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Avoiding Weightlifting Plateaus

By: Julie Blessing

What is a plateau?

The definition of plateau is “a stage where there is no further change or development.” Plateaus can be one of the most frustrating things that can happen to the avid weightlifter, bodybuilder, runner or athlete.  Plateaus happen when your body gets accustomed to the workload forced upon it and avoiding plateaus is most often achieved by changing the routine.  Below are some tips for avoiding weightlifting plateaus.

Vary Exercises and Sets/Reps

Try different exercises every few weeks to keep your body guessing. Varying exercise can be as easy as changing hand or foot position.  Try an underhand grip for pull down type exercises or try a wider stance for a squat. Lifting the same muscle groups on the same days each week can also lead to plateaus. For example, if back and biceps are always worked together, the body will get accustomed to that routine. Try pairing back with triceps instead.  Working different muscle groups together or adding a few full body workouts in each week can be enough to vary exercise. Just as you would vary exercises, varying sets and reps can drastically change a workout.  Most lifters do 3 – 5 sets and 8 – 12 reps for each exercise.  For gaining strength try 5 sets of 5 or for muscular endurance training try 2 – 3 sets of 15 – 20 reps.

Change the Workout Order

It is suggested to do the most challenging lifts in the beginning of a workout to avoid fatigue related injuries. If back squats or deadlifts are always your first exercise, try doing them in the middle or toward the end of a workout.  DO NOT attempt to max out at the end of a workout. Lower the weight and work through some fatigue to get a different type of workout.  Stop if your form is lacking due to fatigue.  Another way to change workout order is to vary when you do cardio. If you typically do cardio before a workout, try doing it after you lift, or vice versa.

Adjust Timing

Lowering the rest time between sets can increase strength. Try resting less between sets and resting more between exercises if needed. Adding supersets or circuit training is another way to adjust rest time.  If you perform two or more exercises back to back less time is spent resting.  Adjusting tempo is an advanced way to vary timing.  Traditionally lifts take 1-2 seconds to complete each rep.  Try doing each rep slower, maybe 5 seconds to complete 1 rep for a different challenge.

Eat and Sleep to Grow

Working to avoid plateaus happens outside of the gym as well. It is very important to intake enough calories for your current program.  If your goal is to increase muscle or gain weight, your caloric intake should be increasing as your weight increases. It is impossible to lift heavier and heavier if you do not have the energy to do so.  Getting the same amount of sleep each night is very important, as is going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time each day. This includes weekends! Staying up late and sleeping in on weekends can make it challenging for your body to adjust back to a schedule in the beginning of the following week. Every person is different, so it is suggested to find a sleep routine that works for your body and stick with it.

The key to avoiding plateaus is change. Try a few of these suggestions if you find yourself reaching a plateau.



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