How To Overcome Plateaus In Your Bodybuilding, Weight Loss & Strength Training
Progress is the ultimate motivator.
It’s the positive feedback loop of putting in effort, seeing results and therefore continue to grind away day after day because you know what you’re doing is making a difference.
Everyone will hit a plateau though, over the last 5 years I’ve hit many, many plateaus. When your progress slows down or completely stops whether this be in strength gains, shedding that unwated body fat or gaining muscle mass it’s time to take a step back and look at what you’re actually doing.
Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome (results) is the definition of insanity.
Up until a couple of years ago I thought switching around the order of my exercises was the #1 way to overcome a plateau. Instead of starting my chest workout with incline dumbbell press I’d kick it off with flat barbell bench press as this was sure confuse my muscles and kick start those new size and strength gains.
Muscle confusion is a myth. Progress comes down to progressive overload.
After a lot of frustration still making trivial progress I had a breakthrough, if you’re trying to overcome a plateau in your training if you’re looking in the gym to fix it you’re looking in the wrong place.
Plateaus are overcome OUTSIDE of the gym…
If you’ve hit a plateau instead of changing your exercises pay attention to the following factors and adjust them as need be:
When it comes to diet there should be no guesswork – if you’re in a calorie surplus (i.e. consuming more calories on a 24 hour basis then your body needs to maintain its current condition) then it comes as no surprise to me that you’re unable to shed unwanted body fat.
In order to shed unwanted fat you MUST be in a caloric deficit, there’s no way around that.
On the other hand if mass gain is the goal your strength and size gains will be minute if apparent at all unless you’ve placed your body in a slight caloric surplus (eating more calories on a 24 hour basis than your body needs to maintain its current condition).
You will not gain size and strength by simply switching around your exercises if you’re in a caloric deficit.
Your Sleep Schedule
Time spent in the time smashing heavy weights and cardio goes to waste when you’re not allowing your body time to recover properly. Your efforts in the gym create the DEMAND for your body to grow (or lose fat) diet as I mentioned above, along with a decent sleep schedule will SUPPLY your body with the recovery and energy it needs to action this demand.
That’s the supply and demand of bodybuilding, there’s no way around it.
Several months ago due to a number of projects I was working on I had to get more work in every day which meant I had to cut my sleep schedule down to 4 – 5~ hours per night. I continued to lift heavy during this time and maintained my physique exactly however I did not make any real strength gains, and I didn’t expect to.
Now that I’ve re-adjusted my sleep schedule and are getting in a consistent 7 hours per night my strength has once again continued to climb. If your diet and training are on track yet you’re neglecting your sleep you’ll be surprised how an extra hour or two might be just what you need to get over that plateau.
Your Stress Levels
Stress is quite literally a killer.
Not only does stress mentally distract you from the task at hand – i.e. lifting it also places immense stress on your body.
If you’re finding yourself constantly stressed out it comes as no surprise to me that you’re probably struggling to burn fat too. Elevated stress levels play a big role in the reduction of fat loss.
The solution – schedule in some time to relax daly.
There’s no set answer here as to what exactly YOU should do, my favourite stress relieving past times include meditation, journaling and reading. Spending time in an infrared sauna is also a great relaxant which I often combine with reading or writing.
As Arnold said:
“As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100 percent”
When you’re giving it your all your all is a lot more than you know. Make sure you’re giving it your all and you haven’t allowed your mindset to weaken. Lifting is without a doubt a HUGE mental game. That barbell your bench pressing is only as heavy as you perceive it to be – if you think it’s ridiculously heavy before you’ve even unracked it you’re not going to get too far.
Ensure your mental side of the game is in check, when your mentally checked in and focusing on the task at hand an extra rep or two on your sets is definitely achievable.
There’s many different takes on overtraining, with views ranging from conservative to extreme as to whether or not it exists and what we need to do to ensure we’re not overtraining (which becomes counterproductive to growth).
If you’ve tried adjusting your diet, sleep schedule and stress as per my above recommendations and still find yourself struggling or feeling ‘burnt out’ it’s time to take either a deload or rest week.
Perform the usual number of sets and reps as you would during your regular training regime, however only lift 50% of the weight you generally would, placing a big emphasis on your form.
This is a form of active recovery.
Take a week off from the gym, perform some light cardio and stretching/foam rolling if you wish however do not venture into the weights section of the gym, allow your body this week to recover and come back stronger the following week.