How do I Stop a Plateau?

It is one of the most frustrating things in the world to feel as if you are stuck at a certain point in athletics; when you can’t improve upon a race time, your vertical jump height doesn’t increase, or you’re not able to add more weight to your back squat.  This phenomenon is commonly referred to as a plateau, and a suggestion that has frequently surfaced to remedy the situation is a “never-do-the-same-workout-twice” strategy.  This strategy, often called “muscle confusion,” involves doing many different types of training to keep your body guessing and “confuse” your muscles into continued growth.  What people who follow this type of training often fail to realize is that our muscles receive orders from the brain and are not independent structures that become bored and stop producing results after a few weeks.  We have to be smart with our training, the stressors on our body, and the stimuli that we send to our muscles.  If we are constantly switching things up in a weight training program, our bodies will not have time to adapt and improve.  So, how do we prevent a decline in performance?  How long should we actually be performing exercises before we switch things up?  If you have ever wondered about plateaus, here are a few ways to make sure that you are maximizing your training and seeing results consistently over time.

Work with a Certified Strength & Conditioning Coach

One of the biggest benefits of a proper strength & conditioning facility is that you have a coach who programs based on your individual needs.  This should involve periodized strength & conditioning programming that involves a build without plateau, peaks for when you need them, and monitoring/adjustment of programming as needed.  Knowing which exercises to perform, how many sets and reps you should do, and how often these variables should change is extremely important in training.  Because of the importance and complexity involved in strength & conditioning programming, having a qualified professional to guide you is imperative to long-term athletic success.

Become great at the basics

You do not need as much variety in training as you think.  If you consider how you train in sport, it involves repeating the important skills over and over again in practice to perfect your technique.   To a certain extent, this same concept needs to be applied in strength training.  Your body must learn to efficiently and safely move through basic movement patterns: squat, lunge, hinge, push, pull, and rotate.  There are many different variations of exercises that fall into these basic categories, but it is important to master the basics and allow adaptations to occur before progressing to a more complex version of an exercise.  You need a solid foundation for sport, and your exercises in the weight room should be selected based on function and usefulness to you as an individual, and not on the complexity or attractiveness of the movement.

Protect your body from injury

Training should be pain-free and should include movements that help protect against future injury.   This includes: performing a warm-up that will prepare you for movement and is specific to your movement deficiencies, including soft-tissue work into your daily routine, ensuring that areas of the body that are supposed to be mobile are, ensuring that areas of the body that are supposed to be stabile are, etc.  Your Certified Strength & Conditioning Coach will help you identify where the “leaks” in your system are and prescribe movement patterns that will increase your efficiency as an athlete and prepare you for the demands of life and sport.  Preparedness is the key to injury prevention!

Train as an individual

Not everyone should be doing the same warm-up or strength training exercises, just like not every athlete will need to work on the same sport skill for the same amount of time as everyone else on the team.  Your body is unique, your training needs are different, and what works for someone else will not necessarily work for you.  For these reasons, it is important to listen to your body, perform the exercises that work for your anatomy and training needs, and learn what works to make YOU better.  The movements you perform do not need to rigidly follow a universal model of training or even be “sport-specific.”  They must be specific to you and need to be intentionally placed within your programming.  Within the confines of energy, time, etc., it is important to be intentional with training to optimize opportunity for improvement.

Rest, eat properly, and hydrate

Maximizing your athletic potential involves making smart decisions both on and off the field/court/etc.  You need to make sure that you’re drinking enough water, fueling your body with the proper nutrition, and sleeping/resting enough.  While some may struggle with consistency and drive, others find themselves losing momentum because they are doing too much.  Non-stop training, or training that isn’t done well, will eventually wear on you regardless of how accomplished you feel.  Not only will you feel the physical effects of overtraining, but the mental effects as well.  It is important to establish healthy habits early to set yourself up for success.  The sooner you start, the sooner you will be able to reap the benefits.

In conclusion, “muscle confusion,” is not the answer to avoiding plateau.  It is possible for your improvement to waver, but it is NOT possible to confuse your muscles into avoiding the drop.  Your body will need to slow down or stop during your athletic career, but there are steps you can take to manage your health and prevent a decline in performance.  Focus on the things that you can control and reach out to qualified professionals for the answers that you don’t have.  Have you experienced a plateau before?  Are you wondering what you can do to try to prevent one?  Contact us and let us know how we can help!

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