You’ve been pumping iron like it’s your job and while gains were huge the first few months, you’ve seem to hit a brick wall in terms of muscle growth. Don’t worry, you’re not alone (even the best of trainers get trapped in a rut)—there is a solution.
“I’m not a natural bencher and was stuck for months. At first I tried to push through, doing the same thing over and over,” says Jeff Halevy, fitness expert and CEO of New York-based Halevy Life. “Then finally I thought, what would I do if I was my own client? I implemented some shoulder stability drills, changed movement patterns and results skyrocketed after about 7-8 weeks.”
The first step to create gains and move past a plateau is to understand what’s causing you to stall in the first place—a plateau means that the body has ceased to adapt to current stimuli. “As beginners we’re able to continuously take the weight up from workout to workout. Then, all of the sudden, progress stalls,” Halevy says. “Our body has adapted all it’s going to do to a given stimulus. So the question now becomes, ‘how do I change this so that my body continues to adapt?’”
To continue seeing gains you’ll have to start implementing changes to your current routine. This can be anything from modifying set and rep structure, to shortening rest periods (or introducing interval work) and mixing up the order and type of exercises performed. Keep a journal of your workouts to help track progress.
“One mistake guys make is checking to see if they’ve made progress too often. Don’t check your max bench once a week, the natural course of training is about 4-6 weeks,” Halevy says.
A great way to jumpstart results is to change the tempo of a lift. “For most exercises I like to keep the concentric phase to a one count, but playing with the eccentric phase (the negative, or downward/lowering movement in a bicep curl) tempo, by as much as five seconds can yield incredible strength gains.”
Halevy suggests incorporating these two simple exercises to start seeing results again:
Squat: Substitute with box squat
- Squat down to a seated position on a bench (or step that’s about knee height) [A].
- Pause for a second, then stand up [B].
This is a tough variation of the squat but can help you break out of a plateau because muscles have elasticity and a natural rebounding effect, like a rubber band. When you sit down half way through a squat, you lose that rebound reaction of the muscle, forcing it to exert even more strength.
Bench press: Build strength with external shoulder rotation
Lots of guys get stuck on the bench press because the support musculature isn’t up to speed for a progression in load (adding more weight). To progress, more shoulder stability is needed, and this can be accomplished by doing external rotation. In my opinion, this is best done with a dumbbell, one arm at a time.
- Grab a dumbbell and sit on a bench with your knee raised
- Place your elbow on your knee so that your forearm is level with the floor [A].
- Rotate your forearm backward until it points to the ceiling [B]. Reverse the motion to return to the starting position. That's one rep.
- Aim to do roughly the same number of reps with a dumbbell that’s 10 percent of the weigh you intend to bench. For example, if you want to bench 250 pounds for 5 reps do external rotation with a 25 pound dumbbell for 5 reps.