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Overcoming Strength Training Plateaus

Stuck on the same weight with your lifts? You might have hit a strength training plateau. But not to worry, we’re here to help you break through it.

How to Overcome a Strength Training Plateau

Stuck on the same weight with your lifts? You might have hit a strength training plateau. But not to worry, we’re here to help you break through it.

How to overcome strength plateaus, Andre Adams incline pressing quick-lock adjustable dumbbells, Ironmaster home gym

You’re on top of the world one day—conquering all your workouts, having fun, and making major strength gains along the way. But then, and what seems like out of nowhere, it all comes crashing down. You get caught in a strength training plateau.

No matter what you do or how hard you try, you just can’t seem to break out of it. It’s frustrating. It’s discouraging. And it can even make you feel like quitting on your fitness dreams. 

Unfortunately, you’re all but guaranteed to run into this situation at some point in your weightlifting journey. But before you go throwing in the towel, just know that you definitely don’t have to stay stuck forever.

We’re going to run down 5 plateau-busting strategies that’ll help you break out of your rut and get back to making strength gains.

What is a Strength Training Plateau?


The definition of a strength training plateau might be a little different from one person to the next. But in general, a strength training plateau happens when you get stuck at a certain weight and don’t see any progress in your lifts over an extended period of time. 

It might be just one of your lifts, or maybe it’s all of them. But the main point here is that your progress has flatlined. 

What Causes a Strength Plateau?

There are a ton of reasons why you might get stuck in a strength training plateau. 

For example:

  • Workout intensity — You might need to take things up a notch or two if you find yourself stuck in a strength training plateau.
  • Nutrition — Are you filling up on foods that maximize your strength gains and give you the energy to push heavy weight around?
  • Recovery — Are you engaging in recovery methods—like foam rolling or contrast water therapy—to help you recover faster? 

5 Ways to Break Through a Strength Training Plateau 

Now, it’s time for the nitty-gritty. If your weightlifting progress has come to a screeching halt, here are 5 strategies for breaking through that strength plateau. 

1. Keep Doing What You’re Doing 

Sometimes, breaking through a strength training plateau can be simple as sticking with your current plan long enough.

So before you throw your hands in the air and call it quits, ask yourself: 

Have I truly hit a plateau, or am I just a little discouraged that I’m not making progress as fast as I would like?

Strength progress isn’t perfectly linear. There are going to be ebbs and flows in your strength gains. And that’s especially true if you’re a seasoned lifter. 

If you’re new to weightlifting, you might notice that your progress is pretty constant, which is something often referred to as “newbie gains.”

At the end of the day, if you’re making progress (even if it’s only slightly), then you’re not truly stuck in a plateau. Keep doing what you’ve been doing, make sure you’re following progressive overload, and you’ll be out of that plateau in no time.

2. Focus on Time Under Tension

Not all reps carry the same weight (no pun intended). But in all seriousness, focusing on time under tension is one way to jack up the intensity of your workouts, which can help you shatter that strength plateau wall. 

Time under tension (aka TUT) is basically just how long your muscles are under tension during an exercise. And it’s a key concept for strength and muscle gain. 

Tempo training (where you slow down each rep and focus on the eccentric portion of your lifts) is a great way to increase time under tension in your workouts.

Another way to increase time under tension is using a rep and a half scheme. You perform a half rep in between each full range of motion rep. 

Using bench press as an example, you would perform one full rep (down to your chest and back up). Then, only go halfway down to your chest before pressing back up again.

3. Use All Three Planes of Motion

You probably spend most of your time working out in the sagittal plane (movements where you move up and down or forward and backward). Think squat, bench, and deadlift, just to name a few.

But there are two other planes of motion—the frontal and transverse planes—which are crucial to building strength and can help you bust out of a plateau. 

The frontal plane involves side-to-side movement (i.e. side lunges, lateral raises, etc) while twisting movements (like med ball throws) means you’re working in the transverse plane.

Working out in all three planes can help increase your range of motion, improve your mobility, and even help with preventing injuries. Ultimately, it just gives your routine more balance, which can make for better performance overall with your workouts.

4. Eat More and Sleep More

If your goal is to get stronger, then you need to be eating like it. You should be fueling your body with nutrient-dense foods that fit your macro and micro goals. 

That means plenty of protein (aim for 0.8-1 gram per pound of bodyweight). And definitely don’t shy away from carbs! They get a bad rap sometimes but carbs help replenish your glycogen stores, which aid in muscle recovery and help you perform better in the gym.

It really doesn’t matter what your fitness goals are—whether it be gaining strength, building muscle, or even weight loss—but getting enough shut-eye is also important. 

The CDC recommends at least 7 hours of sleep each night, but if you’re working out hard on the regular, you could need even more than that.

5. Have a Deload Week 

The question of “Am I working out hard enough?” has probably crept into your head at some point. So if you’re in a rut with your strength progress, your first thought might be to go harder. 

More sets, more reps, more time working out. But more isn’t always better, and sometimes, you need to take a step back to move forward. 

Instead of ramping up your intensity, try scaling things back and planning a deload week.

During your deload week, you can lift lighter weight, take on less volume during your workouts, or try working out in a different way.

The point of a deload week is to reboot and give your body and mind a training break from your typical routine.

Now, It’s Time for You to Break Out of That Plateau

Hitting a plateau can be frustrating but there’s no need to panic if you find yourself stuck in one. Use these tips the next time your strength progress stalls and you’ll be back to making gains before you know it. 

Are you currently in a strength training plateau? Do you plan on using any of these tips to bust out of it? Connect with us on Instagram and let us know! 

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About the Author:
Chad Richardson is a freelance writer from Cincinnati, OH. It’s actually been rumored that Chad came out of the womb doing bicep curls, so it should come as no surprise that he enjoys creating content to help others get in shape and live healthier lives. When he’s not in the gym impersonating Arnold Schwarzenegger, you can probably catch Chad at a local bar with some friends, frustrated with his hometown Red Legs’ inability to stay above 500 for a whole season. His philosophy on life? Take action starting TODAY on that thing you’ve been putting off...Not tomorrow, next week, or whenever you feel motivated...A small step might not seem like much right now, but even small steps add up to a mile eventually.

Ironmaster Iron Blog Contributor Chad Richardson

Website: Chad’s Business Website
LinkedIn: Chad’s LinkedIn

References
https://www.shape.com/fitness/tips/eccentric-vs-concentric-isometric-exercises

https://blog.nasm.org/exercise-programming/sagittal-frontal-traverse-planes-explained-with-exercises

https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/glycogen.html

https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html

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