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How to Break Free of a Weightlifting Plateau

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If you’re struggling to lift heavier weights, you may be experiencing a weightlifting plateau. This phenomenon occurs when your body has essentially reached its physical limit. The good news is you can overcome a weightlifting plateau by following the advice detailed in this article.

Nearly every bodybuilder will encounter a weightlifting plateau at some point in their life. When this occurs, you may struggle to increase the amount of weight you lift; thus, limiting your gains. It’s no secret that, to build bigger muscles, you must increase the amount of weight you lift. Maybe you’re able to bench press an additional five pounds every few months for a year, only to discover you’ve reached your physical limit. You add the extra five pounds – just like you’ve been doing in the past – but for some unknown reason, you can’t lift the bar.

Weightlifting Plateau: The Basics

Known as a “weightlifting plateau,” this phenomenon occurs when you’re stuck lifting the same weight for a prolonged period of time. Regardless of how hard you try, you just can’t increase the amount of weight you lift.

Granted, you can’t expect to increase the amount of weight you lift every week – or even every other week. It takes time for your body and muscles to adapt to heavier weights. Normally, however, you should be able to increase your maximum weight about once every month. Even if it’s just a few extra one-pound plates added to the bar, the extra weight stresses your muscles, while encouraging bigger gains.

But if it’s been over a month and you are still stuck lifting the same weight, this usually indicates a plateau. So, what steps can you take to overcome a weightlifting plateau?

Avoid Overtraining

Overtraining is a contributing factor in the development of a weightlifting plateau. If you lift weights every day of the week, your body won’t have time to heal and rebuild the damaged muscle tissue.

Muscle mass increases in response to microscopic tears within the muscle tissue. When you lift weights, it tears down your muscle tissue, which is why you feel sore after a good workout. As your body repairs the damaged tissue, it creates additional muscle tissue to protect against further damage. For this repair to happen, though, you need to rest between your workout sessions.

Research shows it can take up to 14 days for muscles to recover fully after resistance training. However, most experts agree you only need to wait 48 hours between sessions. If you lift weights on Sunday, for instance, wait until Tuesday before lifting again. Doing so allows your body to heal and repair the damaged tissue, after which your muscles will be better equipped to handle heavier weights.

Focus on 3-Rep Lifts

Another common mistake that contributes to weightlifting plateaus is focusing strictly on single-rep lifts. Many bodybuilders and athletes use single reps to set their personal record (PR). If you can perform a single deadlift rep at 360 pounds, for instance, your deadlift PR is 360 pounds. While there’s nothing wrong with using single-rep lifts to set your PR, it shouldn’t be the focus of your workout sessions.

Single-rep maximums often strain your muscles to the point it hinders your ability to use proper form. And if you aren’t using proper form, stress will be placed on your back, wrists, neck, or other areas of your body, instead of the muscles the workout should target.

So, instead of single-rep lifts, focus on two and three-rep maximum lifts in your workout sessions. With lighter weights, you’ll be able to perfect your form, increase your gains, and break free of your plateau.

Increase Protein Intake

If you are stuck in a weightlifting plateau, you should reevaluate your protein intake. The most important dietary nutrient in the development of muscle mass is protein. Consisting of amino acids, it’s used to build, repair, and maintain muscle tissue. If you don’t consume enough protein, your body won’t be able to repair the tissue damaged during your workout sessions, resulting in a weightlifting plateau.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), men and women should consume roughly 0.3 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If you weigh 200 pounds, you should consume at least 60 grams of protein under these recommendations.

Unfortunately, many people fall short of consuming the necessary amount of protein in their diet for healthy muscle development. If you can’t seem to reach your protein intake goals, try adding more of the following foods to your diet.

Some excellent sources of protein include:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Peanuts
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Pistachios
  • Chicken breast
  • Lean beef
  • Turkey
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Soybeans
  • Protein shakes
  • Protein bars

Keep in mind that carbohydrates also play a role in the effectiveness of protein. Carbohydrates – whole grains, nuts, beans, seeds, fruits, vegetables, sweet potatoes – increase protein absorption, giving your body more protein to fuel muscle development.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder. If you fall into this category, this could be the underlying cause of your weightlifting plateau.

Sleep triggers countless biochemical processes within the body, including hormone production and regulation. Studies show, however, insufficient sleep – or low-quality sleep – is associated with increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol and the reduction of testosterone and insulin-like growth factor 1 hormones. Therefore, researchers believe sleep deficiency stunts protein synthesis, while slowing the development and repair of muscle tissue.

Too much sleep can be equally as bad, though. Research shows the sweet spot is between seven and eight hours, as this offers the most significant health benefits while preventing problems like decreased protein synthesis.

Cut Back on Cardio

Aerobic exercise, more commonly known as cardio, is any type of physical activity that increases your heart rate. Performing cardio on a regular basis is a great way to burn fat, tone your body, and strengthen your heart. However, you should only perform it sparingly if you are experiencing a weightlifting plateau.

The problem with cardio is it burns a lot of calories – calories that you need to fuel your weight lifting efforts. Furthermore, too much cardio can actually burn muscle mass if you don’t consume enough protein in your diet. Limit your cardio sessions to twice a week and increase your protein intake to prevent problems such as these.

Experiencing a weightlifting plateau can be frustrating, especially if you’ve been making substantial gains in the past. By following the strategies described here, though, you can beat the plateau and get back on track to achieve your fitness goals.

How to Break Free of a Weightlifting Plateau
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How to Break Free of a Weightlifting Plateau
If you're struggling to lift heavier weights, you may be experiencing a weightlifting plateau. This phenomenon occurs when your body has essentially reached its physical limit. The good news is you can overcome a weightlifting plateau by following the advice detailed in this article.
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Nutrients Solutions®
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© 2019 Nutrients Solutions, LLC. All rights reserved. Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified healthcare provider with any questions or concerns about your health. Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Never disregard or delay seeking medical advice because of something you have heard or read in this article or the internet.