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It seems like I have been stuck at a certain weight and reps for a while. What is the best way to break through this plateau?

I have heard of supersets, negative sets and reverse pyramid. There seems to be many advice out there but I want to know what is the most effective method. Thanks

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First what exercises is it, Second what has your training for the past month look like, Third how much weight did you plateau at and what is your weight, height and gender ? i can give you a way better answer with these questions answered. –  DFG4 Aug 17 '11 at 0:36
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3 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

All of modern exercise theory is based off of a study done in the 1930s by Selye. People have since expanded on the basic theory, and has two main factors that govern the body's ability to adapt:

  • Stress. The body needs enough stress to disrupt homeostasis (forcing a supercompensation) that you desire.
  • Recovery. The body needs enough rest and resources to perform the supercompensation.

As the body becomes more adapted to doing a certain kind of work, it is normal for progress to slow down. A beginner can make adapt every session, but after about 3-9 months (depending on prior training, genetics, and size) recovery starts taking longer. The typical 3 day a week work sets is too much work to compensate in time for. The trainee is then intermediate.

In particular, for intermediate trainees there needs to be some variation in intensity and in work volume to facilitate active recovery and continue progress. Additionally, the more advanced a trainee becomes, the more prone to over-training they can get because they are becoming much closer to their genetic potential. A common strategy that is used by intermediate lifters is now know as the "Texas Method". The work looks similar to this:

  • Monday is a heavy day. 5x5 at your current 5RM.
  • Wednesday is a light day. 3x5 or 3x3 at 70-80% of Monday's weight.
  • Friday you go for a personal record. For lifts like squats you go for 5lbs more than Monday's lift. For lifts like a bench press you alternate between 1RM (RM= rep max), 2RM, or 3RM.

This provides enough variation for many intermediate lifters to keep maintaining progress. If your goal is hypertrophy, you will still apply the same principles, but you will be using different rep ranges for your sets.

I highly recommend getting the book "Practical Programming for Strength Training" by Rippetoe and Kilgore, as it goes into much more detail than I have room for here. It's a very balanced look at weight training, and does not presuppose you are only doing power lifting or any one specific focus.

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The best answer is that it depends on the program you're on: what exercises, sets and reps you're doing.

One possible answer is that it sounds like you're using bodybuilding techniques (pyramids, negatives) on what's ostensibly a weightlifting question. You might want to look into a simple deload.

Deloading is simply backing off the weight without changing the number of reps or sets. So if you're doing 3 sets of 5 reps at a weight of 135 and you're not able to increase the weight, a deload is in order. Your want to decrease the weight by 10% or 20%, so your next workout would be 3 sets of 5 reps at a weight of 120 or 105. You'd then resume adding weight by 2.5, 5, or 10 pounds at a time on each consecutive workout.

By backing off on the weight--but continuing the same exercise--you're allowing your body to recover while still sending it the signal to grow in that area.

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One tenet of crossfit [crossfit.com], which I have found to be very effective in preventing plateaus, is "constant variation". Variation is also endorsed by the very effective Westside barebell program [www.westside-barbell.com]. In your case, this can mean changing your workout slightly to avoid adaptation by your body. For example, if you are stuck with bench press (or before you get stuck), you could try several of the following: Change grip width for each set. Do more sets at a lighter weight Attach chains or bands to the bar. Work on related lifts, like shoulder press and push-ups. Try the negative sets or pyramids you mentioned.

These small variations to the same exercise are usually enough to get your body out of a rut. The most effective change is not to some magical method, but change itself.

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