weeks, months and even years of training for it (bench, squat and deadlift, especially). There was
even a time where I got worse the harder I was trying. I wanted to know how to break the plateau, but the internet gave me so much conflicting information. In this piece I hope to provide clarity on how to overcome this difficulty in simple, yet effective steps.
Nailing these basics alone can have positive knock on effects before you go changing your program.
In order for us to perform, we need to be fully charged and well rested; this is where sleep
takes over. It is vital that you are getting at least 7 hours sleep on average during the week.
More often than not, the reason training isn’t going to plan is due to something as simple as
not getting enough rest. A minimum of 6 hours sleep alone has so many benefits. A study
showed us that muscular function improved in Basketball players from Stanford University
when nothing but their sleep was changed (increasing sprint times). The same study showed
us increased sleep impacted their cognitive function allowing these athletes to increase over
9% in their shooting accuracy. The quality of your sleep is more important than the duration
of sleep. You can find a post on my page about optimising sleep.
2) Recovery and stress management
Recovery can be defined in many ways; from sleeping, taking a rest day (or a de-load week),
active recovery (swimming, stretching, rehab, sauna) mobility work (hip stretches, Thoracic
spine stretches). Aligned with recovery is stress management. This is what people find very
hard to understand but your central nervous system does not know the difference between the
physical stimulation caused by weights and stimulation caused by emotional stress (be it
financial stress, relationship problems or even family feuds). These are the variables that lead
to over-training. Imagine a cup that holds all your stress, both physical and emotional. If
you are having a tough day/week and you come into the gym, this ‘’stress cup’’ may be 90%
full. If you are going to train, toning it down is the smarter idea as once you overfill this
cup, problems will arise with performance.
3) Nutrition and water intake
Are you drinking 2-3 litres of water a day, sipping throughout the day so a constant supply is
being given? Water improves cardiac output, endurance, gives your heart rate a less
pronounced increase and helps maintain temperature. All of these variables link directly to
performance. Without water, we cannot perform optimally. Effects of dehydration range from
decreased ability to sweat, reduced blood flow to kidneys, decreased in muscle glycogen (this
is where we store energy). Nutrition is a massive part of recovery and every goal you have
physically should be aligned with proper nutrition. Are you eating enough? Are you eating too much? Are you eating healthy foods 80% of the time? By healthy I mean non-processed
food which carry vitamins and minerals (micro-nutrients) as well as enough protein. Processed
foods are anything that is made for a long shelf life. Slight changes in the quality of food can
help your digestive system, sleep and recovery.
Once you have a good grasp of this, have a look at these training tips
Make sure you aren’t doing the same workouts and not progressing. Change the sets reps and
weights to increase the volume. For example if one week one I bench 50kg for 3 sets and 8
reps (50x3x8=1200). The next week, make sure that volume on the bench is over 1200. This
can be as simple as 50kg for 4 sets of 7 reps (50x4x7=1400). This small change with 4 extra
reps overall add 200kg of volume to a session).
Do more of the specific exercise. If your goal is to get a one rep max lift in the bench at 80kg,
but you keep failing at 80kg every time you try; it may be as simple as benching more often.
Most people have one assigned day for a body part/movement. If you are benching once a
week and on an 8-week program, after 8 weeks you have only benched 8 times. By adding in
the bench press to another day in your program, you will double the volume.
By using other exercises such as chest press, shoulder press or even triceps can help with
your bench press. Simply by progressing these lifts, your bench will improve. Pick
appropriate exercises to compliment your goals.
4) Time under tension
Keep the tempo of the movement slow and under control. For example, when you have the
bar up and arms extended, bring the bar down to your chest slowly and under control in 3
seconds, hold for 1 second and raise the bar up for 3 seconds and again, holding at the top for
1 second also. This mean the muscle is under tension for a lot longer than regular sets,
meaning they contract more and cause more damage. This stimulus is very effect for muscle
and strength building.
5) Exercise order
This is a simple trick where you move the exercise to a different part of the session. If you
usually perform the bench press as your first exercise, then move it to your 3rd selected
exercise. By doing this, you will be performing the bench press under fatigue, continue this
for a few weeks. When you are confident once again, move this exercise to the beginning of
your session and you will be able to perform it better due to lack of fatigue. I don’t
recommend training big compound movements under fatigue but this is an effective method.
This is frowned upon but has its place. If you have hit a plateau on the overhead press (for
example) and cannot finish your reps, I would recommend using momentum. If you are
failing on the 6th rep of the final set of 10 reps, use the knees to bounce the weight overhead
for the final four reps. If you use this method, continue using it until they become 10 strict
overhead presses with no need for momentum.
I hope this piece gives some more clarity on overcoming a plateau. Remember to go
through the first three tips first before changing the whole training plan. Small changes can cause BIG results. Stick with it and be consistent. Results will show.