7 Ways to Break Through Training Plateaus

 

While setting a new personal record can be unbelievably uplifting, missing the mark after weeks and months of preparation can be even more deflating. Exercise plateaus and setbacks can be extremely frustrating, and can derail even the most ambitious workout plans. To make matters worse, there are a variety of reasons plateaus and setbacks can occur — making it hard to pinpoint the exact cause. To eliminate the guesswork and get you back on track to your fitness goals, we’ve compiled expert-approved strategies for overcoming the most common strength training plateaus.

1. Modify your reps.
Doing the same amount of reps week after week is a quick way to suffer from stagnant results, not to mention boredom. After only a few weeks, the body adapts to acute workout variables like sets, reps and rest time. The result is fewer stimuli for new gains in strength. To keep your workout fresh, experiment with different set and rep schemes. For instance, while a few weeks might focus on strength with sets of three to five reps, increase the rep ranges during the subsequent weeks to five to eight reps to change up the workout and spur new muscle growth.

2. Change up the tempo.
Not all reps are created equal. There are several strategies within the actual repetition itself that can drastically change the intensity of a workout. When suffering from lack of progress, try slowing down each rep, especially during the lowering portion of the exercise. The slow tempo will boost the amount of time the muscle is under tension, while increasing the overall difficulty of the exercise.

3. Experiment with different exercises.
Performing the same exercises week after week can lead to lack of results and a drop off in motivation. Varying your routine is crucial for encouraging progress. Fortunately, lifters don’t have to completely change up their routine to get the benefits of variety. To prevent plateauing, pick one or two exercises in each workout to modify. Here are some quick and easy modifications:

  • Platform: Move from two legs to one on a bodyweight squat to increase the difficulty of the movement while incorporating balance, coordination and core work.
  • Equipment: Instead of using a barbell for deadlifts, grab a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells to add variety and change how the body is loaded during the motion.
  • Complexity: Combine two exercises into one like a squat and a shoulder press to greatly boost the difficulty of an exercise.

4. Do more soft tissue work.
Lack of results often causes individuals to work harder in the gym. In reality, they might need to take it easier. Without proper recovery in between workouts, the body can’t rebuild muscle that has been broken down. This can result in subpar performance and lingering soreness that just won’t go away.

Foam rolling and massage therapy are two great interventions to speed recovery and help relieve soreness. Joe Vennare, co-founder of Hybrid Athlete, encourages his clients to perform self-massage, aka self-myofascial release (SMR), every day. “Regular tissue work increases circulation, enhances recovery and reduces scar tissue,” Vennare says. So make friends with that foam roller (particularly before and after workouts) and consider scheduling trips to see a skilled massage therapist every few weeks to work on deeper knots.

5. Experiment with variable resistance.
The traditional method of loading exercises with barbells and dumbbells provides a constant amount of resistance throughout the movement. By contrast, variable resistance, using bands or chains to change the resistance throughout the movement, is becoming increasingly popular as a way to spice up a routine.

For a barbell back squat, for example, a set of bands can be hooked to the floor and then attached to each end of the barbell. As the lifter descends into the squat, the bands shorten, lessening the tension on the bar and thus the difficulty. However, as the lifter stands up, the bands lengthen, increasing the difficulty of the exercise towards the top of the motion where the lifter is strongest. Try using variable resistance on one or two exercises during your routine to challenge your muscles in a new way.

6. Try partial ranges of motion.
In most cases, full range of motion takes the cake for getting the biggest benefit with exercise. In some cases, however, partial ranges of motion can provide a well-needed boost for strength development. Working a specific range of motion affords lifters the ability to get comfortable working with heavier weights and practice a certain part of a lift.

Although this strategy can be extremely useful to boost strength, Rob Sulaver, trainer at Peak Performance and founder of Bandana Training, cautions lifters not to use partials too often. According to Sulaver, “Partial reps can be exceptionally valuable for acclimating the nervous system to heavier weights, but I would incorporate them sparingly [since] over-training a partial range of motion leads to a partial range of strength.”

7. Eat more.  
Think restricting calories is a quick fix for shedding pounds? In reality, this may be preventing gym-goers from seeing results. According to Sulaver, “Poor nutrition tends to be a silent assassin in the gym. When we don’t exactly know why performance is dropping, the first place to look is nutrition.”

To recover from hard workouts, athletes and weekend warriors alike need to be sure they’re taking in enough calories to help their body recover. Determining how many calories are enough can be tricky, but start by tracking intake and taking note of performance and energy levels. If speed of recovery seems to dip along with motivation and energy levels, it might be time for more fuel.

8. Take some time off.
First one in, last one out at the gym? In some cases, lack of progress might mean the body needs more time to recharge. Many trainers and coaches often incorporate deload weeks into a workout program to boost recovery in their clients. These weeks are exactly what they sound like — a decrease in workout intensity for a short period of time. But rather than zoning out in front of the TV, focus on quality rest alongside easy movement. Vennare recommends soft tissue work in addition to core training and mobility work. “Thus, the deloading becomes more active rest than complete rest,” Vennare says.

Plateaus can happen for a variety of reasons, both positive and negative. On the plus side, they can be a good indicator of hard, consistent training in the gym. They can also signal poor nutrition or inadequate recovery. Although fitness plateaus can be frustrating, they shouldn’t be a death sentence for progress in the gym. Use the tips mentioned above to bust out of a rut and continue to see success in the weight room, on the field or court, or wherever else you get your sweat on!

10-Minute Core Workout

Most of us know that a strong core is vital to almost every physical activity, right? But how do we get a strong and functional core? While having a six-packs might look nice, visible abs are not a reliable indicator of performance ability, or injury resistance.

Core Training Facts & Myths

Did you know that crunches aren’t the best way to train your abs? Exercises like crunches and sit-ups place repetitive stress on your spine in a flexed position, which can lead to bulging and herniated discs. If you sit at a computer for any amount of time throughout the day, the last thing you need is more time in a flexed (or rounded) spinal position. In fact, spine specialist Dr. Stuart McGill is on a crusade to eliminate the sit-up.

Maybe you’ve heard that you don’t need isolated core training if you do compound strength exercises like deadlifts and squats? There are certainly a number of reputable strength coaches that ascribe to this ideology. While it’s true that you don’t need to perform core training, I believe some extra core work can be incredibly beneficial.

The Right Way To Train Your Core

This core training workout is a 10-minute circuit designed to build an indestructible torso. You’ll be challenging your abs in a functional way by working your core from every angle, instead of just working rectus abdominus (the 6-pack abs). This entire workout is focused on challenging your muscles to keep your spine stable through varying loads.

Before trying this workout, you want to make sure you have proper core stability, or the ability to brace your spine as you move your limbs, before attempting these core exercises.

Core Stability Test

The dead bug is my go-to core stability test. Can you do this without arching your lower back and flaring your ribs?

If so, you have some decent core stability and can move on to the workout below.

If have any pain or can’t perform this exercise well, I would NOT recommend doing this core workout. Instead, perform core stability exercises, like plank and bird dog.

4 Types of Core Exercises

As I mentioned earlier, this workout trains the primary function of the core to stabilize the spine. What does this mean in terms of how the body moves?

This workout includes 4 exercises – each designed to challenge the core in different ways including anti-extension, anti-rotation, anti-flexion, and anti-lateral flexion.

1. Anti-extension refers to preventing overarching the spine, especially in the lower back. Any kind of plank exercise is an anti-extension exercise, as you try to maintain a rigid torso without arching the lower back.

2. Anti-rotation refers to fighting rotational forces placed on the spine by keeping the shoulders and hips square. Any variation of the Palloff press (seated or standing) is an example of an anti-rotation core exercise.

3. Anti-flexion refers to limiting the rounding (or flexing) of the spine. A goblet squat or deadlift fits this category, since your focus is on maintaining a long spine as you bend from the knees and/or hips.

4. Anti-lateral flexion refers to fighting leaning to the side when unilaterally loaded. Side planks and any one-sided carries are examples of this type of core exercise.

If you train your core to stay strong and tall through those 4 patterns, you will build a stable, bulletproof core. This workout is best performed at the end of a strength training session.

Core Workout Instructions

Perform this workout as a circuit, with little rest between exercises. Complete a total of 2 rounds.

Exercise Reps / Time / Distance
RKC Plank 30 seconds
Pallof Press 10 reps each side
Goblet Squat (hold) 10 reps
KB Suitcase Carry 50 yards each arm

Core Exercise Demonstrations

1. RKC Plank

This is a variation on the standard plank position where you brace your abs while supporting your bodyweight on your elbows and toes. The RKC variation increases the intensity by placing the elbows slightly narrower than shoulder-width (narrower base = more difficult) and the forearms out in the front of the body (longer arm lever = more difficult).

2. Standing Pallof Press

Set up a resistance band so one end is wrapped around a sturdy base just below chest-height. Stand sideways a few feet away from your anchor so that your inside shoulder is lined up with the post. With a slight bend in your knees, press the resistance band straight ahead. Your goal is to keep your core braced and fight the pull of the band as you press the band straight out in front of your chest. Don’t let your shoulders or hips rotate!

3. Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is a versatile exercise. It improves hip mobility, activates your quads, and challenges your core. The focus here is anti-flexion. Start with a moderate weight and take 5 seconds to slowly lower in a deep squat. Hold at the bottom for 5 seconds. Stand up tall maintaining a strong neutral spine throughout the entire movement. Keep the kettlebell, or dumbbell close to your body as you squat up and down.

4. KB Suitcase Carry

The suitcase carry is one of my favorite loaded carries. This exercise challenges anti-lateral flexion while simultaneously emphasizing shoulder and hip stability.

Grab a moderate to heavy dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand and start walking. Maintain tall posture and avoid leaning towards the side with the weight. Walk about 50 yards, then switch hands and do the other side. Most guys can start with about 40-70 lbs, ladies can start with suitcase carries around 30-50 lbs. A solid goal is to work yourself up to half your bodyweight in each hand.

This workout is an intermediate level workout. As I mentioned in above, make sure you have good core stability before performing this workout. Let me know how you do with this workout and feel free to share any of your favorite core exercises below.

3 Weightlifting Accessories To Up Your Game

Wrap, strap, and cinch your way to safe and effective lifting with the best equipment!

First let me start by saying that I try to use as little lifting equipment as possible while working out. Lifting equipment is used to help your body in support and lift heavier-than-normal weight. Powerlifters tend to use these aids more than any other type of lifter. The main reason is because the extremely heavy weight being used makes your body more susceptible to injury. By using specific equipment, you can reduce your chances of bodily injury.

SHOW YOUR WORKOUTS THE BELT

A weight belt is probably the most common piece of equipment used in a gym. There are many different brands such as Valeo, Everlast, Inzer, etc. that most sporting-good stores sell. Ideally, you want to use a belt while performing exercises that can be rough on your lower back such as squats, deadlifts, and stiff-legged deadlifts.

In addition, I’ve been told that, by wearing a belt while bench pressing, you can enable yourself to support and press more weight, if done correctly. I don’t understand why people tend to wear belts while doing every exercise in their workout, it really is unnecessary because a belt is not needed in order to perform curls or pull-ups, or any other exercise that doesn’t put a great amount of stress on the lower back.

In order for a belt to work for you, you need to know how to properly wear a belt. Seems simple, right? The belt is positioned just like any other belt that you’ve ever worn, right above your hips, and around your waist. You should wear the belt very tightly, but not so tight that you can’t breathe. Once the belt is on, suck in a deep breath before you lift the weight off of the rack.

Ideally, you want to use a belt while performing exercises that can be rough on your lower back such as squats, deadlifts, and stiff-legged deadlifts.

“IDEALLY, YOU WANT TO USE A BELT WHILE PERFORMING EXERCISES THAT CAN BE ROUGH ON YOUR LOWER BACK SUCH AS SQUATS, DEADLIFTS, AND STIFF-LEGGED DEADLIFTS.”

Once you’ve picked up the weight, let out all your air. Suck in again right before you do a negative. Try to push your stomach outwards as hard as you can so that your stomach and lower back are pushing hard against the inside of the belt. Begin letting out your air on the way up, and then repeat for your next rep.

Personally, I think a belt should only be used when absolutely needed. This means that you should never wear a belt while warming up. Also, if you are going to use a belt, find one that is about 6-8 inches thick and the pressure of the belt is distributed over the entire width of the belt.

SIT DOWN, STRAP IN, AND SHUT UP

Wrist straps are also a very common piece of equipment. Straps are used in order to aid your grip so that you can hold onto heavier weight without it slipping out of your hands. To tell the truth, this is the only piece of lifting equipment that I use. You use straps for exercises such as stiff-legged deadlifts, shrugs, and bent-over rows.

Once again, you only want to use straps when needed; this does not include warm-up sets. Remember to not wear straps when doing exercises that you don’t need them for, such as pressing or curling movements. I’ve actually seen people using straps for movements such as these, and they look like clowns.

It’s amazing to me that many people use straps incorrectly; the straps can actually work against you increasing the chance of the weight slipping out of your hands during a set. So listen up; without twisting the strap, run the regular end through the looped end. Now place the strap around your wrist so that the loose end points away from your body and runs directly in line with your pinky.

Now, here is where everyone gets it wrong. Grab the bar normally, and wrap the strap around the bar going underneath the bar first, not over. Once the straps are in place you can tighten them by grabbing the wrapped strap, not too tightly, and roll the bar back towards your body. By doing this, you greatly increase the amount of the weight that you can hold.

Take caution in how tight you wrap the strap is because the tighter it is, the higher the risk of it snapping. Trust me, I’ve had a strap bust on me while I was shrugging over 600 pounds, and the outcome is no fun.

THE ULTIMATE WRAP BATTLE

Finally, wrist wraps and knee wraps are usually used by those with weak or injured knees or wrists. Knee wraps are used on squats, and wrist wraps can be used on any pressing movement. By using knee wraps, you give yourself a little bit of spring at the bottom of a squat. This is very useful for powerlifting. I used knee wraps every time I maxed out on squats.

XXX

“DON’T WRAP TOO TIGHTLY BECAUSE, FOR ONE, IT’S REALLY PAINFUL, AND TWO, YOU DON’T WANT YOUR FEET TO GO ABSOLUTELY NUMB FROM ABSENCE OF BLOOD FLOW.”

They give your knee extra support, so if you have pain in your knees to the point that you absolutely can’t squat, then you might want to look into using them. However, if you can tough it out, then do so. It is important that you put the knee wraps on correctly in order for the outcome to be effective. First roll up the straps like toilet paper.

I always started at the top of my knee and worked my way down. When you are wrapping, be sure to overlap the last wrap by half of its width. You should end up about an inch below the bottom of your knee cap. Once you finish, tuck in the loose end. Don’t wrap too tightly because, for one, it’s really painful, and two, you don’t want your feet to go absolutely numb from absence of blood flow. If you can see any of the skin on your knees between individual wraps, then you wrapped incorrectly. Try overlapping a little bit more.

Wrist wraps are very simple. Before performing a pressing movement, wrap your wrists as tight as you need. If your wrists don’t stay straight, wrap tighter. Many people limit their use wrist wraps for heavy weight on bench press mainly.

As stated earlier, many people use this equipment for the wrong reason, and use it incorrectly also. The downfall to using these items is that you weaken the muscles that you are aiding. For example, using a belt weakens your lower back strength, and using wrist straps decreases your grip strength. This is the main reason why you want to use aids only when absolutely necessary.

4 Ways To Help Increase Your Deadlift

Protect your back and build more strength with these tips

add weight to your deadlift with these 4 tips

Trainers like me preach good form for good reason: It allows you to lift more weight, and also reduces your risk of injury.

That rule is never truer than it is with the deadlift.

But if I tell you to “keep your spine neutral,” chances are you still might perform the lift wrong. That’s why I’ve developed a two more cues that I like to use with lifters, which, I’ve found, helps them really nail that critical spinal position.

The result: Big numbers without pain.

Deadlifting form tip: Get tight and wedge

A tight body helps you keep your spine straight. So get tight right off the bat, as you’re setting up for the lift.

If you aren’t tight when you lift, one of two things will happen when you pull the barbell off the floor:

  • Your upper or lower back will round.
  • Your hips will come up too fast in relation to your shoulders.

To maintain tension, I tell lifters to pretend they’re squeezing oranges in their armpits, and to “wedge” I into the floor. Here’s what I mean:

Deadlifting form tip: Align your armpits and flex your hamstrings

Let’s say you followed the advice I just gave you, and you just can’t seem to keep that neutral spine when you do a regular deadlift. No biggie.

Your history in the gym, past injuries, goals, anatomy, and comfort level can all determine if you should do a conventional deadlift.

For example, the sumo deadlift might be a better fit for people who have chronically tight hips, short arms, or who are taller. Likewise, people who are new to deadlifting—or have a history of back issues—might want to do the more back and beginner-friendly trap bar deadlift.

Regardless of the variation you perform, never stray from this rule: Make sure your armpits are directly over the bar, and that your hamstrings are flexed and tightened.

You see a lot of guys set up with their armpits too far in front of the bar, which makes for a poor line of lifting. It often causes your weight to shift onto your toes. As you lift, you sort of “fall forward,” which adds force directly to your delicate lower back.

An easy fix to get your weight back and armpits over the bar: roll the barbell in closer to your shins.

To build hamstring tension so you can contract the muscles powerfully—think of your hamstrings like a bow’s string—lengthen them by keeping your hips high. Your hips should be as high as possible while allowing you to keep your back straight and move the weight. Like this: