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How to break Performance Plateaus

Very few things can be as frustrating to an athlete as feeling “stuck” in their performance.

This is, of course, especially prominent in sports which are “measured” in “quantifiable” terms and by that I mean times, distances, weights, etc.; athletes like marathon runners; any kind of track athlete for that matter or swimmers; triathletes, weightlifters, etc.   But it also affects athletes whose performance is measured by “finesse” and hand-eye coordination skills such as baseball, tennis, gymnastics, horseback competition, etc.

You are conscientious.  You are intelligent.  You work hard; extremely hard in fact but you cannot seem to get “unstuck”.  Somehow you just KNOW instinctively that “there is more in the tank”.   “More and better”  are very much alive and dwelling deep down inside you but you cannot seem to reach them; to turn it on.

Here are some tips; both mental and physical.

Relax … mentally.

Actually this is both a mental AND a physical command.  When you reach a point/level of performance which you cannot seem to break through, probably the single WORST thing you can do is to TRY harder.

I am not speaking about the times when, as an athlete, you NEED to “grit your teeth and bear down”.  Those moments DO exist but they still have to be approached with intelligence and control.

I have taught and coached a variety of sports for years with a bit of an emphasis on sprinting/running/strength and conditioning and … baseball.  It is very interesting, for example,  in a “power” movement/activity such as sprinting, how TRYING to run faster inevitably makes the athlete  (you guessed it …) slower.  Your muscles tighten and are stiff, clumsy, and heavy.  Your mechanics are coarse and crude; not fluid, loose, and precise.  You are … literally “over the top”;  past a point and position of correct control of your body.  I tell sprinters (and athletes who want to throw hard and swing hard and … etc.) that they need to think in terms of  “rhythm” and “correctness” and “fluidity” and “tempo”.

Reserve Dodger catcher Norm Sherry advised future Hall of Famer  Sandy Koufax to “take the grunt out of it” when Koufax was struggling with his command and too much reliance on speed.  At the time speed was the only thing that Koufax relied on and had any confidence in and it was unsettling to be told to “back off” but he overcame himself and it resulted in him becoming perhaps the greatest left handed pitchers of  all time.

Here’s an easy example and exercise..  Stand up and begin to swing your arms as if you were running.  Do not swing your shoulders;  just your arms in a relaxed easy tempo.  Now pick up the rhythm a bit until you are moving your arms as fast as if you were sprinting and then … just clench your teeth and jaw.  Do you feel the instantaneous tightness in your shoulders and elbows and hands?  Does that feel fast to you?  Not hardly.

And that’s just your teeth and jaw so … loosen up.


Embrace the concept of “progress” and “process”

Stop constantly looking at the weights, the times, etc.; i.e. the “results” and embrace the moment you are working in. THIS is where you make your strides

Get an objective professional to take a look at your performance.

Baseball players, among other athletes, have used mirrors for years as a means of observing and correcting performance on their own.  This is great but it might not apply to something that involves explosive movement patterns.  Another observational device, of course, is the video camera which is virtually “de rigueur” nowadays in high end instruction.

Even facilities which use video are accompanied by a professional with a “second set of eyes” to help the athlete discern flaws which may affect performance and are setting the current “ceiling” that you are stuck at.

The best advice therefore, if you can afford it, is to do both; get some video footage AND hire the best professional you can get to analyze both your performance at speed and the videotape as well.

Your problem can very easily be attributable to some mechanical or technical flaw in your execution.  The professional can probably detect it easily but can give you a “means” to break through with your work out program and drills.

Train your weaknesses until they become strengths.

Do you have a weakness in your performance?  That’s fine.  You’re part of the population labled as “everyone”.  Everybody has a weakness in their game.  EVERYONE.  In fact when I was training and showing horses it was my philosophy to “show off” the horse’s strengths and “hide” the weaknesses.  It is a credo and axiom of athletic competition.

Recognize your weaknesses and train them into strengths.

By the way, speaking of video; here’s another tip:  WATCH SOME; specifically video of someone who has ALREADY broken through YOUR plateau and is performing at a higher level.

There have been a variety of studies verifying exactly how powerful “visualization” is and how much we human beings are “visual” learners.  Think about it for a second; how from infancy so much of our behavior is “mimicry”.

Try it.  Let’s say for example that you want to run faster.  Watch video of someone who is faster than you.  You’re an equestrian athlete; a hunter jumper rider or a barrel racer.  Watch some video of someone who is a little better than you.

You’ll be amazed at how it affects your performance

Insanity is the practice of doing the same thing and believing that you’re going to get a different result; i.e. you need to change what you’re doing in your training routine.

If you’re stuck with the same results then you need to shake up the things that are “causing” those results; specifically your training routines and approach.


“Elevate” your workout; physical, technical, AND mental abilities.

“Elevate” is a good word incidentally because it does NOT NECESSARILY mean to work harder but ALWAYS means to work more INTELLIGENTLY.

… a LITTLE  “elevation” at a time; BABY steps PLEASE.  Chunk it down.

Remember, adding “little” bit … repeatedly over time … adds up to a LOT.  I recall a female marathon runner … and I apologize but I cannot remember or find her name … who began … in middle age mind you … simply by running a lap around her backyard with her husband.  She was a two pack a day smoker at the time as well.

Here’s an important one …

Listen …to your body

My  friend Alan Jaeger is a very important consultant on throwing and arm health and care for several major league.   Even with the HUGE virtually overwhelming scientific and statistically driven information on throwing which is out in the industry right now; he admonishes athletes to develop the ability to “listen” to your body.  Sounds almost like “spiritual” advice, doesn’t it?

But it works.

Every athlete performer hits plateaus.  Do not panic;  streeeeetchhh yourself.

You’ll get past them.

The process works when you work the process.

GOT A QUESTION? NEED AN ANSWER? I work to address a broad range of issues in the articles and give you all the best information possible.  If you have a question or feel you would benefit by advice or counseling, give me a call. I realize that sometimes it is difficult to ask for help; especially with mental skills.  However, all of us can improve something with our game or field of endeavor. Believe me … at the highest levels of performance which you all aspire to … mental skills are the MOST IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR GAME.  Players and parents sometimes hesitate to address and pursue their mental game for they fear that it means that you are "broken". Nothing could be further from the truth. Every major league team has a mental skills coach. Mental skills can easily make a MINIMUM of a 5 - 10% upgrade in your game and get you on track to perform at your bes CONSISTENTLY. Fixing mechanical skills or getting bigger stronger faster without being tough mentally simply DOES NOT WORK!!! Sometimes we need help but don’t know who to ask … or how.  Contact me and I can explain all our programs including  sports mental toughness programs which can easily improve your own mental game or that of your son/daughter or the players you coach. I work with athletes and their families at every level of performance from all over the world using ZOOM over the internet!!! CALL ME FOR A FREE CONSULTATION (203) 252-0395 Karl Avdek, Founder, GC-GP-GH

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