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?
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
- You have to rest more than 5 minutes between sets
- You fail to get your target reps for 3 or more workouts in a row
- You actually perform worse than your previous workout
- 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…
- Drop your working set poundage by about 10%.
- 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
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.
The one pound plates were dead on.
The three quarter pound plates were a quarter of an ounce over.
The half pound plates were just an eighth of an ounce over.
The quarter pound plates were just an eighth of an ounce under (it's hard to tell but the scale reads 7 7/8).
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.
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,