Why Plateaus Happen and How To Bust Out Of Them: By Coach Juan Navarrete
Full disclosure, everyone goes through this. Having said that, the only difference between those that get past them and those that don’t, is that those that don’t, have no idea that they have reached a plateau until they’ve been in that hole for a prolonged period of time. Plateauing refers to a person’s inability to make progress in a given movement or/and measure of fitness, whether that is fat loss, weight on the bar, miles, etc. Now, there are several reasons for this, not tracking your progress is one, not having progressions on your workouts and or movements, and inefficient technique. For others, plateaus happen as they reach the top of their natural potential, which is fine, except most people don’t get there unless they have been doing Cross Training or Powerlifting for over 8-10 years. So the latter is the most likely not you.
One, and possibly the easiest of all ways to avoid plateauing is to keep track of your progress. This may even seem silly, but it’s that simple. If you do not know what your starting point is, your workouts become redundant as you are most likely always wondering what you should start your next workout with, whether it’s the height of the box or the weight that you are able to manage. Results are about managing the inputs so that the outcomes give you the results that you want. Without proper inputs your outcomes lack substance and a plateau is easy to reach.
Second, progressions are one of the most important elements of a training program. Such elements include percentages, times, or reps completed. For example, one of the best ways to continually improve your back squat is through a progressive overload system, where you use a certain percentage of the 1 repetition maximum (1RM), in order to stimulate your body from week to week, and eventually increase the 1RM. In doing so, you push your threshold of the weight you are able to manage to a heavier weight. Thus ensuring you do not plateau. Without such a system, it becomes increasingly harder to progress given the lack of proper stimulus to the central nervous system.
Having addressed the importance of progressions, the next element to consider is technique. This is basically your ability to move through an exercise properly. Technique is defined as “a skillful or efficient way of doing or achieving something”, as it translates to movement, it is your ability and know how to put yourself in efficient positions that guarantee your best performance. Anything short of that allows for power “leaks”. Power “leaks” refer to movements that do not make the most of your potential by using less than 100% of your ability or strength. For example, the deadlift, the upper backs optimal position is a straight, flat back. Any deviation from that puts technique on the side and increases risk of injury, as well as reduces your ability to move yourself into an upright position, achieving a good repetition. If technique is not refined properly, we always leave progress on the table and the chance of plateauing increases.
Working day in and day out towards your fitness goals is commendable on its own, but as you progress in your fitness journey you will realize that working day in and day out is not enough for you to keep making strides and get better as time passes. As such, these are the major and the easiest ways that we can become aware of plateaus and avoid the frustration that comes with them. Make sure that you keep track of your progress, have a system in place that can help you quantify such progress and work on your technique in order to expand the capacity for improvement.