Thursday, March 5, 2009

"Rut" Versus "Plateau"

In the 90s, after over half a decade of poor to non-existent training, I returned to the squat racks. Quickly I found myself doing endless sets of 10 repetitions with 225 pounds. Why 225? I don't really know, but there I stayed for probably two years. Sometimes I did a little more weight and sometimes I bumped up the reps to 15 or even 20 but, for whatever reason, I kept coming back to 225 x 10. I was stuck in a rut.
When I finally pulled myself out, I made quick gains, but I was ready to take on more much, much sooner. The rut hurt me in more than just the two years lost in training limbo - rushing to make up the lost time, I had a string of lower back and hamstring problems.

Recognizing a rut for what it is and making the distinction between it and a "plateau" can, literally, save you years of frustration.

Plateaus, Peaks, and Valleys

A "plateau" is part of natural progress; a stepping stone to steady improvement.

A "streak", as I define it, is highly dependent on context and competition. A streak (winning or losing) may have little to do with your own performance. For example, you might have a losing streak racing against Michael Phelps or Lance Armstrong, even though you continue to get better and better.

A "rut", on the other hand, is not natural, it is the bad habit of doing the same thing over and over because that is what's comfortable. A plateau is a preparatory phase. A rut is stalling. A plateau is followed by peaks and valleys with a gradual upward slope. A rut may occasionally rise and fall, but remains static.

Ruts can be caused and exacerbated by a number of things such as fear, lack of commitment, and poor planning. Here are a few things to be cautious of and help you avoid long-term ruts:

Have you ever felt like you needed to hold back because you didn't want your training partner to feel bad or because they your training partner just wasn't "into" their training on that day? Breaks are nice, but if time with your training partner is always more social than it is business, you need a new training partner.

Come back from injury as intelligently as possible and be patient. However, don't let the fear of re-injury pull you into a rut. Proactively addressing issues, such as a lack of mobility and areas of weakness will help you avoid this.

For some exercises, you might be perfectly happy to do the same thing every time. The difference between a rut and satisfaction is that, in a rut, you are deluding yourself that you are progressing when you are not. If you have reached a stage in your development that you are happy with your numbers as they are, fine. But, don't try to convince yourself that your current fitness level is actually rising.

A 5 pound gain on a 10 rep max squat, over the course of several months is not noteworthy. 5 pounds is great, and a string of them IS significant, but there are times when we should be more aggressive in our pursuit. Relax and coast a bit after hitting something big. A lion that catches a hare won't be able to rest on his laurels unless they want to starve. You gotta catch something big every once in a while.


Geoff Neupert said...

Satisfaction--the Enemy of Achievement...Great post Boris!

Boris said...

Thanks Geoff.

Unknown said...

Interesting post. I swear, there's something about putting 45# plates (and only 45# plates) on a barbell that inexplicably satisfies people.

By the way, just out of curiosity, what is your height and weight? I watched some of your videos, and imo you looked much stronger than a 225 squat.

Boris said...

Thanks James. I like to say I'm 5'9". Weight fluctuates, but lately it's 190-200. Squat numbers also fluctuate, but the 225 rut is far behind me.