Hitting plateaus is part of training, but usually, most don’t experience this until they have some time under their belt.
With that said, the need for variety must increase as your training age does. Below is a list of methods to help overcome barriers from “Supertraining,” as well as some additional methods that may help you break through your physical and mental barriers. Some of these tactics are common, while others are less so. Overall, we have a long list of variables available to us and being able to access more variations and different methods will not only steer us away from stagnation but also keep us injury free.
This list is specifically limited to training and recovery strategies.
- The Max Effort Method, popularized by Bulgarian weightlifting coaches and later Louie Simmons, is the best method of strength training there is; however, many coaches favor multiple rep maxes and neglect true 1-RMs. Consider decreasing your higher repetition work and including more 1-rep maxes. Coaches often avoid programming max effort work for fear of their athletes getting injured, but if you rotate your max effort work on a weekly basis, the risk of injury is low, assuming you already have efficient movement patterns, but the intensity is highest with a 1RM. In fact, there is no better way to develop intra/inter-muscular coordination.
- Use Compensatory Acceleration Training (deliberately trying to accelerate the bar through a concentric range of motion, ie. Dynamic Effort Method). Try using only 40-50% of your 1RM in a movement like a bench press. Perform 12 sets of 3 every 30-45s where you deliberately try to be as explosive as possible on each set while still maintaining proper mechanics and bar path. You may be surprised just how challenging this work is.
- Use contrast methods (i.e. heavier loads followed by lighter loads). Another example would be to use a dumbbell between your feet for a weighted pull-up and then drop the dumbbell performing subsequent reps with just bodyweight.
- Change aspects of your training session, such as the order. Most texts call for power-development for multi-joint work to be done early in your training session. This should be the case most times, but it’s okay to change things up from time to time. Similar to “contrast methods” performing multi-joint movements before high-power movements can act as an aid and further prepare you to be successful in those lifts. For instance, I love performing squats before cleans or snatches and have found great success with this ordering.
- Get with a qualified coach and improve upon your technique. Often coaches can’t program for themselves and having someone you trust to take the reigns can be a difference maker with your progress.
- Ensure your rest periods are optimal, e.g. a maximal deadlift may require up to 4-5 minutes of rest between your maximal efforts.
- Take shorts breaks from your regular training and try something new. Often we get “stale” with our current routine. Going outside your comfort-zone may give you the spark you need to get re-motivated. You may also learn something about yourself you didn’t know, regarding what training methods work best for you.
- Use fewer exercises in your workout. It’s easy to get “exercise ADHD” and choose too many movements. Keep your training session concise and have a plan before going to the gym.
- Monitor your HRV and adjust your training schedule/intensity based on your readings. You may be surprised at the results if you include more rest days and decrease your training frequency. I had a conversation with Dave Tate last June where I said: “less is more is usually true with training.” He said, “no, it’s always fucking true.”
- Use accommodating resistance in the form of band tension or chains. This is another tool that may be hard to find in a commercial gym, but many CrossFit boxes have a few sets of chains on hand or even have the ability to set up bands. The list benefits of accommodating resistance are long, but to name a few providing tension throughout full-range of motion is important and will help prevent bar deceleration. AR also accommodates the strength curve meaning tension/load is highest where we are the strongest and lowest where we are weakest. When using the Max Effort Method, we can strategically work on our individual mini-maxes (sticking points) and target where we are weakest. We also aren’t able to use the same amount of straight weight if we were not using AR which ensures our recovery is on point.
- Invest in a different barbell, such as a safety-squat bar, cambered bar, football bar, or bamboo bar. Specialty bars are amazing tools and can keep you in the game even if you’re injured. Many trainees cannot properly front squat, but using the safety-bar can provide a similar stimulus where the athlete is not limited by their lack of flexibility.
- Find a training partner. This may be the single best thing you can do for your training. Just first make sure your partner takes their training as seriously as you do.
- Include more GPP based work in the form of sled work and loaded carry variations. While this stuff isn’t as sexy on paper, it is incredibly beneficial for all athletes. Investing in a pulling sled is inexpensive and can be used in a variety of ways.
- Include tendon work to strengthen connective tissue and increase stored elastic energy. Buying a few bands will give you the ability to include things like banded pushdowns, pull-parts, and leg-curls all of which can be done for high-volume and in the comfort of your own home.
- Use static-dynamic methods, ie. the box squat is done by sitting back on the box (static) overcome by explosive concentric movement (dynamic). The box squat is one of the single best movements to develop the hips/hamstrings and will teach you how to be explosive out of the hole. By sitting back on the box, we do not utilize the stretch-reflex which in turn allows us to develop force production and hip-extension. I have seen athletes improve their Olympic lifts as well as their squat and deadlift drastically just by including the box squat in their training.
Plateauing is inevitable, but we can ensure that we are consistently moving forward by having strategies available. Sticking to what you’re most “comfortable” with will invariably cause you to go backward. Although not all of these methods will work for you, it’s important to experiment and find out what DOES work best for you.