Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
As we cruise into April our content angle will be pivoting into more intermediate to advanced-level content for more seasoned fitness enthusiasts. What better way to kick that off than to cover some common things to investigate and potentially try if you find yourself and your progress plateauing and getting stagnant.
Firstly, consider that it may be time to change up your program/routine. Regardless of what you’re training for you’ve likely constructed some sort of training plan to aim for a specific target. Whether that be a certain performance, competition, or improvement in a certain physical quality. If you have been using the program without change for close to or over two months, it may be time to review some of the data you’ve gathered and see what’s happened.
On the flip side, it could be that you’re changing programs too often and not allowing enough time for progress to appear.
If you’re taking notes (you should be) look back at your last 8 weeks of training and see if you can find any trends emerging. Here’s a chart from a client’s program review.
Deadlift x4 @8 RPE
This is the weight they used for their deadlifts over the last six sessions of this program. The pink line is just a trend line, which can be handy if you have a broad spread of data to see if overall it was good or bad.
Like this one, which is drop sets on a bench press exercise
Stuff all over the place, though overall, slightly positive.
In this specific case we’re pretty sure that after week 5/6 in a program, we start to plateau and then get worse, we figured that out just by running one program for 10 weeks to see what happened.
I encourage you to look at your training data and see where things were going well, and where they were not going well, make some notes about each, and then change things up for a bit to try and re-sensitise yourself to training. Changing sets/rep schemes, changing exercises, changing the days of the week you do particular exercises on. If Monday has been a squat day since time began, try swapping it out to Wednesday, or wherever you deadlift. Similarly, if you’ve always done your pacing medium-long distance runs on a Monday, try swapping them out with your intervals.
Next up, consider swapping your exercises. Most programs have some amount of variation baked into them, all the way from Crossfit at the extremely high end, to Bulgarian style at the extremely low end of the variation. For most people though, I imagine the answer is probably somewhere in the middle, and if you’ve started to stall out on stuff, it may be time to consider swapping some things out. This may also be wise if you’re starting to pick up little niggling pains consistently on specific exercises. Soreness kind of goes hand in hand with hard training, but consistent pains are usually a red flag worth paying attention to.
If you’re training for strength, consider changing to a different bar, adding pauses, or even a specific tempo for exercises. Even a change in stance or grip can be enough variety to keep things moving in the right direction. If you’re training for hypertrophy/physique-based improvements and your normally scorching incline dumbbell bench press pump has faded into obscurity, perhaps try swapping out to another variation. Machine presses, barbell bench, and even increases ROM pushups.
If you’re training for aerobic-based things, like distance running, or a specific quality in your sport, consider changing up the equipment you use or the method of hitting your aerobic training. If you’re currently crushing the pavement miles, consider doing some off-road stuff, perhaps even beach based if you have access to one. Mix in more inclined running or swap up running entirely for swimming or some other method of getting the heart rate up.
Thirdly, this one might sting a little, perhaps consider that you may not be recovering enough for your current training. Adaption (getting better) only occurs after recovery from any particular stress, and if you’re just hammering the stressors too much, or too often, or both, you just might stall out, even though you’re working hard.
I saw this poster on a bus stop in New Zealand while we were over there and it made me laugh, as this is pretty dead-on training advice, just on some random bus stop. I had recently heard someone use the analogy of plants with regard to training and adaption. Just because a plant is growing well with how much you water it, or how much sun it’s currently getting, doesn’t necessarily mean that doubling the amount of either of those will be better, or even positive at all. So yeah, maybe consider training one less day, or having a look at your sleep and nutrition.
Speaking of nutrition! That’s going to be our last little stone to turn over in this post. If you have been consistently in a calorie deficit for aesthetic or sport-based reasons, constantly cutting to make weight, or just hammering a deficit to try and get as lean as can be without maintenance breaks you may wish to discontinue that, at least for the short term.
Being in a calorie deficit can be a strain on your resources for recovery. Whilst normally performance impairment will mostly come from how harsh a deficit you’re trying to run (don’t run large deficits, just take your damn time.) if you run even a moderate one for long enough it’ll start impacting things. Look to take a break and just maintain stable body weight on a slightly higher amount of calories, enough so that you feel like you have plenty of energy, and keep adding until you see steady increases, then pair it back a little. You really want to try and see how much you can get away with for maintaining, whilst remaining in a stable weight range (your body weight will fluctuate day to day, that’s normal). It’s also worth looking into your specific macronutrient breakdown. If you’re lifting, how much protein are you taking on? Is it enough to support your recovery? If you’re training for aerobic performance, how are your carbohydrates looking? Are you doing anything about intra-session nutrition? Possibly look into gels or electrolyte/carb drinks for consumption through your longer sessions.
Hopefully, some of those points sparked some ideas to follow and look into your own training. If you’re keen to see how our more intermediate content plays out, follow us on social media, or sign up to our newsletter. Find us @atsapproved on all social media.