Shrugged Collective

3 Strength Lessons – Bust Your Plateaus

If you train for long enough you will learn three fundamental lessons.

First, strength is best described as a skill. To lift more you must get better at producing force, from the cellular level all the way up to the central nervous system. This skill comes with progressive barbell “practice” and the accumulation of rep’s.

Second, the lower your skill level, the easier it is to make rapid progress. Think back to when you first started training. You were probably much weaker. You no doubt had less muscle, and a lower quality of muscle. Your nervous system was out of tune. In short, you were operating far below your physical potential.

The good news is that skills improve quickly in the beginning. You probably enjoyed that initial bump back when you first started Crossfit or Weightlifting, right? It doesn’t take long to get much stronger, but this is temporary bliss.

The bump doesn’t last forever.

The third thing to know about training is that it’s not linear. If it were, there would be a lot more fit and strong people in the world. But in reality training is much trickier than just plugging away and working endlessly.

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If you want to get strong and keep your conditioning, check out our all-new program the Shrugged Strength Challenge.


The new and effective thing you’ve tried will eventually lead to staleness and plateau. Those that could be strong one day get stuck deep in routines and comfort zones. Others make the mistake of changing far too rapidly in the chase for records, trying far too much all at once.

If you want to grow stronger and skilled in the gym you need great programming. But to be perfectly honest, that’s not everything. You can train very hard with a perfect roadmap and great “hacks” and still get stuck. The real key to progress and ultimate success comes down to your surroundings and the mindset you cultivate daily.

Here are 6 tips that could put the bump back into your training. It’s nothing magical or proprietary, just practical advice that will help you grow much stronger.

1. First, get uncomfortable.

Don’t allow yourself to grow bored in the gym.

Your emotions are tied directly to your efforts, and you cannot expect to put in the necessary work and sacrifice if you’re no longer excited and hungry to train. The boredom starts to set in after you get comfortable with what you’re doing, and where you’re doing it.

The answer is to inject some novelty, unpredictability and emotion into your training. This means you have to make yourself uncomfortable again. I’ll give you a quick example.

During a recent visit to Westside Barbell, we had Louie Simmons give some pointers to our weightlifting coach, Alex Maclin, as he worked up to a max attempt in the clean. The programming wasn’t at all unique for Alex, but making that big lift with a deadlift bar, metal plates and a room full of curious, shouting powerlifters sure as hell was.

He responded to the novelty well, making that lift easily and then breaking his record again just a few days later. I’d say the trip was well-worth it for him.

The results are priceless.


2. Raise the standards.

Have you ever kept an aquarium? If so, you might have noticed that some of your fish don’t just keep growing and growing. Rather, they grow to fit the size of the enclosure.

Your gym is the same kind of thing.

Just to be clear, you can have the world’s most advanced programming. You can make all the right moves in terms of nutrition, rest and recovery. That would be dope, but it wouldn’t be nearly enough if you trained with a bunch of people who all considered themselves to be strong enough.

Find a gym where the athletes routinely exceed your current goals. Raise your expectations. Find people who warm-up with your work sets, it will make you grow quickly.

You might even take a tip from Jon Broz, who will be on the show very soon. We were discussing how important the training environment and expectations are for the lifter. His advice for raising standards was actually very simple.

If you want people to push harder, show yourself and your athletes what strong actually looks. If you cannot find super strong people in your gym, the next best thing is to continuously loop videos of world-class lifters in the training hall.

Raise the bar for normal and routine and you’ll perform much better.

3. Learn thyself.

Sometimes strength lessons come from the most unexpected places.

We recently had Jill Miller on Barbell Shrugged, the very tiny, bubbly, energetic creator of Yoga Tune-Up. And I must admit, she definitely taught us a few things about mobility and body awareness, and how important it is for performance.

For years I ignored this type of work, like many strength athletes. I made a habit of punishing myself with heavy barbells. Whenever tissue got too tight and sore, I would just roll it out and stretch. “There, I’m mobile again!” But this is an incredibly shallow, one-dimensional view of self-care.

As Jill pointed out to us, when you roll and gnash you loosen the tissues, but you also improve your brain’s “map” of the body. This increases your proprioceptive and interoceptive awareness, allowing you to better sense inappropriate tension. You’ll also have a much better understanding of how training is effecting your body, which should enable you to better regulate your training.

The only thing better than busting a plateau is avoiding it altogether. Increased awareness can help you with that. It will also make it much, much easier to move better with the barbell.


4. Drill down.

You need a big vision packed with big goals, but all of your progress actually comes from the small, daily steps you take. In fact, the biggest threat to your ultimate success is actually a lack of attention and awareness.

If you’ve plateaued, try forgetting about the big, distracting goals for a little while. Instead, set very clear and simple goals for each training session. Focus on quality over outcome (like load lifted).

Take your time. During each component of your training – warm-ups, barbell practice, conditioning and mobility – scale the work down and place emphasis on quality of movement. Lift the barbell with speed and confidence. Don’t allow yourself to move poorly just for the sake of scoring higher on a WOD. Don’t compromise technique so that you can lift more today, it’s never worth it.

Produce a higher quality of work for just one month and you will perform better. The big goals will take care of themselves. In fact, before you know it they won’t even seem that big anymore.

5. Ride your waves.

I’ve always had a fascination with surfing.

Maybe because it’s not just a matter of effort. The timing of your ride must be perfect. I can imagine waiting out there in the water for my wave. Sometimes they come quick, other times they don’t. In any case, the job is to stay in position and remain ready to ride.

You obviously cannot fall behind the wave, that’s a missed opportunity. And you cannot charge ahead too far all at once. The wave will toss you forward into the reef.

The aim – the goal of your effort – is actually to ride the edge, the lip of that breaking wave. That’s where you find all of the rush and emotion, but it’s also where you will be able to succeed.

Many people fail to make progress in the gym because they train too hard, too often. They pick any old passing wave. They increase their loading way too quickly, and crush themselves with tough high-volume WODs. That’s as good as diving head-first into the reef.

You should push your lifting skills session to session, but pick your waves very carefully. After you’ve drilled down and recovered, try working the load back up slowly just 1-2% weekly. Keep the quality of your work very high. In one years’ time you could easily add 100 pounds to your squat with that kind of approach.

It happens all the time.

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6. To perform better, teach.

One of the biggest challenges that any athlete has to overcome is comparing themselves to others.

On one hand it’s necessary. If we’re going to raise expectations we have to look somewhere. Comparison can drive effort, but as soon as it begins to distract and preoccupy, performance will suffer.

I think the easiest way to get over that mindset is to help other people. When you’re focused on coaching someone else – contributing however you can to their development – it’s pretty hard to be pre-occupied. You’re also able to spend more time observing training with purpose and intent, which is an amazing way to learn and think better in the gym.

Again, that’s a priceless thing.

Train hard, keep learning,


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Chris Moore is a writer, recovering meathead, fledgling raconteur and rabid imbiber. He's also cohost and resident potty mouth on Barbell Shrugged, a weekly podcast devoted to Crossfit, strength, fitness and all things brash. His experience is drawn from over twenty-years spent training for and competing in American Football, Powerlifting, a bit of strongman and a dash of mixed martial arts. Also, it's possible that he's had one too many cups of coffee. A caffeine fever is a hell of a thing, you know?


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