How to Fix a Strength Plateau

Anyone that does resistance training does so with the goal of getting stronger. Individuals coming off an injury want to get back to regular activity as soon as possible and do this by increasing the strength of the supportive muscles.

Individuals with a weight loss goal understand that increased strength will lead to added muscle mass. And this extra muscle mass becomes the metabolic furnace to burn extra calories when we’re not in the gym training.

Athletes as well train to increase strength as this helps them minimize the potential for injury as well as enhance performance in sport. A stronger athlete can typically produce force more quickly than a weaker athlete which provides an athletic advantage in terms of speed. As well, when an athlete is stronger this does wonders for their confidence which can translate to better performance during games.

So how do we typically go about getting stronger?

Increased strength benefits all training goals.

Increased strength benefits all training goals.

Well one of the first protocols for strength was developed by Dr. DeLorme who helped rehab injured soldiers. DeLorme noticed the soldiers recovered more quickly and completely when given a strength training protocol as part of their rehab.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say you probably know what the protocol was…

Finish the following…’3 sets of ___ reps’.

If you said 10 reps, you’d be right. That’s the training plan for the DeLorme protocol.

And it worked really well. In the short term.

Over time however, it doesn’t yield the results it did in the beginning. And this should come as no big surprise to anyone reading this. Consider the following example.

Mary is new to weight training and has just learned how to do a trapbar deadlift. For the month of May Mary does 3 sets of 10 reps with 75 lbs on the bar. Each workout she completes all the reps easily and with perfect form. As a result her coach increases the loads she uses incrementally.

Fast forward to Christmas time and Mary has made some tremendous gains. Mary no longer loads 75 lbs on the bar for her deadlifts. Instead she now uses 215 lbs. This is almost a 300% increase in the load Mary started at back in May.

What are the chances in six more months Mary will continue increasing her strength and be able to pull 415 lbs in May of the following year? There is less than a 1% chance this will happen for Mary.

In other words at a certain point strength levels begin to plateau and the gains stop happening.

Anyone who has trained for an extended period of time i.e. more than 12-18 months, will know this to be true.

So obviously there are limits to our human potential. But is there anything that can be done to continue increasing strength? And are there ways to get stronger even if you’re not a newbie? And lastly, is there a way of training that gives consideration to how an individual is doing on a particular day?

The answer to all three of these is simply yes. And the answer would be APRE.

APRE stands for autoregulation progression resistance exercise and was defined and described very effectively by Dr. Bryan Mann et al. in his research paper on the topic.

What Dr. Mann did was have 23 Division 1 football players follow either the APRE protocol or a traditional linear progression for 6 weeks of off-season training. Let’s look at each of these protocols.

A linear periodization model has all of the loads predetermined over the 6 week program. Knowing an athlete’s maximum for a particular lift, the loads can then be assigned for each workout with progressive increases.

With the APRE model the athlete does a total of four sets. The first two sets are sub maximal at 50% and 75%. For example let’s say an athlete could bench 200 lbs for 10 reps. His 10 RM (rep maximum) would be 200 lbs. And 50% of this would be 100 lbs. And 75% of this would be 150 lbs.

Here’s a quick summary of the 10 RM program showing what to do for each of the 4 sets.

Set 1: 12 reps at 50% i.e. 100 lbs
Set 2: 10 reps at 75% i.e. 150 lbs
Set 3: Maximum (as many reps as able) at anticipated 10 RM i.e. 200 lbs
Set 4: Maximum at adjusted weight based on Set 3

After set 3 you look at how many reps you were able to complete. Based on your result from set 3 you adjust the load for set 4.

Set 3 results to figure out set 4 loads.

4-6 reps: decrease 5-10 lbs
7-8 reps: decrease 0-5 lbs
9-11 reps: same load as set 3
12-16 reps: add 5-10 lbs
17+ reps: add 10-15 lbs

Let’s say you were able to do 13 reps in set 3. This means in set 4 you will add 5-10 lbs to the bar. Your load will now become 205-210 lbs. If it were me I would go with 205 lbs as the set 3 reps were closer to the lower end of the range (12-16 reps) than towards the upper end. It’s your choice however. And ultimately how you do on set 4 and your ultimate gains on the program determine if you choose wisely.

Going forward your adjusted load from set 3 becomes your new 10 RM for the next training day. In other words the next time you perform this workout you will use 205-210 lbs as your 10 RM. I am showing the adjusted 10 RM as a range but you should use one number. So pick either 205 lbs or 210 lbs and go with it.

A few final notes.

There are 3 RM, 6 RM and 10 RM versions of this protocol. If you are new to lifting start with the 10 RM version. Speed and power athletes may benefit more from the 3 RM version. In his study, Mann had the D1 athletes use all three protocols during the 6 weeks so don’t think you have to stick to just one version. See the reference below to read the entire study.


  1. Mann et al. The Effect of Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise vs. Linear Periodization on Strength Improvement in College Athletes. 2010. JSCR. 24(7) 1718-1723.



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