Overcoming a Workout Plateau

28.11.2017 |

Episode #5 of the course Muscle building by Theo Brenner-Roach


Welcome to Lesson #5. Today, we’re going to look at workout plateaus and how to overcome them.

A workout plateau is what happens when your body adapts to the current stimulus you’ve put it under. When this happens, your strength gains stall, sometimes causing your lifts to regress and for you to get weaker.

To get past the plateau, you need to provide a new, fresh stimulus, and there are three popular and proven methods for doing this.


Strategy One: Exercise Rotation

Exercise rotation is a simple solution to reset your strength-building potential.

With exercise rotation, you continue working the same movement pattern and therefore, the same muscles while allowing yourself to continue building strength and surpass your sticking point.

So, how does this work?

Let’s say you were to hit a strength plateau on your incline barbell bench press. You would then switch out the barbell press for the dumbbell press, which would allow you to continue training the same muscles but give you enough of a change in stimulus to kickstart your gains again.

Examples of suitable exercise rotations:

• incline barbell press ↔ incline dumbbell press

• pull ups ↔ chin ups

• barbell shoulder press ↔ seated dumbbell shoulder press

• squats ↔ lunges


Strategy Two: Rep Range Manipulation

To apply progressive overload and drive continual strength gains, you have to manipulate one aspect of your workout to continue increasing the stimulus on your body and force it to adapt. One way to do that is to manipulate your rep ranges.

The method of progressive will vary a little, depending on whether you’re using a fixed-rep range, i.e. three sets of eight reps, or a mixed-rep range, i.e. one set of four reps, one set of six reps, and one set of eight reps.

Fixed-Rep Range. When it comes to using a fixed-rep scheme, you won’t always be able to increase the weight in every session; at some point, it will too difficult to keep increasing the load used.

At this point, you want to manipulate or stretch your rep ranges to allow you to continue progressing. You do this by creating brackets for your rep ranges. For example, instead of four sets of twelve reps, you would open the rep range to four sets of ten to twelve reps or even four sets of eight to twelve reps.

This not only encourages you to use good form throughout, as you know you don’t have to get twelve reps if you can’t, but it also allows for continual, steady progression.

Mixed-Rep Range. When it comes to using a mixed-rep range, the best way to increase the load lifted is to do it one set at a time, starting from the bottom up. For example, you may start with three sessions of:

• one set of six reps using 24kg

• one set of eight reps using 20kg

• one set of ten reps using 16kg

By the time you reach the fourth session (you may need more), you will have hit your rep goal three times on each set and be ready to increase the weight lifted in your bottom set. This means the last set would change to ten reps with 18kg (instead of 16kg).

If things continued to progress this way, Session 5 would see you increase the weight in your middle set, and Session 6, your top set. By Session 7, you’ll be ready to increase your bottom set again.


Strategy Three: Micro-loading

One of the most common methods of building strength and applying progressive overload is by increasing the weight lifted over time.

At the beginning, you’ll find you can comfortably increase the weight on the bar by 2.5kg or 5.5lbs every session. However, there will come a point where an increase of 2.5kg (5.5lbs) is just too much to handle. It’s at this point you would look to micro-loading for continued strength gains, and instead of adding 2.5kg (5.5lbs) each time, you’ll add 1kg (2.2lbs), 0.75kg (1.7lbs), or even 0.5kg (1.1lbs) to the bar.


Summing Up

To overcome a workout plateau, use any one of three strategies: exercise rotation, rep range manipulation, and micro-loading, and you’ll get back to building muscle fast

Tomorrow, we will look at pre- and post-work nutrition, so don’t miss it!


Recommended reading

How to Overcome a Workout Plateau—3 Strategies for Continued Strength Gains


Recommended book

The Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger Challenge: A Year of Shattering Plateaus and Achieving Your Genetic Potential by Michael Matthews


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