Using Periodization Programming to Destroy Plateaus

Tyler Spraul is the director of UX and the head trainer for Exercise.com. He has his Bachelor of Science degree in pre-medicine and is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist. He is a former All-American soccer player and still coaches soccer today. In his free time, he enjoys reading, learning, and living the dad life. He has been featured in Shape, Healthline, HuffPost, Women's...

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UPDATED: Aug 25, 2020

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Get the Basics...

  • A plateau is defined as a profound decrease in the notable results of your workout routine.
  • When a plateau occurs, you notice that you are not able to gain more muscle or lose more weight anymore with your current routine.
  • Using periodization, altering recovery times, and trying different tempos are a few ways to combat plateauing. 

Many gym and fitness enthusiasts often mention that they have hit a plateau whether it is with their strength gain goals or with their weight loss goals. Many factors can contribute to these plateaus.

Plateaus are something that comes with the territory of trying to make improvements and can easily be altered or improved using slight modifications. First and foremost, do not let these plateaus get you frustrated or discouraged.  There are several variables or modifications to help deal with these obstacles.

If you are looking for exercises or a routine to break through your plateau, look no further. Go PRO today for access to certified personal trainers, workout plans, and more.

#1 – Set Up a Workout Program

The first suggestion to make is to set up a workout program. Keep in mind that you have to try it for at least four weeks in order to see some results.

Certain workout programs practically lay out the sets and reps for you. Programs can give you structure as well as proper periodization which means dividing a training program into progressive stages.

A prime example of a periodization structure would be the OPT Model that the National Academy of Sports Medicine has in its text.

#2 – Switch Up Recovery Times

The next suggestion would be to switch up your recovery time between sets or exercises. For example, instead of taking 60-90 second rest intervals, shorten those rest intervals down to 30-45 seconds.

This will force your body to work harder as well as maximize your energy expenditure during your workouts.

#3 – Try Different Tempos and New Motions

Another variable suggestion is to change the tempo at which you perform your particular exercises. Let’s use the bench press for example. You have three types of muscle contractions which are concentric, eccentric and isometric.

The bench press variable could be to perform a pause rep once the bar touches your chest before ascending the bar back up to the starting position.

This slight modification helps with control as well as power increase as the result of the primer movers or working muscle (pectorals) experiencing a slight relaxation period during the pause.

Another variable for this particular exercise could be to perform a 3-1-1 style rep motion. This is performed by lowering the bar or loading the prime movers on a three-second count, pausing at the bottom of the exercise and then ascending back up through the contraction phase of the movement.

This slight variable adds more tension to the muscle fibers being recruited as well as place more demand and focus on the prime mover muscle.

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#5 – Do Pyramid Sets

Another variation change could be performing pyramid or drop sets. These can be done all at once. For example, begin the first set of an exercise with 15 repetitions then do 12 repetitions on the next set. Continue to go down 3 reps each set until you reach 6 reps for your last set.

This sequence takes you through a progressively lighter workload into a heavier workload. Once that last set of six repetitions is completed, you can work your way back up in the same rep order with progressively heavier to lighter workloads depending on the exercise.

This particular format can be very helpful in defeating those annoying plateaus.

Drop sets or pyramid sets give you both the muscular endurance phase of strength training as well as the hypertrophy phase of strength training.

So for your next workout give these tips a try. If done correctly, you should see great improvements.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Should I weight train in the morning or evening?

Some studies have shown that lifting weights in the early evening is more beneficial because cortisol levels are lower. With that being said, the best time to weight train is when you feel the most energized and/or have the time to do so.

Are free weights better than machines?

Free weights are better for an overall workout than machines as they require the use of more stabilizer muscles; however, machines are a great addition to a well-rounded exercise routine.

When should I go up in weight?

If your last couple of reps can be done easily and quickly (with good form), then it’s time to increase the weight of your lifts.

Is a weightlifting belt necessary?

A weightlifting belt should only be worn when it’s absolutely necessary — like when you have a very heavy load on your back.

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