Breaking Through Training Plateaus

A training plateau is a stagnant and static period in an athlete’s training progress that can occur within any athletic venture to any athlete. The general progression of training is a strong prolonged spurt of initial progress which eventually begins to taper off and thus impedes the continuation of athletic progression. This initial progression period can last anywhere from months to years, but without the appropriate constant modifications to training, diet, and supplementation improvement will plateau. Training plateaus develop due to the body’s biological ability to adapt and acclimate to the central nervous system stress, muscular expenditure and exertion brought on by a consistent athletic regimen. Plateaus can sideline training progress, hinder motivation and can be extremely detrimental to overall athletic development, yet how can an athlete break and avoid training plateaus? Read more below.

Graphical Representation of a Successfully Broken Training Plateau

1) Training Schedule and Frequency- In order to mitigate the frequency of common overtraining plateaus, it is key that an athlete maintain a balanced training schedule with adequate time for rest. The breakdown of muscular tissue from athletic exertion must be properly healed for adequate hypertrophy and recovery or the athlete will fall into a negative training cycle that will hinder progress. Make sure that:

  • Training frequency and intensity are counterbalanced with rest time.
  • Muscular groups and athletic activities are counterbalanced by each other as to not overtrain a specific body part.

2) Identify Weaknesses- Every athlete has strengths and weaknesses, and more often than not, an athlete will fall into their comfort zone of strengths and allow their weaknesses to hinder their overall progress. Realize the weak and lagging sections of an athletic activity, and focus on isolating and strengthening them. For example, if the sticking point of your bench press is the lockout portion, focus on strengthening the triceps and upper range of the lift. Perform pyramid sets of increasing/decreasing weight with the movement only on the upper portion of the lift. This is an example of identifying, focusing on, and strengthening a weak point of a particular lift.

3) Change your workout- This is one of the biggest and most frequent factors to the common athletic plateau. As aforementioned, no matter how great a workout, it must be constantly changed or the body will adapt and improvement will change. One key modification is to change the repetition range and weight- high repetition sets with low weight, drop sets, low repetition sets with high weight, isolation and compound exercises, etc. The different levels of variation must be applied systematically throughout the workout to different exercises. With sports, change the drills, opponents, add resistance and continue to change things up to challenge yourself.

4) Small Weight Increments- The typical large weight increments that commonly occur during progressive periods of athletic progression will often begin to flatline due to the body’s adaptive plateau. The athlete must set their ego aside, and slowly increase the weight by smaller increments of weight with varying repetition ranges. For example- if you’re stuck on 135 bench press, add 2.5 pounds to each side in a pyramid format, dropset, superset or other variation. Use these smaller weight increases to slowly inch toward muscular failure and forced repetitions, which will in turn help muscular hypertrophy.

5) Nutrition- Make sure that your pre/post workout nutrition and supplementation is as complete as your training. Improper diet and supplementation can lead to long term plateaus, slow recovery, and sluggish workouts. An athlete’s diet must be comprised of the proper portions vegetables, fruits, protein and complex carbohydrates. With the proper fuel the body will continue to push forward at 100% every time and recover to it’s maximum potential after every workout.

- Papa Swole

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