3 Ways to Break Training Plateaus

3 Ways to Break Training PlateausHere’s a question I hear a lot: “I’ve hit a plateau in my training and haven’t made any progress for weeks, what can I do?”

Nobody has every major muscle group progress at the same predictable rate. Gains come fast at first then they slow down.  Your body recovers quickly at first then takes longer. So plateaus in training are inevitable but they can be very short-lived if they are handled rationally.

There are things you can do to get your progress moving again. If you are training efficiently and effectively you should spot a plateau the first day it occurs. In fact, the slowdown in progress will likely show up in one or two exercises out of an entire workout. These yellow flags indicate it’s time to make an adjustment in your training before full-blown stagnation sets in. This is a simple concept, yet I’ve known guys who’ve trained so blindly three days a week and never even noticed they had five months of no progress whatsoever. That’s crazy and also inexcusable.

Here are three things that will bust any weight training plateau.

1)    Take time off. The number one cause of lack of progress is overtraining. By simply not lifting weights for a week or three you allow your body to fully recover…and to add that new muscle growth you’ve already stimulated. That way you can return to the gym and resume training effectively. People worry about the immediate loss of muscle if they don’t lift. I’ve never seen a case where an experienced lifter took a month off and then discovered he’d lost muscle. Being sick for a month is a different matter, but a healthy person not lifting weights for a month will not see sudden evaporation of his lean mass. Even if he did, it would rebuild very quickly, and when you consider the value of full recovery the minuscule risk is very worth it.

2)    Space your workouts farther apart. This keeps you from falling into the same trap over and over. A fixed training frequency will not work for building new muscle mass. It works for aerobics and for martial arts techniques and kayak padding skills and many other things but it won’t work for building new muscle. As you get stronger your weightlifting workouts need to be spaced further apart. Ignore this and you will be plagued with constant, lengthy plateaus.

3)    Do heavy leg training. By far, the best exercise you can do to increase your body’s anabolic activity is heavy leg presses. Surprised I didn’t say squats? Squats are a great all-around exercise but they are limited by how much weight you can comfortably support on your shoulders and by what spine compression you can tolerate. Many people I work with do 3,000-pound leg presses. Accounting for the 45-degree angle of most leg presses, that’s equivalent to a 2,100 pound squat – and nobody in the world does that. The legs contain the largest muscles in the human body and when those muscles are forced to operate at the limits of their capacity the systemic anabolic effect spills into every muscle group in the body. It is literally true that heavy leg training gives you bigger arms.

Most people experience lengthy plateaus because they train blindly, don’t write down important measurements of their workouts and keep doing the same thing workout after workout. Use these three tactics and your steady progress is assured.

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50 Responses to 3 Ways to Break Training Plateaus

  1. Dave at #

    Where can I find a gym that has equipment that will let me do a 3000 leg press? I’m overloading my gym’s machines now and I can only get to 1710.

  2. Willie Belter at #

    I was reading how to increase your body’s anabolic activity and, you mentioned some trainees do 3,000 pound leg presses. I have a leg press at home and my next workout I will max out with the weight I have and in fact, can’t load anymore weight on the machine. I suppose I could do one leg at a time but, find that somewhat awkward. Anyway… I am doing the Power Factor workout, so how do you find anything close to a leg press machine that can handle 3,000 pounds?

    Thanks!

  3. Dave, you’ve reached the limit of conventional equipment. Unfortunately there isn’t any traditional equipment that will allow you to do static contracton training efficiently. That’s why we’re developing an SCT machine!!

  4. Willie, you can’t. The max that you can load traditional machines is about 1500 lbs. Trust me, I know. This is why we’re developing an SCT machine so we can do 3,000+lb leg presses!!

  5. Lavon at #

    At what age can girls safely begin to use static contracation training? I am wondering if you can use it with girls around the age of 11 or 12?

  6. Brian at #

    Excellent, as always! I remember when Pete stated somewhere that one of the reasons most conventional methods, magazines, and trainers don’t promote these concepts is because you cannot sell rest, do nothing, or recovery. However, no matter which way we slice and dice it, recovery is paramount if we want to get stronger and bigger.

  7. Dave, for what it’s worth, here are some ways to cheat conventional equipment: http://www.precisiontraining.com/static-contraction-exercise-examples-and-some-cheats/

  8. charlie sanders at #

    i thing that paul anderson could do that squat with 2100, but he is not alive…
    in that range there may be some people who could bear it with the right padding…with a slight unlocking of the knees….in contrast i would snap like a twig.

  9. charlie sanders at #

    i bet there are some who lose muscle in a month
    if they dont eat…i know from experience….eat a lot so you can grow…

  10. Right, rest and eat. People can always starve themselves into atrophy. But don’t keep training.

  11. Paul Anderson was a god. Haha. He also trained with partial reps. He dug a small pit in his back yard and stood it in to lift weights. He also suspended a weight from chains to reduce the range of motion. His legendary back lift was essentially a strong range lift the was performed by circus strongmen for nearly a century.

  12. Nick Bjornsson at #

    There is actually a SCT machine that works perfectly. I have been using it for over ten years to recover from a serious knee-injury and four surgery incisions.
    I also do all upper-body training on this machine, and I know that I will never have to set foot in a regular gym again.
    The machine is made by Explosive Fitness. I know that Mr Sisco no longer endorses [those] products. I do not know why, but I know that without this machine I would probably be limping thru life on a crutch instead of the active life i lead today.
    But I am very exited to hear about Your developing an SCT machine! I believe there are quite a few SCT trainees around the world that have maxed out on their traditional equipment.

  13. That company is no longer operating, as I understand, and no replacement parts are available. Since late 2007 I’ve recommended avoiding doing any business with it based on my own experience and lack of trust in it. It’s a shame, they were on the way to having a bright future. The next SCT machine company will be run very differently.

  14. Arnold at #

    Dave try a static one legged hold of 1700 plus. The Machine at MCAS miramars barn maxs out at 40 plates for a total of 1918 with the sled weight included. Been there done that. One leg pressing just over a thousand now so that I can continue to challenge myself. My only problem? What happens when I start one leg pressing 1900 plus? Oh well I’ll bask in that accomplishment for a bit then look for another way to add weight.

  15. Alex Blankenship at #

    good intel, as always. one counterpoint is that if it’s becoming too much of a burden to be sore from your intense training schedule, (and you don’t want to buy another custom-fit wardrobe to fit your chiseled torso and obnoxious forearms), it is totally plausible to set your training frequency into a steady “maintenance routine” which will allow you to maintain your current muscle mass but still provides you with enough downtime between each lift. if closely tracked and adjusted, you can “sync up” all of your lifts so that your schedule dictates that you perform them all within the same week (or the same day, even) and then have 4+ weeks of downtime so your circulatory system can change out all the spent protein cells, lactic acid and other by-products of intense strength training. however, don’t take this sort of adjustment lightly. your body will be screaming for a “nice long rest” if you pack several intense lifts into a period of a week or less. but also consider: how much time do you want to spend in the gym ?

  16. Lavon at #

    Thank you Pete. Great article and advice.

  17. Nick Bjornsson at #

    That is absolutely understandable. Without a functional meter the machine is just an expensive heap of metal. But as you say, it is truly a shame. They really hit the button with their gen.2 machine and could have filled a lot of homes worldwide with it. I own both generations of their machines and have invested quite a lot to get them to Sweden but I still feel it was worth it. I am 22 days between workouts and ever growing in strenght and power.

  18. Thanks, Nick. There is a better day coming.

  19. ryan at #

    Hi Pete,
    It is so refreshing to find somone who is more concerned with finding the most effecient way to train rather than to keep their endorsements happy (funny how training programs and supplement companies always seem to pair up)

    I have two questions;
    You say you should try to increase your weight used by 10% each workout, but the more weight you use the larger the weight you will add? I.E a 300lbs lift turns to 330 next workout? Is that just for SC? In PF would it be better to go by a set weight increase i.e. 10-20lbs?

    If you hit a plateua and must increase your rest time should you increase the weight used or use the same weight used in the last workout where your numbers did not go up?

    Thanks so much!

  20. 1. Thanks. Training methods these days look for a “back end” to make money after a sale. That’s why so many of them pitch a $100/mo program of nutritional supplements as soon as a person buys. Their training plans have zero innovation, it’s just a platform to sell monthly supplements. It’s a game to them.

    2. You won’t get 10% increases throughout your training. Early on you might get more than that but later you might get just 3-4%.

    3. After you are fully rested you should be shooting to improve your all-time best weight for the exercise, not failed-attempt weights. You want to work with known quantities. If your best bench press was 310 you want to work from there. If you can’t do 310 or a bit more it proves you did not recover and grow new muscle. (310 proves you recovered; 310+ proves your grew.)

  21. Iron Warrior at #

    Fellow SC and PF enthusiasts: My only caveat is that you have to be very careful when doing one leg presses. You can end up putting unhealthy levels of torque on your pelvis and lower back so make sure you have a STRONG safety catch and EASE the weight off the safety catch. I too am looking forward to the new SC machine which will hopefully max out around 4,000 to 5,000 lb as there are some out there who may progress to that point. Can’t wait to try!!! 🙂

  22. Ditto on the torque warning. Proceed with caution.

  23. Bob at #

    Hi Pete,
    I’m a little confused about this:
    Quote from Train Smart! e-book on page 14:
    They increased the weight but decreased the range of motion to
    only about two or three inches. Guess what happened? They’d bust
    through their plateau and experience more muscle growth!

    I thought that they just had to take more days off.

  24. No matter how anyone trains they have to be fully recovered in order to make progress. What we discovered was how using only our strongest range of motion increased the intensity of our exercises far beyond what they ever had been. That increased intensity generated increased muscle growth.

  25. Tom Strong at #

    Hmmmm….

    Perhaps you could sell beds and hamocks Pete!

  26. Arnold Ahyuen at #

    Thanks for the warning guys. I have been proceeding with caution on the one legged presses and on my last workout, 7/14, was able to push 908 lbs 10 times with each leg. I know I could have easily done more reps with more weight but knew that I needed to be careful. Hopefully the new SC Machine will have a sled that weighs at least 500lbs.. Loading 40 plates on to the leg press is a workout in itself.

  27. The new machine will be quite lightweight. You will simply press on a plate and have the force measured, from 1 lb to tons. And that’s the tip of the iceberg for what it will measure.

  28. Arnold Ahyuen at #

    Yes!! They need to get that machine done yesterday!! How ’bout a jackhammer for the forearms and grip too?

  29. It’s pretty easy to build a grip/forearm exercise into the SC machine.

  30. Les at #

    Hi Pete and Greg, For a month now I have painful tendons from lifting heavy. I do use hooks when I have to. There is no swelling and no pain when I tightly wrap my other hand around it. I only have pain when lifting. The tendons feel stretched. I have not lifted now for 12 days and it seems to be getting better so my question is: can I go back to the gym today (a holiday here) or should I wait until the pain is completely gone? I know this question came up before but I cannot find it.

  31. People underestimate how much of a metabolic drain an injury is. You won’t build new muscle while your body is trying to heal an injury. The only sensible strategy is to fully heal from the injury, then wait a bit longer for any stimulated muscle growth to occur, then return to the gym and measure whether or not that growth happened.

  32. Tammy at #

    My son and I are doing the PFT method of lifting and when we are doing the abdominal exercise with the rope and cable, we are pulling ourselves toward the machine due to the amount of weight we have on the machine. We are sitting on each others knees to hold us in place right now, but I am concerned that as we add weight, this will become inadequate as well. I looked into the situp belt when purchasing the hooks, but I don’t see how that would resolve that particular issue. Would you have any suggestions?

  33. Once you can lift all or most of your bodyweight it comes down to having a way to anchor yourself. Sometimes you can use a high pulley and get your knees or feet under a hold-down. Some people place a loaded barbell on the floor and hook their feet under the bar.

  34. Chris at #

    Pete,

    I’m realy interested in the new SC Machine. When will we get some details on it, – cost, availibity, dimensions, weight etc. Sorry for being so impatient, but I’m super intrigued.

  35. Chris at #

    Thanks, sounds incredible. Hope it happens soon.

  36. Dave at #

    Hey Pete,

    I’ve read that statics increase blood pressure and arterial stiffness greater during training compared to full range reps or movement. Is there a greater safety issue with statics?

  37. I’d be interested to know where you read that and what the conditions of measurement were. All types of weightlifting causes a momentary increase in blood pressure. The great advantage of SCT is the increase has a very short duration compared to conventional training. Paradoxically, strength training promotes lower resting arterial pressure.

  38. Chris at #

    Dave, – i’m no Doctor but i find it hard to believe that 30-60secs of static work every 7-21 days will cause arterial stiffness, – ?

  39. Les at #

    Hi Pete, thanks for the speedy reply. It seems I have to wait a longer time for the tendons in my wrists to heal so just wondered, is it safe to continue with the leg and toe presses alone until the wrists restore. The other exercises all entail using the wrists. Many thanks in advance.

  40. Yeah, I’ve never heard the “stiffness” case before. I’d like to see what study came up with that, if there is one.

  41. Your numbers will tell you. If you make leg progress, great. But if you don’t it could mean your body is still healing.

  42. Rene Kittelsen at #

    There is bad and good supplements, and overall to much supplements that doesn’t deliver it’s promise. But then you have good supplements which do what it says and is worth it. In the training industri supplements are cheap to make and they sell it at high prices, and that’s bad.
    It’s hard to find good supplements which delivers at the correct price, and unfortunately we need supplements on a daily basis because the food we eat isn’t good enough to give us the energi we need.
    But it doesn’t matter what you eat as long as the water you drink have poor quality, and I live in Norway and here the water is supposedly good which is wrong.

    I know it’s wrong saying every supplement out there isn’t good, and if you think about it, where can you even get unpolluted food and water?

    The body needs to deal with this kind of punishment every singel day, so how good would you feel without all the polluted foods and water, probably great, so do the research and you’ll find out this is true.

  43. I agree, Rene. And an all-processed-food diet is a serious problem for getting nutrients.

    May I also say that I’m sorry to see the trouble that all of Norway experienced last month. As a nation you handled the crisis with dignity and class. Thanks for setting a good example for the world.

  44. Rene Kittelsen at #

    We appreciate it, thank you

  45. Les at #

    Hi Pete, You probably have a good reason why you removed the dates from the comments but it does make it difficult to follow the new ones. Thanks for all your advice

  46. walter at #

    Hello Pete, 08-22-2011
    A few months back I purchased your “Static Contraction Program” and was looking forward to getting started… then, about the same time I started having chronic shoulder pain (I’m 62 yrs. old). Thus, I was unable to use the program for the time being, went to an orthopedic doctor to get checked out, found that I have an impingement problem that was putting pressure on bicep tendon (I had noticed weakness when doing curls) and X-ray showed a bone spur on the acromion as the culprit. Right now I’m being treated with NSAIDs and Doc said not to do any bench or overhead lifting with over ten pounds of weight.
    I’ve got a return appointment in a week from now………with your experience, would using SC aggravate this issue I have? With not doing reps it seems to me that SC would be beneficial for strength building and would not be making impingement worse.
    Thanks,
    Walter Smith

  47. I never give medical advice because I’m not an MD. I can tell you that many people love SCT because they can strengthen muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments in an exact range of motion (or position, since there is no ROM) that causes zero pain. There are many chiropractors and rehab pros who use SCT for that very reason. This might or might not apply to your situation.

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