be much more helpful for you.
The second trick is to change up the manner of your training – this is for everyone no matter what your goals are – if you are training for cross country, try and do some sprint training for a few weeks, if you are training for strong lifting, try pure hypertrophy training. This means that you don’t change the style of your training, in other words, keep running, or keep lifting heavy. But change the manner by running or lifting heavy in a different way. This means a new stimulus for the body, and that means progression – and of course, go back to your original manner of training after a few weeks.
Whether a few weeks means 4 weeks, 6 weeks, or even 12 weeks, is dependent on how your body responds – the minute you feel you are not making process (provided you’ve at least tried for 4 weeks), change up, and go back to the old routine. If you do find that you have very specific goals that you do not want to shift from, changing the manner of your training does not have to take you away from this. If your goal is weight gain, you don’t have to only be lifting heavy, for five reps, there are other methods such as high volume training. Additionally, you might keep the manner of your training, but change your workout split. This leads us to the third trick.
The third trick is simply to change the combination of your workouts. It’s possible that your plateau is the result of the structure of your workout – perhaps you are not resting long enough, and therefore not recovering sufficiently, or you are resting too long. I often find people who do aesthetic training exercise one body part a week and do not workout hard enough to justify a week of rest for that body part. Restructuring your week, by changing the combinations for days, the days your workout, or even the frequency that your workout, could have big implications.
The final trick is to take a look at the other factors. Sometimes your workout plan is perfect, and you should not change it. Yes, you have plateaued, but the workout itself still has a lot to offer. The reason you are plateauing then is rather the other factors – the obvious ones to look at are your diet, supplementation, and sleep. But the others could be stress, focus, or motivation. Diet and supplementation are easy to fix, provided you put in the time. Whether that means some research, or visiting a nutritionist, it’s not an overly complex problem to sort out.
If it’s sleep, that can sometimes be more complicated as there are some tricky medical conditions that come into play here. Of course, if your lack of sleep is the result of a medical condition, the doctor is the one to help you. If not, you might consider shifting the time of your workout – if you normally exercise in the evening, workout in the morning rather. Apart from that, the standard procedures apply – no caffeine after lunchtime, stay off your bed until sleep time, try and get up earlier, and so on. The universal solution to stress, sadly, is ever elusive.
Luckily, however, you are already committed to one of the best remedies – exercise. But if some rest will do you well to ease the stress, take it up. Focus and motivation require a click – the epiphany moment where you recall why you are doing what you need to, and you hold on to that thought. Of course, there are a variety of other factors that play into why your plateau may have started, and it’s imperative that you isolate what the factors are, and address them sufficiently.
The feeling of breaking through a plateau is wonderful. It tastes of achievement, success, and satisfaction. Nothing quite compares to reaping the benefits of your hard work. So keep at it, and when you do hit that inevitable plateau, hopefully, the above can help.