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9 Ways to Crush Your Workout Plateau Like a Pro

Updated: Oct 29, 2019

Everyone has experienced the frustration of hitting a workout plateau. When you begin your fitness journey you start by making amazing progress and that continues for a definite amount of time, then the acceleration of your progress slowly declines until it comes to a dead stop. This is the make or break point for many people in their fitness journey.

When you hit a workout plateau it feels like your putting in 100% effort to just maintain the progress you have made. When you reach this point there are 3 common paths, they are; give up and decide it is too much work for what you are getting, continue exactly what you are doing in hopes that you will eventually progress, or do something drastically different to your workouts and push past the plateau. The third option is what I will explain in this article. There are 9 common reasons people hit plateaus and you will learn how to overcome each one of them so you will never be stopped in your tracks again.

9 Common Causes of Hitting a Plateau:

  • Repeating the same workout over and over

  • Improperly set goals

  • Workout intensity is too low

  • overworked muscles

  • Improper nutrition

  • Loss of passion

  • Lack of social support

  • Not enough rest

  • Time to crush your plateau with a personal trainer

1. Repeating The Same Workout Over and Over

The most common culprit for hitting a plateau is never changing your workout routine or doing the same thing week after week. When you first start working out you can essentially choose any exercises and make decent progress, but the progress that you make is your body physically adapting to the stress that the workout is causing. Because your body adapts to the workout you are doing, you will eventually have to change the variables of your workouts in some fashion.

Some easy variables to adjust to change up your workout are:

  • Number of repetitions

  • Number of sets

  • Repetition tempo

  • Total volume of weight lifted per workout

  • Rest in-between sets

  • Training frequency

  • Length of workouts

  • Type of exercises

2. Improperly Set Goals

Whether you believe in them or not, goals are proven to lead to a higher degree of performance and better results in almost any area that you apply them to, including fitness. You can still set goals and have them add almost no value towards your progress if you don't set them properly. This is why improperly set goals lead to plateaus, one example would be if I set a goal stating I want to gain 50 lbs of muscle in 10 weeks. This would be nearly impossible, would add no value to your motivation to workout, and you would not know what to do in order to reach it. On the other hand, if you set goals properly they can help you overcome a plateau.

Goal setting is a learned skill that comes with practice, but the most important thing to keep in mind when your setting goals is that they are "SMART" goals. Smart stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. If you set your goals according to those variables you will be far more successful. If you are interested in learning more about setting fitness goals, check out my article Succeed With Fitness Goals.

3. Your Workout Intensity is too low

If you have reached a workout plateau it could simply be because you are not putting in enough work. The more progress you make towards your goals the harder it will be to make more progress, it may take you 2 weeks to add 10 lbs to your bench when you first start exercising, but it may take 5 weeks to add 10 lbs to your Bech after you have been working out for 6 months. You will eventually hit a plateau due to your workout intensity.

When I tell people they need to increase the intensity of their workouts they automatically assume that means to add weight and do more reps/sets. That will work for some period of time, but it will only lead to another plateau, at that point you can change any of the variables that I stated in the first section.

Here they are again:

  • Number of repetitions

  • Number of sets

  • Repetition tempo

  • Total volume of weight lifted per workout

  • Rest in-between sets

  • Training frequency

  • Length of workouts

  • Type of exercises

4. Muscle Exhaustion

Having high-intensity workouts an important factor in overcoming a workout plateau, but a common reason people reach a plateau is that they work at too high of an intensity for too long and don't allow enough time for their muscles to recover. When you workout, your muscles get torn at a very small level and it takes time for them to recover so that they can grow and be ready for more use. This is completely normal and important to make progress, but the problem occurs when you don't allow for recovery between workouts, your muscles will break down too far and will not be able to perform at maximal capacity.

A great way to overcome your plateau from this is to cycle between exercise phases, this is most commonly done on a month to month basis, but can be adjusted to what works best for you. It is recommended to cycle between 2-5 stages.

Here are some example stages you can use:

  • Stage 1: Low weight, high reps, high time under tension,

  • Stage 2: Superset low weight/high reps and moderate weight/moderate reps

  • Stage 3: Moderate weight, moderate reps, moderate time under tension

  • Stage 4: High weight, low reps, low time under tension

5. Improper Nutrition

So you have set proper goals, changing the variables of your workout, rotating exercise phases, have your intensity at a reasonable level, yet you still are stuck at a plateau... This is where you may need to dig into things outside of the exercise itself, nutrition being first. Having proper nutrition is one of the most important aspects of having a healthy body and a healthy body is a high performing body.

No amount of exercise can compensate for a terrible diet and no diet can compensate for a completely sedentary lifestyle. These two go hand in hand in improving your overall health. Carbs provide energy for your workouts, proteins allow for recovery, and fats aid in the absorption of vitamins. The most important macronutrient for muscle recovery is protein, if you have a lack of protein your muscles will not recover as efficiently and will lead to muscle exhaustion. Even though protein is seen as the only important macronutrient for exercise, you must have proper amounts of all 3 for your body fo work at full capacity.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Carbs: 2.7-4.5 g/lb of bodyweight per day

  • Protein: 0.4-0.8 g/lb of bodyweight per day

  • Fats: 20-35% of total caloric intake

6. Loss of Passion and Drive For Fitness

If you are finding yourself stuck in the same spot for days or even weeks it can be tough to keep your eyes on the prize, you may lose sight of why you initially started your fitness journey. This may turn your plateau into a full-on mountainous barrier if you don't get your mindset right. A very easy way to re-align your course is to think back to when you first set your goals. What were your motivations behind seeing your goals, why did you want to reach your goals. You WILL find your true motivations again.

If you never did set goals when you started working out, then this would be the perfect time to set your goals. I lay out the perfect method for setting goals in my article Succeed With Fitness Goals.

7. Lack of Social Support

This may not be the reason that you hit a workout plateau, but it could very well be the reason you are not able to push past it. If you are always working out by yourself, not sharing your progress with anybody, or don't have anyone supporting you on your fitness journey, it can be tough to make progress. Find someone that you know who also works out and ask to workout together, you will be amazed at the difference that it can make when you have someone with you who can motivate you, support you, watch your form, spot you, and teach you something new.

There are two factors of social support, there is the physical factor which involves working out with someone else, then there is the mental factor which involves emotional support from others. Find someone that you know who also works out and ask to workout together, you will be amazed at the difference that it can make when you have someone with you who can motivate you, support you, watch your form, spot you, and teach you something new.

8. Not Enough Rest at Night

Sleep... your body needs it, your mind needs it, and sometimes we just want it. Just like a good nights rest is essential for our mind to recover from a hard day of thinking, it is also essential for our body to recover from a hard workout. It allows our muscles to repair themselves, our central nervous system to recover, and our energy levels to rise.

If you are only getting 4 hours of sleep every night and you cannot make progress with your workouts, it could be because your body has not had the adequate sleep that it needs. It is recommended to get 6-8 hours of sleep every night, this range is adequate for your average person but individual needs for sleep may vary. So next time your thinking about watching Netflix until 3AM, try to make a protein shake and hit the sack early.

9. Time to Crush Your Plateau With a Personal Trainer

If you have exhausted all of your efforts and tried every solution possible, yet still cannot get past your plateau, it may be time to consult with a certified personal trainer. Certified personal trainers are well educated in exercise methodologies and the behavior of the human body, If there is anybody who can help you get past your plateau it will be them... You may not even need to hire them or pay for their services, you may only need one simple piece of advice that will lead to your future success. If you feel that you could use a piece of advice, feel free to reach out to us here at Shogun Athletics and we will do our best to get you to the next stage in your fitness journey.

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