Overcoming Fitness Plateaus
Anyone who has been training for more than a few weeks has likely run into a plateau. A plateau is when you find yourself unable to continue progressing in a single exercise or any measure of physical fitness for an extended period. As many of you reading this know all too well, the longer you pursue your fitness goals, the harder it is to keep progressing the way you did as a beginner. Luckily for you, and every other athlete reading this, there are ways to overcome your fitness plateaus and set personal records that you never knew were possible. Here is a master list of the things that have helped me over my years to maximize my athletic performance. Hopefully, there will be a few things below that are new to you, as this article is designed to have information for all levels of fitness proficiency.
Don’t worry about trying to use every piece of advice in this article with every workout, try to pick a couple of pieces of advice to find out what works best for you.
1. Find the Right Music
This tip may seem like a no-brainer, but often the tunes your commercial gym has playing may be a little too bubble-gum for you, find something that pumps you up. Building a gym playlist from your own songs may work for you, or subscribing to a streaming service like Pandora or Spotify can get you ready to crush some records.
2. Exercise at Difference Times
If you have the flexibility in your schedule, it may help you to try working out at a different time. Sometimes the time change can result in setting records and increasing explosive strength. This is especially true for those of you who work out early in the morning or late at night. Sometimes a lunch hour workout or an early evening workout can make a big difference.
3. Experiment with Meal Timing
Spend a few workouts changing the time of your last meal before you exercise to find out your bodies optimal window. One day try working out 3 hours after your last meal, the next day try 2 hours after that try exercising 1 hour after your last meal. You may very well notice a change in your athletic performance based on different meal timings, which may affect your endurance and overall strength.
4. Experiment with Meal Choice
Similar to tweaking your meal timing, try different macro nutrient combinations before a workout. The meals you choose may be dependent on your desired fitness goals, so those of you who are focused on fat and weight loss may choose low carb meals before a workout and supplement a BCAA supplement like Transfusion during your exercise. Those who are more focused on muscle and strength building may benefit by incorporating a carb based meal before a workout, with the timing of that meal being a critical component.
5. Assure Proper Hydration
A general tip for all around wellbeing is never to get dehydrated. Consuming enough fluids during your workout is extremely important if you want to give it your best effort. A good general rule of thumb for water consumption is 64 ounces of water a day for Americans, or roughly 2 liters of water a day for the rest of the world. This may seem like a no-brainer, but many people fall short of their daily fluid consumption, and soda and sugary drinks do not count!
6. Track Your Workouts
How are you supposed to know what your personal records are, and ever hope to break past your plateaus if you don’t keep a record of your key movements? While the old school pad and pencil are on the way to extinction in most gyms today, there are modern alternatives that are easy and convenient to use.
7. Have Your Form Critiqued
I’m sure many of you reading this assume your form is good on all your lifts, but having another set of eyes to see you go through your movements may add a valuable perspective. Ensuring your form is correct is extremely important as you push yourself to lift heavier weights, as you increase your chance for injury with improper form. If you are unable to find someone knowledgeable enough to critique you, set up a video recorder in front of you during your exercise and submit it to one of the online form-check forums.
8. Change up Your Routine
When you keep your body guessing you are more likely to see greater changes in body composition and strength. Switch your routine every couple months, while adding slight variations each workout. For bodybuilders, push-pull-legs is a great starting point, for powerlifters, starting strength is a good program. For women, focus on compound movements at a decent weight and introduce HIIT cardio. Once you earn your beginner gains, you can add in more advanced routines where you may specialize on one or two major body parts each day.
9. Try Different Rep Ranges
Many athletes get comfortable completing a certain rep count on their exercises. While you may have a favorite rep range for growth, it will only benefit you to try out different rep ranges. An example of this is if you’re used to benching 225lbs for six reps, try going for four reps at a heavier weight, or eight reps at a lighter weight. If you always stick to one fixed rep range in your major movements, progressing can seem incredibly difficult. Often you can increase your one rep max by going for a greater or lower number of reps in a particular exercise.
10. Warm up Properly
Beginning your workouts with a simple stretching routine can do a lot to get your blood flowing and is useful to prevent injury. Resistance bands, foam rollers, and light dumbbells are all excellent choices to use during your warm up. One you finish stretching, it is advisable to start at a light and comfortable weight for your first exercise set. It is never good advice to jump right into a heavy set as soon as you get to the gym, increment your way up to avoid a serious injury.
11. Have a Gym Partner
For the majority of us, having a regular personal trainer is too expensive to justify, however working out with a friend or colleague is a free alternative. I recommend seeking a gym partner with the same mindset and drive as yourself. If you can find someone willing to exercise with you who knows more than you, then you really win. A gym partner can critique your form, push you to your limit, and spot you on difficult lifts. Just remember to choose someone that is there to exercise and not simply socialize.
12. Get Enough Rest
If you’re neglecting your sleep schedule and not getting quality shut-eye, your muscles will not be able to repair themselves enough after an intensive workout, and the long-term effect is reduced performance inside the gym. If you find yourself up late at night and unable to stay asleep, it may be useful to invest in a sleep quality product. Avoiding caffeine late at night is also a good choice for stimulant sensitive individuals.