Help! I’ve Stopped Making Progress!

Posted on March 31, 2013


60% of the time, it happens every time. Things are humming along in the gym for you. Strength is increasing, endurance during workouts is awesome. Every time you step in the gym you can’t help but PR on something. Sometimes 30 or 40 pounds on a lift, or several minutes on a conditioning benchmark.

And then it happens. It all stops. That deadlift you were expecting to rip off the floor is stapled to the mats. No matter what you do, it won’t budge. So you say fuck it. Move on to the conditioning. It’s in your wheelhouse. You grind through the workout hard. As you finish, you check the clock: a 2 second improvement.

The honeymoon is over. Welcome to the next phase of your athletic life.

For up to the first six months, but often much shorter depending on previous athletic backgrounds, you are in the beginner phase. For those of you in this phase, I’m jealous. At no other point in your exercise career will you make gains this fast or this easily. Literally, everything you do helps everything else you do.

Everything we do in the gym causes a stress to your body, which results in adaptation in the two very broad categories of either strength or conditioning. When you’re just starting out, your body is relatively unadapted. It has a HUGE capacity to adapt very quickly to virtually any stress placed on it.

Run with this for as long as you can.

When it’s over, though, all is not lost. The further along you move towards your potential, the slower your body adapts, and the more specific stress is required to make it do so.  You haven’t reached your potential by any means, you just need a different method of getting there. This is the beginning of the intermediate stage, and for many, this is where the real training starts. It’s not easy, but the rewards are great. You’re going to do work, and every improvement will be well fought and hard earned, so celebrate them.

If you think you’ve hit a wall as a beginning, talk to your coaches. There are a few things you can do to continue to make gains.

  • Expectations. You won’t PR on every workout every time, and that’s ok. So don’t get frustrated.
  • Keep a journal. Making gains gets more difficult as you progress. It’s very easy to under/overdo things at this point, so having a record of your previous workouts, and aiming to make small, incremental improvements is critical. If you don’t have one, grab one at the gym
  • Balance lifting with conditioning. If you’re one of the people who always skips one or the other, try to balance out. For most people, getting a little stronger will carry over to improved work capacity. Conditioning doesn’t carry over to strength as well, but it does help you recover between sets.
  • For lifting: alternate sets across (same weight for all work sets) some days with other days ramping sets to a top 1, 3, or 5rm – whatever the day calls for. This is where you need the journal. Your sets across need to be heavy enough to cause an adaptation that will enable you to push the RM set just a little further when it comes around. Around 80% of your estimated or known 1RM is in the ballpark for sets across. For ramping sets, pick a realistic target like 5 pounds more than last time, and go for it.
  • For conditioning: take 60 seconds and think about the workout. Can you do the thrusters unbroken? If not, where will the breaks be? How long should the 400m run take? What prowler weight did you use last time? Remember, we want to maximize work capacity in a short amount of time, which does NOT always mean going for broke right out of the gate.

Bottom line, when the gains slow down, stay on your game. We want you to always be progressing in your fitness in some capacity. Just because one method isn’t getting you results anymore doesn’t mean there isn’t an enormous amount of progress to be had.

Posted in: Training