Improving your workout is an endless quest—and we know that constantly making progress can get frustrating.
That's where the tried-and-true method of progressive overload comes in. A popular training principle among bodybuilders, progressive overload is designed to force your body to constantly adapt to higher weights, and then giving your body the chance to recuperate with a "deload week" every 5-6 weeks.
This principle of progression states that your training intensity must ramp up at a rate that continues to be an overload for your body's current fitness state. By staying one step ahead of your body's adaptability, the theory goes, you'll continue to see progress toward your fitness goals. In a perfect world, we'd all just get stronger and leaner forever until we all look like Phil Heath or one of the other physique idols. And in the beginning of your gym career, progress can seem that quick: You're adding weight to the bar pretty much every session while getting leaner and more muscular at the same time.
But all good things come to an end, of course, and your progress will eventually get much more incremental and gradual. This happens for a variety of reasons. Mainly, progress stops because the human body is naturally disinclined to get too lean and muscular. From an evolutionary standpoint, it doesn't make much sense to carry around 200+ pounds of lean muscle since it is much costlier to feed. That's why our bodies love to shut down and keep us small and chubby. Depressing, right? But there's good news.
BEATING YOUR BEST
The key to breaking through any plateau is change—but not change for the sake of change. First, check your nutritional intake. If you're not putting on muscle, add another 300 calories a day. Secondly, how's your sleep? You should be getting 7-9 hours of good quality sleep each night to give your body time to rebuild itself. Sleepcycleapp is a great way to monitor the quality of your sleep via your phone. Mediating before bed can also very helpful to improve the quality of your time in bed.
As for training: It makes sense to add certain advanced techniques to overcome a plateau. This includes training methods like drop sets, cluster sets, or the two-for-one method.
The two-for-one method combines two exercises in one motion. Think of it this way: During the positive (a.k.a. "concentric") phase, you're doing the easier exercise. The more difficult exercise, on the other hand, is done during the negative (a.k.a. "eccentric") phase. (In a bicep curl, for example, you raise the weight during the concentric phase, and lower it during the eccentric phase.)
The theory behind the two-for-one method goes like this: You can handle about 30% more weight in the negative phase of a motion than during the positive phase. (That's why it can be difficult to fatigue a muscle during a set when you're only emphasizing the concentric phase). By fully exhausting the negative phase, you're setting the stage for further growth down the road, since you're priming the nervous system for higher loads.
Here's a list of exercises that can be used for the two-for-one method.