Breaking through training plateaus

Starting training can be a very exciting time. You learn all sorts of new movements that you have never done before, have a lot of fun, meet new people, but most importantly of all, you make a ton of progress! Every time you touch the barbell you hit a new PR! It’s like magic and you just get better and better. This phenomenon is known as “newbie gains” and it’s a pretty exciting time.

However, it doesn’t last forever as once you shift from newbie to intermediate status, it gets much harder to make progress.

It’s an inevitable part of training that training plateaus happen. Nobody can continue to make progress in a straight line forever. Otherwise we would all be snatching 500kgs or doing unbroken sets of 100 pull ups.

Mentally it can be extremely difficult to deal with a training plateau. A lot of people get frustrated at this stage and feel like they are not making any progress.

So what can you do to break through this phase? First up you need to ask yourself, have you really hit a plateau or do you just feel like you have?

In this case the numbers don’t lie. If you can’t do more than 1 pull up for 6 months or your deadlift is stuck at 100kgs, you may have hit a plateau. If you “feel” weaker than normal or training “feels” harder than ever, you might have hit a plateau but you don’t know for sure.

One of the truths about training is that it always feels hard, regardless of where you are! When you start CrossFit, doing 10 air squats might feel difficult. After 6 months of CrossFit, 10 air squats are easy, but you have graduated to 10 back squats with 40kgs and that is also hard!

So let’s take feelings out of the mix and really establish whether or not you have hit a plateau. Have you been tracking consistently and are you truly stuck or is this more of a mental issue?

If you truly are stuck, the next step is to take a deeper look at your training habits and identify any major changes you can make that can get you back on track.

Technique

Number one is technique. When you start training, poor technique might hinder your progress, but it won’t stop it entirely. This is because you are so new to training that any movement at all will result in progress. But this can only take you to a certain point.

If you think technique is holding you back there is a very simple fix. Ask one of your coaches to check your movements and let you know what you can work on to improve.

Mobility

You don’t need to be a yogi to do CrossFit, but you do need enough mobility to get into certain positions. You should be able to drop into a deep squat with your heels on the ground or put your arms overhead without arching your back.

If you don’t have enough ability to perform certain movements, not only are you risking injury, but you are inefficient and that hinders performance.

If you struggle with squats, presses, overhead squats or the snatch, it might be because your mobility is not good enough.

As with technique, your coach will be able to let you know if poor mobility is holding you back and point you in the right direction to improve.

Consistency and tracking

This goes back to the point of truly knowing whether or not you have plateaued. If you don’t show up consistently or track your workouts, it will be very hard to make any progress.

Is your lack of progress due to a lack of consistency? How many times have you trained in the last 12 months? Have you been stop-start with your training? A simple fix might just be to train more often!

Tracking is non-negotiable if you are serious about improving.

If training is a journey then tracking is a map towards your destination. If you don’t track then you have no map. You will end up somewhere for sure, but it probably won’t be where you want to go!

Focusing on weakness

One of the main advantages of CrossFit is that you get to work on many different movements. However, one of the main disadvantages is that you get to work on many different movements!

That may sound counterintuitive but the fact is that once progress begins to stall you need to pick and choose what you want to work on. That will probably mean putting in some extra work outside of classes.

If you want to improve pull ups you need to spend time working on pull ups. If they are not programmed in classes then you won’t do any and you won’t get better.

First up identify what you want to work on and then come up with a plan. As always, your coaches can help you with this!

Nutrition/Recovery

If you don’t eat to support your training it will become hard to improve. Likewise if you don’t recover between sessions, progress will likely stall. Recovery means sleep primarily but also includes stress.

How is your nutrition in general? Are you following some kind of plan or do you just wing it? Some simple tweaks to your diet might result in big changes.

Consistent sleep should never be underestimated. If you don’t go to bed and wake up at around the same time every day, this may be the first thing to change. Sleep trackers can also be effective tools to keep you accountable to consistent sleeping habits.

If you want to take anything away from this article it’s that whatever is happening, your coaches are there to support and help you. You are not alone! The more you engage with them, ask questions and discuss how you can improve, the better your experience will be.