10 Ways To Bust Through Your Training Rut

Brian McFadden
Written By: Brian McFadden
September 29th, 2014
Updated: June 13th, 2020
Categories: Articles Training
11.4K Reads
If your gains have slowed, don't get discouraged. Instead, take action. This article is packed with tips and advice on how to get you back on track and making progress.

Everything was going great, for a while. You were gaining strength or dropping fat, or performance was increasing. Then the progress stopped. If this sounds like you, it's time to become your own detective and troubleshoot how you can bust through this training rut. The following 10 strategies serve as a timeless guide that will help you get back on track.

1. Cover the basics

Before you get too complex with your analysis, it's smart to just start with the basics. This can be difficult with the amount of info thrown at you from the mainstream fitness media, but in order to maximize your greatest potential you've got to mimic what the greats do. All great strength athletes, regardless of platform, have one thing in common: A relentless desire to perfect and apply the basics. Honestly answer these questions:

  • Do I have a clear and defined goal?
  • Is my goal realistic?
  • Is my training based on proven methods?
  • Am I consistent?
  • Do I possess a sound understanding of the classic lifts?
  • What does my nutrition look like?
  • Am I supplementing properly?

This isn't anything new. But, can you positively answer all of these questions? If not, this is where you need to start. Cover the basics first.

2.  Simplify

Here's the deal. There is no shortage of training programs, articles and videos on the web. You have access to thousands of pieces of advice on how to lift. This is distracting. It can pull you away from perfecting the basics. If you're stuck and find yourself trying to follow an advanced training program that a pro bodybuilder promoted on YouTube that you don't even completely understand, revert back to these two things:

  1. Identify the essential (Choose the best exercises that have been proven to work for hundreds of years)
  2. Eliminate the rest (Get great at the essentials, toss the rest)
  3. Attack your goal differently

You're a creature of habit. And that can, and should be leveraged to make progress. However, when this trait runs us down a hole and we get into a rut that doesn't yield change, you've got to possess the awareness that change is the only way to move forward. If you don't think you can do this on your own, having a coach is the next best option. Take a look at your programming and do the opposite. This is a proven way to bust through some of the toughest training ruts.

Here are some examples:

  • Workout structure (Whole body vs. isolation)
  • Training volume (If you've been doing high volume, switch to low volume and vice versa)
  • Rest periods (Shorten rest periods to increase intensity)
  • Loads (Move from moderate load to heavy load and vice versa)
  • Rep ranges (Switch from low to high or high to low)
  • Training frequency per muscle group (If you've been hitting legs once a week, hit em' hard and attack them twice a week)

Training should be fun, but that doesn't mean it's easy. It's going to take some serious commitment and discipline to hit your goals.

4. Switch your focus, temporarily

Don't abandon your goal. Pivoting your focus may help you get to your goal faster. Consider switching your training focus to compliment your end goal. Here is what I mean.

For a fat loss plateau switch to:

  • Strength training: The stronger you get, the more weight you can move which equals more calories burned.
  • Hypertrophy training: The more lean muscle you have, the higher your metabolism runs.

For a muscle building plateau switch to:

  • Strength training: The stronger you are, the more weight you can move in your hypertrophy training, which will pack on more muscle.
  • Fat loss training: The leaner you are, the more muscle you'll be able to see. Staying within a respectable body fat range also improves your insulin sensitivity, which will help shuttle all the vital nutrients to the muscles your trying to grow.

For a strength plateau switch to:

  • Explosive training: Increasing your ability to apply force is a great way to get stronger.
  • Hypertrophy training: Pack on some muscle that will give you a leverage advantage in your lifts. This will also give your body a break from the heavy loads you've been moving for a long period of time.

5. Check your health and lifestyle

I believe this is a grossly overlooked aspect. Health and fitness are two completely different things, yet health precedes fitness. If you don't have your basic health in order, becoming fit and building a killer physique is damn near impossible. But, so many people want to skip the "health" part and be shredded at 5% body-fat and set PR's on the deadlift all day. It doesn't work that way. Consider these vitals aspects of your health and get them in order first:

Thyroid function. Hashimoto's is the most common form of hypothyroidism in America. Symptoms include weight gain or extreme difficulty losing weight, mild depression, joint pain and fatigue.

Brain chemistry. Willpower and deprivation only last so long. It may not be because you're "weak minded" but rather because you lack the natural production of certain brain chemicals that regulate appetite and mood. This will leave you with ravenous food cravings, forging dependencies on toxic foods like sugar and possibly allowing emotions to control what and how you eat.

Gut health. Protecting and restoring the integrity of your gut is one of the most important things you can do for your health. The two critical components of your gut are your gut flora, which helps promotes regular function of the intestines, and the gut barrier which regulates what stays in and what goes out. When these two components of your system are compromised they show up in various factors including:

  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Digestive issues, gas, bloating and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Acne or eczema
  • Candida overgrowth
  • Inflammation that leads to fat gain

Do you really think that an hour a day will off-set the atrocious food decisions you make for the rest of the day?

6. Include minor variations

There are a handful of classic exercises that have stood the test of time, and always will. Take the deadlift and bench press. These two exercises aren't going anywhere and can be found in any legitimate strength training program. But, you can't simply just do the standard lifts all of the time. You have to respect The Law of Accommodation. It's simply not effective to use the same stimulus over and over again to induce results. To get around this you don't need to get extremely clever, just add minor variations to the classic lifts.

Deadlift examples:

  • Trap bar
  • Sumo
  • Banded deadlifts
  • Deadlifts with chains
  • Deficit
  • Snatch Grip
  • Stiff leg deadlifts

Bench press examples:

  • Incline
  • Decline
  • Dumbbell pressing of all angles
  • Floor press
  • Chain benching
  • Band benching

Keep in mind, if you're a beginner lifter you probably don't need much variance. You have plenty of room to grow with the classic lifts as they are. But, after years of training, adding in some variance is a good idea.

7.  Stop ignoring the importance of nutrition

Look, if you're somebody who likes to exercise for the pure enjoyment of exercise, and you have no interest in strength, performance or aesthetic improvement, then fine. I have no problem with you ignoring your nutrition habits. But, on the other hand, if you're part of the majority of people who exercise and want an outcome result like increased strength, improved performance or enhanced aesthetics and you ignore nutrition I think exercise is the largest waste of your time.

Think about it. For the average person, you're training about an hour a day. You have 23 hours to make food decisions. Do you really think that an hour a day will off-set the atrocious food decisions you make for the rest of the day? In fact, I'd argue to say that many of you would benefit by exercising less, and focusing on lifestyle and diet behavior more.

But I get it (I think). You refuse to change your diet because it's not comfortable for you. Let me ask you this. How comfortable is it to carry that extra 20 pounds around your waist? How comfortable is it to look in the mirror and feel embarrassed? How comfortable is to have back pain, diabetes, shortness of breath and joint issues? How comfortable is it to drag yourself into the gym and do 100 burpees, 50 deadlifts and run 1 mile and be frustrated because it's not helping you lose weight?

8.  Retire from lifting


I can vouch for this personally.

I've been training for about 10 years. Along the journey, I've done several CrossFit competitions, then transitioned into competing in the NPC in the Men’s Physique division. After my last competition, I was burned out. I didn't lose my love for the iron, but I was certainly tired. I needed a break. But if you tell anyone, including myself, who has an insatiable desire to maximize their personal potential via physical training it's useless to tell them to "stop" training.

I simply couldn't drop that mentality. So what did I do? I challenged myself to train like an Ironman for 8 weeks. I had no desire to enter an Ironman, but I wanted to see if I could train like one. It was an unfamiliar challenge that fired me up and it also took me away from lifting for a short while.

I came back and hit the weight-room like somebody was harming my wife. I destroyed the iron.

As Dan John said, "Sometimes, the path to your goals is a short retirement."

9. Are you enthralled with your training program?

As simple as this sounds, it's amazing at how many people can't say yes to this question. Training should be fun, but that doesn't mean it's easy. It's going to take some serious commitment and discipline to hit your goals. In the midst of your journey, it's imperative that you weave in ways to inject some enthusiasm into your training.

You've got to be excited to lift. You've got to be so enthralled about your training that on some days you have trouble staying focused at work. Your training time has to be a priority in your day. Sure, you'll have off days. Everyone does. But for the most part, if you aren't compelled, driven and laser-focused about your training program you won't last.

10.  Understand the investment

Show up, work hard and cover the basics. Recovery and repeat. And, one day, probably after several years you'll wake up and realize you hit your goal.

1 Comment
Posted on: Wed, 10/01/2014 - 07:52

i saw "I've done several CrossFit competitions" and stopped reading.