Busting Through Performance Plateaus

Nothing is more frustrating than putting in hard work day in and day out and still feeling like you are not progressing.  These plateaus commonly occur in the exercise world.  How do you break through the ceiling that is holding you down though?  The answer is to mix up your workouts and step outside of your typical routine.  Here are some ways you can break through your performance plateaus:

• Eccentric training

When most people work out, they focus on the concentric contraction.  If you were to imagine the motion of doing a bench press, the concentric contraction is when you push the bar away from your chest.  The eccentric contraction is what happens as you control the weight of the bar as it lowers towards your chest.

Instead of lowering the bar in 1 second, try taking 3-5 seconds to get there––you will feel a different type of burn and fatigue.  Some of the benefits of eccentric training include rehabilitation of the muscle, improved coordination, increased flexibility, and increased strength.

• Change Up Sets/Reps

 There are many ways to organize your sets and reps as you exercise.  Even with so many options out there, people still tend to fall into the same sets and rep combinations.  After all, we are creatures of habit.

In general, doing higher repetitions will improve the endurance of the muscle you are exercising.  Fewer repetitions on the other hand will improve the strength of your muscle.  If you are used to doing a couple of sets of 5-8 repetitions, try upping it to 12-15 repetitions for a few weeks.

• Strengthen your weakest link

 You are only as strong as your weakest link.  If each link in your chain can support 500 pounds, but you have 1 link that can only support 100 pounds, then your “chain” is limited to 100 pounds––multiple links make up the kinetic chain of your body.

For each person, the weakest link is different.  To figure out what your weak links are, make sure your workouts are well balanced in both the muscle groups that are trained and how often train them.  Some of the most common “weak links” are the wrists, rotator cuffs, and hips.  When is the last time you truly emphasized these areas in your workouts consistently?  Maybe it is time for a change.

• Critique your technique

Sometimes you need to take a step back in order to take a few steps forward.  This is typically how it feels when you are improving your technique.  In an effort to become stronger, leaner, or faster, poor habits can be formed.  In the moment you may feel like you can do more, but in all reality, you’re setting yourself up to be limited later on or even injured.

Find a good personal trainer that can reinforce your good habits and correct the bad ones.  Since it is difficult and pricey to always use a personal trainer, be sure to also use the mirrors around you in the gym to critique yourself.  You can also team up with a workout buddy to hold each other accountable.


Hitting a ceiling in your performance does not mean that your progress is permanently tapped out––don’t continue to do the same workouts every time and expect a different result.  Mix it up for a couple of weeks to push through those annoying plateaus and make it to the next level.

About the Author: Dr. Stephen Workman

Dr. Stephen Workman is a chiropractic physician practicing in Cedar City, Utah. Dr. Workman specializes in sports injuries and performance. He has treated many professional athletes, dancers, and musicians over the years. In addition to his Doctorate in Chiropractic, he has a Master’s degree in Sports Medicine and two Bachelor’s degrees in Human Biology and Exercise Science. Dr. Workman enjoys all forms of exercise, sports, and outdoor activities. He is also a drummer and an avid foodie. Dr. Workman can be reached at DocSWorkman@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.