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8 Proven Ways to Break Through Weightlifting Plateaus

8 Proven Ways to Break Through Weightlifting Plateaus

When it comes to working out, nothing is more frustrating than hitting a seemingly unbreakable weightlifting plateau.












If you’ve been lifting for any period of time, you know the rub: every day, you hit the gym hopped up on pre- workout drink and attitude, determined to push more weight than your last workout.

You load the plates, turn your music up loud, convince yourself it’s light weight, and hit the set with everything you’ve got… and it quickly humbles you. It feels damn heavy, and you end up doing exactly what you’ve been doing every week (or worse).

What gives? And what can you do to finally make progress again? Let’s find out.

The Physiology of Weightlifting Progress

The human body is incredibly good at adapting to stimuli, and regardless of whether we’re talking metabolism or muscle mass, its goal is to maintain a normalized state wherein things more or less stay the same (homeostasis).

This is great for survival but not so great for building muscle and strength. As time goes on, the body gets better and better at adapting to training, and this is why many people fall into a rut: they simply don’t exert enough effort to progress.

The bottom line is once your newbie gains are behind you, you have to work damn hard to force your muscles to continue growing larger and stronger.

Physiologically speaking, what you’re going for is known as supercompensation. This is the process whereby the body augments existing muscle fibers, tendons, and ligaments to become bigger and stronger.

As you may know, the primary factor driving supercompensation is progressive overload—lifting more weight for a given rep range over time.

This is why a plateau in size is always accompanied by a plateau in strength. Rest assured that people who look the same month after month are lifting more or less the same weights month after month as well.

And this is why you want to avoid plateaus at all costs. If each week’s workouts are exact duplicates of each other—if you’re doing the same exercises with the same weights and for the same number of reps—you will be able to maintain your current physique and performance levels, but you won’t progress toward better a better state.

Now, a properly designed program and dietary regimen go far toward preventing plateaus. Nevertheless, plateaus are just part of the game–they happen to everyone, even if infrequently, and even on the best of programs.

So don’t despair when it happens to you. Patiently use the strategies in this article to break through these sticking points, and you’ll never fall into a real rut.

Now, before we get to strategies for overcoming plateaus, let’s first define what a plateau actually is.

What a Weightlifting Plateau Is and Isn’t

Whenever people tell me they’re stuck on a program, I always ask for the details first. What do they mean, exactly?

Often, it turns out they are making progress; they just aren’t making the type of progress they want to see: they aren’t adding weight as quickly as they once were, or they aren’t improving on all exercises they perform in each workout, or aren’t living up to some other criterion.

I then explain what I want to explain to you here, which has to do with expectations and benchmarks.

Unless you’re new to weightlifting, you will not be able to add weight to the bar every week and maintain proper form and rep ranges. Instead, your weekly goal for each workout should be to increase at least one of your lifts by 1 or 2 reps, and it will usually be your first exercise.

For example, if you deadlifted 455 pounds last week for 2 reps, your goal is to get 3 to 4 reps this week (and you probably won’t get 4). If you do that and the rest of your workout is exactly the same as last week’s (same weight and reps for each subsequent exercise), that’s a successful workout.

I know that might sound odd, but just increasing 1 or 2 reps on one exercise is enough to induce supercompensation, and you should be happy.

Based on my experience in my own training and working with thousands of people, if your body is ready to progress, you’ll probably see an improvement in more than just one exercise of your workout, but sometimes it’s just that first big compound lift that improves, and the rest stays the same. Other times it’s the first set or two of the second exercise. Less often, the improvement could come in one of your Sarcoplasmic Sets. Regardless of how you improve, any progress means you’re not stuck in a plateau.

A true plateau is the situation where every lift in a workout is stuck at a certain weight for a certain number of reps for at least 3 weeks. 

That is, lifting the same amount of weight for each exercise for the same number of reps for at least 3 weeks in a row. If that happens, it’s time to address it with one or more of the strategies below.

Could It Be Related to Technique or Mobility?

Improper form can kill progress, especially on the big, important lifts like the Squat, Deadlift, and Bench Press. If your setup or execution is off, you will plateau at some point, and if you try to power through it, you may get hurt.

If I’m stuck (and from time to time even when things are going well), I like to have someone video me while I’m performing each exercise so I can review my form. I’ll put the videos on my computer and blow them up big so I can see what’s going on. And more than once I’ve discovered something obviously wrong in my form that, when corrected, enabled me to progress again.

For example, several months ago, I found I tended to lean too far forward in my squats when the weight got heavy, which was putting too much stress on my hip flexors. This was preventing me from moving up in weight.

To correct this, I backed down on the weight to give my hip flexors a break and work on my form. Within a month or so, I was rapidly moving up again, this time with proper form and no hip flexor pains.

Sometimes correcting technique is trickier, though. And it almost always is due to mobility problems.

You see, impaired upper- and lower-body mobility can seriously compromise form. Some people simply can’t perform certain exercises correctly because their body can’t do the movements.

Fortunately, this too is fairly simple to correct. The mobility exercises found here, if done regularly, are enough to handle most problems.

If you don’t sleep enough, your body just won’t be able to perform at its best. And when you’re demanding a lot from it in the gym, getting adequate rest every night is especially important for both recovery and performance.

People have known this anecdotally for some time, but research backs it up. One study restricted the sleep of eight males aged 18 to 24 to three hours per night for three successive nights and found that their strength on the Bench Press, Leg Press, and Deadlift was significantly compromised and the workouts were much more fatiguing than usual.

While that’s a rather extreme example of sleep deprivation, other research has shown that milder amounts of sleep restriction also compromise performance and the body’s ability to recover from exercise.

Research has also shown that extending sleep to a minimum of 10 hours in bed each night increases physical performance (subjects felt better mentally, ran faster, shot basketballs more accurately, and were able to exercise longer before feeling fatigued).

Now, that doesn’t mean we should all sleep 10 hours or more each night.

In fact, studies have shown that only a small percentage of people actually need that much sleep. But we should give our body as much sleep as it needs, and according to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to avoid the negative effects of sleep deprivation. A small percentage of people do fine with less, and a small percentage need more.

Since genetics and age affect how much sleep your body needs, a simple way to determine what’s optimal for you is to pick a two-week period such as a vacation and go to bed at the same time each night without an alarm set.

Chances are, you’ll sleep longer than usual at first if you have “sleep debt” to cancel out, but toward the end of the second week, your body will establish a pattern of sleeping about the same amount every night. And it’s trying to tell you something: that’s exactly how much sleep it needs. Stick to that, and you’ll never battle with the effects of sleep deprivation.

Are You Becoming Overtrained?

Overtraining can be insidious, especially in its beginning phases, when its symptoms are mild and hard to recognize.

When overtraining begins to set in, the first things to falter will be your strength and muscle endurance. Your workouts just start feeling hard, no matter what you do. This is nothing more than an accumulation of central nervous system fatigue, and it’s easy to handle (a Rest or Deload Week).

If you’re a week or two away from your planned Rest or Deload Week and you’re stuck and everything feels unusually heavy, it’s very likely that you just need to rest or deload a little early, and you’ll come back ready to progress again.

However, if you come back from your rest or deloading and remain stuck, it’s probably not an overtraining issue unless you’ve seriously abused your body over the course of the last 6 to 12 months.

Give Your Workouts Everything You’ve Got

Following a program like Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger doesn’t just require physical toughness; it requires mental toughness as well. Squatting, deadlifting, and pressing hundreds of pounds over and over isn’t for the lazy or weak willed.

Sometimes people fall into a rut simply because they don’t hit their workouts with everything they’ve got. Their minds are elsewhere, and they’re just going through the motions. We’ve all experienced this before, and it doesn’t take much to snap out of it once we recognize the problem.

Sometimes external factors are working against us. You know, the overly chatty or lazy workout partner, the tranquilizing gym music, the time of day (some people are noticeably stronger and more energetic later in the afternoon than early in the morning), or the nursing of an injury, even if mild.

The solutions to such problems are simple, of course. Let the Chatty Cathy know that while you have nothing against socializing, too much of it detracts from your workouts. Get an iPod and fire up music that gets your heart racing. Work out when you feel strongest and most energetic. Be patient with injuries and make sure they’re fully healed before you go full bore again.

There are often inner obstacles to overcome as well. Sometimes we psych ourselves out when trying to hit heavier weights, sometimes we’re too critical of ourselves, and sometimes we’re just in a bad mood or don’t want to be in the gym.

These problems can be easily brushed aside as well. Psyching yourself up for a lift or workout is just as easy as psyching yourself out: you can create your emotions at will.

Get fired up. Get ready to give it everything you’ve got. Visualize yourself hitting the lift perfectly. You don’t have to stomp around the gym like a raging bull, but don’t worry if you look a little “too into it.” You’re there to get results, not to impress others with your cool, calm demeanor.

When you’re in the gym, allow yourself the luxury of temporarily letting go of whatever other problems you’re dealing with in life. 

Nothing is going to fall apart in the hour you spend moving heavy stuff. Keep your mind on the muscles being trained, the next rep, and the next set. Think of it as your meditation time.

Using Diet to Breaking Through Weightlifting Plateaus

In many cases, a plateau in weight, size, and strength is caused by nothing more than not eating enough. And for some people, “enough” is quite a lot.

For example, I regularly e-mail with guys weighing 170 to 180 pounds who need to eat upward of 4,000 to even 5,000 calories per day just to gain about 1 pound per week. In most cases, these guys are new to weightlifting, which makes that even more unusual.

As you get bigger and stronger, the amount of food that you’ll need to eat to continue getting bigger and stronger will likely go up. Just as you slowly reduce calorie intake when cutting, you often need to slowly increase calorie intake while trying to maximize muscle growth.

So increasing calorie intake is an easy way to get your numbers, both weight and strength, moving up. All you have to do is increase your daily intake by about 100 calories (I prefer increasing my pre- or post-workout carbs by about 25 grams) and reassess after a couple of weeks.

If that unsticks you, then keep your calories there for the next few weeks and see how your body responds. If you’re progressing again, great; continue until you’re not, and then increase intake again.

I’ve known quite a few people who would start to bulk around 3,000 calories per day and end at over 4,000 calories per day due to gradual increases necessary to continue making progress.

This is a good thing. It means your metabolism is healthy, and when you start cutting to strip away the fat you’ve gained, you’ll be able to eat quite a bit of food as you can gradually work your calories downward from that pinnacle.

Cut Back on the Cardio

Cardio can both hurt and help muscle growth.

It helps by improving insulin sensitivity (which refers to how responsive your cells are to insulin’s signals) which in turn improves your body’s ability to use nutrients to build muscle, and by improving muscle recovery via increased blood flow.

However, it can get in the way of muscle growth in several ways.

First, it burns calories that you will need to replace if you are to maintain a small energy surplus, and second, it places additional stress on the body, which can contribute to overtraining.

This is why research has shown that the more cardio you do and the more intense that cardio is, the more your strength and growth will be negatively affected. This is especially true for the “hardgainer” types who have trouble gaining size.

This is why I recommend that you do no more than 2 to 3 cardio sessions per week when you’re focusing on building muscle and that you keep each session shorter than 30 minutes.

And if you hit a plateau, don’t be afraid to drop cardio altogether for a few weeks while you unstick yourself. You can then add it back in once you’re moving again.

Stretch Your Rep Range or Increase the Weight in Smaller Increments

Sometimes you’ll hit the top of a given rep range, increase the weight a standard amount (10 pounds, whether by moving up 5 pounds in dumbbells or adding 5 pounds to each side of the bar), and fail to hit the bottom of the range on the next set.

For instance, you might Military Press 185 pounds for 6 reps, then move up to 195 pounds for your next set and only get 2 to 3 reps.

You have two options when this happens: you can work with the original weight until you can do a couple of additional reps over the top of the rep range (which should give you what you need to successfully move up), or you can increase the weight in smaller increments using smaller plates. Both work well, and it’s a matter of personal preference. I would rather add a little bit of weight than reps, but that’s me.

For example, you can drop back to 185 pounds and work with that until you can get 8 reps, or you can use smaller plates to move up to 190 pounds, or even less.

If you also prefer adding smaller amounts of weight (“microloading,” as it’s called), then you’ll like the products produced by a company called PlateMates. It offers small, magnetic plates ranging from 5/8 of a pound to 5 pounds, and you can attach them to dumbbells, Olympic bars, larger plates, and even stack-weight machines.

Increase the Weight and See if It Sticks

If you’re stuck one rep short of the top of a rep range you’re working in and you’re struggling to hit it so you can move up, sometimes it’s worth just giving it a shot.

You’ll get a rep or two less than you should on your next set, but you can give your body another week or two with that new, heavier weight to see whether it will adapt.

For example, let’s say you’re working in the 4 to 6 rep range on Squats and you’re stuck at 375 pounds for 5 reps. You can move up to 380 pounds, which will probably drop you to 3 reps for your next set (one short of where you’d like to be). The next week, however, you load up 380 again and see whether you can now get 4 reps, and the next week 5 reps, and so forth.

If, after trying this new weight for 2 to 3 weeks, you’re still stuck a rep or two short of the bottom of your rep range, then you should move back to the previous weight and use the other strategies in this article.

Incorporate Rest-Pause Training

If you’re familiar with my work, you know I’m not a fan of fancy set schemes like supersets, drop sets, and giant sets, nor am I a fan of nontraditional training protocols like super-slow training, super-fast training, negatives, and the like.

Many have been scientifically proven to be no more effective than traditional set schemes and rep rhythms, and my experience is in line with the research (I used to do all kinds of fancy stuff and made poor progress with it).

That said, there is one “special” type of training that has both anecdotal and scientific evidence on its side, and that’s the Rest-Pause Set.

This is an old school powerlifting method for breaking through plateaus, and researchers from the University of Western Sydney recently studied it. They found it to be an effective way to increase strength via greater muscle fiber recruitment.

The Rest-Pause Set is very simple: You perform an exercise to failure (the point where you can’t get another rep without help) and then rest for a short period before performing the exercise to failure again, followed by a short rest, and another set to failure, and so forth.

If you’ve hit a plateau or just want to try this method of training, turn each of your sets into Rest-Pause Sets for one or two workouts, and then go back to your normal training and see whether that has unstuck you.

Choosing Strategies to Use to Break Through Weightlifting Plateaus

When I hit a plateau, I move through the above strategies in the order given.

  • First, I make sure that my technique and mobility aren’t holding me back, that I’m getting enough sleep, and that I’m not overtrained.
  • If those things aren’t the problem, I make sure that my mind is in the game and that I’m giving my workouts everything I’ve got.
  • If that doesn’t resolve it, I assess my diet and may or may not increase my calorie intake (by now I have a very good feel for my body and when more food will or won’t do it).
  • If diet isn’t the issue, I’ll cut back on my cardio for a couple of weeks and see whether that unsticks me.
  • If it doesn’t, I’ll try stretching the rep ranges and/or increasing the weight in smaller increments.
  • If I’m still stuck after a few weeks of that, I’ll do a couple of weeks of Rest-Pause training. I put this last on the list because, in most cases, it’s unnecessary. I view it as a last resort, and you’ll almost always fix it before getting there.

Once you’ve hit and broken through a few plateaus, you’ll get a good feel for what works best for your body. For me, it’s usually related to not sleeping or eating enough or to overtraining. And if it’s none of those things, stretching rep ranges and increasing by smaller increments fixes it.

Other bodies are different, however, and you’ll learn the best way to overcome plateaus through experience.


What’s your take on weightlifting plateaus? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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Leave a Comment!
  • Renier

    I just want to write because I’m so happy after today’s workout and I would like to share with you my progress after founding your website and before founding it.

    Before founding your website(training for 2 hours, high rep, bulking fast):

    incline db press: 45 x 8

    incline bb press: 110 x 8

    High bar squat: 135 x 8

    standing military press: 80 x 8

    Deadlift: 155 x 8

    Current lifting stats after lifting heavy, working out shorter, and following your articles:

    incline db press: 70 x 5

    incline bb press: 175 x 4

    High bar squat: 225 x 4

    standing military press: 115 x 5

    Deadlift: 275 x 5

    I just can’t wait to see what my next 6 months of proper training will bring, Thanks for all the help mike, I will be getting your new book next month and of course I would like be shared on you website in a future, and share it to my friends, to end this I will only say: YOUR STUFF WORKS!
    have a nice day ! 🙂

    • Michael Matthews

      Wow! Serious gains brother! That rocks!

      Definitely keep me posted on your progress and write anytime if you have any questions or run into any difficulties. I’m always happy to help.

      • Renier

        Just to update, I have been making good progress with you routine Mike, and I have already ordered BBLS, just to be ready once my newbie gains are gone you know haha, have a wonderful day

        • Michael Matthews

          Awesome! Keep up the good work and keep me posted!

  • Allen

    Any tips on getting through plateaus when cutting, or should I just not worry about it?

    • Michael Matthews

      Unfortunately you’re going to plateau when you’re cutting unless you’re new to lifting (or proper lifting).

  • James

    Hi mike great article! – one of your best to date!
    Quick question regarding carbs – would you see a difference in strength if you got the majority of your carbs from fruit compared to say potatoes? I’ve read somewhere fruit doesn’t replenish muscle glycogen?
    Thanks, james

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Good question and yes fruit isn’t as good as glucose-dense carbs for replenishing muscle glycogen. It’s good for liver replenishment.

      • Jeremy

        I thought it all ended up as glucose though? Guess i need to reread that article…

        • Michael Matthews

          Yeah but it needs to be processed by the liver first.

  • Mateusz

    I was recently going through a plateau (or actually a small regression, also because of business traveling and connected with it eating out and changing gyms) and the problem you address here is exactly what I was thinking a lot. Thanks for this article, I will try your tips!

    By the way, I weight currently a bit more than 71kg, probably somewhere around 12-13% BF, I bench 85kg 3-4 times. Should I proceed with bulking up to, say, 75kg and then slowly lean down the excessive fat? Or should I get really lean at first, and then start bulking again? Which approach would be better to have the most dry muscle mass in the end? And there is one more thing – I think that below 70kg I look too lean, almost skinny, with my current musle mass…

  • Jason

    Hey Mike! I’m wondering, during the week off (or deload), should I drop my calories or just not worry about it and continue my diet plan as if I’m training? Thx!

    • Michael Matthews

      Good question. If you’re cutting, carry on as you normally would. If bulking, you can drop to maintenance.

      • Eugene

        I was also wondering during the week off, would you recommend we continue doing HIIT sessions if we are cutting or bulking? Or lay off any physical activity altogether? Thanks!

        • Michael Matthews

          Good question. I’ve tried both ways and found that 2-3 cardio sessions on the off week is totally fine.

  • Theo

    This looks the exact same as bbls…

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah it’s taken from the book. I’m using it to promote the book. 🙂

  • Pasquale L Nocito Jr

    Great article Mike! I’m finding one of my pecs are getting bigger than the other and it’s causing uneven benching and as a result plateaus. this is obviously dangerous not to mention could look a little weird if one gets too big. I’ve been told that this can be because one tricep is stronger than the other or just the way it is. jve also been told to Just use dumbbells and it should take care of itself versus doing extra reps with the weaker Peck or just a completely separate workout with the weaker pec. I feel like this is causing a forced plateau especially for bench press. Any suggestions? Thx

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Yeah this kind of thing can happen and yes some extra sets with the lagging side using DBs will take care of it.

  • Laura

    Great article, Mike! Thank you. We all hit plateaus and these are some great tips. Are you going to do a Beyond Thinner Leaner Stronger? I loved that book and have been following your regimen faithfully and I couldn’t be happier with the results!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Yes I am! 🙂 Thanks for the support!

  • Olly

    Great article – particularly like the section on classifying a plateau – I think I need to be less hard on myself. I found reevaluating form massively helpful to keep the weight moving up – it means dropping weights, but works in the long term. Having deep squats and parallel squats in the same workout really helped with squat improvement in general – stopped cheating on them! Also reading an article you had here from a guest writer, can’t remember his name, regarding trying a weeks worth of workouts with very slow, lighting weights for many reps til exhaustion to sort out your form – changed the way I lift everything – one of the most important I’ve ever read. I’ll definitely try all the other methods – thanks!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Yeah many people just expect too much. Newbie gains are fun but they DO die out. Keep up the good work and keep me posted!

  • Another fantastic article! Thanks Mike! X

    • Michael Matthews


  • Gersh

    Great article as always Mike. Early on in my own training, I realized that my plateaus were really just a lack of recognizing what a true plateau was. I became inundated with the training carousel of jumping from program to program which made it hard to recognize plateaus. Muscles don’t get “confused”.. people get confused. Pick a plan, stick it out, and the results will come with patience.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Very true. it really is that simple.

  • wigster

    Hi Mike, good article, but I don’t quite follow the rest pause. What’s a “short rest”? Are the following sets meant to be done with the same weights? How many times? One of the problems I get when trying to do short rest periods with barbell work is the time needed to change plates around!

    • Michael Matthews

      Good question. I go into it further in the book and explain how it applies to the program, but generally speaking you’re resting 15-45 seconds in between your rest-pause sets. The longer rest times are for very heavy weight (90-100% of 1RM).

      You don’t change plates. You stick with the same weight.

      • wigster

        Thanks Mike, makes sense. I’d best get back to reading BBLS now! This sounds like it will be very useful for chest, as that’s where I seem to be stuck.

        • Michael Matthews

          Haha thanks man! Keep me posted.

  • Mario

    Wow great article! I can’t wait to get the book on iTunes. So as my weight increases my caloric intake should increase as well? Also there is a way to add ½ a pound on dumbbells?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Yes, generally speaking you’ll need to slowly increase your food intake to continue gaining weight.

      I don’t know of a way to add 1/2 of a pound to DBs.

      • wigster

        I recently found out that you can get magnetic plates for this sort of thing, but they’re not cheap. The ones I found were £36 for a pair of 0.25Kg plates in the UK. If you only want 1/2lb, perhaps get some short lengths of chain?

        • Michael Matthews

          Ah cool. Yeah chains could be a solution.

  • wigster

    One other thought with this MIke, but I know it’s something you tend not to advocate. In a way, it’s similar to taking a step back and re-evaluating/checking your form, but I have found that it’s worth swapping your exercises round every now and then. As well as seeming to give a slightly different way of hitting the muscles, it also gets you back to being focused on having the correct form. I do find that doing the same thing over and over just gets me too focused on pushing the weight up.

    • Michael Matthews

      Yes that’s true! Thanks for sharing.

  • Ry

    Ok, why not just go to 8 reps as top of range instead of 6? Esp if you are prone to not reaching the rep range on set following 6 reps of a weight. I find with a weight increase getting to 4 reps after a set of 6 and then a 10lb increase is hard.

    • Michael Matthews
    • Steve Crook

      Try thinking of what you add as a percentage of what you’re currently lifting. The lower the weight you’re lifting, the lower the weight you’ll add.


      Barbell military press is 37.5kg. Increase by 2.5kg or 6%. If I add 5kg it’ll be ~14% and too much to make the reps.
      Deadlift 125kg, add 5kg (~4%) and I can make the reps.

      The percentages are close and normally I’d be looking to add 5% or up to 10% if the 6+ reps were easier.

      The 2kg steps in dumbbell weights (in some gyms) can be a bit much early on. I use 1kg wrist weights to give me 1kg increments. They’re much cheaper than the magnetic thingies 🙂

  • Pingback: 6 “Everyday” Weightlifting Mistakes That Keep People Small, Weak, and Frustrated | Muscle For Life()

  • Marcusc

    hi, can i know how long should be train our muscles in a day. For example i do chest one day and back another day. Whichever i restrict myself to perform weight training for 1hr only..the most i go 10mins more. I consider more than 1hour overtraining. Pls correct me if i am wrong.

    • Michael Matthews

      You shouldn’t have to train for more than 60-70 minutes per workout. My workouts are 45-60 min, generally.

  • Marcusc

    Michael this my diet is there anything wrong.Can you tell me where i went wrong

    Breakfast – 3 eggs and 1yolk , oat meal – 3/4scoops
    Mid-morning snack –
    Lunch – 200g Qunioa, chicken, two vege and one egg or tofu
    Mid-afternoon snack – 12 almond nuts
    pre-workout – 100g low fat milk (10g protein)
    Post-workout – 1 scoop whey protein with water 12oz
    Dinner – one chappati with vege and chicken
    supper – 1 serving low fat milk before sleep. (10g protein)

    I have gained weight from 58 t- 65 kg.I can see my chest and arms have improved, only thing when i take whey there is sometimes blood in my stool. Once i stopped whey everything is ok again. seeking your advise

  • Pingback: 6 "Everyday" Weightlifting Mistakes That Keep People Small, Weak, and Frustrated | Muscle For Life()

  • Michael Matthews

    Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

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  • Pingback: The Top 40 Muscle for Life Articles of 2014 | Muscle For Life()

  • frametheory

    Hi Mike I’ve been kinda stuck and I believe it’s my sleep. I have been having trouble with sleep lately and taking steps to address the situation. And I work out mornings too, which I always feel sleepy and tired, nap on the train on the way to the gym. Ah awful I want to wake up with energy! Good article and will devote at least 10 hours. Who knows I might even wake up earlier and better. Thanks

  • Nick

    I’ve seriously plateaued on my bench. I know it’s form. When you go down in weight how much do you go down?

  • Aleksandr Prilepa

    The rest-pause sets – do you hit them with lower weights or the same 4-6 rep range weight? I’ve been doing this lately after my last set for the day, but with 60% of the weight or so for about 30-40 reps in total. (eg. 6-8 reps, pause for a short while, continue and so on until I hit 30-40 reps in total) Thanks!

    • It is harder so you won’t do as much weight as you do for the normal 4-6, but you still want it to be enough weight where you couldn’t do more than 6 reps.

  • Benito

    Strangely I can’t lift that much weight for the bench press, but with dumbbells presses I go far beyond that weight. I guess why we are good in some exercises than others when we are hitting the same muscular groups.

    • Yeah some people are stronger on the barbell while others (like you) are stronger with the dumbbells. Either, you can always train the weak one to catch up. 🙂

  • Joseph

    Hi mike, got a quick question,
    I was very disappointed in my deadlift this week.. I had previously been able to hit 160kg on full deadlifts for 4 reps the week prior, but this week, for some reason, i just felt much weaker, or the weights fellt much heavier. it felt strange, and i felt like i was trying to lift more weight than i could, even if i had already lifted it last week. the only difference, i think, was that i didnt have coffee the whole day before the workout. (i workout after work every day).
    What’s a good solution for these “weak” days? anything you can recommend to blast though them? or are they normal?

    • joseph

      not really EVERY DAY, more like 4 times a week.. and the weight i hit on the “weak” day was like 140kg or 150kg..

    • That can happen and especially on the deadlift. I’ve had it happy many times.

      I would chalk it up to a random bad workout. Let’s see how next week is…

  • Ben

    hey mike, my max bench hasnt gone up in over 3 months of lifting every single day for at least an hour and a half each day, i have made considerable progress in the past, and have been changing up my workouts and reps,even tried the rest for a week thing… still nothing changed, cant break this plateau no matter what i try, and am a little scared ive reached my potential for the age that i am (17), the last thing i have to try is the 2 a day plan, whats your oppinion on that, and have any suggestions?

  • AaronRussellCox

    Hey Mike,

    Love your stuff, read both of your main books and I’ve been following your program for about 4 months now. I’ve made great strides in all muscle groups except for incline bench and military press since about a month and a half ago. I’ve tried all the tactics on your list so far except for the rest/pause method so I will try that.

    But, I still feel like something else is wrong. I’ve only been weightlifting for about 1.5 years and only 4 months on your program and I’m stuck at only 145 incline bench and 120 military press which seem paltry when compared to other guys my age at the gym and my workout partner who started out lifting the same weights as me 4 months ago and now is at 175/135. And he doesn’t follow his macros or frankly, knows what the hell he is doing (I’ve shown him everything). While I’m truly very happy for him, it is incredibly disheartening when I’ve put in all the work to research the best methods and form, follow my macros closely, take the correct supplements, etc. and he just shows up at the gym and pumps iron like it’s his job.

    I know genetics play a role but I can’t be this cursed, can I?
    I feel like I’m too new to weightlifting and my weights seem way too light to already be hitting a plateau. I can gain fat weight like nobodies business (currently at 181) but muscle come much much slower.

    Have you seen such a plateau at such light weights before?

  • amos

    It’s my 3rd week on BLS. My weights on the incline, flat and incline dumbbells aren’t going up except for the weighted dips. In fact, I noticed I still struggled to perform them and was noticeably weaker on them, for the weights dips I felt stronger even though it was the last exercise.

    But the strange thing last week is that on Friday where I was suppose to do high reps on incline, I performed 40kgx8x3 and felt strong but today on a normal chest workout day, I was only able to perform 40kgx5x3 on the incline and felt weaker than usual. This was the same for last week. Whats going on?

    • Amos, did any of these tips in the article help? Factors such as rest/recovery, sleep matter as well. Also consider that your muscles may be fatigued after your Friday session to work at best capacity on Monday.

      Check your form as well:

  • Joey David

    I’ve been doing weights for about a year now, wow time flies, and for a a month or so I’ve been stuck on the same weight and sometimes I have to do 1/2 the weight. Since I’ve started I’ve never taken a week off just for my body to heal and recoup, people say I’m over training. I will take the week off even though I’ll feel guilty for not working out. Even if I de-load and do lighter weights, when it comes to Deadlifts/Squats lifting lighter, IMO is useless, because those compound exercises you have to lift heavy. So maybe ditch the deadlift for a week or something? For some reason I dread dead lifts but I still do them. On all my exercises, I’m stuck at the same weights for a while now.

    • Joey, check this out to make sure you’re not overtraining:


      Also, if you’re not eating a surplus, you’ll have a hard time gaining muscle once the strength gains cap out. You’ll also find that during a cut, strength can stall and even drop slightly.

  • Rj

    Hi mike!!

    epic website! first, i wanted to thank you. you may not know this, but i have been reading articles on this website for years, and 90% of what i know and do, fitness wise, i learned here. This helped me get fit, lean and muscular, and even helped me prep for, and place in my FIRST natural league physique competition!

    Now, on to the question..
    I wanted to get your opinion on this. I noticed that that on my main back-day lift, the deadlift, i seem to be stuck on 375lbs for 1 rep. i recently did the Wendler 5-3-1 program and on my forst 2 weeks, i was able to break thru the AMRAP sets no problem. on the 3rd week though, the 375lbs was my 95% of 1RM, but could only get it once. i was able to do that before.. but i was actually able to rock out 355lbs for 6.. so dunno what is really up.. not sure if im getting psyched out by the weight, or if i lacked rest, but im always getting stone-walled by that 375.. im making good progress in my barbell rows, lat pulldowns and weighted pull ups, just stuck on my deadlift.. any thoughts?

    • That’s awesome you’re getting so much from the content! Nice work placing in your first competition too.

      On your deadlift, it could be many possible reasons. Among them, rest/recovery, technique/form, and even pre-workout nutrition.

  • Noah Papafagos

    These are great tips, I’ve recently reached the end of my newbie gains, although they didn’t come easily, 3200 calories to move up 10 pounds and about 4000 calories for another 15 since February. I’m afraid I’m going to need into 4200-4500 range eventually, cause my lifts have definitely slowed, and my weight is staying around 165. So hopefully I can finally break 170 sooner or later!

  • Bullitt315

    I do that where I come too forward on the squat on hurt my hip flexors. How much weight should I take off the bar to improve my form?

    • Take off 20lbs to start, and I recommend that you start strengthening your abs and glutes. That’ll help prevent your body from going too far forward.

  • Fernando

    Hey, Mike! Thanks for another great article! I’ve been running into a plateau and I’m not sure how to fix it. I’m currently on Phase 6 of BLS, but I’ve been training for around a year or so (took a couple months of breaks in total). My newbie gains are definitely gone by now, but I’ve been having trouble progressing, particularly in my bench pressing. I find that my front delts ALWAYS hurt a bit and get a tad tight the day after my chest pressing. I always pay attention to my form, and try to keep my shoulders tucked, arms in, not flaring out, etc
    Although, I still find that some days I can bench 135, and some it’s a bit too much. The same sort of inconsistency goes on with my ohp. I track everything I eat, and been hitting my current cals target since I started BLS.
    What could be the problem?

    Thanks very much once again!!


    • Hey Fernando,

      Glad you enjoyed the article. It could be that your bar path is too high up your chest, which will engage your shoulders more to help with the load. That could be what’s happening.

  • Miz Eloise


    awesome article! i always video myself to check form and i dont care if prople think im vain haha. my question is and may not be related, how many mins of rest in between sets for 6rep range is acceptable?

    also do you count the rest times in between sets when you say you should only spend so and so at the gym. is it including rest or just moments when you are actually working out

    • Keepin it real

      my stupid arms have hit a plateau. I am going to try the rest-pause training for about two workouts.

      • Sounds good!

        • Keepin it real

          I followed what you said and I can finally feel my arms being sore. aha, thanks man now it’s just a matter of recovering and repairing. Will continue to do this on other body parts as well.

    • 2-3min is enough. And yes, it includes the rest times.

  • Harry Ashton-Potter

    Hi Mike, been using BLS for about 4 months (2 years training prior) also bought BBLS and I see that you say to move over to it once I can lift 100%, 135%, 175%, 175% body weight for 4-6 reps of military, bench, squat & deadlift.

    At the moment I am using 80%, 125%, 160% and 230%. I’m happy to keep going with BLS but do you think I would be ready to move onto BBLS or should I wait until my military, bench & squat increases?

  • AnnaD

    Hi Mike, I’ve just looked back at my workout logs for the beginning of this year, and I’ve actually gone down in all my major lifts, some quite significantly. I don’t get it! My weight has actually increased by about 3kg in that time too, so it can’t be undereating. I sleep well, go hard in my training, do no cardio except walking and I’m just training 4 days a week. Any ideas of what it could be?

    • When’s the last time you took a deload?

      • AnnaD

        The last time I took one was about 3 weeks ago, and I didn’t see any improvement even after that. I take them around every 6 – 8 weeks. I did switch from your 3 day split to a 4 day a few months ago. With my active job, is it possible it’s just too much?

        • Hmm. It’s very possible. Try moving back to the 3-day split and see how you do.

          Also, how has your diet been? Are you cutting, bulking or maintaining? And what do your macros look like?


          • AnnaD

            Ok will give it a go.
            Shooting for slightly above maintenance for my diet, around 2100 cals. P134/C205/F88.

          • OK sounds good!

  • Brett M.

    I’m stuck also Mike, I’ve been curling 30lbs and bench pressing 135lbs; the same weight for almost 3 weeks. I can 4 sets of 4, but can’t add weight. What should I do?

    • Hey Brett, are you cutting right now? Pretty normal to hit a plateau deep into the cut. If you’re maintaining, that can happen too. I’d start by checking your form and making sure no compensation is going on either. You might even need to decrease weight so you can start lifting with better form. Your weights will increase after that. If this doesn’t help, try the methods in this article.

  • Salah El Mackawi

    In barbell curls 70 lb I failed on the 3rd rep on my second set.
    What to do here?
    Should i stop here and next set decrease the weight and extend the rep range or take a lighter weight directly and continue that set.

    • No problem! Yes, decrease the weight and go for 6-8 reps on your next set.

      • Salah El Mackawi

        Now i am able to do the curls 8 reps with the 70 Lb.
        What about 75 lb.should I be doing it 6 reps or 4 reps? i.e after completing the 70 8 reps should i go back to the previous range (6-4)?
        Thx alot

  • Xavier escamilla

    I’ve hit a plateau I’m following the 5 day split , I’m bulking right now eating about 3300 calories a day, I get enough sleep at least 7 hours on my days off I even get up to 9-10 hours of sleep , my form looks all right since record my workouts , but I just can’t lift heavier, I been stuck with 215 pounds on the bench press I keep getting sets of 3 and 4 I never go up, same thing with the incline dumbbell press , I can’t get over 85s for more than 4 reps, same thing happens to me with the squats , I can’t do more than 225 pounds for 4 reps and my form looks on point , what should I do ? Last time I took a deload week was 2 weeks ago because I was really sick I don’t know what I’m I doing wrong or what should I do to increase the weight on my compound lifts …..

  • Greg Holden

    Hi Mike/Rodger We’ve , Great article, However the weights/reps are going up on my key barbell lifts, It appears to be dumbbell accessory excises (specifically push ones). Case and point: on incline dumbbell press with 15kgs in each hand ( We use metric in ye old England) I have been gaining reps for the last 6 weeks and can do 8-9 with good form, however when I try to move up to using 17.5kg dumbbells I can barley get 2-3. Similarly with dumbbell shoulder press I can get 6-7 with a pair of 15kgs, yet when I try a grab two 17.5 kg dumbbells can barley the weight into position, as such can barley get one rep. Tried the advice that is applicable to dumbbells but no look thus far. could I try periodising the exercise as in Beyond BLS, may that help? Anyway would appreciate your help,
    thanks again

    • Hey Greg, and you’re certain form and ROM on both BB and DB are correct? Also, it can be tough doing DB work after heavy BB exercises. Performance can easily take a dip especially if you’ve progressed on the prior BB exercise.

      Too early to periodize like in BBLS.

  • David Dietsch

    So failure is when you can’t do another rep with good form?

    • Correct.

      • David Dietsch

        So on the compound lifts, do you take each set a rep before failure? Matching that intensity for all 3 sets?

        • If you can’t complete the next rep or current rep, you’ve hit failure. Do this for all three sets.

          • David Dietsch

            For each exercise? Or just the first 3 sets. For example incline press for 3 sets. But then the second exercise is flat press or shoulder press… I thought hitting failure more than 2 or 3 times in a workout isn’t optimal for strength or nervous system. Thanks for your help!

  • Herman Mortimer Spinklestein

    Mike, what do you think about the Gironda system of reducing rest time to increase “workout density ” ? Is this a viable form of progressive overload to increase muscle?

  • David Dietsch

    So I did what you said and tried 4-6 reps for all 3 sets instead of what I was doing before RPT. I’ve gone through the whole list. Last resort is rest pause training. Can’t get past dumbbell shoulder press. Which rest pause training do you recommend? Dogcrap style? I read the article. Thanks!

    • Rest-pause might be the answer to your plateau then! Try any of them, but give it a few workouts before you switch to another style. You’ll get there!

  • sakib800

    I feel like rep quality is superior to the amount of weight you lift…

    because I used to be all phyced up about progressive overload and I pushed myself to the point where I felt the weights mostly in my joints and everything felt super heavy and i did not feel in ‘control’ of the weights….

    but I still kept trying to push myself becasue i still ‘technically’ lifted the weights in the given rep range…

    I dont even think my muscles were being worked properly when I did that or maybe a lot of compensation going on…I eventually dropped the weights and really focused on good form and the contractions and those areas of my muscle finally feel like they are being ‘worked’ and they feel “tight” and “strong” if that makes sense lol….

    So now I’ll try to slowly move up in weight maintaining good form hopefully that will break my ‘plataue’

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