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How to Avoid Plateau's in Your Strength

The principle of progressive overload is based on the idea that the body adapts to stress placed upon it.

By Ruby McMullen, Personal Trainer at Mona Vale

The principle of progressive overload is based on the idea that the body adapts to stress placed upon it. In order to continue making progress, the stress must be increased. To put it simply, if we continue to go to the gym and lift the exact same weights every single time our muscles will not grow and we will not get stronger. In order to continue to progress with our strength and body composition goals we must make our muscles work harder than they are used to. As we love to say, if nothing changes, nothing changes.

Before we dive into specific progressive overload strategies it is crucial that technique is prioritised first. Let’s use a barbell back squat as an example. Before you look at increasing the intensity of your squat, it is important that you are performing the movement safely as well as reaching adequate range of motion. If you are not able to reach depth on your squat, lighten the weight and focus on your technique and range of motion BEFORE ANYTHING. Technique is king, if you are unable to execute a movement effectively loading on extra weight will only result in an injury.

5 ways to apply progressive overload:

  1. Increase resistance. The simplest way to apply progressive overload is by increasing the weight you are lifting. Increase the weight from what you lifted the previous week and try to hit the same number of repetitions while maintaining good form.
  2. Increase repetitions. If you feel as though you are unable to increase the weight from the previous week, the focus could shift to keeping the weight the same and adding 1 or 2 repetitions onto each set. For example if you shoulder pressed 8 kg for 10 reps last week and feel as though the 9 kg dumbbells will be too heavy this week, aim for 12 reps at 8kg. Then next week you may feel ready to move up to the 9kg and go back down to your specified rep range (in this case 10 reps).
  3. Increase volume. If you are continuing to progress and push yourself each week, you may reach a point where you have exhausted that particular rep range and feel you cannot add any more weight without compromising technique. If this is the case we could look at adding on one more set. For example, instead of doing 3 sets of 10, aim to do 4 sets of 10. This is increasing the volume and stress placed on the muscle.
  4. Adjust Tempo. Another way of increasing the intensity of your session without changing weight or repetitions is through tempo. Tempo refers to the duration of each repetition and is specified in your training program. By increasing the tempo of each repetition you are increasing mechanical tension placed on the muscle, resulting in progressive overload. An example of increasing tempo could be instead of taking 3 seconds during the eccentric (lowering) phase of the squat, increase it to 4 seconds. If you are doing 10 reps, this adds 10 seconds of work to the set in comparison to the previous week.
  5. Decrease rest. Decreasing rest between sets is another way to increase the intensity of your session. Although, we would recommend avoiding this and focusing on the above techniques first. The only time we would recommend applying this technique is if you had to get your session done in a smaller time frame due to other commitments. If this was the case, you could aim to hit the same weights and reps as the previous week but scrape some time off your rest periods.

In order to continue progressing and avoiding plateaus it is crucial you have an appropriate, well designed training program in place. Here at Vision, we take the guesswork out of it. Your trainer’s will follow a program specific to you and ensure you are progressing every single session.

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