Training

Bust Through Weightlifting Plateaus With Fractional Plates

Recently, I've been using fractional plates from The Friendly Swede to get stronger, overcome plateaus, and work around the herniated disk and broken vertebra that have plagued me for the last 10 years.

These kinds of injuries are a real pain in the ass in general and even more so when lifting weights is one of my favorite things in the world.

But lately, driven by my current bulking mentality, I've said “screw it” and have been focusing all of my efforts on regaining lost strength (and setting PRs!) on barbell movements.

Adding fractional plates to the mix helped me keep going when the next 5 lb increase was threatening to kill me.

My Experience with Fractional Plates

During this training cycle, I started my lifts conservatively, increasing the weights at regular intervals. But once I got to a certain point, each 5 lb increase felt like adding 10 lbs…or sometimes more.

After a couple months of  “microloading” my lifts with 5 lbs, I was constantly having to take a step back with my working weights to give myself a break.

My joints were getting beat up, my warm-ups were taking forever, and my rest periods were exceeding five minutes between sets.

I simply couldn't keep up the pace even though I was eating enough to have gained an honest 20 lbs over a two-month period and only lifting 3 days per week.

Now, lower back injury or not, this is the exact same situation every lifter will run into at some point, so this applies to everyone who lifts weights.

Using fractional plates changed the game for me!

Now that I've been using fractional plates from The Friendly Swede to go up only 1 lb per workout on the majority of my lifts, I'm actually getting stronger at a rate that's slightly out pacing the weight increases.

In other words, when I add 1 lb to my 3 sets of 5 for squats, it feels about 1% easier than the previous workout despite going up in weight.

This is an amazing feeling and I'm stronger than I've ever been!

So why might you want to use them? How do you use them? What should you use? Let's dive in.

Why Use Fractional Plates to Microload your lifts?

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The basic idea behind strength training is simple – beat your previous performance for as long as possible.

And the best way to do that is to lift a little more weight at each workout.

When you first start going to the gym, it's entirely possible to go up 5 or even 10 pounds per workout on compound movements like the squat, deadlift, and bench press.

But unfortunately, that kind of progress doesn't last forever.

At some point, no matter how hard you try, the stress on your body snowballs and you just can't get all of your reps even with a measly 5 additional pounds.

How to know when you need fractional plates

  1. You have to rest more than 5 minutes between sets
  2. You fail to get your target reps for 3 or more workouts in a row
  3. You actually perform worse than your previous workout
  4. The thought of doing another set terrifies you!

If you can identify with 2 or more of the above, you're plateauing my friend.

At this point, most guys want to jump ship and switch to different exercises, but I think it's better to tweak the things that were working so well in the first place.

Specifically, I'd recommend the use of fractional plates to help continue your progress for as long as possible.

Some guys will plateau at a bodyweight squat, many will make it to 1.5, and others will surpass 2 x bodyweight, but…

Everyone will stall at some point and fractional plates will get you over that plateau!

How to use fractional plates to microload

Using the checklist above, it'll be apparent when you truly can't go any further making 5lb jumps. When this happens…

  1. Drop your working set poundage by about 10%.
  2. Increase at a rate of 1-2 lbs per workout for as long as you can.

The deload will provide you with some much needed rest and the smaller steps forward will allow you to get stronger at a rate that more closely matches the load increase.

It's that simple.

The Power of Consistency

If you're thinking that going up only 1 lb per workout isn't enough, think about the progress over a single year.

Let's say you're squatting three times per week for stes of 5.

You can add 156 lbs to your 5 rep max in one year!

Even adding 1 lb per workout to your once weekly bench press routine could take you from lifting 185×8 to benching 237×8!

Don't you think you'll look a lot more muscular when you're pressing that bigger number?

The take-away point is that you won't get anywhere in the gym by constantly switching exercises or sporadically going for huge increases in weight and getting injured.

If you use a set of fractional plates, you can keep making progress on your favorite exercises and have the body to show for it.

The Friendly Swede Fractional Plates Review

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There are all types of methods to microloading your lifts.

Some guys like to use multiple pairs of collars on the bar to increase weight while others like to buy big washers from the hardware store and glue them together for homemade fractional plates.

I took the fast and easy route and picked up a nice set of fractional plates from The Friendly Swede for $35 on Amazon.

The Friendly Swede Fractional Plates Quality

When I first opened the box, the plates looked great.

The paint was a little worn in spots from rubbing during shipping and the inner and outer edges aren't perfectly round (they're distorted near the stamped logo) but none of this effects their functionality.

Me and a few of my gym buddies have been using them for a couple months and they still look like the day I took the out of the box.

The next question is whether or not they're accurate.

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The one pound plates were dead on.

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The three quarter pound plates were a quarter of an ounce over.

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The half pound plates were just an eighth of an ounce over.

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The quarter pound plates were just an eighth of an ounce under (it's hard to tell but the scale reads 7 7/8).

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Although the math doesn't add up perfectly, the whole set measures just half an ounce above the claimed weight.

That's not nearly enough to negatively effect your workouts or record keeping.

Using The Friendly Swede Fractional Plates

These fractional plates come in a reusable box to keep them all together.

They slide over the bar easily and stay put during my lifts.

Aside from slightly more complicated mental math, these work just like regular weights.

I keep mine at the front dest of my gym, but 5 lbs for the set isn't so heavy as to make them impractical to carry from the trunk of your car to the squat rack.

Buy fractional plates from The Friendly Swede Here

I know making progress over the long haul can be tough, but I hope these can be yet another tool to help you keep pushing forward.

All the best,

Nate

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Ori
    November 15, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    It’s weird that we discovered this at like exactly the same time. I’ve been doing kinobody stuff and kept stalling out on incline presses, and I found out that muscular adaptation is only 1-2.5% per workout, so I started adding 1 lbs on core exercises: Incline Bench, Weighted Chins etc.

    I love that feeling of increasing reps while getting stronger.

    • Reply
      Nate
      November 15, 2016 at 6:11 pm

      Hey Ori, it’s good to hear from you again. Lifting more and more each workout is where it’s at, ever if you have to answer a million questions about why you’re using such small plates, haha!

  • Reply
    Chaba
    November 18, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    Hey, I’ve been following your blog for quite sometime and a big fan of it, big up! For some reason only after this article is the first time I’ve noticed that you mentioning your back injury which I can relate to. It would be awesome to hear your workout routine with this condition, lower back pain, disc herniation and bulging is an epidemic and it’s really challenging to properly train with it and not worsening the condition. The other interesting thing is the low testosterone issue/solution which you also mention in another article. Based on my research completely healthy man can struggle with this because in lots of cases damaged nerves in the lumbar spine fail to deliver the right amount of blood/oxygen to the testicles to efficiently function. Yoga twice a week especially hip openings is a great way to mix up with weight lifting sessions to balance and help both conditions. Its really working for me in this combo and interestingly It never helped when I was doing these two type of exercise separately . I guess weightlifting is about testosterone boosting and yoga is for the proper blood flow in the damaged area .

    • Reply
      Nate
      November 21, 2016 at 7:18 pm

      Chaba, I’m getting my thoughts together for a low back pain article right now and will release it when I feel confident in the information. I had many of my low T symptoms before my back injury so I can’t say that there is any correlation but I can definitely see how it’s possible. My solution is also a combination of mobility, stretching, and lifting.

  • Reply
    bathmate review
    November 19, 2016 at 10:41 am

    hey nate, thank you for weighing out the plates. I have been looking for plates like this for microloading forever. I had previously bought some from amazon but when i weighed them they came back all kinds of funky weights. I had given up on accurate miscroloading but Since you included the pics on the scales i feel comfortable buying these. Thanks again man!

  • Reply
    Dan
    November 23, 2016 at 6:06 am

    Hi Nate, thanks for this article! These are just what I need. I’ve been focusing on compound lifts for the last five years and made very good progress (mainly following stronglifts) but this last year and a half I’ve completely plateaued or gone backwards on all my lifts. Decided to change my routine a few months ago to include dumbbells and higher reps, thinking I couldn’t get any stronger with just the barbell (5lb does seem very heavy at times!), so will definitely be giving these a try. Love the blog, great work!

    • Reply
      Nate
      November 26, 2016 at 10:19 am

      Since you’ve been stuck for a little while, I recommend that you deload by about 10% to get a running start and go up 1-2 lbs from there. Let me know how they work for you!

  • Reply
    Sim Campbell
    January 8, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    Nate, this is a solid article. Progressive Overload is the only real way to get stronger. It’s all about smashing through those plateaus, especially when it comes to adding weight

    There’s 2.5 lb plates at my gym…but no 1 lbs or smaller increments. It’s frustrating as hell when you have to end up decreasing the weight just to get more reps or sets in.

    These plates are JUST what the doctor ordered.

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