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Fitness & Health

14th Jun 2018

Stuck in a rut at the gym? Here’s how to smash through a plateau

Take your training to the next level with this proven plan of action

Alex Roberts

Fewer things are as frustrating to your fitness as hitting a plateau. Bust through a rut and take your training to the next level with this proven plan of action

Progressive overload has stood for some time as the fundamental training principle – how the weights you lift gradually increase in difficulty so your body can adapt to the stimulus.

The truth in tracking your progress remains, whether you’re training to compete in Mr. Olympia, or just look your best on the beach this summer.

Unfortunately, progress is often not a one-way street – sooner or later you will grind to a halt. This is a natural process, though, and thankfully there are ways around it.

The dreaded plateau can strike at both muscle growth and fat loss. It’s a problem that can leave you frustrated with weeks of wasted time, money and effort.

What is a plateau?

Mark Coles is a physique coach, Scitec athlete and owner of M10 Fitness. He believes that hitting a plateau is a natural response to training, and knowing how to truly break them is the key to sustained results.

“Understanding a plateau is simple – the body has stopped responding to training, leading to stagnant strength gains, poor muscle growth and very slow fat loss. While there can be a host of reasons for hitting a plateau, such as poor diet, lack of variation, over-training, stress and poor sleep – very often the body actually needs something very intensive to shock it out of its comfort zone.”

Breaking through

One of the most effective methods for smashing through the rut you may be stuck in is using drop sets – a strategy you can easily implement into a highly effective 6-8 week workout plan ahead of hitting the beach this summer.

As Coles explains, in both the hardcore world of professional bodybuilding and the science lab – drop sets are an advanced technique proven to break through plateaus.

“Drop sets refer to the concept of performing a regular set of an exercise, such as an 8 rep set of bench presses, before rapidly reducing the load and repping-out to muscle failure. Research suggests they’re an effective way for gym-goers to trigger muscle growth and burn body fat.”

Have you hit a plateau? Here are the tell-tale signs:
Low protein intake
Insufficient calories
Impaired sleep
Poor recovery & over-training
Failing to change routine
Low testosterone
Lack of focus
Not tracking progress

Coles highly recommends taking a rest week (inclusive of plenty of sleep, a sports massage and optimal nutrition) to ensure your body is fresh for any new training plan.

“Whenever you start a new training plan, come into it fresh and start out at around 85% of what you have in the tank – this allows you to peak over the course of a few weeks, hit PB’s and milk a training phase for maximum gains. Once you plateau, typically after 6-8 weeks, back off again and switch-up your routine.”

Key combination

A favoured workout routine of Coles’ is based on a study combining creatine supplementation with a drop set plan, performed three times a week.

Although the trial lasted for 12 weeks, you are likely to get maximum benefits from a six-eight week version of the routine – or until the gains dry-up.

This research demonstrated that such an approach increases muscle mass and promotes fat loss.

It also suggests that the effects can be enhanced by the right supplementation, which is why Coles recommends creatine to help plow throw a plateau.

“Creatine is proven to increase rep volume, particularly in repetitive strength-endurance exercises such as drop sets.”

Drop set workout plan

The exercises:

  1. Squats
  2. Leg press
  3. Bench press
  4. Lat pulldown

The method:

  • Perform the session three times a week
  • Use 80% of your one rep max
  • Perform as many reps as possible
  • Immediately drop the weight to 30-50% of your one rep max and lift to failure again
  • Rest one to two minutes and perform a second set

Maintain this routine for six to eight weeks.

Now that winter’s over, the next few months are crucial if you’re aiming to look and feel great this summer. If you do hit a wall, delve into a drop set or two to quickly kick-start progress.

Read more on how weight training can improve your mental health