Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Breaking Through Plateaus

It happens to the best of us.

Your training is going well: you're making progress, you look forward to your workouts, you're learning new things and constantly improving.  Things are great.

And then it stops.  Seemingly for no reason, you plateau.  You stop hitting PRs, sometimes even regressing slightly.  Training seems stagnant.  There are only little details to learn now, and they take so long that it's monotonous rather than exciting.

What do you do?  In this post I'm going to suggest a few strategies for breaking through the plateaus that are an inevitable part of serious athletic training.  Pretty much all of them involve changing up your programming.  Some of them are very general, and some very specific.  Hopefully one (or more) of them will apply to you!

Strategy #1: Change your programming.

This is about as broad and general as it gets.  Whose programming are you doing?  If you're doing the main site, try something else: an affiliate or a fellow knowledgeable CrossFitter for example.  If you're doing your own programming, do someone else's: there is something very powerful about having no say in what your workout is going to be.

Strategy #2: Employ a method that focuses on your weaknesses.

So you've got a 500# deadlift and an 8 minute mile.  Maybe CrossFit Endurance is right for you.  50 pullups, a 60 second 400m, and a 185# front squat?  Give CrossFit Strength Bias a try.  Maybe you need to do muscle-ups, handstand pushups, or Olympic lifts more regularly.  Adjust your programming to focus on your weaknesses, and though you may find that your daily results are less stellar than when your programming is slightly more varied, you will quickly improve at the things you most need to improve at, and this will show in your work capacity across broad time and modal domains.

Strategy #3: Change your environment.

Run your 5k in the mountains.  Take some dumbbells and a jump rope to a park or beach.  Train on your own?  Visit an affiliate or get a training partner.  Changing the scenery can do wonders to make things move along.

Strategy #4: Change your equipment.

Try all your metcon weightlifting with dumbbells for a month.  Do all your pullups on rings and your muscle-ups on pullup bars.  Do your pushups and handstand pushups on parallettes.  This change in equipment not only holds true to the CrossFit prescription of constant variance, it will also turn of the "same old movements" into entirely new challenges.  After a month of making everything you do harder, you'll move a lot more quickly when doing things "the usual way."

Strategy #5: Get fat.

This is about as specific an example I can give:  Put on a weight vest for all your metcon and gymnastics for a month.  Like the above option, this will make everything you do an entirely new experience.  Pushups will start to feel like bench presses, muscle-ups will feel like they did when you first got them, and you can forget all about breathing when you've got 20# or more squeezing on your lungs.  After a month, take the vest off and feel yourself fly.

Got more suggestions?  Post thoughts to comments.


Jay Ashman said...

great suggestions... all of these shock the system and offer a change in training. Great blog

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John said...

Don't forget to learn and play new sports often! The application of mad crossfit skills to other athletic endeavors often renews the fervor with which I attack my WODs. It also fosters adaptation, and that rocks.

traucer777 said...

i really need to get a vest... but why must they be so expensive?

RDCP said...

One of my first reactions to diminishing gains would be to take a day, cycle, or week off. Sometimes rest is all you need. But of course, that doesn't always do the trick, and variety is good even for it's own sake.

Russ said...

Good point, RDCP.

Not making progress is probably a good sign that your nutrition sucks or that you need a bit of rest, or both.

Jay Ashman said...

not all of us have the time to play and learn sports, but that doesn't mean that CrossFit in itself is a sport, it is a fitness system designed for life, so if we decide to play a sport, we will be all that much better.

RDCP, right on about the rest, sometimes that is all that is needed.

Russ said...


Why isn't Crossfit a sport? Is track and field a sport? Is strongman as sport?

Jay Ashman said...

Track and Field is a competition, Strongman is a competition. Yes the games are a sport but CrossFit itself is a workout system. Just as strongman TRAINING is a workout system, but strongman as a sport is a sport.

See the difference?

Tsypkin said...


What about football practice? Not the game, but practice. Not a sport? Just curious as to your definition.

If you're claiming that competition must be involved for it to be sport, then CrossFit is more of a sport than virtually anything else, because, unless you train on your own and with your own individual programming, you are constantly competing - with training partners, other people at your affiliate, or people on the main site (or whatever online programming you use.)

Rich Vos said...

One thing I find fun, just to break things up, is to get a free 30 day membership to the local Urban Active. I'll bring my rings, kettlebells, etc. in there and hit the WOD hard, right in the face of the globogym goers.

It's a completely different environment and knowing there is an audience helps push you really hard. Missing snatch lifts is also fun with their super-loud plates and shitty bars.

Though, as others have said, changing programming for a while helps as does taking a nice week off. If you've been doing it for a while, you're jonesin for a WOD after a few days.

John said...

A great idea:
Do a WOD or two completely naked. If you're alone, you'll just feel like a total badass, and push yourself to new heights. If you're at a globo, you'll be arrested. If you're at a Crossfit gym, you'll probably be hailed as a great warrior of olden times. In any case, you can bet something will change.

John said...

In fact, since Grace is my lover I think I will do her naked next time.
In addition, I will do the following naked right now:
AMRAP in 15 minutes:
10 elevated pushups, 20 jumping lunges, 30 situps