The 10 best ways to break through a training plateau

Jerry Brainum breaks down the facts to cross a training plateau.

Unfortunately, there is no “secret” to mastering the bodybuilder. Rarely, if ever, can you learn the “perfect workout routine” that transforms your physique forever. In fact, over time your body will need new stimuli to gain more gains. The act of bodybuilding is about constantly adapting. It’s the lack of adaptation that can lead to frustrating training plateaus. It happens to everyone and finding the best way out can be mentally and physically exhausting. In our latest episode of Straight Facts, Jerry Brainum breaks down the 10 best ways to break through a workout plateau.

The number one aspect of strength training that all athletes should be aware of is progressive overload. This is a key principle behind strength training to increase muscle size and strength. So what is it? It’s the concept that your workouts should keep progressing. You can’t just do the same weight, reps, and exercises every day and expect continuous non-stop results. Your workout needs to increase in some way to put more resistance on your muscles for continued growth.

There are many ways to do this (which we will discuss in more detail below). But it’s important to know that your workouts need to evolve over time or you’ll definitely hit plateaus. Other factors such as your diet and sleep pattern can have additional effects on your gains – and when mismanaged can lead to plateaus. Given these elements, let’s break down the ten tactics you can apply to help get out of a plateau.

1. Weight increase

One way to increase muscle resistance is to increase the amount of weight you lift for each exercise. This is one of the most basic tactics for avoiding a practice plateau. If you never increase weight, you will stop seeing gains after a certain point. If you’re a beginner and find yourself doing the same routine today as you did six months ago, this may be one of the main reasons you’re hitting a plateau.

2. Increase the intensity

Sometimes a key contributing factor to a training plateau is a lack of intensity. It’s a bit more psychological. Over time, you’ll feel comfortable in the gym with your training plans – you’ll start to go into a kind of “autopilot mode”. The whole workout experience becomes so second nature that you don’t put the same kind of focus or intensity into it.

Sometimes it can happen without you even realizing it. If you think this may be a contributing factor to a frustrating training plateau, one tactic that may be helpful is training to failure. By training until you physically can’t lift another rep, you ensure your intensity is on point. It’s a great way to get yourself out of a possible rut in the gym.

3. Increase reps

Another way to gradually increase the resistance of your muscles is to do more reps and maybe even more sets. The debate over more weight or more volume has been eternal – but most studies show that both can contribute to the same kind of impressive gains. Of course, there’s a limit to how many sets you have to do before it becomes useless. As you gain strength and experience, you will likely increase in weight and bulk over time.

training platform

4. Reduce training frequency

It may seem counterintuitive, but it sometimes helps reduce the number of workouts you do in a week. A training plateau can be caused by overtraining. Although overtraining is usually considered an excuse or a myth, it can be very real in one specific factor. If you train so much that you don’t give yourself time to recover, you lose gains.

Muscles don’t grow in the gym, they grow when they repair themselves during rest. If you train so often that it prevents you from sleeping or resting, you will reduce your gains.

5. Try different variations of exercises

There are different ways to train a specific muscle or muscle group. Changing the shape or angle of an exercise can help activate different parts of a muscle group. We usually call these exercise variations. And while some variations don’t vary so differently in terms of muscle activation, mixing can be a powerful psychological tool for maintaining your intensity.

Jerry Brainum suggests changing your workout routine every six to eight weeks. If you don’t, you run the risk of hitting a plateau. That said, there are always exceptions to the rule. Ronnie Coleman was known for the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” method. That being said, if you find yourself stuck, this might be a good tactic to try.

6. Re-evaluate your nutrition and supplements

If you’ve tried all of the options above and still seem to find yourself stuck in a workout plateau, the problem could be your job in the kitchen rather than the gym. Your weight training regimen provides the fuel for muscle growth – and can be a primary cause of plateaus. This is especially true if you are not eating enough protein. While protein is an absolute staple that most bodybuilders are familiar with, it should be noted that while cutting or dieting you need to increase your protein intake or you will start losing muscle.

In addition to this, other factors such as the amount of dietary fat you include in your diet are important. If you completely cut dietary fat from your diet, your testosterone will plummet. This will lead to less progress in the gym. And while carbs aren’t necessary, glycogen (often derived from carbs) is essential for building muscle. You can get it from sources other than carbs. Does this mean cutting out all carbs? No. But it can be reduced with a good food rebalancing.

Finally, supplements are a key factor that can help you get out of a plateau. Make sure you get the full amount of vitamins and minerals through supplements. In the modern world, it can be nearly impossible to achieve this through food alone. Plus, a supplement like creatine — a proven, legal way to increase strength, energy, and gains — might be just what you need to break through a training plateau (if you’re not using it). already).

training platform

7. Sleep more

As we mentioned earlier, muscles don’t grow in the gym. It grows during rest while it repairs itself. If you don’t get enough rest or even sleep enough, it can reduce your efficiency in the gym and also your ability to build muscle. In today’s world, it’s often seen as a strength to work long nights and shorten your sleep schedule. At some point, it weakens your body and your health. And so, also weakens your gains.

Of course, one last obvious point. If you sleep so little that you’re exhausted in the gym, you’ll do a crap workout. This therefore increases the risk of reaching a training plateau even more.

8. Don’t do too much cardio

Cardio exercises are essential for heart health and endurance. But too much cardio can reduce muscle growth. This is pretty well known because many professional bodybuilders all avoid cardio. While Jerry Brainum isn’t suggesting you cut it out completely, he does encourage you to look at your cardio habits and assess whether it may be contributing to a muscle plateau.

9. Implement high intensity tactics in your training

This brings us back to Jerry Brainum’s original note on increasing the intensity. There are many tactics you can apply to your training to increase your intensity. These tactics also help push your muscles toward exhaustion. Consider drop sets, supersets, and the rest/pause technique. These are all ways to help your muscles burn out – and eventually hit a plateau.

10. Focus on negative contractions

Jerry Brainum explains that the muscle fiber is more damaged on the negative movement than on the positive. So, for example, during a bicep curl, the weight cut is where the most muscle tears occur rather than when you first curl them. Fiber damage leads to repair – which leads to muscle growth.

If you’re stuck in a training plateau. Try to focus more on your negative moves. Also, be sure to pause and press for a moment at the top of the movement (for most exercises, but not all). And also consider your range of motion. Short, fast reps don’t help here and can lead to plateaus.


Jerry Brainum goes into even more detail than what we’ve listed here regarding the top ten ways to break through a training plateau. For those looking to optimize their workouts or are frustrated and stuck in the gym, be sure to watch the full Straight Facts episode above. And don’t forget to come every Wednesday for new episodes!

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Richard V. Johnson