Building strength and avoiding plateaus

OnSide Academy
January 25, 2023

There’s no getting around the need for resistance training. Though there is a way to get around hitting plateaus in your fitness program.

Lifting is critical to maintaining physical health. It becomes even more important as we age.

One of the problems that many people run into when it comes to resistance training is the plateau. Progress stalls.

In this article we’re going to outline why plateaus happen and what you can do to avoid them.

Why Plateaus Happen in the gym.

Plateaus happen for many reasons. One of the primary reasons is that our body gets used to our training program faster than expected. Another reason can be because the training program isn’t addressing weaknesses that are holding you back.

If you’re always training the same movements, your body continues with the same movement patterns. Even if you’re increasing your weight or cycling a training phase, you need variety for many reasons AND you need to vary that variety!

Another common plateau happens when new people start working out for the first time. Even low-intensity exercise when you’re just getting started will bring great results. As your body catches on to your new routine though, your progress will slow.

The most common reasons plateaus happen

If you’re stuck and can’t move ahead right now, I can almost guarantee that one of the issues below is the reason why. Find a coach who can recognize and address these issues or pay close attention to your movements to figure out which one is holding you back.

Poor Movement Mechanics

This is the most common issue that people face. Not only does it increase your chances of slowing down your training, it also increases your chances for injury.

The reason poor movement mechanics will hold you back is because you’re asking your body to perform a movement in a way that is not efficient. It’s like driving around with your parking brake on in your car.

Your fuel mileage isn’t going to improve.

Your parts are wearing faster

Your brakes will fail and catch fire.

Training like this is making it harder on yourself.

Only training the same movement patterns

Using the same training program or always doing the same movements in your program is bound to slow your progress.

With each movement there are primary and secondary movers. If you’re always doing the same movement, most of the attention falls on the primary muscles. After a certain point your progress will stop because your secondary muscles are not allowing you to move forward – they are the weak link.

Introduce a variety of movements into your training program that compliment each other.

Work in training cycles

This can be a complicated one to get a handle on but every good training program is periodized to work through training cycles throughout the year.

Think of a rugby player. Off-season training should focus on getting bigger to enhance their capacity for strength. As they progress through the off-season, players would start to increase loading while decreasing reps to work on strength. As they get closer to their season they would focus on building their running capacity and speed/explosiveness to peak during play-offs. Once their season ends they would recover and prepare for the next year of training.

Periodization like this is a part of a good program. If you’re following the newest instagram celebrity endorsed trendy workout program then there’s a good chance there is no periodization involved. You might have success in the early days with a program like this but after a cycle or two, you’ll be back at square one.

If you’d like to learn more about how our program is periodized throughout the year, get in touch with us.

How you can avoid plateaus

Avoiding plateaus for someone who’s very new to exercise is extremely easy.

For someone who’s experienced and has potentially built some bad habits, it become tedious.

This is what everyone’s progression should look like in mastering a movement or simply building strength:

  • Prioritize perfect quality movement. Don’t worry about keeping up with people around you, don’t worry about increasing your weight. Focus on perfecting the movement. With each degree of imperfect movement, it becomes less efficient.
  • Develop endurance in both the movements and your energy system. To be able to progress further, you need the endurance to be able to add repetitions. You could be as strong as an ox but if you can’t perform a handful of reps at a lighter weight then you’re not going to be able to effective build maximal strength.
  • Don’t skip the accessory and core work. If you’re trying to get stronger by weightlifting and you aren’t paying attention to core accessory work, you’re asking for trouble!
  • Build maximal strength in cycles. Maximal strength is built by doing low repetition and high loading (without sacrificing movement mechanics).
  • Work in cycles. for example, if you just finished a maximal strength cycle, an endurance cycle is probably a great choice.

How We Do It at OnSide

At OnSide, we have a program that is specifically design to help people avoid plateaus if followed correctly. Each month is a different cycle for both the movement priority (squat, pull-up, press, etc) and the energy system priority (max strength, endurance, etc.). We also follow a training cycle for primary movements and regularly incorporate accessory work. Having a coach to help you manage this stuff is also very helpful if you’re wondering if your movement mechanics are sound.

Hitting a plateau in strength training can be frustrating, but it is possible to avoid them. By understanding why plateaus happen and implementing the strategies mentioned here, you can avoid plateaus.

Are you ready to make a change?

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