How To Break Through Strength Plateaus

TSquared Lab, 04 May 2022

Have you ever found yourself stuck with your training? You’re hitting the gym consistently, putting in the effort, and doing your best, but you can’t seem to make progress toward your goals?

If that’s the case, you might be dealing with a strength plateau. These are reasonably common but incredibly frustrating to overcome.

Read on to learn what a strength plateau is and what you can do to overcome it.

What is a Strength Plateau?

Before diving into the actionable tactics, we first have to establish what a strength plateau is. Plenty of people believe they are in a plateau but are instead dealing with typical stalls that occur on every training program.

A strength plateau is characterized by being stuck at a particular weight for three or more weeks. Of course, that period will vary between individuals because the more advanced you become, the longer it takes to keep getting stronger.

Judging strength plateaus is more accurate on compound exercises like the deadlift than on isolation movements like bicep curls. The reason is that progress occurs more readily on compound exercises because you involve more muscles. In contrast, improvements occur more slowly on isolation exercises because you’re only training a single muscle group.

Five Tactics For Breaking Through Strength Plateaus

1. Push Yourself Harder

The single most reliable strategy for breaking a strength plateau is to push yourself harder. Doing so works because research finds that the average trainee doesn’t work nearly as hard as they believe. According to research, trainees struggle to estimate their effort accurately and often leave too many repetitions in the tank. As a result, they struggle to cause a significant enough disruption to grow and get stronger.

So, the next time you’re at the gym, push yourself a bit harder and see what happens. There is a good chance you can do more work without reaching muscle failure or increasing the risk of overtraining.

2. Improve Your Technique

Trainees who find themselves in a plateau often increase the load and try to push through weakness. The problem is that doing so doesn’t help but instead puts you in a compromised position.

Attempting to lift a weight you are not ready for leads to compensatory tactics (shortening the range of motion, using momentum, jerking the weight, etc.), which means you’re training with poor technique. As a result, you put yourself at a greater risk of an injury, and each repetition becomes less effective.

A much better approach for a strength plateau is to take a step back and see how you can improve your technique, even if that means temporarily reducing the load you’re using. Sure, that isn’t what most people want to hear, but it sometimes becomes necessary to rebuild your technique.

Filming some of your training sets can be beneficial because it allows you to see yourself from the side. You might notice some glaring (or subtle) errors in your technique.

3. Switch Up Some Of The Movements

weight lifting techniques

Another effective training tactic for overcoming a strength plateau is replacing certain exercises for a while. Doing so is an excellent way to bring engagement into your training and increase your effort. Swapping movements is also beneficial for reinforcing proper technique and stopping yourself from getting too comfortable with your training.

For example, let’s say that you’ve been struggling to improve your back squat lately. Instead of pushing hard, take a step back and swap the movement for front squats, low-bar back squats, or another movement.

4. Take Good Care Of Your Sleep

Getting adequate sleep might seem surprising under the circumstances, but it plays an essential role in your long-term training progress. Good sleep is vital for your cognition, motivation, focus, and athletic performance. 

While a night or two of poor sleep might not be that bad, sleep deprivation accumulates into something researchers refer to as ‘sleep debt.’ It grows like financial debt, and you have to pay it off eventually. As sleep debt increases, its adverse effects become more pronounced, leading to poor performance, impaired muscle protein synthesis, an inability to burn fat effectively, and more. 

So, one of the best things you can do to overcome plateaus and reduce the risk of falling in one in the future is getting good sleep. According to most guidelines, we should aim for at least seven hours per night. If possible, sleep up to eight hours per night.

5. Improve Your Nutrition

While more popular than sleep, the subject of nutrition is also overlooked by many people. These days, countless men and women hit the gym consistently and look for ways to improve their program, but ignore their nutritional habits and pay the price. 

Paying attention to your health nutrition is essential for preventing strength plateaus from occurring. The good news is, you can also overcome them by taking active measures to eat better. 

One of the essential pieces of the puzzle relates to your caloric intake. You should eat at maintenance or put yourself in a slight caloric surplus, resulting in steady weight (and muscle) gain. Dieting to lose fat is perfectly acceptable, but understand that consuming fewer calories would impair your ability to recover and prevent you from training as hard. Often, a plateau might occur because you’re dieting, and your progress might resume as soon as you bump your calorie intake.

Aside from eating enough calories, you should also consume enough protein––the nutrient with crucial roles related to muscle recovery, growth, and overall health. According to most research, folks interested in fitness should consume up to 0.8 to 1 gram of the nutrient per pound of body weight.

Eating enough carbs is also vital as these nutrients serve as the primary fuel source for your body. Lack of carbs means low energy, translating into poor performance and an inability to overcome a strength plateau.

Conclusion

Strength plateaus can occur for many reasons, and no two cases are the same. But, the above are the most practical approaches you should consider to resolve your issues and start making progress again.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is a reliable strategy for an average trainee to break a strength plateau?

A. The single most reliable strategy for breaking a strength plateau is to push yourself harder and see what happens. There is a good chance you can do more work without reaching muscle failure or increasing the risk of overtraining.

Q. What is the importance of a healthy nutrition?

A. Paying attention to your nutrition is essential for preventing strength plateaus from occurring. The good news is, you can also overcome them by taking active measures to eat better.

Q. How can people improve their weight lifting techniques?

A. A much better approach for a strength plateau is to take a step back and see how you can improve your weight lifting technique, even if that means temporarily reducing the load you’re using. Filming some of your training sets can be beneficial because it allows you to see yourself from the side.

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