How to Prevent Performance Plateaus and Slumps

May 14, 2013 | Jim Carpentier

London Olympics Women's Soccer

Humans are creatures of habit. There's something comforting and convenient about the everyday normal.

However, settling into a "comfort zone" does nothing to benefit athletes. Think about the NFL quarterback who stays in the pocket all game, never making adjustments until a charging lineman sends him scrambling. Similarly, if you perform the same workouts, drills and routine for too long, eventually you will either plateau or slump. (Ask the Experts: How Can I Break Through a Plateau?)

Slumps have a debilitating effect on performance. They can put you in a lonely, depressing place and impair every aspect of your game.

When your team is playing flat, it makes adjustments, devising new plays or schemes to change the momentum of the game. Below are some suggestions to help you "change it up" when you're down and out in a mental or physical slump.

On-the-Field Slumps

Benched by a string of poor game performances? Try these tips:

  • Consult your coach for help in making needed adjustments.
  • Spend extra practice time honing your skills to elevate your performance on game day.
  • Change your mindset to stay "in the zone" and avoid slumps.

Academic Slumps

If you study hard for an exam and get a C or, worse, a failing grade, it can cause frustration and moodiness, plunging you into a mental slump. Avoid it by:

  • Changing your study habits. For example, spend more time reviewing and underlining essential points in your classroom notes that are likely to appear on quizzes or exams.
  • Consulting with your teacher. Like going to your coach for advice and assistance in making technique adjustments, ask your teacher for ideas on how to improve your grades—e.g., more active classroom participation, volunteering to do assignments or projects for extra credit.

When Weight Training Becomes Routine

A mental slump in the weight room means you've plateaued and are no longer progressing in resistance or adding muscle. (Ask the Experts: Should I Perform the Same Exercises in Every Workout?) Some ways to stimulate workout growth include:

Reverse Pyramid System

After a few warm-up sets, the conventional weight training method is to increase resistance and decrease reps with each subsequent set, as in the following progression:

  • 60% RM x 12
  • 70% RM x 10
  • 80% RM x 6-8
  • 90% RM x 4

This approach is fine until you max out at the same weight in consecutive workouts. At that point, throw a curveball in your weight training by starting heavy and gradually reducing resistance, as in this progression:

  • 90% RM x 4
  • 80% RM x 6-8
  • 70% RM x 10
  • 60% RM x 12

Change Resistance Equipment Each Workout

Mix it up. Switch from free weights to cables to med balls to bodyweight exercises to invigorate your mind and body. Next workout, try throwing in:

Vary Your Rep Speed

  • Challenge muscles by reducing the weight (about 60% RM x 10) for two sets using a super slow method (lifting the weight in 10 seconds and lowering in 5 seconds).
  • Next two sets, perform explosive reps (80% RM x 8), lifting in one second and lowering in two seconds.

Endurance Training

Running around a track can get monotonous. Replace it with interval training, as in this progression:

  • Sprint 30 yards
  • Jog 10 yards
  • Sprint 20 yards
  • Jog 10 yards
  • Rest 30 seconds and repeat sequence

Change the Terrain

Instead of flat terrain training, run up and down the bleachers or up and down hills.

Jim Carpentier
- Jim Carpentier, CSCS, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, New Jersey-licensed massage therapist, and a health/fitness writer. He currently serves as Associate Health and...
Jim Carpentier
- Jim Carpentier, CSCS, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, New Jersey-licensed massage therapist, and a health/fitness writer. He currently serves as Associate Health and...
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