33 Ways to Crush a Plateau
Stuck in a rut with no idea how to get out? Let our expert panel help you learn the telltale signs of an approaching plateau and teach you how to bust through it with ease to keep your big-muscle gains on track.
By Eric Velazquez, NSCA-CPT
Lifting straps? Check. Knee wraps? Check. Belt? Got it.
Serious tools for a serious lifter. These elements, combined with your take-no-prisoners attitude in the gym, will help you do what you always do: Kill it. You’re a training machine and, as a result, the gains come easy … until they don’t, that is. You see, even the most astute, dedicated lifters eventually hit a stale period — a time when they can no longer add pounds to the bar, extra reps are tougher to grunt through, fat burning grinds to a halt. The routine that once provided progress in bundles suddenly becomes fruitless and laborious. This unfamiliar landscape is called a plateau.
Take heart, iron lover, because it happens to everyone. The good news is there are ways to get through it — strategies you can apply both in the gym and in the kitchen that can help you to get back to doing what you do best: shattering personal bests and looking better for it.
This panel of experts, which has endured its fair share of plateaus, offers its insights on how to minimize these confidence-killing ruts, both in frequency and severity.
Birthdate: Nov. 2, 1983
Weight: 250 lbs. offseason, 225 lbs. contest
1. Anticipate plateaus
Don’t hit the panic button when the gains come to a screeching halt. Just know it’s part of the game. “Nobody just keeps growing,” he says. “Not everyone can get to be 240 and ripped. There’s no point in getting super frustrated.”
2. Train less
Instinctually, many lifters start training a bodypart more often when they hit a plateau but that can be a death knell for gains. “I started training less frequently, and I gained a lot of size. Sometimes people just need to take a step back to rest and their bodies will respond.”
Trying to look your best, even if you love training and eating clean, can become arduous — even if you don’t realize it. If you plateau, Armon says, it may be best to try backing off. “Sometimes your body is just really tired, so try taking a few days off to relax, maybe have a cheat meal and let your body recover.”
4. Divide and conquer
Heavy compound moves are the absolute best way to pack on size. But there does come a time when you need to break things out and zero in on a stubborn bodypart. “I usually stick to the basics for biceps like barbell curls. But when I started switching to more isolation moves, training one side at a time and mixing in superset and tri-sets, that’s how they grew.”
5. Don’t schedule
Got a great routine? Awesome. Tear it up, throw it in the trash and learn to improvise. “I never really have a set schedule with arms. Mix the order, sometimes superset them or tri-set them or do a 15-minute workout to go really intense. Spend less time in the gym, then go eat afterwards to get growing.”
“If it stops working, the simplest solution is usually to just change it up. Don’t be afraid to try new things. You’re already in a rut — what’s it going to hurt?”
7. Detail through diet
Sometimes, when you can’t work any new detail into your physique, you may feel inclined to change your training, but, “for detail work, it’s typically your diet,” Armon advises. To look super ripped, cut out the junk and fast foods and focus on eating clean and high-protein foods.
8. Go high-carb
Physique looking flat? Don’t automatically assume that going low-carb will get you burning fat and losing water weight. “Most people in that situation would cut carbs and do more cardio,” says Armon. “But this happened to me for one contest and I increased my carbs for a while. Some people don’t eat enough carbohydrates when they diet and if you do it long enough, it’ll just make you watery and flat.”