How To Break Weightlifting Plateaus Without Giving Up Your Favorites

I’ve always loved training the same days every week and I prioritized barbell hip thrusts forever. I like my exercises in a certain order and 8-10 is my go-to rep range. If you’re like me, you love your gym favorites. But in our own little nirvanas, picking heavy stuff up and putting it down, we rarely think about how our favorites contribute to our inevitable weightlifting plateaus.

We convince ourselves that our favorite things in the weight room should still be delivering results. We know how to use that machine, technique, or exercise to our best advantage by now. But strangely, we don’t seem to notice when our favorites aren’t making us stronger, bigger, or leaner anymore. 

Even if you love mastering new challenges, you might be unwittingly spinning your wheels.

Weightlifting plateaus

Plateaus: Our Constant Companion

Lifters cling to their favorites because it’s fun. We gravitate towards things we’re good at, even if it isn’t giving us the best benefit anymore.

How do you break out? That’s the million-dollar question, my friend, particularly for more experienced lifters.

Let’s put it this way: If you haven’t seen any new glute development in months or years, adding the latest cool-looking glute exercise to your workout probably won’t make much difference. Even if you completely overhauled your workouts, would you stick with it long enough to see results?

As your training experience advances, you need to be more purposeful about how you train. Not that beginners shouldn’t be purposeful, but their progress is easier. When you’ve been training for years, the gains slow down and you need to think through your workouts a bit more. But with some creativity, you can break up weightlifting plateaus without sacrificing your favorites.

If you enjoy going through the motions of your favorite exercises without any progress, by all means continue doing that. But I personally get a lot of satisfaction out of new gainz!

Change #1: Favorite Exercises and Equipment

There are certain exercises that are indisputably the king of results – squats, pull-ups, rows, push-ups, presses, and deadlifts, to name a few. But you can’t keep doing the same exercise forever without hitting major weightlifting plateaus. Even if you use varying reps and sets, there may come a time when you’re just stuck.

Let’s take the quest for unassisted pull-ups, for example. You simply can’t seem to get past the dreaded two-rep plateau. You’ve been using a pull-up band and eccentrics, but every time you test your unassisted reps, you stay stuck at two.

If I were to peek at your workouts, I might find that you’ve been using the same band for weeks. The result is that you eke out the same number of reps and sets each session, ensuring that you stay stuck. Even when you mix in eccentric reps and iso-holds at the top, you can’t break out. 

Pull-ups are a uniquely savage beast. it takes a lot of variation to keep progressing, and at the same time, relentless consistency. When evaluating your lack of progress, I’d factor in your bodyweight, training schedule, and other exercises you’re doing. But if everything else was in place, I would suggest changes like these:

  • Instead of using one band, double up with a lighter one so that every other session is done with higher reps. Always sticking to low reps with any exercise is a recipe for a plateau. You need to vary the reps on a week-to-week basis (undulating periodization) or in phases (linear periodization).
  • Use a different special technique once a week for a specific period of time – consistently. Oftentimes, we just mix in new techniques randomly and don’t track how long we’ve done it. Don’t be random about it – have a plan. For example, aim for 30 reps in as few sets as possible once a week for three weeks. When I started doing this, it took eight sets to get to 30 reps. Eventually I could do it in five, and that’s when my pull-ups really took off.
  • Spend more time on assistance exercises and building back strength with other exercises. It comes down to favorites again: If you always do dumbbell bent-over rows, mix it up with other variations, like chest-supported rows, barbell rows, landmine rows, and cable rows. 
  • Instead of doing an exercise first in your workout every time, try supersetting it with the opposite muscle group or putting it later in your workout. We’re told to prioritize what we want to work on, yet you should still change up the order regularly.

With our glute example, you’ll need to do more than adding one or two exciting new exercises from Instagram. If you’ve been doing barbell hip thrusts followed by lunges for months, adding banded glute kickbacks won’t be a game-changer. Switch up the exercise order and also the variation (such as barbell floor bridges or single-leg hip thrusts instead of barbell hip thrusts). 

These are just a few examples of how to fix an exercise plateau, which is actually a plateau in muscular strength. But again, you must do these things for a period of time in a structured manner, or you’ll end up chasing new methods constantly.

Change #2: Favorite Training Split

One of the best ways to halt a weightlifting plateau is by changing your training split. We get very attached to our split because it’s a comfortable, cozy routine. Schedule changes induce anxiety and can cause a bit of inconvenience at first. But chances are, if you’ve been doing the same days and body parts for years, it’s time for a change.

For example, if your go-to split has always been an upper/lower-body split four days a week, try three full-body workouts per week or a five-day body-part split. You will be freaking amazed by how unfamiliar it feels when you do overhead presses right after deadlifts or even vice versa.

If you don’t want to change your training days, change the way you train on each day. For example, instead of an upper/lower four-day split, creatively change your split:

Monday – Upper push
Wednesday – Lower push
Thursday – Upper pull
Saturday – Lower pull

Or

Pull/push/legs/arms

Along the same lines, if you’re plateaued with fat loss, you should definitely do resistance circuits – multiple rounds of timed exercises with short rests. Your heart rate should stay high during circuits and come down only enough to catch your breath between rounds.

I love kettlebell circuits for fat loss! Fun, challenging, and effective. Kettlebell high pull, deadlift to clean, swings, and snatches are my favorites. But since they are my favorites, I know I need to consciously change this on a regular basis so that I don’t plateau.

Let’s not forget that most people don’t do anything long enough to see results with it. Boredom, frustration, and lack of tracking lead to changing things too often. Give a training split a chance to work for 12 weeks before changing it. Use these principles as your guide:

  • Don’t be afraid to change small variables in your workouts more often, like grip, equipment, tempo, or rest periods. 
  • Integrate different reps/sets, but in a structured way. Understand how volume relates to the goal you want.

We all have blind spots and self-limiting beliefs, even with training. As an experienced lifter, your challenge is to be savvy, knowledgeable, and open to new ways of doing things. This is an amazing combination of qualities to possess, leading to gains that make you say, “Daaaamn, girl!”

This article originally appeared on www.workoutnirvana.com.

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Comments

  1. The name of the game is change it up & the longer you have done it, the more I have to keep challenging the bod! 🙂

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