Training plateaus happen for everyone. We all get stuck in the same routine because it’s familiar and we like it. The truth of the matter is, adaptation is rather quick. Keeping the same workout or training style for just two or three weeks is enough to start flatlining. There are three main methods you can use to keep your training progressing long-term while simultaneously avoiding injury. Before we get into specifics, realize that there are many ways to skin the cat. Finding the method that works best for you is going to take some time and experimentation, so let’s get started.
Volume is king for any training adaptation. Volume is defined as the total amount of work you are doing and is typically expressed by multiplying the number of sets by repetitions and then multiplying that number by the weight used. You don’t need to calculate that much either, if you wish to simplify it further just multiply sets by reps to get an idea of what your volume is. Whether it’s for endurance, strength, or aesthetic goals volume will be a key driver for progress. You can begin by just increasing your volume weekly by 2 or 3 repetitions per set.
After 3 weeks, or until this gets difficult, simply reset to just 5lbs more than what you used in week 1 and restart the progression. You could also increase volume by just adding a set to one or two movements per week. At first, I would stick with these two methods since they are the simplest. There are many other ways to increase volume such as drop sets, partials, plus sets, and other beyond failure methods.
Intensity isn’t just a mental state. Intensity is defined as percentage of a one rep max or how heavy the weight is relative to what you’re capable of. It is often expressed as a percentage although can be simplified by using a continuum. The heavier the weight, the higher the intensity. This does not mean you should be lifting super-duper heavy either, although you can. Simply adding 5lbs per week can be enough and by definition increases intensity since it is heavier.
Intensity can be increased for months if you are a beginner, a few weeks if you’re intermediate, or only a couple of weeks if you’re advanced. If you increased your lifts by 5lbs per week, that would be an addition of 260lbs. Obviously this is unreasonable, therefore once the weight starts getting heavy and form begins to break down, reset and start building up again.
Modify movements to use muscles differently, modulate the force curve, or train different angles. Variations should be simple at first, change the bench angle 15 degrees, use dumbbells instead of barbells, front squat instead of back squat. Variations allow you to find new weaknesses to hammer in your program. By identifying new weaknesses you are able to drive sustained progress and mitigate injury risk as a result. Aim to change your exercise selection every 3-4 weeks, this tends to be a sweet spot and keeps your training fresh.
Don’t let your training plateau, find ways to manipulate volume, intensity, and variations to build a stronger and more resilient body.