How to Break Out of a Training Rut
A training rut, also referred to as a plateau, is probably the most annoying and frustrating aspect of training that every regular exerciser or athlete has struggled with at one point or another. Nevertheless, there are many misconceptions when it comes to training plateaus. This article will discuss what a training plateau is, as well as give some insight into how to break through and keep progressing in your training program.
Steps To Overcome The Training Rut
First of all, it is important to establish that progress when it comes to exercise is usually slow and gradual. While true that people new to exercise usually make fast strength gains in their first four months of training, these improvements are mostly neural, not structural. Improvements in strength, speed, endurance etc. during the first four months of training are due to the individual becoming more proficient with the movement pattern and increased neural muscle stimulation from the brain. Nevertheless, nothing changes on your structural or cellular levels.
This concept is important to understand as many newcomers to exercise get discouraged due to doubling their strength, but seeing no improvements in the mirror. After this four month period, progress significantly slows down as the body is now growing and adapting on the cellular level. As an athlete becomes more advanced, the slower progress becomes. If you are adding five pounds to the bar per month, that is progress. A true plateau only occurs when all aspects of training has stopped for an extended period of time. This includes things such as, movement quality and volume, not just your one rep max or you best sprint time.
Progress in exercise (and in other aspects of life) is very rarely linear, meaning that growth usually does not occur on a consistent basis at a fixed rate. There will be periods of stagnant progress followed by periods of rapid growth. During periods of stagnant progress, it may be helpful to focus on another aspect of your training that will support you in your end goal. For example, a bodybuilder who has reached a plateau can change up his training to be geared towards strength.
Overtraining is one of the main causes of strength, size and cardiovascular plateaus. This can occur for several reasons including, trying to do too much during your training sessions, inadequate recovery between workouts, or not scheduling an active rest week (or a week of complete rest) into your training schedule. It is usually recommended to exercise performing full prescribed loads and volumes for two weeks followed by a rest week or active rest week in which loads and volumes are significantly reduced. This allows the body to recover systematically as a whole, thus allowing the body to adapt to training when exercise resumes (Boris, 2009).
Another important element to consider when trying to break a training plateau is the strengthening of synergist muscles (muscles that assist the prime mover), and stabilizer muscles. This usually applies to compound lifts as the chain is never stronger than its weakest link. For example, when trying to break a bench press plateau, one might want to look into performing isolated strengthening exercises for the triceps and rotator cuff muscles.
The last, but probably most important recommendation, is the concept of attitude. What does this mean exactly? In order to break a plateau you have to live with a sense of confidence that you can be a stronger, faster, healthier version of yourself. People could plateau due to identifying with a version of themselves that cannot get better. Even if you do everything right when it comes to your training, nutrition, and sleep, if you identify yourself as someone that that can only, for example, squat 200 pounds then you will only be able squat 200 pounds.
This is why coaches and personal trainers are so important. Sometimes you need someone that believes in you more than you believe in yourself by your side to empower you and reinforce that sense of power and confidence. Your mind, body, and emotions are connected both inside and out.
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By: Thomas Stuglik
Boris, J. (2009). The Art & Science of Personal Training . Toronto : CPTN.
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