Overcoming Plateaus in Weightlifting

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The truth about weightlifting is that can be extremely rewarding and unbelievably defeating. Often the defeating parts are more frequent than the rewarding parts. The love of these highs and competing in this sport keep us coming back to the gym to put in the hard work.

When you lift weights, you build lean muscle tissue which is more metabolically active than fat. You also increase your metabolism and burn more calories throughout the day. Want to move better? Strength training improves connective tissue—the ligaments and tendons that keep your body moving well on a regular basis. You can also expect to become a more accomplished overall athlete at any age. Finally, lifting weights builds confidence and makes athletes feel better about themselves …what a great way to manage stress in a healthy way!    

Let’s face it, there is almost nothing more satisfying than hitting a long-awaited PR. Add to that the amazing energy and positive vibes at enduraLAB, and you have a sport that you’ll stick with year after year.

Now that we’ve got you excited, it’s time to talk about the reality behind weightlifting. First, you aren’t different. Your process as a weightlifter will be the same.  

  • New Athletes (0-1 year) will progress quickly and more frequently. Sometimes progressing every week and putting up huge PRs at the end of cycles.

  • Beginners (1-2 years) will progress often with some ups and downs, but will likely put up PR’s every cycle in something.

  • Intermediates (2-4 years) will see a slowing down in progress, maybe a kilo or 2 per cycle. Maybe a bad cycle within the year where not much changes. This is when we must start digging into the mental side of the sport and start shifting focus, intent and really start dialing in smaller things (rest, volume, intensity, etc.).

  • Experienced Athletes (4+ years) will start needing to take everything seriously to see progress. Progress will come in the form of consistency and often not kilos. It’s not unusual to go a year without a PR. The athletes that can stick with it at this point are the ones that continue to advance in the sport. It’s now about dedication!

When times get hard…

The fact that you are not increasing your numbers does not mean that your training is worthless or that you are getting worse. You will learn in many more areas when you hit these points of your training, how to dial in new cues, techniques, diet, sleep, etc. Let’s look at some areas that you can control during these times.

5 tips for when you start to hit those plateaus or numbers take a dip:

  1. Sleep / Stress Management. Are you getting a minimum of 8-hours of sleep each night? Sleep is basically our bodies superpower. It has a large effect on recovery, performance and stress management, to name a few.

  2. Overtraining. When was the last time you took a couple of days off? Are you de-loading often enough? A constant state of being under recovered can drop your performance, increase muscle fatigue, slow down your speed and can trickle into mental focus. Recovery is just as important as training. Take it seriously and don’t compare your capacity to others. If you do best training three days a week then train three days a week. If you have to squat on a different day than your cleans, then do it. Just because one athlete can do something doesn’t mean you can or need to.

  3. Change your focus. Take the time to reduce the weight of your lifts and focus on improving technique and speed. Focus on addition unilateral training and work away some of the left and right leg imbalances. Focus on diet, sleep, recovery while just getting some training in. You’d be surprised what backing off or shifting your focus can do in the long run.  

  4. Check your body weight and diet. Are you underweight? Are you underfed? If you are constantly training hard and you are not fueling yourself then your training will suffer. This also goes for your bodyweight. Your body will do better with a little extra weight on it. I prefer athletes to train about 4-5-percent over competition weight in the beginning and middle of cycles to keep them capable of pushing the weights and refueling. Drop to 1-2 percent in the upcoming weeks of competition and then cut to make weight.

  5. Just train. Accept it as part of the training and be okay with letting your numbers dip for a while. Not that you shouldn’t focus on the above, but sometimes all the above is dialed in and the downward spiral still shows up. Let yourself pull back on the weights for a bit and eventually they will start creeping back up. It will happen. A good approach to this is to think in terms of 1kg at a time. Don’t make your typical 3-5-10kg jump. Take it 1kg at a time and they will add up.

Our most significant piece of advice for any weightlifter, regardless of skill level, is to not get discouraged. For more weightlifting tips, reach out to Coach Chris who manages the BlueWave Weightlifting Club at enduraLAB.