For most of us gym rats, the first year or two of training is the most fun, and often the most productive. But as you start to make the transition from beginning lifter to a more seasoned bodybuilder, things often don’t work like they used to. Despite pushing themselves to the limit on their favorite exercises, guys often feel like their muscle growth becomes stagnant. They've officially plateaued.
Why? It's simple: The human body is an incredibly adaptable machine that will eventually learn to cope with familiar stimuli, and therefore stop developing. Fortunately, there are ways to work around those barriers.
Here are 8 great ways to smash through plateaus and get growing again!
Vary Your Rep Scheme
When you train with varying numbers of reps for each set—whether it's lower (4-7), medium (8-11), high (12-15), or very high (16+) range—your body will recruit unique groups of muscle fibers. To get out of a rut, change up your repetition scheme, especially when you have been stuck using the same rep range for long periods.
Vary Your Rest Periods
If you generally rest 2-3 minutes between sets, try cutting your rest period to a minute or less—your workouts will feel way more intense, and you'll get far more pumped. On the other hand, if you tend to move very quickly from set to set, then try slowing down your pace and enjoy how much more weight you are able to move. This will help develop your nervous system, muscles, and hormonal cascades out of your current status.
Switch Up Your Tempo
Most athletes tend to fall into a basic tempo for every exercise that feels "natural" and/or “comfortable" to them, but that's not the most productive way to train. If you're pushing more weight and still not gaining size, try lowering the weight and changing how fast you lift. One of the best methods for renewing your growth is to slow the negative (or "eccentric") phase down to about 4-5 seconds, pausing briefly, and then lifting as explosively as possible.
Change Your Exercises
It's easy to get stuck doing the same exercises over and over in your program. We're all creatures of habit. But when it comes to bodybuilding, that's not the best strategy for continued muscular hypertrophy. When your nervous system gets overly “acquainted” with a movement, it gets better at firing fewer muscle fibers to move weight from point A to point B—and that, in turn, leads to a reduced anabolic response. Instead, substitute familiar exercises for novel ones. This simple switch can provide a powerful new stimulus for growth.
Rearrange the Order
If you're working with limited equipment (like a home or apartment gym), then switching movements may not be an option. Either way, another way to break through a plateau is to change the basic order of your exercises. For example, if you normally hit your chest with bench press, incline press, dips, then flyes (in that order), try perhaps beginning with flyes, then moving to incline presses, bench presses and finally dips. It will feel like an entirely new workout to you—in mind and body—and it can kick-start new muscle gains.
Increase the Intensity
It is quite possible that your growth has stagnated because you need to up the intensity for a few weeks and literally shock your muscles into responding. Try throwing in some “beyond failure” techniques—like forced reps, drop sets, partials, or rest-pause—into your workouts. Instead of always doing straight sets, wreak some havoc on your muscles with super sets, tri sets, or even giant sets.
While I totally respect guys who go to the gym every day and literally push themselves to absolute limit at every session for months on end, it can actually result in plateaus. The human body has a limited recovery ability, and if you push too hard for too long, your body can actually become overtrained and thus cease to put on any new muscle.
Sound familiar? Try backing off your intensity level for a week or two by not taking any set to absolute failure and focusing more on just getting a nice muscle pump. This short “break” will quite often recharge your batteries and reinvigorate your gains.
Vary Body Part Split
Have you been training chest and triceps together for years now? Have you always hit quads and hams on the same day? Sometimes, igniting new gains just depends on combining different sets of muscle groups on each training day. Alter your split every eight weeks or so, and base your muscle groupings by prioritizing body parts that are lagging behind others.