We’ve all been there. You work out day and night and enjoy seeing your physical appearance blossom and grow like a work of wonder, new muscles and perfectly toned body in tow.
Until one day, it all stops. No growth, no change and certainly no room for more muscles that might give Arnold a run for his money.
Unfortunately, the body adapts very quickly to any exercises that you perform and this is the main reason why you need to mix your training up.
It is a simple analogy if you don’t stimulate your body with different training methods and techniques then at some point, you will hit plateaus in your strength and muscle gains.
You need to be continuously pushing your training parameters further. This can be achieved by using simple tweaks to your training plan.
That is how things progress and if this scenario was not the case; then the science of bodybuilding would be at a total standstill!
In order for you to smash through your plateaus in training does take a certain amount of courage and long term patience. This sometimes requires you to have an unconventional thinking cap on and many of these hacks do go against the grain of what you have read in many other articles online.
Few people know about these tricks and it recommended that you try one or two first and then progressively add more tricks into your work out regime.
A key point to consider is that muscles adapt very quickly to stress and stimuli placed upon them and changing these variables can substantially accelerate your lean muscle gains. Are you ready to add some new tricks to your armoury?
Here are some of the best tips to help you avoid training plateaus:
#1: How About Eating and Resting
As silly as it sounds, sometimes, one muscle group can go on a hiatus.
Some other muscles might respond to the training regimen but if you think you are not having any effect on a particular muscle group, the best thing to do is to ignore it.
By ignoring, we mean not train it. And yes, that does yield results if the following conditions are met.
Taking a week off training for the stalled muscle, along with 8 hours of sleep every day can help you get that muscle back into action.
It is also recommended to at least eat a little more than your usual calorie count. 200 more calories than the usual will do the trick daily.
In a calorie surplus mode, your muscle gain will be more pronounced as they will have the means and the capacity to build more tissue.
It’s a good idea to constantly evaluate how many calories you consume in your diet.
The more muscle mass you build, the greater your metabolism rate will be. That means you will have to eat more to bump up that calorie count or you will hit the same plateau and your muscles may go to sleep again.
#2: Take Some Time Off From The Gym
A full break from the gym? Most people simply bristle at the mere thought of it. But it can do wonders if you take just a week off from it.
Splits, reps, sets, and so on, these same exercises might be doing you no favours unless you take a break from the hectic workout.
A break is also recommended if you have any injuries. It gives you time to recuperate and as a result, both your joints and muscles get rebooted ready for a fresh new workout.
#3: Use A Timer And The Correct Weight
Before we discuss the importance of using a timer. It is important that you have a clear vision in terms of your training goals.
This process is fundamental to your training. Plan how much weight you are going to pump and the rest intervals in between sets. This is crucial to your goals.
I would suggest the following reps and rest times for whichever goal you have in mind:
- Strength endurance – high reps (12+) with between 35-55% of your 1 rep max (1RM) and 10-20 seconds rest between sets
- Increase Muscle Size & Strength – medium rep range (8-12) with between 70% of your 1RM and 45-60 seconds rest intervals between sets
- Increase Power – medium to low rep range (4-6) with between 80-100% of your 1RM and 2-5 minutes rest intervals between sets
From the above training program outline, it can easily be identified ‘why’ using a timer and the correct weight is important in achieving your training goals.
Just a simple tweak with a timer will ensure that you are training with the correct rest intervals between sets. This will give your muscles enough time to recovery in relation to your goals.
The higher the weight that you lift the more time that you need for your muscles to recover properly and for them to be actively ready for the next set.
Conversely, the shorter rest periods for increasing hypertrophy and strength can cause micro-tears in the muscle and this allows the body to adapt the resistance load of the weight.
In terms of the weight being pumped out, if you are lifting a weight that is either too light or too heavy then your body is not being driven to its full physiological potential. Therefore your gains in muscle hypertrophy, strength and power will be stunted and your goals will become unrealistic.
To remedy this scenario, it is always best to work out your 1 rep max and then find the corresponding % to meet your goals.
Then a common-sense approach should prevail and you will either increase or decrease the weight load on your barbell, dumbbells or kettlebells.
Bear in mind that training with a weight that is too light will not stress or overload your muscles or joints enough to make any progress.
Plus, training with a too heavier lifting load could lead to stress injuries because of poor technique. The muscles/joints may also become imbalanced when performing the lift due to the body being unable to deal with the workload.
In addition, you could scrap the rep number and try to pump out more reps in the set within a given time limit.
Both strategies can help overcome a training plateau. Why not try both and see which strategy works best for you!
#4: Add Some New Exercises to Your Regime
There are a huge amount of different types of exercises that are never used by many lifters or bodybuilders.
Monday is traditionally chest day at the gym and many bodybuilders after the weekend try to pump out five sets of heavy bench presses, incline dumbbell and end with some dumbbell flys.
They have been performing the same routine without any changes for years because they have some muscle gains – to a point.
Like any muscle, the chest needs constant stimulation in different ways for it to grow effectively and to stop it from plateauing.
Although the chest has two main muscles, your work out plan should be further broken down into three areas. The top, middle and bottom.
Although bench pressing does increase your muscle size and strength. Many lifters tend to neglect compound bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups and the chin up.
These multi-joint exercises also stabilise the shoulders, increase muscle fibre recruitment in the chest and this, in turn, can increase the weight lifted when bench pressing.
There are lots of variations for push-ups, and pull-ups. These will target the chest muscles, stimulate muscle growth and stop you from being bored when working out.
Plus, all of these compound exercises engage the core. Aa strong core equates to increased lifting potential, which can be turned into strength/muscle gains.
#5: Change The Equipment Used
Using a Swiss Ball instead of a bench allows you to further engage your core and stabilise the ankle, hip and shoulder joints.
You do have to adjust your body position, and it’s the mechanics of performing this change in your body angle that further strengthen your core.
A key point to remember is that this increase in your core strength and joint stability will definitely improve the pathway to your training goals.
You may also wish to switch the dumbbell and use kettlebells.
Kettlebells can be used for swings, squats and lunges. These 3 compounds movements can help to build the core and all other muscles within the body because they increase muscle blood flow and testosterone levels.
There are a lot of variations of squats, for example, goblet, sumo and pistol. Lunge variations include reverse, skater and clockwork can all be used with a kettlebell/s.
Research has indicated that kettlebell incline/decline/flat presses recruit more muscle fibres to counteract them falling below palm level!
#6: Change Your Training Strategies
This section of the article will discuss two training strategies that could be incorporated into your work out regime.
When used correctly they are an excellent muscle and strength builder.
The main rationale behind using drop sets is to shock the muscle and to cause micro-tears.
This is an excellent strategy to enhance muscle growth and strength. Drop sets recruit a larger amount of muscle fibres including the deep muscle fibres which improve your body’s symmetry.
It gives you a massive pump, making your muscles come alive with an influx of nutrient-filled blood entering your muscles. This can also result in you giving that exercise set your all.
The technique of drop setting allows you to perform some additional sets beyond the point of exhaustion and when you would normally stop/your training session. It involves two additional sets both executed to failure with no rest intervals and without 10-20% of the weight taken off the bar.
To use a drop set, you require just any dumbbell or kettle-bell. They can also be done with a partner in the form of barbell lifts.
The only limitation that can arise is the amount of equipment you can stash in the gym to do the drop sets.
Another training strategy is to perform a superset technique and this involves performing two exercises in rapid succession of one another.
There are two ways of performing supersets. The first method is all about exercising the same muscle groups after each other. For example, the flat bench press immediately followed by wide arm push-ups to exhaustion.
This will improve muscle hypertrophy and strength. The stronger that you get the more times that you will able to perform this style of super setting.
The second method is all about exercising muscle groups that are antagonists to one another, for example, triceps and biceps, quads and hamstrings etc.
This strategy allows you to target one muscle group whilst the other one recovers. Doing so enables a significant load to be placed on both muscle groups.
#7: Resting Can Help You Gain Strength
When we say rest we don’t mean loitering around. We mean integrating a rest-pause into your lift.
When you lift weights, you can hold it and maintain it at the mid-point, pausing for a preset duration.
The time can be either 10 to 15 seconds, three breaths or any other safe variant that works for you.
The reason behind this is that it gets rid of the momentum which helps you lift your weights. This can also work for a deadlift, specifically by pausing at the bottom of the deadlift.
#8: Introduce Bodyweight Exercises
Ever thought of using your own body weight for a change?
Lifting weights is all well and good. However, sometimes, nothing breaks a training plateau as assuredly as a good old-fashioned pull-up or push-up.
These gym-class classics are a lifesaver. You can do many variations of these basic exercises and get total-body benefits as a result.
#9: Turn Your Routine Upside Down
The majority of bodybuilders get into a groove with their workouts and stick to the same order every week. For example, Monday is a notorious chest day in gyms around the globe.
Try switching the order of your workouts. Start the week by exercising a muscle group that you would normally end with and vice versa.
Often this simple switch will wake up the muscle groups and shock them into growing a lot quicker.
#10: Swap Around Your Sets And Reps
Are you typically performing 5 sets of 8 reps? Then let’s alter this and for this week perform 8 sets of 5 reps.
Yes before you start a panic, you can adjust the weight accordingly. You will be amazed at what this strategy will do in terms of facilitating micro-tears within the muscle tissue.
A top tip is to lift heavier weights to activate the anabolic hormones response and to use compound movements to build lean muscle mass.
#11: The 50-Rep Technique
For every workout that you are performing this week, for the last set add 50 reps into the equation.
If you haven’t been fully fatiguing your muscle groups then you will now.
A key point to consider is that the muscle needs to fully fatigued so that micro-tears occur. These are repaired post-exercise and this is the basic physiologically of muscle growth.
The main objective is to try and reach 50 in one hit regardless of what you are attempting to lift.
#12: Pre Exhaust Your Muscles
Instead of using the 50-set why not try this technique. Begin each exercise in your work out at 50% 1RM and perform 75 reps.
Use an isolated exercise for this and have a 10 seconds rest, after you have completed this training method begin with the main lifts of your work out.
After performing this technique for a couple of weeks you will be surprised how quickly your strength will increase.
#13: Go To Failure
Failure is the point of no return where you can’t physically pump out another rep because your muscles are so fatigued.
There are plenty of articles online that state that you should avoid going to failure when pumping iron. They claim that it is a slippery slope to overtraining.
Granted this is the case if you are performing every lift to failure; however, for this week let’s forget about reps.
This method is basically lifting until you can’t lift any more whilst keeping your rest intervals between sets the same as usual. Then repeat the process.
You may find that you are not able to complete your predetermined workout. However, this is normal because you have fully fatigued your muscles a whole lot quicker.
#14: Perform Some Cardio HIIT
Traditionally bodybuilders tend to perform some conventional cardio after they have finished in the weight’s room.
However, my suggestion to you would be for one week to perform 10 minutes of cardio HIIT before you begin your resistance work out. This will boost your metabolism, anabolic hormones and concentration levels.
Specifically, this boost in concentration levels will translate to you being more focused and your workouts should be more intense with real purpose.
Try it and see. You will be amazed at how such a simple tweak will switch you back on fully when smashing the weights!
If you are currently experiencing a training plateau and are struggling to see any muscle gains then hopefully the above tips will help.
These plateaus can be disheartening, but you can overcome them. Good luck!