If you’re on a training protocol (such as Starting Strength, StrongLifts 5x5, or Texas Method to name a few) which instructs you to add weight to your lifts on a regular basis, then there will come a time when you WILL get stuck.
In other words, there will come a point where you cannot add any more weight to the bar, even though you can complete 3 sets of 5 reps (Starting Strength) at a particular weight.
This usually happens when you try to increase the load by 5lbs (and on lifts such as the overhead press or bench press, simply because there are less muscle groups involved in those exercises compared to the squat or deadlift).
The smallest Olympic plate at a gym is typically 2.5lbs. Adding 2.5lbs to both sides of an Olympic bar increases the load by 5lbs. What this means is even with the smallest possible weight available at a gym, it will be difficult to keep on progressing simply because 5lbs is too big of a jump.
To illustrate this, let’s imagine someone named “Bob” who can squat 200lbs, and overhead press 100lbs (both exercises for 3 sets of 5 reps). He’s on the Starting Strength training program, so linear progression (a fancy way of saying “adding weight every time you train”) is the name of the game.
For Bob’s next training session, his plan is to squat 205lbs and overhead press 105lbs.
The squat, going from 200lbs to 205lbs represents a 2% increase.
Whereas the overhead press, going from 100lbs to 105lbs would be a 5% increase.
Which do you think would be easier?
The 2% jump in weight for the squat will probably be manageable, however, a 5% jump for the overhead press would prove more challenging to achieve 3 sets of 5 reps. In fact, the extra 5lbs on the overhead press might be too much, and Bob might not even reach a set of 5 reps. He’ll hit a wall and plateau.
I’m sure this is a familiar story...I’ve experience the same situation myself many times (at different weights).
So how can Bob keep on progressing and continue to get stronger?
In my experience, there are 2 ways to keep on getting stronger (assuming that sleep, diet and recovery are fine):
First, is fight at the weight you’re stuck at until your can complete 3 sets of 5 reps (or whatever set/rep scheme the training program calls for).
What I used to do is use the weight I’m stuck at and work at it week after week until I could finish 3 sets of 5 reps. Sometimes this would take a few weeks; I would struggle at completing just 1 set of 5 reps, and maybe only hit 4 or 3 reps during the next 2 sets. After week or so, I would eventually hit my target of 3 sets of 5 reps. But here’s the thing: using the same weight over and over again really kills the momentum of getting stronger every training session.
The other solution is micro-loading with fractional plates.
Rogue Fractional Plates
At first I was hesitant to buy the fractional plates from Rogue Fitness simply because it was so damn expensive for such puny weights! ($65 for only a total of 5lbs of Olympic plates).
I’ve read people making homemade fractional plates from chains, but I decided on fractional plates from Rogue, simply because the cost of going to the hardware store to buy the chains, cost of the chains and buying a new kitchen scale to weigh these chains would cost more in time and effort.
These tiny weights have made a big impact on my training. Now, instead of trying to increase the weight by 5lbs, I can increase the load with as little as 0.50lbs.
There are 4 different plates:
- 0.25lbs x 2 = 0.50lbs
- 0.50lbs x 2 = 1.00lb
- 0.75lbs x 2 = 1.50lbs
- 1.00lb x 2 = 2lbs
I like the fact that I can go from 0.50lbs to 5.0lbs in half pound increments. I also like that each weight is represented by a different color (I’ve seen some fractional plates that are all one color - chrome).
Carrying Fractional Plates Around
I used to take 2 sets of the Rogue fractional plates with me to the gym. At that point, I’ve found that I could still make progress by increasing the load by 2.5lbs (that’s 1.25lbs on each side of the bar), so I only brought half of the set with me: the 0.75lb red plates and the 0.50lbs blue plates.
An extra 2.5lbs in my gym bag wasn’t too much to ask.
I weaved the strap of my fanny pack inside the 2” holes of the fractional plates, and carried it over my shoulders. I probably got some weird looks (”why is that big short guy carrying baby weights?”), but I’m not interested in what other people think...I only want to get stronger!
My goal is simply to get stronger, and microloading with fractional plates have helped me reach person records in all my lifts. After all, a 500.5lb deadlift is bigger than a 500lbs deadlift.
The Rogue fractional plates has helped the most with the overhead press and bench press, especially early on where a 5lbs increase became too big of a jump.
Psychologically I think it helps as well. Hitting a wall and getting stuck at a weight for weeks on end sucks. Especially when before it felt as though linear progression was going to happen forever (I wish!). Even adding 0.50lbs to the bar kept the momentum going and the belief that I am getting stronger...a little bit at a time.
What I Didn’t Like
What I didn’t like is that on some of these plates, somehow the paint has chipped off and the metal has show signs of rust.
I’m not sure how the paint chipped off, and I’m not sure if it’s even possible to prevent paint from coming off any weight lifting equipment for that matter since you’re banging metal on metal all the time, but the rusting is probably my fault, since I stored them in a humid basement.
In the future I may end up painting over this rust with some rust resistant paint from Tremclad or Rustoleum.
If you’re serious about getting stronger, then the Rogue Fractional Plates are among the best investments you can make. Tiny increment in weights as low as 0.50lbs will break plateaus, get unstuck and ensure that you’ll keep on progressing and keep on getting stronger.
At first glance it’s seems like a significant investment $65 for a total of 5lbs.
But if you’re like me and you’re pushing yourself to get stronger and break personal records, you’ll probably use fractional plates on every other workout (at least) for the rest of your life.
So $65 for something that will last years and get a lot of use over the course of your life is definitely a bargain.
Check it out here: Rogue Fractional Plates
Alternatively, there’s the Iron Woody fractional plates. The non-metric version is a bit cheaper than Rogue’s (probably because it’s not made of the anti-tank metal that Rogue uses), but I’m sure it’s just as effective.