Overcoming Plateaus in Weightlifting
Updated: Jul 2, 2019
Weightlifting is one of the most rewarding and defeating things I have ever done. Often the defeating parts are more frequent than the rewarding parts. The love for the highs and playing the sport keeps us coming back to the gym to put in the work for those great moments in a lift or in a meet.
First, reality. You aren’t different. Your process will be the same as everyone else's that have played this sport and will eventually play this sport.
- New Athletes (0-1yr) will progress a lot and often. Sometimes progressing every week and putting up huge PRs at the end of cycles.
- Beginners (1-2yrs) will progress often with some ups and downs but will likely put up PR’s every cycle in something.
- Intermediates (2-4yrs) 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 have to 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 into some areas that you can control during these times.
Here are 5 tips for when you start to hit those plateaus or numbers take a dip for a while:
1) Sleep / Stress Management - Are you getting a minimum of 8hrs of sleep each night? Sleep is basically our bodies superpower. This has a large effect on recovery, performance, stress management, and more. Practice your Sleep (more on that in a later post).
2) Overtraining - When was the last time you took a couple of days off? Are you deloading often enough? Are you sticking to the prescribed percentages or RPE? A constant state of being under recovered can drop your performance, increase achiness, 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 3 days a week then train 3 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 drop down to 70-80% lifts for a while and focus on fixing some technical issues or getting faster. Focus on addition unilateral training and work away some of the left and right leg imbalances. Try to get really good at a specific number, as in, “I’m going to snatch 90kg until it feels as sharp as 60kg.” Focus on diet, sleep, recovery while just getting some training in. You’d be surprised what backing off or shifting your focus can result in 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 you will definitely 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% over competition weight in the beginning and middle of cycles to keep them capable of pushing the weights and refueling. Drop to 1-2% 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.
Don’t get too discouraged. Keep in mind that percentages between 75-85% have been shown to have some of the largest transfer over to your 1RM. So it's okay if that is all you are hitting right now. Also, studies show that your strength can fluctuate up to 18% on any given day. So we might have 85% scheduled but your body feels 103% on the bar. It happens. You aren’t getting worse. You are just being an athlete. Keep at it. You will get past it and you will get better.
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