Top 10 Ways to Push Off a Training Plateau

Participants in a Back 2 Basics course perform body-weight exercises.
Participants in a Back 2 Basics course perform body-weight exercises at Langley Air Force Base, Va., Jan. 8, 2015. (Senior Airman Kayla Newman/U.S. Air Force photo)

No matter how fit you are, you have experienced some sort of training plateau or slump. Regardless of the plateau, there are methods to get you moving in the right direction again. The answer to progressing toward your fitness and health goals often is to build a new habit and to drop a bad one that might be preventing you from success.

Here is a list of 10 methods that work for varying types of plateaus we all have encountered at some point in our training life:

The first group is the non-training people stuck at not being able to get in workouts regularly.

1. Treat yourself like a beginner: Get moving by walking. If you have not trained in a long period and time and are seeking to get started again (or for the first time ever), start with baby steps. Walk 5-10 minutes after every meal. Walk somewhere you normally would drive (if within reason). Walk your dog more often. Just get out and walk. Then drink water. Lots of water throughout the day will help you hydrate as well as curb hunger and snacking between meals.

2 and 3. Weight-loss plateau: Change things in the gym and the kitchen. If you are stuck and no longer losing weight at the rate you once were, it can become demoralizing. Consider this: Your body is getting used to you at this "new" weight. So if you have lost 40 pounds and are stuck for a month with minimal loss and no gaining, your body is saying, "OK, I can be 40 pounds lighter."

The trick is to change something you have been doing, either in the kitchen or the fitness center. Add another form of cardio to your walking program. Maybe pick it up a notch and try jogging for 1-2 minutes and walking in intervals of 1-2 minutes during your walks. Maybe you need to focus more on your diet again, add fruits and vegetables high in fiber and stay away from processed sugars. Maybe take away that cheat day for a few weeks and see what happens. Regardless, the goal is to make a change when you see things are at a standstill.

For the remainder of the list, the focus will be on those who already train, but are having issues with seeing performance results:

4. Take a Mobility Day Off: Maybe you have been overdoing it for a few weeks, missing out on sleep, not eating well and generally having a few recent bad days in the gym. Take a rest day and loosen things up.

5. Sign up for a race: Sometimes, even the most disciplined people need a reason to train. Signing up for a triathlon, 10-kilometer run, an obstacle course race or other event will be just the thing to get you to the gym with a training focus and goal. The answer sometimes is a simple "refocus" event.

6. Change things up: People often are creatures of habit. We eat the same things each week. We do the same workouts Monday, Wednesday and Friday, week after week. The body and the mind need variety, and a change in stimulus can be just the trick to boost you off the plateau.

7. For the powerlifter: If you are stuck at a weight for a 1RM (one rep max) for competition or your own satisfaction, try a few things. One, consider a few days off from heavy lifting. I found I always came back stronger after 2-3 days of not lifting heavy. Maybe mix in a few days of mobility training and light cardio.

Two, try a few days of doing negative lifts at the end of your sets after you fail. Do a few negative lifts (with a spotter) at the weight you have been unable to get as the peak of your workout that day. Sometimes, getting the body to feel the weight will do the trick.

8. Stuck on pull-ups: If you are doing your first pull-up ever or stuck at 20 and trying to get 25, the methods are a bit different. The first pull-up you ever do is a strength exercise, and the 20th pull-up you do is an endurance/muscle stamina exercise. Since the pull-up is the "heavy weightlifting" of calisthenics, follow the directions of the powerlifter above. (1) Take a few days off from pull-ups, and, (2) Try negative pull-ups or weighted pull-ups for a few sets each week.

9. Stuck at the same running pace: If you are trying to get faster for your timed runs, try changing up your workouts from longer-distance running to shorter, higher-speed interval running. Every other day, do a faster than goal pace running (near sprint pace) workout of shorter distances, like a quarter- or half-mile intervals, for the same or double your timed run distance.

10. Sometimes plateaus are mental:  Don't look at plateaus as a slump necessarily. Think of a plateau as the end of foundation building, and it is time to up the program to a new level of performance. If you did the same type of training for long periods of time, it is time to change things up.

Consider a process to training called periodization. There are several articles and books about it. Periodization is nothing more than a fitness budget and plan, not for a single workout but for a year (for instance). Other links on periodization training:

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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