Key Points:

  • Make small changes
  • Weightlifting plateaus are mostly from not recovering enough

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could increase every lift all the time?

No frustration.

No questioning your program.

No drowning in information on how to break the plateau.

In reality, we know weightlifting plateaus happen.

And for you to build lean muscle, you need a strategy to break through.  That’s exactly what you’ll learn in this article. 

How Do I Know If I Hit A Weightlifting Plateau

Like deciphering a weight loss plateau, figuring out if you are in a weightlifting plateau is crucial before you go and change shit.

There’s three different scenarios you can see in your workout over the course of a few weeks we should go over:

Weight or reps have increased.

Weight or reps have decreased.

Weight or reps haven’t changed.

The first one, where weight or reps have gone up over the last few weeks you aren’t in a plateau.  Both of these are indications you are getting stronger.

Keep your workout the same and enjoy the progress.

If you notice weight or reps have decreased over the last few weeks, this is not a plateau.  This is a sign you went a little too hard.  

Look back to your previous workouts and see if you hit a new weight or rep PR within the last couple of weeks.  If you did and there was a sharp decline in strength on that exercise in the following weeks, well you went too hard.

Keep your workout the same but instead of trying to hit the rep range, aim for a Reps in Reserve target for a few weeks or until you feel strong in that exercise again.

Again, this is not a weightlifting plateau, it’s just your nervous system needing a bit of rest.

The final scenario is when weight or reps haven’t changed in the last few weeks.  This my friend, IS a plateau.

How To You Get Out Of A Weightlifting Plateau

The worst thing you can do is change everything.

Because once it happens again…which it will…you’ll still be throwing spaghetti at the wall trying to figure out what worked.

Instead, switch one thing at a time, trying it out for a few weeks then switching something else if needed.  This way you’ll have a plan for next time.

Also, you gain strength and build muscle by progressively overloading the same lifts.  So if you are constantly switching out your exercises every plateau you are defeating this purpose. 

Here’s the process I ask myself when I or members of the Aesthetic Physiques Online Coaching program hit a weight lifting plateau


When was your last deload?

For intermediate or advanced clients I implement a deload week every 5 weeks and a Active Recovery week when needed.  

A deload week is when you reduce weight and reps to help reduce stress and allow for better recovery.  

An Active Recovery week is when we skip the gym and focus on getting more steps in.  This, as you might guess, is for when workout stress is really high.

This recovery piece is key to getting stronger.   

If you haven’t implemented a deaload in the last 6-12 weeks…or ever… It might be time to take a week. 

Keep the exercises in your workout as-is, drop the weight by 10-15% and perform 2 sets of half the number of reps as your last workout. 

If all exercises are in a plateau, take an Active Recovery week.

Most of your weightlifting plateau issues will be solved by this point.  The fact of the matter is, being guys, we think we’re Terminators and rest is for the weak.

But in reality, we need rest like everyone else and more as we age.  

Good workout program design takes this into consideration so just by simply scheduling in a deload week every 4-6 weeks which really goes a long way for long term gains.

When was the last time you switched up the rep range?

If you’ve been abusing a rep range like your peen when you were a teenager, it might be time to switch. 

Drop the rep range you’re using on the exercise and increase the weight. For example, if you are doing 180lbs for 8-10 reps, drop the rep range to 6-8 and increase the weight to 190lbs. 

It’s a different stimuli and it allows you to get over the psychological barrier of a certain weight.

Good program design would be to gradually increase your rep range as you progress through a workout over months.

For example, in Month 1 use 6-8 reps per set.

Month 2, 8-10 reps per set.

Month 3, 10-12.

Month 4, Keep 10-12 for sets 1 & 2, but use an advanced training technique on set 3.

This is a very simple way to ensure you are constantly changing up the stimulus and doing your best to prevent weightlifting plateaus.

Is the exercise stale?

These next two questions go hand-in-hand.

Sometimes an exercise just becomes stale like the oreos that have been hanging out in the back of the cabinet. 

In this instance the best thing to do is to keep the same movement pattern but switch out the exercise. 

If your barbell overhead press isn’t moving, switch to a seated barbell shoulder press or a dumbbell seated shoulder press.

If your barbell bench is stuck, switch it out for a dumbbell bench, a floor press or even a machine chest press.

No exercises are wrong, just make sure you are keeping the same movement pattern. 

Is this an exercise they really want to get stronger in?

Now, if the stale exercises is one you really want to get stronger in, then we might have to get fancy and try some more advanced strength building techniques.

My two favorites are supramaximal loading and cluster sets.

For supramaximal loading, add 5-10 lbs to the weight you’re stuck at, do 1-2 reps, rest for 90-120 sec, then drop weight back to the weight you’re stuck at and complete your workout normally. 

So if you are stuck at 200lbs for 5 reps, before you do your normal sets, add 205-210 to the bar and do 1-2 reps with that.  Rest for 90-120 sec, drop the weight to 200 and do your sets as you normally would.

This is a neurological and psychological trick that will make your stuck weight feel lighter. 

The other option would be Cluster Sets.  

The TL:DR on Cluster Sets is you break a larger set into smaller clusters with a short rest period in between.

So if you’re stuck at 200 lbs for 5 reps using a Cluster set would break those sets up into little sets with a short rest period (20-30 sec) in between and equalling the same amount of total reps. In this case 15 total reps (3 sets x 5 reps each)

So it might look something like this:

Set 1: 3 reps w/ 200lbs

Rest 20 sec

Set 2: 3 reps w/ 200lbs

Rest 20 sec

Set 3: 3 reps w/ 200lbs

Rest 20 sec

Set 4: 3 reps w/ 200lbs

Rest 20 sec

Set 5: 3 reps w/ 200lbs

Rest 20 sec

Then for the next four weeks increase the weight by 5lbs.  

Week 1: 200lbs

Week 2: 205lbs

Week 3: 210lbs

Week 4: 215lbs

After a month go back to your normal rep scheme.  

You could even break this down into 15 single rep sets or 7 sets of 2 reps with the final 8th set being a single rep.  So long as you break the set into smaller sets you’re aces with a Z snap.

The short rest periods allow fatigue to stay low so you can finish the last set just as strong as you finished the first one and with this extra volume with good form cause weightlifting plateaus to crumble.

Over time the perfect reps will translate to quick strength gains.

Wrap It Up B

Weightlifting plateaus happen.  It’s not the end of the world or cause to search for a completely new workout.  

Having a process, like the one I outlined above, and making small changes is all you need to keep progressing month after month.

When completely switching your workouts whenever you plateau you are essentially starting from scratch every time.