How to Get Past a Workout Plateau

Experiencing a workout plateau? Try these tips to overcome your plateau and continue your progress.

One of the most common questions personal training clients ask me is, “What should I do when things get easy?”

One of the most common things I SEE as a personal trainer (besides poor form) is people performing the same exercises, at the same weight, for way longer than they should – unless there is some medical/health reason why they can’t change up their program.

Why We Hit Plateaus

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do the same exact workout routine every day of our lives, AND make progress? Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it works (woof).

Our bodies are amazing machines; they will adapt to almost anything we put them through, in order to bring our bodies back to homeostasis: a state of balance, or dynamic equilibrium.

So, back to that workout you’ve been doing with the same weights and number of reps for the past two months: it might not be working for you anymore. Yes, it will aid in maintenance, but if you’re looking to continue building strength and endurance…it’s time to change it up!

How to Tell if You’ve Hit a Plateau

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At some point, a basic bodyweight squat will become too easy.

Paying attention to form and making sure we pick effective exercises is hard enough. How the HECK are you supposed to realize when you’ve hit a plateau? If you’ve one or more of the following thoughts has crossed your mind, it’s time to step it up:

  • I could do 78 more reps of this exercise! Once we pass the 15-rep set, it’s generally safe to say that we can increase weights used for the current exercise. While it’s one of many ways to progress a movement, it can be the most basic adjustment.
  • Now that I think about it, I can’t remember the last time I increased these weights. Unless you have an injury or health reason for maintaining the weight you’re lifting, that one’s a huge red flag! A relatively active, healthy adult who lifts regularly could increase weights at least every other session, depending on how form looks.
  • I’m bored. Not much explanation needed there, right? While boredom doesn’t always stem from a plateau, it can be a sign that you need some more spice in your life!

Three Tips for Getting Over Your Workout Plateau

Remember that this is not your personal exercise prescription. Before trying these or any tips on Hello to Fit, have a little chat with your physician, physical therapist, or fitness professional.

You’ve said one or more of the above phrases to yourself. Workouts are becoming monotonous. You’re losing motivation to exercise. Looks like it’s time to try one or three of these tips!

Increase your reps, sets, and weights (generally in that order)

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Before mastering a new weight, it could be easiest to first increase repetitions performed in each set. Basically, you are evaluating how long you can maintain good form. Have you reached 15 reps and could’ve done five more? Increase the number of sets performed to fatigue the muscles, then increase the weights (with lower reps) to continue building strength.

Perform the same movement with a different fitness tool

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Tired of doing bench press with the barbell or dumbbells? Above, I’ve complemented my chest work with a variation on push-ups. By balancing on an exercise ball, I can incorporate additional muscle groups (legs, more abs/back) while forcing my muscles to adapt in a new way.

Make friends with a new fitness tool, learn how to use it safely and effectively, and go WILD (with love for a new challenge).

Hire a personal trainer

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Okay, okay. This last tip is a plug for personal training. While I may be biased, hiring a fitness professional to help you overcome a plateau can be extremely helpful. Assuming you and your trainer are a good match for each other, he/she can help you set new goals, monitor your progression of reps/sets/weights, and push you out of your comfort zone.

Many Routes to Overcoming a Plateau

Just like there is not a one-size-fits-all regimen for a healthy and fit bod, there is no one-size-fits-all protocol for getting through a workout plateau. Success will come in many different forms, depending on your goals, fitness level, who you talk to, and what you read.

It’s important to find what works best for YOU, and you might not get that by reading a fitness magazine or asking your friend what she did. Of all the ways you can overcome a plateau, the big takeaway is this: the body adapts (faster than we think), and we must keep up with it by continuing to challenge ourselves!


I’ll be packing up for my bachelorette party later this evening. Can’t wait for a weekend of girlfriends and fun! Follow along on our adventures via Instagram.

Let’s chat!

  • What do you do when you hit a workout plateau?
  • Tell me your favorite fitness tool
  • What’s for lunch today?
  • Have you attended a bachelorette party recently?

By Jess

Jess is a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and yoga teacher. She enjoys sharing her passion and enthusiasm for health and fitness with friends, family, clients, and readers.

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58 comments

  • carla

    March 2, 2016 at 5:28 am

    YES!!
    you nailed what works best for me with SAME MOVEMENT DIFFERENT TOOL
    I was so skeptical about that initially—but it really works wonders.
    oh
    and rest 🙂
    that works here too.

    1. Rosey Rebecca

      March 2, 2016 at 12:52 pm

      I agree 100 percent with Carla. This is definitely what has worked for me!! Great post!

      1. Jess

        March 15, 2016 at 10:14 am

        Woohoo!! XO

    2. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:20 am

      Isn’t it kind of crazy how that works?! Our bodies have to adapt to a new THING.

  • Susie @ SuzLyfe

    March 2, 2016 at 9:09 am

    I want to know all the places they take you tonight 😀
    I am definitely in a workout plateau. I’m in a bit of a life plateau. I am waiting for some news that will hopefully come in the next few days and until then, I feel like I am in a holding pattern.
    Susie @ SuzLyfe recently posted…Let the Good Food Roll! Best Food in New Orleans (WIAW)My Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:20 am

      Hahaha we went to The Rarebit, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit, Taco Boy (Folly Beach), and 82 Queen!!

  • Julie @ Running in a Skirt

    March 2, 2016 at 9:11 am

    I’ve def hit a plateau before. Great tips to mix it up– here is where an outside opinion like a trainer really does some good! Have fun at your bachelorette party!!! What an exciting time 🙂
    Julie @ Running in a Skirt recently posted…5 Ways to Get Back into Running After the Winter BreakMy Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:19 am

      It was a blast, thanks Julie!!

  • Kat

    March 2, 2016 at 9:28 am

    All of these tips are on point! Im always increasing my weights on an exercise [because I like to feel STRONG!] but i also like to add different equipment to make it harder. During my HIIT classes the trainer basically uses me as the tester. Last week did TRX tricep extentensions and he realized it was a bit easy for me [no matter how close to the wall I stood!] so he tossed a BOSU ball under my feet. That not only had me balancing and engaging my core but ALSO doing TRX triceps extensions. Talking about making it harder!!
    Kat recently posted…WIAW 3.2.16My Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:19 am

      Glad you are doing all of the above tips, Kat!!! You rock!!

  • Margaret @ youngandrungry

    March 2, 2016 at 9:32 am

    I love this! I’m not sure if I work out enough to plateau (sigh), but this still gives me inspiration to move past doing only body weight exercising and using different resources within my gym. I swear this spring is the season for me to do more than running!

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:18 am

      YES! You can def plateau with some body weight exercises, too!

  • Sam @ PancakeWarriors

    March 2, 2016 at 9:46 am

    I could not agree with this more. I remember for so long I was doing the SAME EXACT routine day each week, even on the same days. I was strong but never got any stronger. And it was kind of boring. But then I met Dave, he made me learn how to squat correctly (apparently my form was crap) and start working out in the “boys only” area – that’s what I deemed it lol. Needless to say I never looked back and I’m never bored!
    Sam @ PancakeWarriors recently posted…Crunchy Mango Salad with Avocado Cilantro DressingMy Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:18 am

      Hahaha I love it…did you guys meet on the fitness floor? <3

  • Brie @ Lean, Clean, & Brie

    March 2, 2016 at 9:56 am

    Great tips! I always try challenging myself and increase the weights I am using when I hit a plateua — it always seems to do the trick! Have so much fun on your bachelorette weekend!!
    Brie @ Lean, Clean, & Brie recently posted…Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Energy BallsMy Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:17 am

      Love that you do that, Brie!!
      Bach was super fun, thanks!!

  • Rachel

    March 2, 2016 at 10:27 am

    Love this! I can’t do the same workout more than two times or else I get bored! My favorite fitness tool right now is a kettle bell. I always feel challenged when I perform basic exercises with kettle bells!
    Rachel recently posted…Monday Motivation: Face Your Fears.My Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:17 am

      YES. There is so much core involved with the KB’s, it’s great!

  • Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine

    March 2, 2016 at 10:59 am

    Ah yea, always increase (slowly), but don’t leave yourself “comfortable”! That’s no fun anyway!
    Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine recently posted…Slow Cooker Salsa Verde ChickenMy Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:17 am

      You said it!!

  • Cayanne Marcus @healthyezsweet

    March 2, 2016 at 11:44 am

    Over here wishing I lived close so I could train with you!! Great tips Jess.
    Cayanne Marcus @healthyezsweet recently posted…WIAW 3/2/16My Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:16 am

      Yessss that would be so much fun!! Come on over 😛

  • Sarah

    March 2, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    Love the same exercise different tool idea! While I will be traveling for 16 days and wanting to plan ahead I will be getting in more running than I have but it will be different going from ice and studs in my shoes to sunny CA weather. That said I want to keep up with some weights so was debating on a resistance band but worried it would be too easy but heard it is a different kind of …. try it, it’s sometimes harder in a video so will bring that along with my Piyo as it will be a good chance to work on relaxation and flexibility. For the places that have a good health and fitness center I will try to fit in some different thing. Thanks for sharing!
    Sarah recently posted…Elvis Oatmeal 2.0My Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:16 am

      Hi, Sarah!!
      I’d go with a resistance band – they’re easy to travel with and work your muscles in a different way the weights do. XO!!

  • Amanda @ Exploring Life & Things

    March 2, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    This is a great reminder! I realized I typically perform the same number of reps with the same weight so I do need to increase the weights when I’m at the gym.

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:15 am

      Yes!! In general it’s a good idea to increase steadily, and safely 🙂 keeps us strong!

  • Erin @ Erin’s Inside Job

    March 2, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    I love reaching a point where I can grab heavier weights than the last time I did a movement. It makes me feel so accomplished!
    Erin @ Erin’s Inside Job recently posted…Steps To A Perfect Smoothie BowlMy Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:15 am

      YESSS it makes me want to “drop the mic”…hehe just kidding…………….

  • Ivanna

    March 2, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    Excellent tips Jess!

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:14 am

      Thanks, friend!

  • lindsay

    March 2, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    even trainers need trainers for motivation and inspiration. I always workout with coworkers for that reason! great post

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:14 am

      YES!! I don’t do that NEARLY as often as I should. Great tip 🙂

  • Christina

    March 2, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    This is so cool. So interesting to hear exactly how you can know if you’ve hit a plateau. I can definitely tell I’ve hit a plateau when I get bored haha. Group fitness classes definitely help with my fitness boredom.
    Christina recently posted…Creamy One-Pot Pasta + 10 Meatless One-Pot Recipes to Enjoy this Lenten SeasonMy Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:14 am

      YES! I love Gfit classes for that reason. I always get good ideas and a boost of motivation from group stuff.

  • Laura @ This Runner’s Recipes

    March 2, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Excellent tips, Jess! I think I’ve hit a bit of plateau with strength training and was wondering it if was time to invest in a new kettlebell, so I’ll definitely be following your advice!
    Laura @ This Runner’s Recipes recently posted…Best Running Fuel for You + Fueling and Hydration E-CourseMy Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:13 am

      Yes!! Unless you have injury history or form issues, I’d say it’s generally a good time to up the weights after a couple sessions 🙂

  • Deborah @ Confessions of a mother runner

    March 2, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    This is something that my trainer and I have talked about a lot. wE have to keep changing things around. I like to mix up the equipment like you suggested. He does not like to add too much weight on for me bc I really tend to build up too much muscle. Good tips!
    Deborah @ Confessions of a mother runner recently posted…3 Pre Run Stretches To Enhance Your Run In Under 5 minutesMy Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:13 am

      Your trainer sounds AWESOME, Deborah!!

  • Chrissa – Physical Kitchness

    March 3, 2016 at 1:01 am

    Jess your posts are always SO helpful! I’ve experienced this so many times in my fitness journey. Usually because I’m stuck working out at home during my son’s nap time, and my DVD’s get OLD. Boredom is a b*tch! I’m terrible at upping my weights too. Thanks for this – seriously I always learn something from you to better myself!
    Chrissa – Physical Kitchness recently posted…Barre Booty Home WorkoutMy Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:12 am

      AW, thanks, Chrissa!! That means a lot.
      Change it up, girl!! Your body will love you for it 😉

  • Annmarie

    March 3, 2016 at 8:01 am

    I love changing up what I use to keep it fresh and work my muscles in different ways. It makes it fun and interesting! 🙂
    Annmarie recently posted…Win to Run & Refuel Blogiversary Giveaway!My Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:12 am

      YES!! I don’t see you plateauing often 😉

  • Jennifer

    March 3, 2016 at 8:50 am

    I have a post on breaking through running plateaus, but didn’t hit many of your tips — this is great!
    Jennifer recently posted…5 Ways Balance Fitness and Life + #prAnaSpringStyleMy Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:12 am

      Together, we have one epic plateau post!! XO

  • Jenn – a traveling Wife

    March 3, 2016 at 9:36 am

    Ugh, the dreaded plateau! I really enjoy cross training to challenge my mind and my muscles. Also, it’s always fun to increase weights to really prove to yourself that you are stronger than you think 🙂 Enjoy your FUN weekend.
    Jenn – a traveling Wife recently posted…Flourless Chocolate Skillet CakeMy Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:11 am

      It’s the worst hahaha. YES ,that’s what I tell my clients: “You’re stronger than you think!”

  • Sarah @ BucketListTummy

    March 3, 2016 at 8:49 pm

    Thanks for the great tips. I definitely think hiring a personal trainer is a great decision – holds you accountable also! Have so much fun on your bachlorette 🙂
    Sarah @ BucketListTummy recently posted…10 ways I’ve Changed my Diet/Lifestyle For The BetterMy Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:10 am

      Yes, definitely! When we are held accountable to another human being, success and consistency is more likely. Thanks, Sarah!

  • Farrah

    March 3, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    Oh, plateaus. Those definitely aren’t fun, but those are all great tips to bust through em’! I usually like throwing in some variety, but there are some exercises where I wish I could keep going with em’ and just continue improving! 😛

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:10 am

      Haha if only our bodies knew when to plateau and when to…not.

  • Brittany

    March 4, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    You’re hired, do you travel?? 😉
    Brittany recently posted…The Time Has Come the Walrus SaidMy Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:09 am

      For you? Anything.

  • Dani @ Dani California Cooks

    March 4, 2016 at 6:29 pm

    Have a BLAST at your bachelorette! Can’t wait to see pix from it!
    Dani @ Dani California Cooks recently posted…Chicken Fajita Enchilada BakeMy Profile

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:09 am

      Thanks, Dani! It was a great time.

  • jill conyers

    March 6, 2016 at 5:31 am

    All great tips Jess. And exactly what I tell my clients.

    1. Jess

      March 15, 2016 at 10:08 am

      Woohoo glad we are on the same page, Jill 🙂

  • masala girl

    April 2, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    i love this Jess! a good reminder for some of us who need a bit of a kick in the butt to push a little more lately 🙂

    1. Jess

      April 3, 2016 at 3:30 pm

      Happy to help remind 🙂 xo

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