Train long enough, and you will probably experience at least a few times when your workouts stop producing results.
We call these periods plateaus or ruts, and they’re VERY frustrating!
Beginners only have to look at a weight to get stronger or build muscle. Still, more experienced exercisers tend to make slower progress. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, that already slow progress grinds to a complete and utter halt.
In some cases, a training rut will resolve itself, and you’ll start making progress again. But, if you’ve been stuck in a rut for more than a few weeks, you probably need to take matters into your own hands to get back on track.
In this article, we reveal the most effective strategies for getting un-stuck from a training rut.
How to Un-Stick Your Training Rut
Stuck in a training rut? We feel your pain. These strategies will help get you back on the gains train!
If you want to build muscle, get stronger, or improve your fitness, you need to train consistently. That means no unplanned days off, no skipping workouts, and pushing yourself for weeks, months, or even years at a time.
Unfortunately, that consistency can also lead to a training rut.
Over time, the intensity, duration, and frequency of your workouts could begin to outpace your ability to recover. Fatigue is cumulative, and if you train too hard for too long, your body may reach a point where it can no longer adapt and respond to your workouts. This results in a progress rut.
One way to overcome this problem is to deload for a week or two.
A deload is a period of reduced training volume and intensity. During this period, your body will rest, recover, and bounce back stronger. You can deload when you feel it’s needed, or program a deload into your training and take an easy week every couple of months. Either way, deloads are very potent rut-busters!
2. Shake Up Your Workout
When was the last time you changed your workout?
No, we don’t mean you did dumbbell curls instead of barbell curls or three sets of ten instead of three sets of 12. We mean REALLY changed your workout, using completely new movements or an entirely different set and rep scheme.
Your body is a master of adaptation. If you do the same (or a very similar) workout for more than a couple of months, you’ll get so used to it that your body no longer responds to your training.
It’s a little like eating the same meal every day. At first, you really enjoy it, but as the days turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months, you’ll gradually come to hate that meal, even if it was once one of your favorites.
It doesn’t matter how much you like your current workout; sticking with it past its “use-by date” will put you in a progress rut.
Shake things up by starting an entirely new workout program. You can choose one of the hundreds in our massive workout library or write it yourself. Don’t fall into the trap of doing something similar to your existing training regimen. Instead, look for (or create) workouts that are as different as possible.
For example, if you usually use mostly freeweight exercises, try some machine-only bodybuilding workouts. Or, if your go-to set and rep scheme is four sets of eight, try doing something like eight sets of three.
Remember, what you are doing isn’t working, and more of the same will not get you out of your rut. So, for your next training phase, try doing something completely new.
3. Change Training Styles
As well as changing your workout, you may find it beneficial to completely change your training style for a while. For example, instead of following a bodybuilding program, you could give Olympic liftinga try. Rut-bound powerlifters will undoubtedly benefit from some bodyweight or bodybuilding training.
In other words, a change is as good as a rest, and a couple of months doing a different style of workout could be just what you need to get out of your current training rut.
4. Focus on Rest and Nutrition
While what you do in the gym is critical for your success, you can’t out-train a poor diet or a lousy lifestyle – at least, not for long. Food and sleep are every bit as critical to your success as workouts, exercises, sets, and reps.
If your progress has ground to a halt, it’s time to audit your out-of-the-gym activities to determine if they’re responsible for your rut.
Things to look for include:
- Are you getting around eight hours of sleep per night?
- Are you consuming one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight?
- Are you eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains?
- Do you take a day or two off from training each week?
A poor diet and too little rest and sleep will soon start to undermine your progress. Fix these issues and take the brakes off your training rut.
5. Try a Month of Unilateral Training
The majority of strength and bodybuilding exercises are bilateral, meaning they involve training two limbs at once. In contrast, unilateral exercises are single-limbed.
Unilateral exercises are excellent for improving balance and stability and fixing left-to-right strength discrepancies. They are also an easy yet challenging way to introduce some extra variety into your workouts.
If you are stuck in a rut, try a month of unilateral training. The variety and improvements in balance and stability will ensure that, when you return to your regular workout, you’ll be entirely rut-free!
Great unilateral exercises include:
- Single-leg Romanian deadlift
- Bulgarian split squat
- Single-arm dumbbell bench press
- Single-arm dumbbell shoulder press
- Single-arm bent-over row
- Single-arm lat pulldown
- Concentration curls
- Single-arm cross body triceps extensions
Read More: The Best Unilateral Leg Exercises
6. Evaluate and Fix Your Weaknesses
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the same is true for your body. A weak muscle can undermine your progress and hold you back. For example, during squats, a weak core could stop you from lifting heavier weights. The same is true for deadlifts. Weak triceps could be holding your bench press back.
That’s also the case for your exercise technique. Poor form could be what’s preventing you from adding more weight to the bar. That’s especially true for the big compound exercises.
Evaluate your weaknesses and fix them to get your progress moving again.
7. Prioritize Your Energy
Your energy is a valuable commodity, and there is only so much to go around. Training and recovery use a lot of energy, but if you spend (or waste!) your energy on lots of other activities, you could find that your workouts aren’t as productive as they should be.
For example, if you lift weights to build muscle but also do a ton of cardio, you could be self-sabotaging your progress.
Similarly, if you want to gain muscle but also spend a lot of your time playing soccer, you may not have the energy for your workouts, which could also undermine your recovery.
So, spend your energy wisely, and avoid activities that could be detracting from your main goal. This may mean cutting back on some out-of-the-gym activities or eliminating them altogether. Or, you may need to reevaluate your goals and accept that your love of, e.g., playing basketball, will always be a barrier to building muscle strength and size. Either way, how you spend your energy could have a significant impact on your progress.
8. Start Working Out With a Training Partner
Training alone can be hard. You are responsible for your own motivation, have to rely on the kindness of strangers for spotting and forced reps, and only have yourself to compete against during your workouts.
Working out with a partner could help you bust through your training rut by increasing your drive and motivation. You’ll also be able to train harder and more safely.
Of course, unless you hire a personal trainer, working out with a partner is a two-way street, and what they do for you, you must do for them. So, be a good training partner and not a flake!
9. Up Your Supplement Game
While you can train and gain successfully without supplements, a few well-chosen products could help you bust out of a training rut. Useful and proven products include:
- Protein powder – make sure you’re getting enough protein every day
- Creatine – do more reps per set and recover faster between workouts
- ZMA – natural sleep enhancer and hormone optimizer
- Pre-workout – boost your energy and train longer or harder
- Amino acids – speed up recovery and muscle growth
That’s not to say you need all or any of these supplements, but they could be just what you need to avoid a rut in the future or get out of your current training rut. Remember, though, for any supplement to work, you need to take it regularly, so only choose affordable and readily available products.
10. Assess Your Health
Your health can have a significant impact on your workout progress. If you are unwell or unhealthy, you’re making it much harder for your body to adapt to your workouts.
Common health issues include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Heavy drinking
- Recreational drug use
- Joint pain
- Malnutrition or poor nutrition
- Anemia (low iron)
- Male andropause and female menopause (hormonal issues)
- Hypo and hyperthyroidism (thyroid hormone irregularities)
If you are training hard but still not seeing the progress you want, it could be that your body is working against you. Get a health assessment to see if there are any underlying medical conditions that could be undermining your results.
Few things are more annoying or disheartening than training ruts. It’s only normal to expect a good return for your investment of time and energy. While most exercisers enjoy working out, they also do it because they want to achieve a particular goal.
Training and not making progress is like working and not getting paid; it sucks!
Sadly, it’s only natural for your rate of progress to decrease as you go from being a beginner to a more experienced exerciser. That said, while your progress might not be as dramatic as it once was, you should still be able to keep moving forward, making small but measurable improvements.
If your progress has ground to a halt and you’ve been stuck in the same place for more than a few weeks, it’s time to take action and get things moving again.
Use the TEN strategies in this article to un-stick your rut and reignite your training progress.