Overcoming plateaus and setbacks on your fitness journey can be challenging. Whether you’re experiencing bad workouts, struggling with an injury, or trying to decide if you’re too sick to work out, staying consistent despite the setbacks takes determination. It also takes practice recognizing what is a plateau and what is just part of the ebb and flow of serious training.
Lucky for you, we know you’re determined. So we broke down exactly how you can start overcoming plateaus and start seeing results again.
Let’s get into it.
Having a bad workout is part of the deal with taking training seriously and being an athlete. The longer you train, the more frequent those mediocre and bad sessions become. “Bad” can be defined in various ways but for the sake of this modification, we are going to use it to describe drastically decreased biofeedback markers like strength, energy, preparation, focus, mind-muscle connection, etc. Once it is determined that a modification needs to be made based on poor biofeedback, we recommend attempting to isolate the variable that is the greatest contributor and reducing the demand for it within the session. This should be an absolute last resort. Exhaust all other resources and efforts before having to modify based on a bad workout. This is NOT an excuse to leave the gym out of frustration. Remember, overcoming plateaus requires you to value determination over motivation.
Example 1: You only had 3 hours of sleep the previous night and little food before your session, so your energy is very low. You attempt to work around this by acutely (single session) reducing the set volume to ensure the work you are able to do is as productive as possible.
Example 2: You are in a caloric deficit and just had a large macro drop so your strength is taking a hit. You attempt to work around this by acutely (single session) reducing the relative load you are using, so that we can more easily get the prescribed volume in without exceeding the prescribed proximity to failure.
Injuries are a frustrating occurrence – especially when you are working on overcoming plateaus. But acute injuries, such as muscle strains, are less likely than you might think, and catastrophic weight room injuries are very rare. You can avoid the vast majority of injuries, aches, and pains by lifting with good technique and adhering to a planned progression of effort and load. If you do sustain an injury, or flare up an old one, is important to note two things:
- Muscles heal relatively quickly, and you will regain all of your old size / strength (and then some) as soon as you get back to training at full capacity.
- Injuries will rarely require you to filly stop training. Training through an injury is reckless, but there is almost always a way to train around it. You may even be able to perform the same movement that you, albeit a modified load, tempo, and range of motion
No matter how proactive we are, eventually we all succumb to some illness, virus, or “bug.” Severity and infectiousness will dictate your ability to train, but it is almost always better to stay home until you have recovered instead of trying to train through it and potentially make yourself sicker and / or infect others.
Symptoms that should deter you from training:
- Severe muscle spasms
- Severe migraines
- Body aches / chills
Symptoms that can be trained through in moderation:
- Sinus issues due to allergies
Consistently Poor Biofeedback
If you have multiple poor performance in a row, say a whole week or two of workouts where you feel fatigued or overly sore, then something probably needs to be changed. You may need a week or two of lighter training (refer to Deloading) or reduce your workload so you can recover better. One bad workout is not a cause for concern, especially when one of the usual suspects is acute poor sleep, missed meals, or an especially stressful day. As we have emphasized, improving your physique and performance is a long-term process, and any one session means little in comparison to months of consistency and hard work.
Just as one bad workout means little in the grand scheme of things, missing one workout will not set you back. If it happens, be transparent with your coach, if you have one! They may keep the rest of the week’s workouts exactly the same, or they may adjust the schedule so you can still in some of the important work from the day you missed. If missing workouts becomes a common occurrence, it would then be necessary to make a change. Fewer weekly workouts, completed consistently, will always beat a sporadic schedule. Your coach will be designing your program with a specific progression (refer to Progression Models), so if you see your schedule becoming more unpredictable, just let them know and make adjustments.
Stalled Progress (it’s not a plateau!)
What people often think of as “plateaus” are more often the result of unmet expectations of rapid progress. There may be times when your performance or physical appearance seems to change rapidly, but by and large, gaining strength is a long-term process. Growing new muscle tissue is even slower. Fat loss can happen relatively quickly, but even then, the scale and mirror may not always reflect that progress on a daily basis. If you feel that your progress has stalled for a few weeks, let your coach know! They may be able to point out plenty of areas where you have made progress; but if need be, they can also make necessary adjustments to your training program or diet.