At some point or other it’s inevitable that you are going to encounter plateau’s in your training, here are my thoughts on how to tackle the issue!

What is a plateau?
A plateau is when a persons training stagnates, this could be where an athlete can’t get above a 120kg squat or simply can’t lift more than 100kg on the bench. They can be leaving blood, sweat and tears in the gym but that number simply isn’t increasing. It’s a frustrating aspect of fitness training and something that is common, here are my solutions on how to deal with them:-

How do we overcome it?
The first thing to do is identify why the plateau is occurring. Through my own experience I have found plateaus fall into two categories: Mental and Physical (they are not mutually exclusive, sometimes they fall into both!). Sometimes it’s obvious why a plateau is occurring (the weight is getting in the athletes head!) but other times it’s not so clear. This is one of the reasons why tracking your own training with a training diary is an important, overlooked and often underused tool. If you have adequately tracked your training intensity (% of 1 rep max) and volume (sets x reps = XXXKg) and put a little note down about how the session went then you can refer back to this to make assumptions, and work out possible reasons for stagnation.

Mental Plateaus.
Okay, so I think I am getting a mental plateau, what now?
If you have pinpointed your plateau to be coming from a mental block then there are a couple of approaches you can take. Take for example you have been squatting sets of 4 on 120kg and soon as you pick up 122.5Kg you crumble half way down your first rep. You’re obviously strong enough to lift that weight but your legs think otherwise. Often this type of plateau just requires a bit of patience. It boils down to a lack of confidence on the weight…

I have found a simple approach to build confidence is best. Stick on the weight, in this case 120kg, for 2/3 weeks and focus on improving the quality of rep, ensuring full range of motion, ass to grass, a nice slow controlled downward phase and an explosive movement up. As you become more confident in the exercise, look to pause for a moment at the bottom, between the downward and upward phases of each lift. After 2/3 weeks, following this approach and based on my own experience you are likely to move quickly through the numbers in the coming weeks going through 122.5, 125 and 127.5kg quicker than seemed possible when 120kg was a stumbling block.
An alternative approach would be to reduce the reps and move the weight up so instead of doing sets of 4 on 122.5kg, perform sets of 2 on 122.5kg, then sets of 3 and finally on to sets of 4 before moving the weight up. This approach can be used for all manner of exercises such as shoulder press, dead lifts, bench press, pull ups etc.

Physical Plateau
I have checked through my training diary and it seems as though I have been at a high intensity for longer than I thought, I think my plateau is a physical one.

What now?
Physical plateaus are more avoidable than mental plateaus but are harder to come back from. If your training has been monitored, consistent and followed a sound periodised plan then it is possible to avoid physical plateaus all together. However, life’s’ stresses, sleep, diet and other external factors such as, family emergencies, that are less controllable can all have a negative impact on physical wellbeing and preparedness.

If you have been working at too high an intensity for too long then the first thing to do is to deload. Maintain the intensity but drop the reps right down, maybe even single reps if necessary, possibly even by dropping the number of training sessions.

As I mentioned earlier the types of plateau are not mutually exclusive, it is possible to be both physically fatigued and mentally ‘psyched out’ by a weight, use the methods I have outlined above to help you get back to peak condition. If you follow a sound periodised plan and track all the possible factors that will influence training such as diet, sleep and rest then you should be able to stay in peak condition year round.

Stay Well. Thanks for reading,

Gracy Bilolo
Personal Fitness Coach


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