A workout plateau is a frustrating thing that happens to almost everyone at one point in their strength training journey. It happens when the progress you've been making, be it weight loss or building muscle, has halted even though you're still keeping up with your workout routine and diet.
Hitting that wall is common, so don't feel alone! If you're not sure whether you've hit a wall or not, we're going to give you the initial signs and different ways to overcome a plateau so you can continue making progress on your fitness journey!
Signs you've hit a wall
Your progress taking a halt isn't the only sign of hitting a plateau. There are other ways to tell you've hit a workout plateau, and here are the most common ones...
- You've experienced a loss in strength: A loss in strength doesn't necessarily refer to no longer seeing progress in a workout or exercise. Instead, it refers to a significant decrease in your performance, and not being able to match previous lifts. It's likely a sign that your muscles aren't properly recovering which leads to your body not being able to grow more muscle tissue.
- There was no progress in your last two workouts: All lifters know that in order to build muscle there needs to be a constant progression in workouts every week. The progression doesn't have to be huge, it could be a few extra reps or even increasing the weight by 5-10lbs. However, if you haven't been able to pump out a few extra reps, an extra set, or move to a heavier weight in two consecutive workouts then that's a big sign that you've hit a plateau and a change is needed.
- No longer achieving a pump: Every lifter loves achieving a pump after a heavy lift. It gives you a good sense of feeling that your workout is actually working. Neglecting to achieve a pump in your muscles when working out can actually be a sign that they aren't fully recovered.
- Lack of motivation: Lack of motivation can happen at any moment, but it's also a sign that you've hit a plateau. Losing your motivation is basically a sign of your body telling you it's tired and needs to recover.
- Increased irritability: Feeling irritable is usually due to an increased amount of cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone, and one can become stressed when the body is overworked, thus leading to large amounts of this hormone. So, if you're feeling moodier than usual, it could be a sign of being overworked and hitting a wall!
6 Ways to bust through your workout plateau
If you have noticed any of the above signs, chances are you've hit a plateau. Fortunately, there are ways you can overcome your plateau and continue making progress! To continue building muscle and hit new heights on your fitness journey try one of the techniques we've listed below...
Choose a new rep range
Every lifter should be practicing progressive overload, which involves increasing the volume or resistance of your workout to drive progress. Typically, most lifters know to increase the weight of an exercise once it gets easier, but not many focus on volume.
Volume can be either increasing the sets or reps of an exercise. Typically, most stick to the same rep range as usual, but if you want to have a good workout plan your rep ranges should vary every 4-8 weeks. So, if you've been doing straight sets of 4 x 10 reps then switch things up with a different weight! Use the same weight or decrease it to do 4 sets of 12 reps, or increase the weight and do 3 sets of 8 reps. Or you can try something completely different like pyramid sets.
Pyramid sets involve going from lighter weights to a heavier weight and changing up the reps for each sets. For example, your first set will involve a lighter weight with 12 reps, second set will be 8-10 reps, and third set will be 6 reps using a heavier weight. Opposed to straight sets, you change the reps for every set and establish a weight that you can lift within that range. However, if you've been doing pyramid sets for a month or so, then change things up and try straight sets – the point is you want to vary your rep ranges!
This is a great way to change things up and bust through your plateau! However, if you already vary your rep ranges then this might not be the solution for you...
Vary your exercise routine
Muscles can adapt pretty quickly to exercises, and while varying your intensity and changing up the resistance and volume helps, having a variety of exercises is just as important. This doesn't mean you should switch exercises every week, instead, find a good balance of key compound exercises and introducing other variations as the weeks go by.
For example, if you normally do barbell hip thrusts on leg day, introduce a new variation after a few weeks of mastering it. You can introduce single-leg hip thrust with a dumbbell, or even stability ball hip thrust. These exercises may seem like a step backwards from the heavy barbell, but they're not! They add an extra challenge of balance and stability that will help promote even more muscle growth. After a few weeks of mastering a variation, switch back to barbell hip thrust and you may notice that you're able to push a heavier weight and maybe even improved on your form!
Other ways to vary your exercise routine is simply by modifying the exercise with a new grip position, foot placement, or even changing the equipment you're using. Some examples of this would be...
- Foot placement when performing a squat or leg press exercise. You can narrow your stance to hit your quads more, or have a wider stance to hit your hamstrings and glutes more.
- Grip placement when performing a barbell bench press. You can have a wider grip, or a more narrow grip to target your triceps more.
- If you've been performing overhead triceps extensions with a dumbbell, switch up the equipment by using a cable machine with a rope attachment instead to give your triceps a different challenge. Or if you normally use dumbbells for shoulder presses, switch it up by using the Smith machine or a barbell (depending on fitness level).
These are a few small changes you can make that can help you stimulate more muscle fiber and get you over that wall you've hit! You have to continually challenge yourself and find ways to make your workouts hard again. Just remember that you don't need to "shock your muscles" every week, implement these changes every few weeks when you can no longer increase the weight or volume quite yet!
Change the order of exercises
Overcoming a plateau can be as simple as changing the sequence of exercises you normally do! Typically, if you do the same exercises in the same order then your muscles will fatigue in the same way. Changing the order you perform exercises can help your muscles fatigue in a different way to help drive progress.
For example, most lifters start off by doing their usual compound exercises first, since they're harder. This leaves isolation exercises towards the end of the workout. Switch things up by starting with isolation exercises and ending with your more difficult exercises, or vice-versa. The key is to simply switch up the sequence of your exercise routine.
Recalculate your macros
Aside from having a well-planned workout routine, you want to make sure you're eating the right foods. Calculating and tracking your macronutrients is by far one of the best ways to diet for your goals. However, the mistake most people make when tracking their macros is neglecting to recalculate them.
If you're tracking your macros, haven't recalculated them since you've started, and are no longer getting results – it's time to recalculate them! As you make progress and your body starts to change, so does your energy needs. Your calorie and macro needs change thus you need to make slight changes to your diet.
So, how often should you recalculate your macros?
You don't need to recalculate your macros every week or for every pound you lose or gain. You only need to recalculate them after losing or gaining a significant amount of weight, like 10-15lbs or ever 4-5 weeks.
Add supplements into your routine
Your main focus should always be your nutrition and workout plan, but adding supplements into your routine can be what you're missing! Although supplements aren't absolutely necessary, supplementing correctly can help ensure you're not missing out on key nutrients you may be missing from your diet that are essential for better muscle recovery and even sustainable energy for your workouts.
There are various popular workout supplements, but one that everyone should consider taking is protein powder! Protein powder is a great way to increase your protein intake with most containing between 20-30 grams of protein per scoop! Plus, it makes for the best post-workout supplement because some types (like whey protein) contain all the amino acids necessary for your body to repair and rebuild muscle. Other great supplements that can help you overcome a plateau are creatine and pre-workout. They make for great supplements to take before your workout to enhance your energy levels and boost your overall training performance!
Increasing your protein intake with protein powder and using other supplements that giving you necessary nutrients for better recovery, energy, and performance can be a good way to overcome the wall you're facing, if you're not supplementing already!
Consider taking a few rest days
What if you're workout plan is perfect, and you're already doing everything listed above?
There's a high chance you're not resting enough! Many gym-goers believe that more is better, which means constantly hitting up the gym up to 6 times a week. Although you should have a consistent workout routine, your body needs to rest in order for your muscles to grow.
Your body doesn't actually grow new muscle while you're working out, it actually breaks down your muscle. It's when you're resting when new muscle tissue is built. Neglecting to rest properly can lead to overtraining syndrome, which can lead to the following adverse effects...
- Trouble sleeping.
- Persistent sore muscles.
- Muscle or joint pain that won't go away.
- Reduced training performance.
- Decrease in motivation.
If you're experiencing any of the above, take a few days off to properly recover! You don't necessarily need to be inactive during your rest period, but just take a break from high-intensity training and replace it with low-intensity exercise, like yoga, flexibility training, or light cardio.
Once you're ready to get back into the gym, make sure that you're implementing one or two full rest days after training for 7 consecutive days and take your post-workout recovery seriously.
Now, go overcome that wall you're facing!
Learning how to overcome your workout plateau will help you identify what you need to fix so you can continue driving progress on your fitness journey! Remember, you're not alone in this. Everyone hits a wall at one point, but now you know a few ways you can overcome your wall and start hitting new heights on your journey.
Who are we?
We're 373 Lab Supplements – nice to meet you! Founded by Iulia Danilova (Fit With Iulia), and with a team filled with fitness enthusiasts, we've worked hard to bring a trustworthy supplement to the market! Supplements that are designed to help you achieve your fitness goals by giving you only the nutrients you need – no unnecessary fillers or additives!
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