How To Avoid Plateaus And Keep Seeing The Gains Your Deserve

Mike Dunk
Written By: Mike Dunk
August 19th, 2009
Updated: June 13th, 2020
Categories: Articles Training
11.4K Reads
Design a workout with the following principles. Effective training programs will incorporate periodization, specificity, and overload, while avoiding overtraining.

To ensure success and results with any strength training or conditioning program, it must be designed with the following principles in mind. Effective training programs will incorporate periodization, specificity, and overload, while avoiding overtraining. The following paragraphs will briefly describe what each of these terms mean.

Explanation Of Training Terms

1. Periodization

Periodization is a term used to describe the breakdown of a training program into periods, or phases. The idea behind periodization is to constantly present a new training stimulus to the body to force it to repeatedly adapt to this new stimulus.

If a new training stimulus is not presented, the body will adjust to the training and performance will not continue to improve and will eventually decline. On the other hand, if a new type of stimulus is presented too soon, the body won't have had enough time to react and adapt, and again, adaptation will decrease.

This is the reason you should see workout routines last only about 4 weeks. Trained athletes can adapt much quicker to new programs, and should consider changing programs more frequently. Athletes newer to training can continue to make gains for much longer on the same program. This is the reason you see many people "plateau" in their training. They aren't taking advantage of the principle of periodization.

Periodization is accomplished by varying the training intensity and volume during certain phases to continue to place stress on the body that it isn't used to.

For more information on periodization see: Designing Training Routines Based On Periodization

2. Specificity

Specificity refers to training specifically for a desired outcome. You will train differently to build muscle mass than you would to improve performance. You would train differently if you wanted to run a marathon as opposed to play football. There are different strengths, movements and physiological requirements that need to be more developed in certain activities than others.

Everyone has things that that they should be training to improve, whether it's health-related or performance-related (notice I didn't say beach body-related). A good training program is designed with specificity, taking into consideration the needs and goals of each person.

3. Overload

Always push yourself to improve on your last workout. Did you get eight reps at 100lbs last time? Try for nine today, or try to get eight reps at 105lbs. Always push yourself to get better.

This is the most important principle behind any training program. Overload can be substituted for the word stimulus or stress in the description of periodization. To create an overload, the body must be made to do things it is not accustomed to. This places a stress, or shock, on the body. If the body is not given an overload, it will not adapt. If there is no adaptation, you will not get any stronger or any more conditioned than you already are.

In short you will not see results. Keep this in mind during your training. Always push yourself to improve on your last workout. Did you get eight reps at 100lbs last time? Try for nine today, or try to get eight reps at 105lbs. Always push yourself to get better.

4. Overtraining

Overtraining is when fatigue or a decrease in performance arises from excessive training and a lack of proper rest and recovery between workouts. Overtraining is an injury. In most cases, overtraining is caused by "too much, too soon", or simply training too often and not allowing the body the proper amount of rest from an intense workout.

Some symptoms of overtraining may or may not include:

  • Increased resting heart rate
  • Increased resting blood pressure
  • Decreased sports performance
  • Slower recovery after exercise
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased desire to exercise
  • Increased irritability and depression
  • Increased incidence of injury.

Those are the four principles of training. Now I'm going to put it all together for you. The whole point of training is to see results. The results you want to see are directly related to your goals. Then you need to specifically train to reach those goals, using periodization and overload, while avoiding overtraining. If it's that simple, why do so many people fail to achieve the results they desire?

There's one more piece to the puzzle. If you want results, the body must adapt in the manner you want it to. And as we know, the body can adapt in positive ways and not so positive ways. Here's why:

Do You Have GAS (The General Adaptation Syndrome)?

Another way to maximize your training results and ensure your are breaking through plateaus is to understand the general adaptation syndrome.

*The numbers in the graph are arbitrary and are just there for reference.

Prior to your workout (whether it's your first workout ever, or your 10,000th workout) your body has a certain level of adaptation. (I want you to note that there are no particular numbers where you can assign someone a level of adaptation, but in this case, we'll assign an arbitrary level of 40, just to get you started on the graph.) After a workout where overload was achieved, the body actually goes into a Shock Phase, and adaptation decreases because of the stress the workout placed on the body. As stated earlier, you must achieve overload in order to see gains.

However, as time progresses, the body adapts to the stress, and enters what is called a Supercompensation Phase. Ideally, you will train again at the highest point of this supercompensation phase. The timing of this is different for everyone, as some people recover quicker than others do. So yes, you make your gains when you rest, not when you train. The whole idea of training is to simply place an overload on the body, and then you must allow your body to rest to see results.

Workout Routine Results

Now, you can imagine what would happen if you trained again too soon. Your body would not have had enough time to recover, and your adaptation would continue to decline. Continue this long enough and you have a classic case of overtraining.

If you are able to train again anywhere during your supercompensation phase, you will see improvements.

Notice too, that if you do not train again for a while, you will see another decline in adaptation. You may have heard of this as "Use it, or lose it." It's important to continue to place an overload on the body if you want to continue to see gains or at least train in a manner that will maintain your current level of adaptation. Further, make sure your program specifically places an overload on the system you want to adapt.

For trained individuals, the supercompensation phase is relatively short, and there is a relatively small adaptation. For beginners, the opposite is true. This is why beginners see relatively big gains at the beginning of a program, and less as the program goes on.

A well designed, periodized program can keep you from reaching plateaus. Knowing the optimum time to rest between workouts for each individual can keep you seeing results. Often, this is found out through trial and error, and by keeping detailed training logs. To continue to place overload on the body, you have to change up you workouts often, every 4-6 weeks for beginners and as little anywhere from 2-4 weeks for experienced lifters.

Now that you know this, experiment to find out your optimum rest time, and make sure to change your program often so you keep seeing the results you deserve.

Posted on: Sat, 05/08/2010 - 10:38

so change routine every 4 weeks?
but some muscle group like bicep exercise is pretty limited

raymond pizarro
Posted on: Sat, 02/20/2010 - 12:09

thanks i really learn a lot from this article my workout rutines lasted to long 8 weeks am and advance body builder and it makes a lots of sence to me to change my rutines more quicker it seems that the more advance you get in bodybuilding the more complicated it gets to build more muscle and to stay in that anabolic sone the body seems to get inmune to stimulus real fast in order to look diffrent you need to do diffrent things... thanks god bless

Free Workouts & Expert Advice

Get a weekly email with the latest workouts, tools, expert guides and deals from M&S.