2.5lb plates. We know them as the little mini donuts you can get at the store that are definitely vastly inferior to actual donuts, which are just so much better unless you're trying to find out how many you can stuff in your mouth at once. Unfortunately, when it comes to getting as strong as possible, not using those little plates is probably holding you back.
I know that we like to see big numbers on our lifts. I’m one of those types. For years I never used anything smaller than 5lb plates when going up in increments. If I was doing a periodized progression, I always did things in increments of 10 as a result. More recently, however, I’ve realized that this obsession was only holding me back.
Take a look at the bad boys above. They’re called fractional plates, and they’re the dinkiest little things you’ve ever seen. Fractional plates range between .25lb and 1lb, officially making them the donut holes of the weight plate realm. Normally, these plates are considered useful for women and beginners, who may need smaller jumps in order to build up to higher weights.
However, more recently, I came across a masters powerlifter who swears by them. This guy is in his 60’s and has been lifting for years, and he knows that he’s very close to his genetic potential in terms of building strength. He can maintain what he’s got pretty easily, but when it comes to building strength he has to take it very slowly. As a result, he makes frequent usage of the fractional plates when making weight jumps across his periods - he might do a 200lb bench press this week, and a 202lb bench press next week. It might not seem like much, but by using these small plates he’s able to build strength, albeit slowly, much more efficiently than he could otherwise.
While I’m not saying that everyone has to use itty bitty increments in increasing their strength, it’s certainly something that should be considered. Due to rapid adaptations, beginners will see quick gains and can probably jump large increments from month to month. However, more experienced lifters, who’ve been lifting for at least a year or so for strength, benefit best from smaller increments. Too much at once and you’ll probably impact your recovery, so small jumps enable you to continue to see consistent improvement without letting your ego get in the way to the point of hurting your gains.
I’ve recently begun to use the 2.5lb plates a lot more frequently in my training, jumping a consistent 5lbs per week in my periods, and it’s certainly been a lot more manageable than jumping 10lbs. This means less stress, better recovery, and better adherence long term, so it’s a win-win-win.
Another consideration, however, is always cost. Fractional plates are certainly more expensive than most people have the money for, and they're uncommon in your local gym setting, so chances are that you're going to have to buy them for yourself. I won't say they're necessary - I don't even own a set! - but they're certainly very useful. Make better usage of the 2.5lb plates than you have been and you're probably set - but always consider getting yourself some smaller plates if you think you need them.
Unfortunately, all this talk about donuts has made me hungry, so I’ll have to leave it at that.