If you’ve been working out for a long time, there’s no doubt you’ve experienced a plateau from time to time. A plateau occurs when you are continuing your regular workout regimen but you’ve stopped making progress and gains.
While plateaus can be frustrating and even cause a person to abandon their workout routine, they can be overcome by temporarily changing your workout routine to trick your body into responding again.
There are several methods that can be used to break free from a plateau. Generally these methods work best when used infrequently and only for a short period of time.
If you’ve been working out regularly for a while, you might consider trying one of the more aggressive methods for overcoming plateaus. Consider trying pre-fatiguing, drop sets, forced reps or negative reps to get going again.
Pre-fatiguing means changing your exercise routine to do more isolation exercises at the beginning of your workout, followed by more compound exercises, usually the opposite of most workout programs. For instance, for your leg workout begin with leg extensions and leg curls. Follow these with your bigger exercises like squats, leg presses, hack squats and lunges.
If you can perform the bigger exercises with your usual weights even after fatiguing your muscles with isolation exercises, you should be able to up the weights on the compound exercises during your next workout, helping you to overcome your plateau.
To perform drop sets, you reduce the amount of weight you use for an exercise throughout the set. For instance, for biceps curls you may start with five reps with 40 pounds, immediately followed by five reps with 30 pounds, then five reps with 20 pounds, and finally five reps with 15 pounds.
By doing this you can perform your heaviest reps when you have the most strength, but still continue to perform more reps than usual through the entire set. It won’t take many drop set cycles to put a major burn on your muscles and increase your strength.
For forced reps, you’ll need a competent spotter to help you. When doing forced reps, your spotter will help you do more reps than you would be able to do on your own.
While you may be able to do eight reps without a spotter, having their help may allow you to complete 10 reps. The slight assistance provided by your spotter can allow you to work your muscles harder than you could work them on your own.
A spotter is also usually needed to perform negative reps. Each lift you perform has two phases: the positive (or exertion) portion of the exercise, and the negative (or
return) portion. Since most of your muscle building takes place during the negative phase, by performing additional negative reps you can add to your overall workout load.
Here’s how to do it. For example, for chest presses, perform as many presses as possible with your chosen weight. Then, without stopping to rest, allow the bar or weight to descend slowly using as much control as possible to do the negative rep slowly.
Then, with the assistance of your spotter through the exertion phase, raise the weight and repeat another controlled negative rep. Two or three negative reps should be enough to fully work the muscle.
When utilizing any of these plateau breakers, get the advice of a professional before attempting the technique. Also, these advanced methods should only be used sparingly, perhaps once a month for each body part. Save them for when you really need the help to break through a plateau.
So if you’re experiencing a plateau in your fitness level, don’t feel like you’re alone. We’ve all been there. Keep your motivation high and try one of these special techniques to get you over the hump and back to making gains with your workouts.
Kent Pegg is a certified personal trainer and the owner of the Los Alamos Fitness Center. Direct questions about the information or exercises in this column to Pegg at 505.662.-5232.