Ten Tactics for Pushing Past a Training Plateau

Yesterday I read an article over on Catalyst Athletics that included this ostensibly hypothetical question:

Let’s say you go a full year without a PR. Sounds horrible, right?

Yep, one year sounds pretty bad. Two years is worse. I speak from experience. In June 2013 I went to a weightlifting workshop hosted by CrossFit Games Champion Sam Briggs. I set a few PBs there, which would have been terrific, except that those remained my PBs until the summer of 2015. This epic stalling was due to a variety of factors.

We’ll focus on the physical ones:

Behold, the Plateau of Fail. Or is it a mesa?

Here is how I got down off the Plateau of Fail. See if any of these tactics work for you:

  1. I accepted that I couldn’t do everything. Before moving to the UK, I was a keen mid-pack long distance runner. I enjoyed (and still occasionally enjoy) the release one gets from a good long run– being out in nature, exploring my neighbourhood on foot, flipping off bad drivers. But as I’m not an exceptionally gifted athlete, there was just no way I was going to continue grinding out the miles necessary for endurance sports while also making progress in a strength and power sport like weightlifting. So I kissed marathoning goodbye in 2014.
  2. I finally worked out that recovery time is important. You’d think I’d have learned this in my youth, when rotator cuff tendinitis cut my swimming career short. But no, it didn’t click until after age thirty: when you are injured, when you’ve been coughing up your guts for a few weeks, or when (say) you’ve had your innards scraped out like a Halloween pumpkin, you need to forget about the gym for a while. If that’s too hard, at the very least you should scale back your exercise or choose activities that don’t compromise your recovery.
  3. I focused on other things. During times when my activity at the gym was really limited, I went back to some other hobbies: drawing, calligraphy, music. I also planted an excellent vegetable garden. Making progress in these endeavours eased some of the frustration I was feeling about my lack of progress in the gym.
  4. I realised I don’t know what I’m doing and got a goddamn coach. Well, one came and got me. When Dave took over my gym’s barbell club, I’d been suffering from Stuckitis for about fourteen months. He took an interest in helping me find a cure. The prescription: squats. The day I finally stood up that 112.5 kg squat after being stuck at 105 for two years was a very good one. Psychologically and physiologically, squats will strengthen you like nothing else. Particularly when you have a 105kg man who looks like a pirate standing behind you yelling at you to “DRIVE”!


5. I sought second opinions. It’s not cheating, I swear! While one of Dave’s main strengths as a coach is his ability to deliver coaching points with an individualised spin, sometimes the things he says or demonstrates don’t sink in right away.* This is why I check in with Mike “The Ghost” Holmes once in a while. He’s recently given me a couple of small tips for improving my jerk. After taking them on board, I’ve improved. It’s also why I try to train with Sarah at least once a month– she’s not a coach, but as a more experienced lifter she has a good critical eye.

M-Hole likes his present! #sccfstrong #sccf_uk #crossfitfamily

A post shared by Rose (@rose.judson) on

8. I train with people better than me whenever possible. And it’s very possible, as I’m not really any good. Watching people like Sarah or my friend Jodey, the Scottish Champion, as they train motivates me to try to work positions better, to punch the reps out harder, to fight harder to save wonky lifts. If I can’t be with them, I watch their videos on Instagram to stare at their butts motivate myself. And if I can’t do either of those things, I train with my friend Sam, because I can out-snatch him most of the time and that makes me feel better. (LOVE YOU SAM!)

9. I stopped beating myself up. Well, reduced the amount of time I spent beating myself up. Or at least acknowledged that I need to stop beating myself up. I’m working on it. #ITSAPROCESS. Seriously, though: constantly telling yourself you are shit and worthless for not making progress in your sport is counter-productive. While I’m not the hippie type, as I get older I see that, to some extent, thoughts do shape your reality. Beating yourself up is also insanely silly when, at the end of the day, this is a thing you do for fun. It’s not life or death.

(Oh, and in case it seems like I’m contradicting myself by saying I try not to beat myself up after stating I’m not a good lifter in point 8? To paraphrase Muhammad Ali, “It ain’t slaggin’ if it’s true.”)

10. I didn’t give up. This is the most important bit of all. Keep going. If the lifts don’t get heavier, you’re still learning. You’re still making progress. You’re still spending time with friends and building character. Even if you’re stuck on the plateau for two years like I was, take time now and then to stop worrying about how you get off it and just enjoy the view.


*”Or at all.” – Dave


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