5 Tips to Bust Through Your Muscle Building Plateau
It’s pretty frustrating when you put so much time and effort into going to the gym, eating right, and making sure you perform exercises properly only to see your gains stalling. Even though you don’t plan on being a professional bodybuilder, it’s nice to be able to see some changes in the mirror and enjoy the fruits of all of that hard work.
When it comes down to it, there are a few things you can do to shock your system and start making progress again on your goals. You’re going to have to change a few things in your diet, recovery, and in the gym if you want to break through a plateau.
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Fortunately, there are a few tips you can use to reach your goals. You won’t be able to continue adding more reps, more sets, and more exercises to your workout — you’ll never make it out of the gym!
Bust a Bodybuilding Plateau
#1 – Try New Exercises
If you’ve been working on the same routine for months and your progress is stalling, it could be time to switch things up.
I don’t recommend program hopping, 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 some precious gains. Switching up the exercises can spark more interest and ultimately improve the stimulus your muscles receive.
In short, performing something new and exciting can help encourage more muscle growth. If your workout, in general, is just not working for you, it may be time to switch.
If you have 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 the routine — instead of a 1 arm bent over dumbbell row, try bent over barbell rows.
- Try different grip width for exercises, both pulling and pressing. This stresses different parts of the muscle and can improve your physique.
- If you need a deload week, you can go to the gym and try new exercises. You could try different moves you’ve never worked and it can be fun. Sparking a little joy will ramp up your likelihood of building more muscle.
#2 – Increase Your Volume
In order for a muscle to grow, it needs to be worked at a certain level of intensity. According to the Journal of Sports Sciences, adding volume is one of the best ways to encourage some muscle growth. The study found as training volume increased, muscle gains increased as well.
But there’s a catch.
Many beginners and intermediate lifters can benefit from increasing your volume. That means adding more reps and sets to your gym session. You could also add in a completely new exercise, too.
The important thing to note here is that you need to slowly increase your volume so you can ensure your safety. 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.
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.
#3 – Try a Slower Rep Tempo
Another important component to building muscle is your time under tension. This is simply 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 can lead to a greater muscle protein synthesis. This increased time under tension tears down muscle fibers and elicits a hormonal response to rebuild.
Lifting at a slower tempo is more challenging and more damaging to your muscle tissues… but that’s good.
For example, try performing 10 reps at a certain weight. Easy, right? Instead of performing the reps as fast as possible, try doing them slower. For a bench press, take three seconds to lower the bar to your chest, pause for a second on your chest, and take three seconds to press the weight back up.
Do you see the difference?
Mike Clancy is a certified strength and conditioning specialists and he has been noted 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 nutritious foods.
#4 – Try Drop Sets
Drop sets can be fun and they are a popular bodybuilding strategy. Drop sets are a way to completely fatigue target muscles. 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 see the same benefits from adding more volume to your straight sets, but drop sets will save you a lot of time.
Performing 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 perform more drop sets, but pay attention to your form and body. Eventually, you’re going to be too fatigued. Drop sets are best performed on isolation exercises or machines due to the fatiguing of all of your targeted muscles.
You simply can’t expect to perform rep after rep of a barbell bench press without the risk of injury. Isolation exercises like bicep curls, however, are much safer and lower your risk of injury.
This is best used sparingly. This means if you add this in to your workout a few times per week, you could eventually risk overtraining or further slowing your progress.
#5 – Eat More Nutritious Foods
Food is anabolic. Food builds muscle. Food makes you stronger.
If you ask any elite or top-level strength athlete or coach, they are going to say food along with strength training, is the best way for gains. Having a surplus of calories is what builds your muscles.
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 where it gets tricky. If you are already relatively overweight, it can be stressful trying to build muscle. Why? 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 fat.
Trust me, I know the struggle.
No matter your current situation, making better nutritional choices improves your overall performance and health. Instead of eating some loaded curly fries, why not opt for some fresh-cut sweet potato fries? Instead of eating a candy bar, why not have a piece of chicken breast?
When you shift from “eating whatever” into “eating the most nutritious foods” you can, you’re going to notice a difference in both your weight and your overall performance.
Try to add around 300 calories per day to start. Be sure that these calories are coming from fresh fruits, vegetables, protein, and other nutritious foods like avocados, nuts, lentils, and beans.