3 Simple Tips for Busting Through Plateaus

Here are a few super simple tips to help when your gains have stalled.

Progress in the gym is much like life. It’s never in a straight line.

There are times when you’re adding weight, adding reps and making rapid gains. Then, the time comes when you and the barbell butt heads. No matter what you do or try, your progress comes to a halt.

The dreaded plateau.

And when you’ve been lifting for a while, the plateau is sure to find you. Then the trick is to find a way to break through it without resorting to anything stupid. Like using extra body English. 

If this sounds (or looks) like you, then you’re in luck.

These three lifting methods have been around a while because they work. It’s not as sexy as quarter squatting a huge amount of weight but when you look into the mirror, you’ll be pleased. When lifts are stalling, consider one of these.

Do not try this 10-second pause, 655-pound deadlift at home

1. Pauses

The three main triggers for muscle hypertrophy are mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage. Building more muscle helps with fat loss and strength.(1)

Adding a pause covers all three bases, if somewhat brutally. 

However, lifting weights isn’t meant to tickle.  And pausing while the working muscle is under tension will test you in ways you never thought possible. Which means you’ll bust through your plateau in no time.

Pauses work best with compound lifts like deadlifts, squats, presses and rows (as accessory training after your main lift) and for isolation exercises to bring up a lagging muscle group.

When using this technique, a 2-3 second pause with a load between 60 to 80% of your 1-rep max and lifting between 5-10 reps works well. Pausing at a sticking point, (like just off the floor of your deadlift) will build strength where you need it most.

If you’re struggling at a particular point in your lift, it pays to spend more time there, not less.

[Related: 6 Reasons Pause Squats Work]

2. A Rep and a Half

You take an exercise and “extend” the set by inserting a half rep after a full range of motion rep.

Adding a partial rep during most strength training exercises reps will increase your muscles’ time under tension, helping you ‘feel’ the exercise more and to address a technique flaw/weakness.

For example, if you have trouble pushing the bar off your chest, adding half a rep there will help address this weakness.

This works with accessory work such as single leg exercises, rows, and pressing variations, to help you build up strength and muscle in a particular body part.

When doing a rep in a half, be conservative and lower your usual weight for the exercise by 10 pounds or more. Anywhere between 8 and 12 reps (a rep and a half equals one rep) will do the trick.

[Related: When the 1 1/4 Squat Should Be In Your Training]

3. Tempo

Ever looked at a program and seen a note like 2121?

This is lifting tempo and the four numbers represent different points in the lift.

The first number is the eccentric (lowering) portion. The second is the bottom position, the third is the concentric portion of the movement, and the fourth is the top position.

Consider the tempo of 2121 for bench press — it takes two seconds to lower the bar to your chest. Then a pause of 1 second at the bottom, followed by 2 seconds to lift it up, and 1 second to pause at the top.

And the lifter can manipulate the tempo according to his/her goals. For example, if you’re having trouble controlling the weight on the descent, lightening the weight and using a 3- to 5-second eccentric can help.

Using tempo forces you to slow things down and to focus on your form. Any hitches in the lift will be easier to spot if you’re going slow and not fast. Furthermore,  you’ll have more time under tension, which is a key component in building strength and muscle.(1)

For compound movements, using 70 to 80 percent of your 1-rep max for 6 to 12 reps (depending on load) is a good starting point.

[Related: Our Complete Guide to Tempo Training for Your Goals]

Wrapping up

The key to busting through plateaus is lowering the resistance, spending more time under tension (TUT) and focusing on weaker points in the lift. Because you don’t have to resort to tricky, when you have the tried and true.   

Featured image via takoburito/Shutterstock

Reference

  1. Schoenfeld BJ. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2857-72.
Shane McLean

Shane McLean

Shane McLean is a Certified Personal Trainer who’s worked with a wide variety of clients, from the general population client all the way to ex-Navy seals and college athletes.

Shane is a big believer in seeing exercise as a gift for the body and never a punishment — exercise should be as enjoyable as possible and never just a “work” out.

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