How to Break Through Plateaus When Your Personal Trainer Sucks

Posted May 29, 2009 in Your Questions 1 Comment »
Your Questions
Your Questions

I get plenty of questions in various comments throughout the website, but I also get comments and questions via the Project Swole Contact Form.

Generally I address those questions through e-mail, but often I do not have the time to reply to each and every question personally.

From now on I want to take a more proactive approach to answering Your Health Questions by posting them separately in the blog. This way we can be sure that everyone benefits from the Q & A.

Rich wrote:

“I have been working out with a trainer for about a year and when I started I was at 180lbs and had a pretty big gut and I am now down to 159lbs. The problem is I still have the gut, even though it is much smaller. I look much better, but I am not satisfied because I want to have a six back. I know it will take a lot of time and patience, but I was wondering if you knew of some stuff that I could do.

What do you recommend here?”


The Wikipedia definition of insanity is as follows:

“In English, the word ‘sane’ derives from the Latin adjective ‘sanus’ meaning healthy. The phrase ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ is often translated to mean a ‘healthy mind in a healthy body’.

From this perspective, insanity can be considered as poor health of the mind, not necessarily of the brain as an organ (although that can affect mental health), but rather refers to defective function of mental processes such as reasoning.”

Based on this definition, one could say that an element of insanity is to expect different results by repeatedly doing the same things. That would clearly be defective reasoning.

This philosophy helps us conclude that unless we are insane we must constantly change our workout plan if we want to change or enhance our results, and if you are insane then don’t bother lifting because physical fitness is the least of your worries.

Insanity (image credit:

Science confirms the theory that resistance training causes adaptation and efficient adaptation results in plateau.

Therefore I declare that there is a combination of 3 issues resulting in your lack of progress:

  • Intensity – Over time, you have not increased your training intensity enough to FORCE your trainer’s program to work. Training with a static low intensity leads to plateau.
  • Variation – Your trainer does not have advanced knowledge of exercise science and is limiting you by keeping you on a newbie routine when you need something more advanced. Adaptation to a standard training routine leads to plateau.
  • Nutrition – Although you are probably eating better than ever, you still eat too much of the wrong kinds of food.

The exception to this rule is if you have a significant injury such as a neck, back, hip, knee, or ankle injury that does not permit you to change up your routine and to vary your intensity.

Here are 4 ideas you can use to increase intensity because your personal trainer sucks:

  • Use HIIT – Add High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) sessions to your weekly workout plan.
  • Make Progress – Attempt to lift more reps, lift more weight, complete more sets, or rest less between sets.
  • Add Supersets – Add supersets to your weight training routine so that you are exercise twice as much in the same amount of time.
  • Under Eat – Multiply your desired bodyweight in pound by 13 and eat no more than that number of calories each day.

High Intensity Interval Training

Please join me in a poem I like to call…

An Ode to HIIT

You can do it on a road.

You can do it in a boat.

You can do it on a bike.

You can do it on a hike.

You can do it in a lake.

What a difference it will make.

You can do it on a trail.

You can do it in a jail.

You can do it on the stairs.

You can do HIIT anywhere.

Seriously though, pick a cardiovascular exercise that will allow you to go all out for a short amount of time. Going all out could mean sprinting, it could mean pushing through a fast set of heavy 5×5 lifting with little to no rest, it could even be the “Fat Loss” interval program on the stairmaster at your gym (but seriously go out and run sprints).

The point is that you need to perform with maximal effort for 30-60 seconds, slow it down or rest for 30-60 seconds, repeat. The HIIT workout itself should take around 20-30 minutes, and at no time should you rest longer than say 120 seconds between sets or sprints.


The goal of supersets is to double the amount of exercise you can do at any given time. Rather than just bench pressing, you can bench press and immediately hit a set of rows, pull ups, calves, or abs without any rest.

Supersets are an effective way to promote the full body workout.

For example, take a typical ‘chest day’ that might look like this:

  • Bench Press 5×5
  • Incline Dumbbell Press 3×5
  • Cable Flyes 3×7
  • Dips 3×8

Using supersets you can turn this into a full body workout, which might look like this:

  • Bench Press 5×5 superset with 3 sets of barbell lunges or good mornings, and 2 sets of calves
  • Incline Dumbbell Press 3×5 superset with 3 sets of rows, inverted rows, pull ups, or chin ups
  • Cable Flyes 3×7 superset with 3 sets of shoulder presses, upright rows, or dumbbell side raises
  • Dips 3×8 superset with 3 sets of abs (or 3 sets of bicep curls if you treasure biceps more than a 6 pack)

Now your ‘chest day’ has turned into a chest-prioritized full body workout.


As I suggested, multiply your desired bodyweight in pounds by 13 and eat no more than that number of calories each day. If you don’t lose at least 2 pounds after the first 7-10 days, subtract 100 calories and start over the next week. After a bit of tweaking you should know roughly how much to eat each day in order to lose a couple pounds a week.

Also multiply your desired bodyweight in pounds by .8 and you will know how many grams of protein to eat each day. The rest of your calories should be 33% complex carbs and 66% healthy fats.

Eat the majority of your carbs an hour before and within 2 hours after your workout, or for non-workout days eat your carbs for breakfast and lunch. Most of your carbs should be complex carbs like fruit, veggies, and whole grains.

I can make it much more complicated than that, but you should be able to bust through your plateau if you make good use of these tips.

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One Response to “How to Break Through Plateaus When Your Personal Trainer Sucks”

  1. Great article, excellent advice, but I’ve gotta wonder if the problem is his trainer or him not following his trainers advice. Train long enough and we all get half-assers.

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