The Best Way to Cause a Strength Plateau

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If there is one pervasive piece of self-sabotage that has caused more people to avoid getting stronger in the history of strength training than any other single factor, it is the following phrase:

“I’m going to wait until it feels easier before I add more weight”

This is usually uttered by someone around the time they begin leaving the total-beginner stages of training, and have gotten sufficiently to grips with a lift that it’s started to become “hard”.

The beginner has an excuse for this – afterall, they’ve never done this before. No one has ever explained to them that what they’re waiting for absolutelywill not, and can not happen.

It makes about as much sense as “I’m going to wait until I’m more flexible before I start stretching”

If you keep lifting 30kg, it WILL NEVER GET ANY EASIER.

And why would it? Your muscles don’t care how many times you’ve done an activity, they only adapt based on how hard the activity was.

If it was the other way around, bricklayers would be the strongest people on the planet. They might lift a 3.5kg brick thousands of times per week, for years. But how strong do they get? Only strong enough to do the hardest thing they have to do.

So how on earth do you make 30kg feel easier? You have to lift 31kg on your next session. And then 31.5kg on the one after that, and so on and so on until you can do 45kg.

When you can do 45kg, 30kg will feel easy as pie. But now 46 is “hard”.

Crucially, the weight that actually causes you to get stronger will always feel hard. Properly conducted strength training NEVER gets easier. You just get stronger, more technically proficient and mentally tougher.

The second you feel any exercise programme start to get easier is the same second where it has ceased making you adapt.

Are there situations where you probably should lift the same or less weight than last time? Sure. Namely:

1. If you’ve missed a session. Go back and repeat the same weight as last time.
2. If you’ve missed a bunch of sessions. Go back quite a bit lighter in this case
3. If your recovery is messed up for any reason – like you haven’t slept, you haven’t eaten, you don’t eat enough protein, you did something silly on what was supposed to be a rest day, you’re sick or you’re abnormally stressed. These are all excellent reasons for a light day.
4. If you’ve been adding weight every session for longer than about 6 months, and have already doubled or tripled your starting weights – all good things do come to an end.

If you’re sitting around waiting for the magical strength fairies to visit though, you’ll be waiting a very, very long time.

You don’t wait to get stronger, you have to make yourself get stronger

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The Curse of the Non-Beginner
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