Five Ways to Keep Progressing and Avoid Training Plateaus
Your training was moving along quite well, but recently your weight room numbers have stayed the same—or even gone down. You feel sluggish and just don't feel like working out.
You've hit a plateau.
Or, you are actually overtrained. Many top athletes face this problem. Overtraining syndrome has many symptoms, including:
• Fatigue and lack of energy
• Mild leg soreness
• Pain in muscles and joints
• Sudden drop in performance
• Lack of performance gains
• Inability to sleep
• Decreased immunity [more colds and flu]
• Reduction in training capacity/intensity
• Loss of enthusiasm for the sport
• Increased incidence of injury
So, how do you avoid plateaus that negatively affect your training performance?
Any good training plan includes periods of rest. Athletes want to train the entire year, but doing so will hinder your performance.
Without a plan, you probably hit the gym right after the season ends. But by doing so, you risk hurting your performance for the upcoming year. Planning ahead means giving yourself recovery weeks in the post-season—to let your body heal and recharge for the next season.
Regress Your Training
Regression means going down a level—basically making an exercise slightly easier for a short period of time. This lets your body recover without an interruption in training. I regress my athletes' training for one week every three to four weeks during their training cycle.
By performing the right exercises and setting up a training cycle, you can have regression that leads to progression.
Try the following ways to regress your training:
• Go from dynamic to static exercises [e.g., if your core training normally involves movement, change to isometric holds like Planks or Bridge Holds]
• Move from a weighted exercise to bodyweight [e.g., substitute Push-Ups for the Bench Press]
• Go from a larger base of support to a smaller one [e.g., instead of a normal Squat, do a Split Squat, which targets different areas and challenges you in new ways]
To regress during a training cycle, try:
• Decreasing the total pounds lifted
• Performing sets of higher reps with less weight/resistance
• Decreasing the number of training sessions [train just two days a week instead of three or four]
• Changing the physical location of your training [this is my favorite tip, because if you always train in the same environment with the same people, your workouts can get stale. A new environment will refresh you]
Change Your Training Focus
Switch up your training focus throughout the year. If you always work to gain more muscle mass, your body will adapt to the training and stall out.
Concentrate on conditioning for a few weeks, then muscle endurance, strength, power, etc. Adding a variety of exercises that work all aspects of your training will help you retain past gains. You don't want to be super strong but not conditioned enough to make it through a whole game!
By changing your focus every four to six weeks, you will be refreshed and look forward to the next phase of your development.
To make sure my athletes stay healthy, I have them foam roll and stretch during every training session.
Foam rolling is essentially a form of self-myofascial release [self-massage], where scar tissue and adhesions developed through training are broken down. Major muscle groups like the quads, hamstrings and pecs can be rolled; but also roll areas like the thoracic spine and iliotibial band, where connective tissue can develop adhesions and scar tissue.
Scars inhibit the muscles from performing at their highest level. Rolling requires more than one application to make a difference, but over time, it can help prevent overtraining.
Get More Sleep
This is the most important tip to prevent overtraining. GET MORE SLEEP. [It really can be that simple.] Your body does the majority of its recovery work during the sleep cycle, repairing and preparing muscles for the next day's training. If you get less than eight hours of sleep a night, you are going to hit a plateau sooner rather than later.
Follow those five simple steps, and you will have no problem avoiding the dreaded plateau, which can haunt even the greatest athletes.
Wil Fleming is the owner of Force Fitness in Bloomington, Ind. During the past two years, he has helped more than 15 athletes go on to play Division I athletics. He is the author of the speed and agility portion of the soon-to-be released Essentials of High School Strength and Conditioning. Prior to his career as an athletic performance coach, Fleming was an All-American athlete at Indiana University and a competitor in the 2008 Olympic Trials for track and field.