2 Proven Ways to Progress Through a Training Plateau

These two strategies are great for those who want to bust through a plateau and achieve new levels of strength.

For novice athletes wanting to get stronger, the strength training template required to apply overload is very straightforward: Each strength training session should involve lifting more weight than the previous session.

As long as recovery is good between sessions, training in this manner can occur for quite some time before the athlete experiences a plateau.

Although it may seem that a plateau is the result of the athlete getting weaker, it may actually be a sign of fatigue. A brief period of rest and reduced volume will allow the fatigue to dissipate. The result will be increased strength.

However, stronger and more experienced athletes who are lifting much greater weights are unable to increase the weight every time they train simply because they require a lot more time to recover following the application of overload.

Until their body has recovered, they will struggle to train with greater volumes and intensities. Attempting to prematurely increase the training stress will only fatigue the body further and delay recovery.

This means that following overload sessions, there must be a reduced training stress on the nervous system to allow it to recover properly.

Here are two strategies to bust through a training plateau.

Strategy 1: Daily Undulating Periodization

One way to plan your strength training is to change the exercise you emphasize for each session; the other 2 exercises can be rested or trained with lighter loads.

  • Heavy = >80% 1RM (most stressful to the nervous system)
  • Light = <80% 1RM (less stressful to the nervous system)

Note that "light" simply means there will be less stress placed on the nervous system, allowing the athlete to train without hampering recovery from the heavy sessions.

In this example, every training session has a dedicated "heavy" exercise with an accompanying 1 or 2 light exercises. Of course, the exercises can be variations of the ones listed above. For example the Front Squat could be performed in place of the Squat, and the Deadlift could be performed with the hex bar.

Alternatively, the exercises could vary across days. For example, you could perform Trap Bar Deadlifts on Monday, Romanian Deadlifts on Wednesday and the conventional Deadlift on Friday.

The "assistance exercises" session is an optional light/low stress session that enables trainees to hit muscles/movements they feel are important to bringing up strength in their main lifts.

Another way this style of training could be set up is to have a heavy day, a light day and a recovery day:

  • Heavy = >80% 1RM (most stressful to the nervous system)
  • Moderate = 70-80% 1RM (less stressful to the nervous system)
  • Light = 60-70% 1RM (least stressful to the nervous system)

This setup may work slightly better for someone who would struggle to lift heavy every single session; for example, someone suffering from a lot of life stress outside the gym and who would prefer a couple of easier days training during the week.

Strategy 2: High-Low

Another template that can be used is Charlie Francis's "High-Low" model, which was originally created for sprinters and is predominantly used by athletes who need to program their strength training around sports practice.

For an individual who also participates in a sport, high stress days can be placed on the same day as their sports training, allowing for optimal recovery on other days.

Closing words

The exact training volumes and intensities will vary among athletes, but should be based on strength levels, training experience, recovery and, most importantly, results.

Note that these are just two ways that an athlete can plan his or her training and are absolutely not the only ways to train with the intention of getting stronger. However, for ongoing strength gains, these are two great models that can be used by those who are interested in reaching new levels of strength.

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