Bucking The Trend: Break Your Plateau!

During a recent training rut, I spent time pondering over why I wasn't progressing. Find out how I broke my plateau...
Abbreviated training can be a fickle thing. Just when you think you have your training blueprint perfect, your gains dry up.

Life will always find a way of throwing challenges into your path. The beauty of it is found in sidestepping, ducking and clambering over these challenges, so that, at the end of the obstacle course, you're able to look back and reflect with satisfaction that, when you put your mind to it, the obstacles weren't insurmountable after all.

If that seems a little deep, that's my intention. When one is truly dedicated to training, and striving for progress -- at times to the detriment of a balanced lifestyle -- and that progress dries up, life can seem bleak. Thus, it's essential to maintain a healthy perspective, to view the challenges objectively, and devise the most appropriate solutions.

During a recent training rut, I spent time pondering over why I wasn't progressing, and what I could do differently in order to make progress once again. I had been training in a common, abbreviated style, twice a week, and splitting bodyparts so that I trained my whole body once over the course of each week.

My OLD Routine

Click here for a printable log of Thursday.

Only work sets have been listed. Warm-up sets would be additional.

My diet was good, and recuperation was fair, although there was room for improvement in both of these areas.

This is a balanced program, and it had served me well; but I had grown stale. Something had to be done.

If you're anything like me, and probably the vast majority of the rest of the Western world, a virtue you lack is patience. Today, where quick fixes are promoted for almost everything you can imagine, patience is probably the one thing that we could all use more of.

On balance, though, I decided that patience was overrated. I was going to take the bovine that is my training, firmly by the horns, and ride it like it had never been ridden before.

What Is Principle Training?

I took a principle of abbreviated training -- small progression on a weekly basis -- and decided to double it. If I could add half a kilo to my bench press, and a kilo to my squat, on a weekly basis by training each bodypart once a week, what would happen, I wondered, if I were able to train my entire body twice a week?

    FYI: 1 pound is equal to 0.453592 kilogram.

This, I calculated in excitement, would lead me to an increase of 52 kilos on my squat over six months instead of 26, and 26 kilos on my bench press instead of 13! This, I reasoned, would increase my muscular gains, and might be just what I needed to reignite my passion.

Wide Grip

Close Grip

Perfect Grip

Using different variations can help break plateaus...

I would have to be careful, however. Overtraining would be a risk on a routine like this, and keeping tabs of the first signs of it was essential. But, what if I could get it right? The adrenaline coursed through my veins merely at the prospect!

I set to work at devising a new program. I decided to train my entire body twice a week, focusing on compound movements, and targeting a small progression at EVERY workout.

My NEW Routine

My new program looked like this:


    1. Squat: 1 x 20
    2. Bench press: 1 x 8
    3. Deadlift: 1 x 15
    4. Chin: 2 x failure
    5. Bent-over row: 1 x 8

    Click here for a printable log of Monday.


    1. Squat: 1 x 20
    2. Bench press: 1 x 8
    3. Deadlift: 1 x 15
    4. Parallel bar dip: 1 x 8
    5. Chin: 2 x failure
    6. Bent-over row: 1 x 8
    7. Seated press: 1 x 8
    8. Seated dumbbell curl: 1 x 8
    9. Crunch: 1 x failure

Click here for a printable log of Thursday.

Only work sets have been listed. Warm-up sets would be additional.

What I Changed...

As you can see, the workouts aren't identical. The imbalance reflects the additional time I had available on Thursdays. Monday's session would take between 30 and 45 minutes, and Thursday's about an hour.

I was initially concerned that I would not be able to recover between workouts. For someone who had followed the teachings of traditional, abbreviated training with an evangelical fervor, the new approach was radical.

But, I reasoned to myself, if I were able to address my recovery efficiently, then the holy grail could be mine!

I took a week off from all training, to stave off any symptoms of overtraining I may have been suffering from. The next week, I began in earnest.

I cut my weights back by about 10%, to give myself a run in before attempting to break new ground. I aimed to build this 10% up in increments of 2.5% per workout, which normally would have taken four weeks had I been training each bodypart once a week. The beauty of getting there in half the time, was not lost on me.

The real challenge would be in how my body would handle the workload when trying to break new ground. It wouldn't be long before I found out.

For the biggest exercises, my poundages were as follows:

  • Squat: 287 pounds x 20 (parallel)
  • Bench press: 287 x 5
  • Deadlift: 341 pounds x 15

I was stronger a few years ago, but was also considerably heavier, at the expense of leanness, and cardiovascular conditioning.

I had already invested in some small discs, so I planned to add weight in small increments. There needed to be delicate management of progress.

Over the next four weeks, by virtue of adding two pounds to the bar each time I squatted, I achieved a total gain of 16 pounds to my squat. My bench press had increased by four pounds (half a pound per workout), and the crowning glory was my deadlift -- a 20-pound increase (2.5 pounds per workout). I was delighted.

My bodyweight had increased by two pounds, but my bodyfat remained constant.

I feel it's important to add some caveats. This was a good period of growth over a short period. It was facilitated by dint of my absolute focus on every aspect of recovery, in and out of the gym.

I slept for ten hours every night without fail. I increased my daily caloric intake by 200 to 500. I drank three liters of water every day. My training technique was textbook perfect. If even one small factor had been missing, then not only might I not have seen the gains that I did, the consequences could have been disastrous -- at best overtraining, at worst a nasty injury.

My diet consisted of plenty of protein. I was eating ten eggs daily, although only four yolks, plus lots of milk, salmon, sardines, and steak.

The revised program worked for me because I planned it with precision. But it only worked over a short period of time. It will NOT work indefinitely UNLESS you have genetics something akin to a super hero's.

By way of illustrating this point, let me explain what happened next. In the fifth week, my gains dried up. No matter how hard I tried, or how motivated I was, as soon as I added weight to the bar, I had to drop a rep or two.

What Am I Not Making Gains?

Everything else was still perfect: ten hours sleep each night, calories galore, lots of water, immaculate form... but no gains.

I suspected that this was the end of the cycle, but, to confirm my suspicions, I continued on the program into the sixth week. This time, though, just to eke out any last-gasp gains, I endeavored to sleep up to eleven hours a night, and gobbled an additional 500 calories a day.

If there was anything left in the program, I was sure to find it, or so I thought. I was disappointed. In the sixth week, my reps dropped further. Not only had my progress stagnated, I was REGRESSING -- an undeniable wake-up call that I was OVERTRAINING.

Without delay, I took a week off, and relaxed. During this time, I looked at what I had achieved, and ruminated over the conclusions I had reached.

Everyone is different, with varying degrees of genetic potential. But, without fail, we all have our limit beyond which our bodies will not allow us to go.

How Often Do You Change Your Workout Routine?
    Every Week
    Every Other Week
    Once A Month
    Once Every 12 Weeks
    Once A Year


The training I implemented was intensive, and beneficial for a limited time. For me, that period of time was four weeks before I experienced symptoms of overtraining. This was in conjunction with EXCEPTIONAL dedication to all the factors of recovery. Had they not been in place, this short cycle would have been shorter still.

This type of training worked as a short-term kick, and resulted in some good gains. But, it's important to remember that this type of training isn't for everyone; and for the long term, I believe it's not for anyone.

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