Everyone hits plateaus, but there's no reason your progress should come to a complete stop. The most common reasons you're not getting better and how to remedy them.
Jon-Erik Kawamoto, M.Sc.Kin.(c), C.S.C.S., C.E.P. 1 / 11
1) You don’t have a training partner.Some people work out better on their own, but most enjoy the company of a training partner. An awesome training partner can provide motivation, inspiration and a spot. You’re less likely to explore higher weights without a spotter. Your spotter doesn’t have to help each rep—just having the assurance of their presence is enough to give you confidence in trying for new maxes.
2) You’re bored of your program and just going through the motions.Training programs are just like sex. If you keep doing the same position with your girl, she’ll get bored, just as you’ll get bored with doing the same exercises week in and week out. Your body will actually get better and more coordinated with the high repetition of exercises, but if you’re not progressing the weight used, decreasing the breaks between sets or changing how you perform each rep/set, your body will cease to adapt.Follow the Principle of Progressive Overload, which states that to continue your body’s adaptation to exercise, the difficulty of the exercise must continually change. Also, change up your program before you get bored—it will keep things interesting but don’t be that guy who changes programs every two weeks. Also, try a phase where you lift heavy, say sets of 6 or less. You’ll be amazed at your improvements in strength and muscle-building potential.
3) You’re bored of your gym.If you’ve been training at your gym for some time now, it might be time for a change in atmosphere. A new gym environment, different users, different music and different equipment might be just the trick to get you out of your boredom.
4) You’re not using geometry to your advantage. Use different angles to stimulate your muscles in new ways. For example, instead of doing standing dumbbell curls every workout, try doing curls while lying face up on an incline bench. This tip also applies to grip—try doing towel grip or mixed grip (one over and one under) pull-ups instead of the conventional double underhand grip. Changing angles and how you grip will definitely help you break through plateaus.
5) All your reps look the same. Try paused-reps, partial-reps or bottom-half-reps to maximize your gains in the full range of motion version. For example, try the Floor Press to help your Bench Press or a Front Squat from low pins to help your Clean. Changing how your reps are performed can help you get through those sticking points and build new levels of strength.
6) You’re not addressing your weaknesses or injuries.Muscle imbalances (strength or length) and pre-existing injuries can affect each rep. Glute and lower trap inhibition and dominant hamstrings and upper traps can all affect how the muscles surrounding the joint function. They can also result in postural issues and joint dysfunction. Bum knees and shoulders can continue to deteriorate if you do not change your exercise selection and address your limitations. Choose your exercises wisely to add strength and function to your body.Regular massage treatments or self-myofascial release can address soft tissue issues. A proper warm-up consisting of light aerobic exercise and appropriate mobility drills can not only prepare you for the workout ahead, but can also address range of motion issues.
7) You’re not training at various intensities. Non-linear periodization has been shown to be superior to linear periodization for developing strength and endurance. Periodization is how a program is laid out and it’s linearity determines what set and rep ranges are performed and when. Instead of just doing all your exercises at 3x10 or 4x8, try performing sets of 5 or less at the beginning of your workout and sets of 8-12 at the end of your workout.
8) You’re doing too much and burning yourself out. Trying to use every piece of equipment in the gym is not the best way to train if strength and size are your goals. Shorten your workouts and focus on the most bang-for-your-buck exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses and pulls. It’s totally fine to add in isolation exercises like curls, extensions and flys, but limit them to the last quarter of your workout.
9) You’re doing the Curves-for-men program and just using machines.Machines are traditionally prescribed to trainees when initially starting a resistance-training program; however, they are inferior when compared to free and body weight exercises when trying to build strength and size.Think of a gymnast—how many leg extensions do you think they’ve done in their athletic career? Body weight and free weight exercises challenge not only your prime movers, but highly activate joint stabilizers and the infamous core muscles—muscles that get very little attention when using machines. Transition from your machine based program to free and body weight exercises—you can thank us later.You can expand on this concept and include non-conventional tools such as sandbags, kettlebells, rings or sleds to your workouts. These pieces of equipment can provide new challenges and some badass variety to your training.
10) You’re always training exhausted.Hitting the gym after a stressful day of work? Try training first thing in the morning or during your lunch break. A tired brain means a tired body and a lousy workout. Go to bed earlier and hit your training hard the following morning. You’ll be amazed how much energy a great workout will leave you with for the remainder of the day.
11) You keep writing your own programs.Writing training programs requires knowledge of science and physiology. Programs need to be individualized based on training goals, current deficiencies and personal abilities. Without this knowledge, writing training programs is like trying to fix your car when you know nothing about auto mechanics. Hire a reputable strength and conditioning coach to design you a program specific to your needs. Not only will you be held accountable, you can trust the program will work.