6 years ago

Why a Workout Plateau Is Killing You & How to Overcome It

overcome plateau

How many of you have struggled when you tried to lift a heavier weight and you just couldn’t do it? I guess it has happened to almost everyone who is lifting for more than 5-6 months. Everything is fine and suddenly you face a workout plateau that is destroying your progress.

You are in a workout plateau and you don’t know what to do!

What do most people when they plateau in their lives?

They quit. The choose the easy road of accepting a self-imposed limit and surrender after 1-2 unsuccessful efforts.

I have been in your place many times. I know how it feels when you are struggling to lift more weight but your body can’t do it.

You feel like you are doing something wrong. You feel like you are wasting your time. You feel like you are not progressing. Yeah, I know…it’s a harsh feeling. But don’t get disappointed because I will tell you 6 ways to overcome any workout plateau.

Follow these 6 techniques and I am confident to say that the word “workout plateau will become an unknown word for you. 

1. Micro Loading Is The Secret For Constant Progress

Sometimes it’s just not realistic to move up the weight every time you work out. Your nervous system might not be able to handle a 5 pound increase.

That’s a big leap forward. Even if you manage to do that then the next time you are going to plateau.  You are not creating momentum towards your goals.

By gradually adapting your body to heavier weights, notice the word “gradually”, you create a huge momentum for growth by achieving a small win each time you hit the gym.

What is Micro Loading?

It’s the concept of increasing the weight resistance by a really small amount. How much is this amount? 2 pounds, 1 pound or maybe 3/4 of a pound.

You might consider that is such a minor increase that won’t give any results. However a small progress is better than no progress.

The smaller changes in your life can give the bigger difference. The same applies with micro loading.

When I was kid I enjoyed reading Disney comics with Donald, Uncle Scrooge etc.

Let me share with you a quote I have read many years ago in the comics and then explain its meaning and effectiveness through the concept of micro loading.

Scrooge McDuck said to Donald ” Never underestimate a DIME. Dimes make dollars. Dollars make the hundreds. Hundreds make thousands and thousands make millions. Never belittle the power of a little dime

As for you my friend, never belittle the power of a single pound.

By increasing your bench press by 1 pound every week you will have an overall increase of 52 pounds in 1 year. That’s a huge leap forward.

Don’t look at the short-term gratification of lifting more and boosting your ego, or the joy of listening to “bravos” from other lifters in the gym.

Look at them long-term process of becoming stronger, sexier and more attractive.

*Note*: Gyms don’t have so small weight plates for affordability reasons. Consider of buying your own plates.

If you want to learn more about the concept of Micro Loading check out these great resources:

1. A Quick & Dirty Approach To Micro-Weights!

2. Microloading Solutions

2. Switch Exercises to Maximize Muscle Activation

workout plateau

Your body and nervous system get used to the same lifting pattern-methods. Switching exercises is a great way to overcome a workout plateau.

By switching exercises you are introducing into the game different muscle fibers that weren’t activated before. That way you can lift more when you return back to your normal program.

A list of alternatives between common exercises is this one:

Barbell Bench Press => Dumbbell Bench Press, Bench Press To The Neck, Close Grip Bench Press or even Push-ups.

Deadlifts => Switch to Rack Deadlifts. The rack will help you lift much more weight than you did in normal deadlifts. You will grow stronger and when you will return back to deadlifts you will probably overcome your training plateau.

Pull-ups => Chin-ups & vice versa. You can also try Lat Pull-Downs behind the neck or in front of the neck.

Overhead Press => Arnold Press or Dumbbell Overhead Press.

Squat => Front Squat, Bulgarian Split Squat or Pistol Squat.

Barbell Curls => Preacher Curls with EZ bar.

Hammer Curls => Incline Curls

Skullcrushers => Dumbbell Skullcrushers

Almost every exercise has an alternative or a different variation. If you get stuck then try something else for 2-3 weeks. Then you can switch to your main exercise and see if you have overcome your plateau.

I bet that you will be able to break it.

Some extra thoughts

If you are in a particular workout for more than 2-3 months consider changing it entirely or change the pattern. For example switch the order of the exercises in any particular day or change the days you work each muscle group.

And for god’s sake you don’t need to train chest on Monday like every average gym-goer does. International chest Monday is a silly bullshit. Aren’t you bored of following the crowd?

Why fighting for a bench on Monday when you can easily find an empty one on Friday?

3. Your Body Is Like a Woman, If You Don’t Give it What it Wants, It Will Start Moaning

Bad habits can definitely lead to a workout plateau. Inadequate sleep, low water intake or nutrition gaps may cause the problem.


If you are one of those people who feel proud about operating with just 5 hours of sleep then you might just need to change your mind. If your sleep is not adequate you deprive your body from muscle growth.

It’s impossible to achieve muscle growth without proper rest. As a result you muscles don’t develop and your lifts stuck. Try to sleep about 7-9 hours per day if your lifestyle allows it.

Water Intake

Inadequate water intake is a major cause of countless problems like kidney issues, low blood pressure, problematic skin etc.

I am not telling you that low water intake necessarily causes your plateau but if you don’t drink enough you will sure be benefited in multiple ways by increasing your water intake.

Try to drink at least 2.5 liters per day.

Carbs & Fat

workout plateau

Many people make the mistake of following extremely low-carb or low-fat diets.

Some of those who avoid carbohydrates think that this is a way to lose weight and those who avoid fat like it’s the devil believe that eating fat will make them fat.

Both are flawed beliefs.

Minimizing your carbs won’t necessarily help in losing weight because of other significant factors. Except that following a low carb diet will drain your energy and that’s maybe a reason that affects your lifting performance.

On the other side fats are not evil. Eating fats won’t necessarily make you fat. But eating fats is necessary for producing hormones like testosterone which is essential for building muscle and getting stronger.

Find a sweet spot. Follow a dieting approach that offers an adequate amount of protein, carbs & fat without completely eliminating one of them.

4. Take 1-2 Weeks Off 

workout plateau

“What??? I am not going to skip the gym!!”

Wait, wait. Before trying to punch my face for suggesting you to take a week off please let me finish my sentence. I didn’t mean taking 1-2 weeks of the gym. Take 1-2 weeks of that particular exercise!

I know that you might love doing bench press screaming the hell out of you or squatting and checking your brutal & muscular thighs in the mirror. However if you are facing a workout plateau and you can’t progress in your lifts, you should give it a try.

Stop doing that exercise for 1-2 weeks or switch it with another one from the list above

5. All It Needs Is Mindset

workout plateau

Don’t avoid the mental game.

Just like any other activity, building a great body and weightlifting requires goal setting and visualization.

Take some quiet time and visualize yourself lifting that barbell or doing those pull-ups. This is not a tricky voodoo technique.

The power of mind is incredible.

I have taken this idea from Arnold Schwarzenegger when reading his book “Education of a Bodybuilder”. Arnold clearly says that “whatever the mind can lift, the body can lift it too“.

Arnold was spending time before hard exercises to visualize lifting the weight.

Sometimes he spent even days visualizing it. His mind has done it many times and his body was also forced to lift the weight.

Visualization can help you immensely to break any plateau, not only in the gym, but generally in your life too. Many of the most successful people of all times have stressed the importance of visualization for achieving your goals.

6. Give Your Body An Unpredictable Shock

workout plateau

Sometimes you have tried everything and nothing worked properly. The last thing you can do is to just put your hand in the socket a mindset shift by switching to an entirely different program.

For example if you were training for hypertrophy maybe all you need is to switch to strength training and vice versa.

I have never done this in the past because the 5 methods described above were enough to help me overcome any workout plateau I have faced.

However in the rare case that nothing works for you, your body might need a big shock! Switching to a completely different training philosophy for a while will give it the necessary shock.

You have 3 training philosophies in your arsenal to choose from.

  1. Strength Training (Mostly or exclusively compound lifts and very low reps)
  2. Bodyweight Training(Calisthenics)
  3. High rep Training( Training in the 7-15 rep range)

If you are doing some sort of combination of them you can switch to following one of them exclusively. On the other side if you are a strength guy who loves heavy deadlifts and bench presses you can change your focus to pull-ups and dips for a while.

7. What to Do In Case of a Weight Loss Plateau

The goal of this article was to share methods of overcoming a workout plateau. But what can you do if you are facing a weight loss plateau?

The best thing you can do is to read this guide and learn how to turn your body to a fat burning machine.

Moreover you could also check this article from my buddy Nate from IronandTweed: You’ve Hit a Weight Loss Plateau: Now What?

And those of you who want to nerd out and study more material, check this article from WebMD:What to do when your weight won’t budge.

Let’s Recap & Snap That Workout Plateau

When you see yourself struggling from a gym plateau you have 6 ways to overcome it. Then you can explode your limits to the stratosphere and start making gains again.

  1. Microloading,a tiny step can become a huge leap forward in the long-term.
  2. Switching exercises and activate different muscle fibers.
  3. Give your body what it needs to regulate your hormones, strength and performance.
  4. Take 1-2 weeks off the particular exercise.
  5. Visualize your lifting goal.Arnold didn’t became Mr.Olympia multiple times just because he was a genetic freak.

Have you tried any of these techniques? If not, what are your favorite methods to break a workout plateau?

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