We all hear about hitting plateaus in our programming, where progress slows down and we stop being able to make new gains. But what really is a plateau? How can we get around it?
Firstly, it’s important to understand that exercise is subject to diminishing returns. The longer you’ve been working out, the less you’re going to get out of each set, rep, and workout. That’s a fact.
What that means is, everyone is always plateauing, to a certain extent. If you’re getting better, you’re getting better at a slower and slower rate all the time. We obviously want to avoid plateauing too soon, stalling out before we see our real potential. What are some ways that we could be hitting that end range too early?
Sometimes, we fail to improve because while we’re crushing it in the gym, nothing else is in order. Gains are based on diet and recovery just as much as they’re based on what you do in the gym. If you’re eating very little or getting very little sleep per night, or not drinking enough fluids - all of these things can keep you from seeing results from your workouts. Make sure you’ve got those in order before worrying about anything else.
Another possibility is that you’re just not doing enough. A lot of people don’t really track their workouts, they just go into the gym and crush it until they feel a pump, or until they feel sore, and then go home. Unfortunately, this isn’t a good indicator of how good of a workout you’re getting in. You always need to be doing more than you did before in some way, and that means carefully tracking your workouts to see how you can improve. Online trackers like fitocracy or just a good old notebook and pen kept in your workout bag can be massively useful.
It’s also a possibility that your training has gotten stale. Maybe you’ve been doing the same thing over and over for long enough that your body has gotten used to it. That doesn’t mean you should go full on “muscle confusion” training and change everything completely - good workouts are varied but stick to a good structure which enables you to keep progressing towards your goals. Something as simple as switching up a bench press for an incline bench press may be all you need to keep seeing progress and bust through those plateaus. Tiny changes are best, because the more you change the more likely you are to go off goal and train something completely different! Switching out your bench pressing for an extra half hour run each day, for example, will certainly get you improving at running, but it’s not gonna build your pectorals or your strength in the bench press.
In general, these simple switches are enough to start seeing real changes in your progress. Continue to add volume, keep your recovery on point, and occasionally switch up your routine, and you’ll continue to see massive results.