11 Ways to Break Fitness Plateaus

May 30, 2020 — Jt Spratley

First published on June 12, 2017

Sometimes, you get in a rut with your Gym Flow progress where your progression with a fitness goal has stalled. Here are 11 ideas to consider for your next workout plan.

1. Set & Rep Schemes

If you’ve been using the same set & rep schemes for months, you could use some periodization. If you’ve been in the x1-8 (strength), x8-12 (mass), or x12+ (endurance) rep range for months, try a different range. For example:

Instead of:
3 x 10 w/ 1-2 minutes rest

3-5 x 1 with 1 minute rest for Strength (singles)
Or 5 x 20 for Endurance

2. Recovery

Much of what I’d suggest for best recovery is the same as how I’d suggest for healthy weight loss. Beyond that, generally 2-3 days between working the same muscle is enough. That’s easily achievable with balanced split. The push/pull/legs is a popular one.

3. Different Exercises and Variations

Just because you want to deadlift more doesn’t mean that’s the only exercise that will help your deadlift progress. You widen your grip for more range of motion (ROM) or widen the feet stance from traditional shoulder-length to wide sumo stance for variety.

Because compound exercises work multiple muscle groups, strengthening assisting, or synergist, muscles can also help progressions.

Here are some examples.


Farmer Walk – grip strength
Barbell Row – barbell stability
Good Morning or Romanian Deadlift – glutes and hamstrings strength


Pull-up with legs parallel to floor – different weight distribution
1 arm pull-up (other hand free or holding support pole or active forearm for support) – grip strength
Hammer dumbbell curl – bicep strength
Rope Climbing – grip and functional back strength

4. Unilateral Vs. Bilateral Movements

I once read in a Muscle & Fitness magazine that you’re generally stronger unilaterally than bilaterally generally. They’ve since covered it in a 3-page article and in response to a reader-submitted question. Barbells, especially Smith machines, require less stabilizing which allows using more weight. Every few months I swap barbell exercises with dumbbells, or Hammer Strength machines, and alternate reps. This also allows you to better focus on your weaker limb in a particular movement.

5. Order of Exercises

If you want bigger posterior deltoids, consider doing the rear delt raises at the beginning of a shoulder or pull workout. A study mentioned by Muscle & Fitness concludes exercises done earliest in a workout get the most gains. That also affects pre-exhaust methods – i.e. dumbbell flyes before bench presses.

6. Partial Reps

I started doing this with bench-pressing after reading more about ROM and shoulder injuries from Scooby’s Workshop and other fitness websites. Partial reps are good for when your goal is a first full repetition of a new exercise (i.e. 1 bodyweight pull-up) or a specific weight in a particular exercise (i.e. new 1 rep max). Done with strict form, partial reps (half or 1-2 thirds) can improve toward full ROM reps. Be careful with the heavy weight, use a spotter when necessary, and consider your joints when deciding how long to use this technique.

7. Negatives

Negatives were my go-to method when I started working on regular pull-ups. Start at the top of the exercise position and slowly let yourself down throughout 10-30 seconds. I usually do this 5 times with 2-3 minutes of rest.

8. Isometric Holds

I started working on one arm pull-ups by holding myself in the top position of an one arm curl-up for as long as possible for 5 sets with 1-3 minutes rest. I sometimes combine isometric holds and negatives with weighted pull-ups and front levers.

9. Strengthen Weak Links

The deadlift primarily works the leg and back muscles, but you have a problem when your grip can’t handle more than you lift. There are similar issues with sticking points in the bench press and other compound exercises.

10. Workout Time

Many studies conclude that exercising in the morning or evening both have different advantages. I’d say the biggest advantage to working out in the morning is you get it out of the way and it provides a boost of confidence and productivity that can last all day. Bodybuilding.com lists plenty more.

Another aspect is the time you spend in the gym during a workout. Some studies conclude that cortisol levels raise after ~45 minutes in the gym. Furthermore, I’ve never felt the need for a workout to last over a hour or include more than 5-7 exercises. I want more functional strength. Many exercises don’t help with that. Why do dumbbell tricep kickbacks with 50 pounds when I can do bodyweight dips?

11. Diet and Supplements

Protein, BCAA’s, and creatine can all help improve athletic performance if you keep in mind they’re meant to supplement a good diet, not replace it. I’ve always been a fan of glucosamine and chondroitin with MSM and fish oil for joint health. Sometimes I also use Micronamin M2 Thermogenic fat burner to push harder in the gym.

You can watch GIF’s of the correct form for the exercises listed above and more at ExRx.net.

You can also check out my old video below explaining my favorite health & fitness resources.

Tags: health, fitness, nutrition

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