How to Break a Workout Plateau
It happens to the best of us:
You’re consistently grinding it out in the gym, seeing progress week after week, and it stalls.
Suddenly, you can’t seem to run any faster, or lift any heavier. Maybe you’re even lifting less than the week before.
What’s going on? You’ve hit a workout plateau.
Oh no, the dreaded workout plateau! Now what?
In this post, we’ll discuss why workout plateaus happen and what you can do to get back on track.
What is a Workout Plateau and Why Does it Happen?
Workout plateaus are common, and the longer you train, the more likely you are to experience them. So don’t freak out!
Plateaus occur when your body adapts to the routine you’ve established, whether you’re trying to build muscle, lose weight, or master a new skill.
Our bodies are designed to adapt to stress, and that’s a good thing!
Nonetheless, it’s frustrating when you find yourself stuck in a workout plateau. It can totally kill your momentum.
The key to breaking through plateaus is to not only expect them, but to learn how to stay motivated and keep pushing until you’re on the other side of it. The worst thing you can do is give up!
What are the Best Ways to Break a Workout Plateau?
The first thing to do when you think you’ve hit a plateau in your training is to take an honest accounting of your workouts. Have you really been pushing yourself? Or have you slipped into a comfortable routine of lifting the same weight or running the same distance?
If you’ve determined that you are in a true workout plateau, don’t just keep spinning your wheels. Take a deep breath, recognize that it’s temporary, and make one of these adjustments to break out of your fitness slump.
Switch up your workout: If you’ve plateaued because your body has grown accustomed to the stress you’re putting on it, a small change should kick start your progress.
- Work the same muscles, but differently: If you’ve stalled out on your barbell bench press, switch to dumbells. If you’re working on your back squat, switch to front squats. If you’ve been working on a one-rep max, spend a day doing higher volume.
- Focus on a new skill: If you just can’t get that 10th pullup, work on pushups, or dips, or even planks. Taking a break from the exercise that’s giving you trouble and winning at something can give you the boost you need to come back to it refreshed and with a positive attitude.
- Micro load: Increase the weight you lift by a pound (or even a half-pound) at a time. Progress is progress, however small!
- Add a rep: If you usually do 3 sets of 8 reps, do 3 sets of 9 reps. Again, progress is progress. Celebrate every win!
- Intensify: If you’re struggling to break your 5k time, dedicate one day per week to just doing short sprints.
Ask for help: If you can’t seem to break through your workout plateau, enlist the help of a trainer. A personal trainer will hold you accountable, help you improve your form, motivate you, and give you new ideas. If you can’t afford to meet with a trainer regularly, occasional sessions can help you make progress. If nothing else, a trainer can provide you a spot. You’re less likely to try higher weights without a spotter! (And if you really can’t afford a trainer, a working out with a buddy might do the trick.)
Take a break: It may sound counterintuitive, but sometimes the way over a plateau is with less exercise, not more. Your body needs rest to recover and rebuild your muscles after working out. Take a week off. Many elite athletes plan 4-7 days of recovery (no cardio, no nothing!) every 6-8 weeks. When you come back to the gym you’ll feel refreshed and ready to go!
Adjust your diet: Sometimes the key to getting over a workout plateau lies in the kitchen rather than the gym. Try changing up your diet. Are you eating enough calories? Are you getting enough protein? You might benefit from adding protein powder or supplemental vitamins to your routine, such as THRIVEFIT. THRIVEFIT is an ultra premium fitness performance line designed to help you crush your workouts, build lean muscle, and recover from your workouts faster. Be sure to track your food and your exercise so you can see what’s working (and what isn’t)!
Get more sleep: Sleep is crucial to your well-being, and most people simply don’t get enough of it. Not getting enough sleep not only takes away from your recovery time, it increases stress levels and saps your energy, making it harder to reach your potential at the gym (or sometimes to even make it there). Aim for 7-9 hours of shut-eye per night.
Adjust your goals: Take a step back and look at your goals. Are they unrealistic? It’s certainly possible. When you first start working out, you see a lot of gains quickly. But that pace can’t continue indefinitely. Say you’ve been increasing our split-jerk by 5 pounds per week. At some point, that progress has to slow down — or else we would all be lifting 1,000 pounds over our heads! There are limits to what your body can do. Respect them.