Fractional plates (such as Micro Gainz) are an ingenious invention and amazing accessory for lifters who are serious about building more muscle year after year, with few, if any progress plateaus. If your goal is to use progressive overload weight training to build muscle and you’re not using some kind of fractional plates yet, then you’re missing out.
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Fractional plates are a great accessory if you train in a home gym. Even if you train in a commercial gym, you might still want to buy a set of fractional plates if your gym doesn’t have them.
For years, I was fortunate because my primary gym in East Rutherford New Jersey had 1.25 pound plates and a dumbbell rack that went up in 2.5-pound increments. This allowed me to use micro-loading to achieve slow but steady progressive overload. The availability of this equipment in most gyms is a rarity, however. (I doubt you’ll see it in Planet Fitness).
But let me backtrack a minute…
What are fractional weights? What is micro-loading?
Fractional plates are weights that go up in very small increments. Micro-loading is the process of increasing weights in very small increments.
Normally, the smallest weight plates you see are 2.5 pounds. This means that when you put one on each side of a barbell, you are increasing the weight 5 pounds at a time. Dumbbells also usually go up in 5-pound increments.
Here’s why you want to pay attention to this:
Everyone who has ever lifted knows that it’s easy to increase the weight at first when you’re a newbie. For a while you can even increase the weight every workout. (That honeymoon period was so great wasn’t it?)
But then it gets harder and harder as the weeks and months go by. Soon, you’re just trying to do one more rep with the same weight each workout. Eventually, you plateau or your rate of progress slows to a crawl. Forget about increasing the weight every workout, you’re lucky to increase it every month!
This is especially true for small muscle exercises. If you were leg pressing 500 pounds for 12 reps and you added 5 pounds, you’d barely notice because that’s only 1%. On the other hand, if you did lateral raises or dumbbell bicep curls for 12 reps with 30 pounds and then raised the weight to 35 pounds on the next workout, it would feel very heavy, and you might see your reps crash down to 6 or so because 5 pounds is a huge jump (a 17% increase). It might hurt your shoulder joints too.
But what if you had a way to add weight in smaller amounts? Tiny amounts. “Micro” amounts. That’s what fractional plates are for. They allow you to continue applying progressive resistance without much repetition drop off when you increase the weight.
These micro-weights are useful for all exercises, but especially those small muscles where you must make small increases in weight. They’re also useful for some big barbell exercises like the overhead press. That one is notorious for the strength plateaus. Even a 5 pound jump is a lot to ask.
How small are these weights? The Micro Gainz brand of fractional dumbbell plates that I own are 1.25 pounds each. That means when I curl or do a lateral raise, instead of having to make that big jump from the 35-pounders to the 40-pounders, I can increase to 37.5 pounds (pictured below). Increasing in tiny weight increments like this makes it possible to safely keep using progressive overload a long, long time.
What is progressive overload?
Simply defined, progressive overload means doing more work in today’s workout than you did last time.
Progressive overload is the master principle of strength and muscle building success. It is the key, the secret, the sine qua non, the end-all-be-all of muscle and strength gain. If you do everything else right, but you don’t overload your muscles over time, you simply won’t gain, you’ll merely maintain what you already have.
When you think of overload in weight training, the first thing that pops into your head is probably increasing the weight. Indeed, that’s one type of overload called progressive resistance, but it’s not the only way. Increasing reps at the same weight is overload too because that’s another way of doing more work.
There are other overload methods, which I discuss in detail in my overload training manual, but these are the two primary ways – more weight or more reps at the same weight.
Progressive resistance – adding weight – is considered the ideal way to apply progression, especially when strength is a priority, not just muscle gain. But it’s hard. Fractional plates like Micro Gainz make it much easier to keep using progressive resistance continuously.
What are Micro Gainz and how do they work?
Micro Gainz is a fractional plate company based in the USA and founded by Mike Reed. In 2016 Mike was doing a traditional linear strength training program where you are supposed to add 5 pounds to each exercise at every workout that exercise is performed.
Like everyone else, he quickly found out that he couldn’t do that for long at all. Only as a newbie lifter could he add that much weight every time. Jumping 5 pounds per workout every single time was too much even for the bigger muscle exercises like the bench press.
He realized he could not keep adding weight 5 pounds at a time, so he started looking into fractional plates. After doing some research, he wasn’t satisfied with what he found on the market, so he started a business to manufacture his own plates. He called them Micro Gainz.
Micro Gainz are made from sintered metal, and importantly, calibrated for exact weight. The first Micro Gainz plates were made for barbells, they were circular in design (donuts), and came in different colors for each weight increment. The “donut hole” is large enough to fit an Olympic bar sleeve.
These barbell weights come in pairs starting as low as .25 pounds, increasing in quarter pound increments. Some people shake their head and say, “That’s ridiculous. What good is that? How is a quarter pound going to stimulate any gains?” When it comes to a quarter or half a pound, that indeed might be lighter than most people would need. Any lighter and you might find yourself taping pennies to your barbell, lol.
But think about it. How common is it for people to complain about being totally stuck at a plateau and being unable to lift any more? The problem is, they were trying to add 5 pounds or even 10 pounds at a time. If you added .5 pounds or 1 pound total to the bar, you probably wouldn’t even notice it, and if your form was consistent at every workout, you’d still be progressing wouldn’t you? Granted it’s slow progression, but that’s better than being stuck at a plateau for weeks or months… or forever.
After developing the Micro Gainz for barbells, the Micro Gainz dumbbell plates were released. Coated in black, they come in 1 pound and 1.25 pound increments. Although these are branded as dumbbell plates, I discovered I could also use them on an Olympic barbell as well. I simply slip them onto the outside of the bar shaft (not onto the sleeve, as they wouldn’t fit there).
These dumbbell plates work like a charm. The plates are not closed circles (donuts) like the barbell plates. Instead, these have a space that opens wide and then closes and clamps onto the dumbbell or barbell. An internal spring produces tension that snaps them shut and keeps them in place.
The plates may not fit every dumbbell on the planet, but they fit most standard types of dumbbells. The plates are thin, so they leave plenty of room for your hand to grasp the dumbbell with no discomfort. You hardly notice they’re there.
Let me point out something neat that many people miss. When you have a set of four dumbbell plates, you don’t have to put two on each dumbbell for a 2.5 pound weight increase. You can put only one plate on the dumbbell for a 1.25 pound increase! That is true micro-progression.
This is how you could increase from the 35-pound dumbbell to a 36.25-pound dumbbell. With the ability to make small increases like this, just think about how long you could keep your streak of progression going. You might wonder whether putting only one micro plate on a dumbbell will make the weight uneven (offset). It does slightly, but because it’s only 1.25 pounds, you hardly notice it when you’re using heavier dumbbells. (And by the way, the offset bicep curl is a thing).
I love this product and can’t think of a single downside as far as their construction and function goes. The only complaint I’ve heard about Micro Gainz plates is from people shopping them who say they think they’re too expensive. These plates may appear on the pricey side, and remember that if you’re using them for dumbbells, you’ll need a set of four. But as far as I’m concerned, they’re worth every penny. If dumbbells were available in 1.25 or 2.5 pound increments just think about what it would cost to buy the whole rack.
The Micro Gainz are patented, but I understand there are a variety of fractional plate products with different designs, and these other brands and styles may cost less. You may want to shop around if you’re looking for the lowest price out of all the companies that make these. Just keep in mind that cheaper is not always better, and you always have to consider quality of construction. I’ve made purchases of cheap equipment in the past which broke and then I ended up buying the pricier, but higher quality product in the end after all.
At the time of this writing, I’ve had my Micro Gainz for about one year and have used them every week. We’ll see how they hold up, but so far so good.
These are not the first fractional plates I have owned. Ages ago, I had a set of Plate Mates. These first appeared in 1998 and were originally only available as magnets. They worked well if you were actually pumping iron (metal). Today, my home gym has rubber encased dumbbells and weight plates, so that won’t work. More recently, Plate Mates released their own donut micro plates. Many other companies followed suit.
Micro-Loading With Fractional Plates Is The Real Deal
If you ask around enough, you’ll undoubtedly bump into some coaches or athletes who say micro-loading is a waste of time or it’s for sissies, and so on.
But if you pay attention, you’ll usually see that this comes from maximum strength athletes like Powerlifters. It also comes from recreational lifters, especially young guys with a macho chip on their shoulders. They’re the “Go heavy or go home” types who will say, “Bro, you should only add on 45 pound and 25-pound plates or you’re not a real man.” Naturally, of course, that’s nonsense.
Some people say that using quarter pound plates is a little ridiculous (maybe a valid point). But the 1 pound and 1.25-pound plates are helpful to just about everyone. (That lets you micro-load in 2 to 2.5 pound increments).
Whether you invest in Micro Gainz or a different brand or style of plates, you should not underestimate how effective a training tool this can be. I would advise you not to shrug off this idea as gimmicky or think that adding a couple pounds at a time won’t make a difference. It not only makes a difference, it’s a legitimate game changer.
Progressive overload is everything, and this tool makes it easy to sustain for months and years. Almost anyone of any age with any goal could benefit by micro-loading, at least at times. Older adults may find this especially valuable if they’re worried about the potential for injury when increasing weights and training heavier.
And here’s something most people don’t think about…
Not only can micro-loading keep your physical gains going, think about how it will help boost your motivation. When you can always keep adding weight at every workout, you feel successful. When you feel successful, you stay motivated. This is psychology 101. People have an intrinsic need to feel like they are competent and improving at what they are doing. If you feel like you’re always stuck at a plateau, making no progress, it’s terribly demotivating and is the sole reason countless people quit.
Is there any downside or catch? Not that I can think of, except this: Applying progressive overload slowly for the long term requires real patience. That includes sticking with the same exercise for a long time. If a person lacks patience, or wants to change exercises every workout (or even every month) this won’t work. But then again, an impatient person will never win the muscle game anyway.
Winners focus on the process day by day, workout by workout, but winners also have a long term time perspective. If you want to win the physique you want, give micro-loading a try and learn everything you can about the science of progressive overload.
To see Micro Gains on Amazon, CLICK HERE. (This is our Amazon associates affiliate link)
To learn more about progressive overload, check out the Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle Guide To Building Muscle With Progressive Overload Training.
I hope this Micro Gainz review was helpful.
Train hard and expect success!
-Tom Venuto, Author of, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle (BFFM)
Author, The BFFM Guide To Flexible Meal Planning For Fat Loss
Founder, Burn the Fat Inner Circle
About Tom Venuto
Tom Venuto is a natural bodybuilding and fat loss expert. He is also a recipe creator specializing in fat-burning, muscle-building cooking. Tom is a former competitive bodybuilder and today works as a full-time fitness coach, writer, blogger, and author. In his spare time, he is an avid outdoor enthusiast and backpacker. His book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle is an international bestseller, first as an ebook and now as a hardcover and audiobook. The Body Fat Solution, Tom’s book about emotional eating and long-term weight maintenance, was an Oprah Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine pick. Tom is also the founder of Burn The Fat Inner Circle – a fitness support community with over 52,000 members worldwide since 2006. Click here for membership details
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