- Training plateaus occur when you’re working hard in the gym but not seeing much progress.
- To restart your gains, an expert recommends paying attention to good form and recovery.
- Then, make sure you’re sticking to a good program and focusing your goals for best results.
A training plateau, in which your progress slows or stops entirely, can happen regardless of your level of fitness. It can be more common after the first 6 months to a year of exercise as you move past the “newbie gains” phase of fast strength and muscle gains.
While few things are more frustrating than spending hours in the gym and seeing your hard-earned gains dwindle, some simple tweaks to your routine can kick start your efforts.
To get your gains back on track, an expert powerlifter recommends sticking to a program, challenging yourself, paying attention to your body, and setting specific goals.
Prioritize basics like good form and proper recovery
If your workouts aren’t working, you may not be giving your body the right support it needs to build muscle, Chris Duffin, a world record-holding powerlifter and co-founder of Kabuki Strength, told Insider.
Some common strength-training mistakes include not eating enough and not sleeping enough, both of which can prevent your muscles from recovering and growing after a workout.
Then, check in with your form to make sure you’re doing exercises correctly. If your form is poor, you risk injuring yourself and make the exercise less effective, Duffin said. In contrast, excellent form can help you do more work and see greater benefits.
“The better the quality of movement, the more intensity, volume, and frequency we can tolerate and recover from,” he said.
Add the right amount of intensity
Strength training works by putting stress on your muscles, prompting your body to adapt by building more muscle tissue and getting stronger. If you stick to the same routine with the same weights and sets, you’ll notice it will get easier, but you’ll make fewer gains week after week.
To keep improving, it’s important to challenge yourself over time, a foundational concept in fitness called progressive overload.
“You need to increase the intensity and volume to get results,” Duffin said.
Still, too much intensity can hurt your progress too, so gradually upping your weight and/or how much exercise you do is best to prevent over training, he said.
Duffin recommends an increase of about 10-15% over a period of four to six weeks.
For example, if your initial routine for deadlifts is four sets of 10 reps at 100 pounds, you might gradually move up to four sets of 10 reps at 110 pounds.
Commit to a program
It’s a misconception that you need to change up your workouts or program dramatically to cause “muscle confusion” and keep making gains.
A better way to make progress is to stick to one program for six to nine months, according to Duffin. Ideally, choose a program that will build on skills over time, and then be patient enough to see it through.
“People will try an approach for a month and then hop to the next thing. That’s the biggest mistake I made early on, and the mistake most people make,” he said. “You can’t find what works or doesn’t by bouncing around.”
Focus on a specific goal
Finally, the best way to supercharge your progress in the gym is to prioritize what you want to achieve, rather than trying to do it all, Duffin said.
“You can’t expect everything to get better at once,” he said.
Targeting one muscle group, like your shoulders or glutes, to train twice a week can boost your progress more than general, full body workouts, Duffin said. Then, as you begin to see gains in that area, you can shift your focus to another target, and repeat for cycles of about six weeks.