If you’re a committed gymrat, you’ll know about plateaus. You’re pushing hard in the gym, eating right, sleeping well, yet the numbers on the bar aren’t budging. I’ve been weight training for eight years and, in the last year, I’ve found it very difficult to increase the loads lifted. Once I could hit a PB every time I stepped onto the platform, now lifting has become more of a science. Here are a few things that are helping me break my plateau:

1 Rest. I’ve always had a die-hard attitude to the gym. If I’m sick, I go to the gym. If there’s a snowstorm, I go to the gym. I won’t go on holiday unless the hotel has a gym. You get the picture. It was rare for me to take a deload week (recommended at least every 10 weeks) or even two consecutive days off. I’ve finally realised my body isn’t a machine. I took three days off (shock horror) and spent the rest of the week deloading. Not surprisingly things got better after that.

2 Eat more. Another thing I struggle with. Years of dieting in my teens and 20s has made me exert control every time I fill my plate. To build muscle, you need 17-20 calories per pound of body weight per day. At 125lbs, I need to eat up to 2,500 calories per day. I’d like to stay within my powerlifting weight category, but the additional calories have so far led to increased performance and no change in my weight.

3 Improve technique. I often film my lifts and it’s really helped me see where I can improve. For example, my back was rounding massively on my deadlifts, showing I’m relying heavily on back strength and not engaging my lower body enough. During my bench press, I wasn’t driving with my legs like I’d seen the top powerlifters do. I’ve added deficit deadlifts to my programme, which has helped strengthen the first phase of my lift and encouraged me to sit back on my heels so my back doesn’t round. Bench pressing using a leg drive has recently helped me set a new personal best of 67.5kg.

4 Don’t just do what’s fun. I love bench pressing and deadlifts. I’m not so keen on squats. Instead of relegating squats to a weekend backwater, I put them up front on a Monday. I was keen on variety during my sessions, but lately I’ve had a cull. Instead of working on the three powerlifts once a week, I now practice them twice. By working on endless squat variations, I was just getting better at squat variations. I needed to focus on the key lifts and, most importantly, focus on lifting more.

5 Be brave. I’ve only sat down on a squat once in my life. For a powerlifter, that’s kind of embarrassing. It means I’m not pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I had to ask myself; ‘would it be so bad if I sat down on a squat?’ I won’t be crushed or paralysed (as long as I use the rack supports). The only thing that may be slightly bruised is my ego. It’s a small price to pay if I set a new PB which, annoyingly, is now a year old.

6 Improve mobility. If I was in a rush, I’d often skip my end of session stretch. Bad idea. Tight muscles don’t help powerlifts which require a wide range of movement. It’s likely tight hamstrings were contributing to my rounded deadlifts too. Now I spend 10 minutes stretching at the end of each gym session and have taken up a weekly yoga class. Stretching is helping improve my movement patterns and recovery after heavy lifting.

My next powerlifting competition is at the end of the month, watch this space…