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“Workout Plateaus”: How to REALLY break them

Are you getting a little tired of the oft-repeated generic advice for dealing with “workout plateaus?” More importantly, has such advice fallen short in getting your ‘physique improvement’ efforts off and running again? If so, you’ll want to keep reading this entry on workout plateaus and how to break them; it definitely won’t fall into the category of your average advice.

And what is the generic advice we keep hearing? Well… it usually sounds like the following:

“Change your workout routine because your body has adapted to what you’re doing.”

If there’s anything that could sound more ambiguously worthless than that, I can’t imagine it.

I’ll be frank: For the idiotic statement above to possess any value, it needs a lot more specificity. So… that’s where we’ll start in our quest to conquer ‘workout plateaus.’

‘Workout Plateaus’: First… Define the Problem

There are a number of ways a fitness enthusiast/bodybuilder can hit a progress plateau. Therefore, it’s important to first define what type of workout plateau you’re dealing with before rushing to a remedy that doesn’t fit the problem. This is theoretically obvious while not often practiced. Many trainees unnecessarily change too many elements of their routines when what was really needed was just a little tweaking.


Barbell Squats 
‘Workout plateaus’ are often caused by overtraining rather than simple bodily or muscular adaptation to the workout stimulus.


For example, let’s say you’ve determined that your plateau is one of stalled muscle building progress. Everything else is going well; your eating habits are clean and allowing body fat removal; your cardio health is improving with lower heart-rate numbers during and after cardio workouts… etc. But you’re busting your butt to build muscle and it’s just not happening.

Should you change your routine? Maybe… but probably not everything about it; what part should you change and what part should you keep? Should you change the exercises… the exercise sequence… the number of exercises… the sequence of muscle groups worked?

Many fitness trainers simply have their clients switch around exercises or change to an entirely new routine. Out of indolence or plain ignorance, they advocate this same “remedy” to any willing ears that will listen. “Just change your routine”, they’ll say. “You’ll shock your body with something new.”

But what if all your muscles needed was one more rest day between workouts in order to resume making gains with the routine you’ve been using? Worse, what if you go ahead and change your workout exercises while keeping the same overall workload and not adding that needed recuperation day? Now there’s a good chance you’ll be using a new routine with that same number of “off-days” that’s been causing overtraining. Hence, you could easily end up with a new workout routine accompanied by a new plateau.

This occurs frequently and is a big waste of time. However, the personal trainer in these situations can appear inculpable because there’s a delay between when a new routine is adopted and the realization that a workout plateau due to inadequate recuperation is still present.

A better approach is to first identify exactly what of the different types of ‘workout plateaus’ you might have hit: Muscle building, strength gaining, fat loss, cardio/aerobic… etc. Then, apply subtle changes to that particular area of your physique improvement endeavors – starting with the most likely causes of workout plateaus.

‘Workout Plateaus’: The often-ignored causes

I’ve noticed that there’s an almost “auto-reactive” response to workout plateaus that assumes the cause is likely to be ‘bodily adaptation’ to the present workout routine. While this might be the case, it’s often not. Here is a short list of often-ignored causes of workout plateaus that should be explored before changing to a new routine:

  • Overtraining: (Inverse is “under-recuperating” for the demands being put on the muscles/body). 
  • Under-training: Not training with enough ‘intensity of effort’ to induce muscle hypertrophy and/or cardiovascular strength. 
  • Absence of Workout Structure: Keeping absolutely no record of progress; thinking that just “winging it” during workouts will lead to muscle/fitness gains. 
  • Lack of Focus: On targeted objectives during workouts and on measures that improve recuperation (such as good eating habits) between workouts.

The first two bullets are often (but not always) effects brought on by the second two bullets as causes. Either overtraining or under-training can be brought about by ‘lack of focus’ caused by the ‘absence of workout structure.’ And although the first two reasons for workout plateaus can occur without the second two being the cause – the second two causes will eventually lead to an inevitable outcome of the first two as effects.

That might sound confusing at first. However, logic needs to be applied to bodybuilding and fitness as much as anything else in order for positive outcomes to ensue.

If you’ve been plagued by workout plateaus, I urge you to first analyze your workouts within the context of these four bullets. Then do an honest assessment of feedback to determine what the likely cause is of your current setback.

If you’d like to test out the best routine for getting back on track, try out Hardbody Success.

Otherwise, just make sure your changes are subtle and you respond to the feedback accurately. If not, a major routine change could mask the fact that you’re still in the realm of workout plateaus that are merely hidden by constantly changing workout protocols.


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