How to Blast Through Training Plateaus and Regularly Set PRs

You can't expect a PR every time you enter the weight room, but this guide can help you continue to get stronger.

When you first start lifting, you can probably add weight to the bar almost every week. Personal records (PRs) come easy for awhile, and it's immensely satisfying. But as you get stronger and become an advanced lifting, PRs come less and less frequently.

Your first thought might be that your workouts aren't making you stronger or that you're doing something wrong.

But odds are that's not the case and you are just experiencing a natural progression into advanced training.

For example, when you first start Bench Pressing, you might be at 95 pounds. Maybe next week you could do 105 and then 115 the following week. If you made 10-pound jumps like this every week for a year, you would be benching over 600 pounds by the end of the year.

How many people you know have added 500 pounds to their bench (or any exercise) in one year? No one.

As you get stronger, PRs become less frequent and you must make smaller jumps. Adding as few as 5 pounds to a lift becomes a big deal.

With all that said, you still don't want to get stuck and plateau in a lift.

My aim is to help you past the blues that come once you pass the "newbie" stages of training. Here is the good news: If you do reach the point of plateauing, it means you are blessed with the mental fortitude to stick with training. Most people don't. It's fun the first few weeks and then the newness wears off and enthusiasm drops. Welcome to real-world training! This is the stuff that makes winners.

One day you will go to lift the bar and it won't come up. There are a few techniques you can try to squeeze out a few more "linear" gains; however, you have reached the end of your beginner's phase.

At this point, it's time to train like a grown-up to keep those personal records coming.

A discplined approach is ultimately far more effective than the commonly used "more is better" strategy. If you go that route, your lifting sessions just get worse and worse. Your body begins to feel weaker, muscles go flat, and in extreme cases they slough off hard-earned muscle and begin gaining fat.

You have to learn how to spread out your training to allow for a full recovery. During my time in a Division I strength and conditioning program, we only lifted three or four days per week most of the time. Our program was designed for 18- to 22-year-olds in college with exceptional genetics and recovery ability. The strongest people on the planet schedule their training carefully to include heavy and light sessions, and most weight train only three or four days per week.

Whatever you do, do not think that training more is the answer. The key is to understand that you must build up to get your new PR and then have a recovery period. This is key. You must understand that any training is a stress that must be recovered from. Only once you're fully recovered can an adaptation occur that will make you stronger and hence able to lift more weight.

If you deadlifted a limit 1-rep max of 750 pounds, that doesn't mean you can do it any time at the drop of a hat. Picture this: you're eating a late-night dinner at a restaurant and your buddy says to the waitress, "hey, my friend here can deadlift 750 pounds." The waitress says, "show me." Chances are if you loaded up a barbell to 750 pounds, you couldn't jump up from eating your nachos and make the pull.

As obvious as this sounds, many people cannot grasp the idea that they must train into their next PR once they pass on from their beginner stage. They think it should be like my first year of training, when I could add 5 pounds every session and make the lift. It is not that simple anymore. The time for recovery and adaptation becomes longer.

The solution is to plan for your new personal records. You must understand that just because you did something in the past doesn't mean you should go for broke every session to beat it. Let's say your top PR Squat is 500 pounds. You are no longer a beginner and cannot PR every workout. Start with a manageable weight that you can lift with ease. Then every week, add a sensible amount until you reach the point where you can do 505. Do 505 on your max test and then enter a recovery period.

After the recovery period, start with a manageable weight again and work your way back up to 510. Just repeat this process. As you get stronger, it becomes harder and harder to PR.

As you get more advanced, the time frame for your next PR will go from:

  • Session to session
  • Week to week
  • Month to month
  • Year to year (for the very strong)

I hope this clarifies what is to come for you. Embrace the changes, because  they all lead to a stronger you. Your program will have to be altered to accommodate your new training level. Partner up with an experienced strength and conditioning professional and he or she will set you on a winning path to new personal records.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock