5 Tips To Bust Through A Muscle Building Plateau
Putting a lot of time and effort into going to the gym, eating right, and making sure your exercise execution is on point only to see your gains stalling is pretty frustrating to say the least. Even though you might not exactly plan on becoming a professional bodybuilder, powerlifter, strongman, etc., being able to see changes in the mirror and enjoy the fruits of your hard labor is always nice.
When it comes down to it, there are a few things that you can do to shock your system and start making progress again. It's going to require that you change a few things in terms of your diet, recovery and training, but they will help you break through that plateau.
Lucky for you, there are a few tips you can use to reach your goal(s). Simply continuing to add more reps, sets and exercises to your workout sessions is not the answer in the long run - you simply won't make it out of the gym!
BUILD MORE MUSCLE
Breaking Through a Bodybuilding Plateau
1) - Try Some New Exercises
If you’ve been doing the same exact routine for months and your progress is stalling, chances are that it could be time to switch things up a bit.
I don’t recommend hopping from program to program, because if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. That means if you are seeing results and making progress, why would you switch to a new routine?
Having consistent gains while performing a boring routine is a double-edged sword: the routine is boring and uninspiring, but it’s giving you great gains. Switching up the exercises can spark more interest and ultimately improve the stimulus your muscles are getting.
In short, performing something new and exciting can actually help encourage more muscle growth. If your workout is just not working for you in general, it might be time to switch over to something new.
If you've been having good luck with your current routine but notice a slowdown, here are a few tips for trying a new exercise:
- Try replacing exercises in your routine - instead of doing a one-arm bent over dumbbell row, try bent over barbell rows for instance.
- Try different grip width for exercises; both pulling and pressing. This stresses different parts of the muscle and can help improve your physique.
- If you need to take a deload week, you can go to the gym and try new exercises. You could try different movements you’ve never done before and it can indeed be fun to do. Sparking a little joy will ramp up your likelihood of building more muscle.
2) - Increase Your Volume
To make a muscle to grow, you have to work ut at a certain level of intensity. According to the Journal of Sports Sciences, adding volume is one of the best ways to encourage more muscle growth. The study found as training volume increased, muscle gains increased as well.
But there’s a catch.
A lot of beginners and intermediate lifters can benefit from increasing their volume. That means adding more reps and sets to your workout. You could also add in a completely new exercise too.
The important thing to note here is that you need to increase your volume slowly so you make sure you stay safe. Simply adding one more set to every exercise in a session can add a lot more workload without completely wrecking your body.
Perform your new volume for at least two weeks before you add in more reps, sets, or exercises. Keep track of your lifts in e.g. a log book and monitor your progress.
Since you can’t simply add sets and reps forever, you’re going to have to play around with adding weight to your lifts, too. Adding weight as you complete all of your sets and reps ensures you are progressively overloading. This should also be tracked as it helps you make sure you're not making huge jumps up or down in weight from session to session.
3) - Try a Slower Rep Tempo
Another important component to building muscle is the time you spend under tension. This simply means how long you let your muscles resist the weight during a rep.
Research in the Journal of Physiology suggests that slowing the tempo of your reps down can lead to a greater muscle protein synthesis. This increased time under tension tears down muscle fibers and elicits a hormonal response to rebuild them.
Lifting at a slower tempo is more challenging and more damaging to your muscle tissues… in a good way.
For instance, try performing 10 reps at a certain weight. That's not too hard, right? Instead of performing the reps as fast as you can, try doing them a bit slower. For a bench press, take 3 seconds to lower the bar to your chest, pause for a second with the bar on your chest, and then take 3 seconds to press the weight back up to the lockout point.
See the difference here?
Mike Clancy is a certified strength and conditioning specialist who's been noted for saying “the more tension you put into a muscle, and the more that you continue to rip the fibers, that’s when they continue to grow and build in strength and size.”
That is, if you’re refueling your body with the right nutritious foods.
4) - Try Drop Sets
Drop sets can be fun and they're a very popular bodybuilding technique. Drop sets are a way to completely fatigue the muscles targeted. A paper in the Strength and Conditioning Journal suggests that any muscle building benefits that you receive from drop sets may be due to the fact there is added volume to your training.
Knowing this, though, you may experience the same benefits from simply adding more volume to your straight sets, but the drop sets will save you a lot of time.
Doing a drop set is easy - you complete a set of a given exercise to the point of failure. Immediately reduce the weight and perform as many additional reps you can with good form. You can do more drop sets, but pay attention to both your form and your body. Eventually, you’re going to feel too fatigued. Drop sets are best done on isolation exercises or machines due to the fatiguing of all of your targeted muscles.
You simply can’t expect to do rep after rep of a barbell bench press without risking an injury. Isolation exercises like bicep curls, however, are much safer and have a much lower injury risk.
This is best used in a sparing manner. This means that if you add this in to your workout a few times per week, you could eventually risk overtraining or slowing your progress even further.
5) - Eat More Nutritious Foods
Food is anabolic. Food builds muscle. Food makes you stronger. Plain and simple.
If you ask any elite or top-level strength athlete or coach, they're going to tell you that food along with strength training, is the best way to get gains. Being in a caloric surplus is what puts muscle on you.
When it comes to building muscle, you need to eat more than just enough calories to fuel the lean muscle you have - there won’t be any fuel leftover to build more muscle.
This is the tricky part. If you are already relatively overweight, trying to build more muscle can indeed be stressful - and why is that? Because you know you have to eat more food to build muscle, but you don’t want to gain any weight since you’re already overweight.
Trust me, I know all about that struggle.
No matter how your current situation is looking, making some better nutritional choices is going to improve your overall performance and health. Instead of eating a side of curly fries, why not opt for some fresh-cut sweet potato fries? Instead of eating a regular candy bar, why not have a protein bar instead?
When you shift from “eating whatever” into “eating the most nutritious foods” you possibly can, that's when you’re going to notice a difference in both your weight and your overall performance.
Try adding around 300 calories a day for starters. Be sure that these calories are coming from fresh fruits, vegetables, high protein foods such as chicken, lean beef, fish, and other nutritious foods like avocados, nuts, lentils, and beans. The list goes on. It's all about trying them out and seeing what works for you.