In the world of strength training, sooner or later everyone reaches a plateau. For many athletes, it can be a source of huge frustration. They think back to the first couple months of lifting and every week they would be 5,10 or 20 pounds to all of their lifts, which slowly tapers down to a 10 lb increase a month, then to a 5 pound PR every 5 weeks and finally culminates in a halt of progress on all lifts.
There can be many causes for this halt of progression. I will try to outline a few of the most prevalent causes.
1) You are not mixing it up enough.
One of the most common causes for a plateau is the simple error of failing to working in accessory exercises to compliment your main lifts. For example a lifter wants to increase his deadlift to 500 pounds, his current deadlift is 250. Every week he works on his deadlift, doing 5×5 every week, building up his weight 5 or 10 pounds at a time. As he nears 425, he notices that he has halted progress and has stalled at 425 pounds. He cannot understand why, his deadlift form is perfect and he trains it religiously every week. The reason he thinks he should be great at deadlift is the same reason he has plateaued on deadlift, he failed to do accessory exercises to work the weaknesses on his deadlift.
Your lifts will only be as strong as the weakest muscle that is used. You will begin to reach a point of diminishing returns if you only use the main lift movement to increase the main lift movement. If you have weak hamstrings and a strong back, of course you will get stronger hamstrings from deadlifting, but they will still be weaker relative to your back. You need to to movements that will increase the strength of your hamstrings to properly do their share during the deadlifting instead of having you back over compensate.
A few great examples of accessory exercises would be the Romanian deadlift, the sumo deadlift, and heavy weighted pullups.
Also try rack pulls and band deadlifts. If you throw these various exercises into your routine, your deadlift should break through that plateau no problem.
2) You are not getting enough rest.
I know I am definitely guilty of this one sometimes. It is pretty simple: If you do not let your muscles rest and repair themselves, you will not be operating anywhere near 100%. It is fine to lift when you are not at 100%, but do not try to PR a 1RM on those days, save those days for speed work or dynamic exercises. I know how hard it can be to follow this mantra though, especially on days when you hit a PR and think “Damn I just smashed that previous record I had, tomorrow I will destroy today’s record!”
It is difficult to not feel this way because at this moment, you feel like you could beat anything that crossed your path. Try to refrain from setting a PR two days in a row, give it at least a week. That way the next time you try to hit a PR you really can blow it out of the water, instead of blowing out a joint that you stressed to failure the day before.
3) Take a look at your diet.
This topic is last but certainly not least. If you know me at all, you know that I love food, I love everything about it. I love eating until I am stuffed and comatose and then coming back 30 minutes later for another helping because I am hungry again. I do this also because I know that with the stress that I put on my body, I need to make sure that it has everything it needs, if not a little more, to be ready for the next day. Look at this example of a morning workout followed by a meal eaten afterwards:
Bench Press 5×3
1 bowl of rice krispies with 1 cup almond milk
If that is what your workouts and meals look like, well I’m really sorry but we are going to have to see other people. It’s not me, it’s you.
Not only will eating like this not get you what you want, it will probably have the opposite effect. You can not expect to move mountains if you eat the breakfast of a toddler. You basically need more of everything. Ask yourself how much you need to eat, and then just say “more”. You need more good fats to provide calories, and to provide testosterone. You need more carbs to replace spent glycogen stores and provide you with energy; and it will go without saying that you need more protein, to both provide satiety and repair and build up the muscles that you destroyed a little stronger than before.
If you try to work on these three simple things, breaking past that plateau should be no problem for you. Just remember to mix it up, get adequate rest, and eat like your life depends upon it! (Because it does.)