There is little doubt that the first year or two of training are the most fun, and for the majority of us gym rats, the most productive. However, as you begin to make the transition from beginning lifter to the more seasoned bodybuilder things often don’t work like they used to.
Despite your best efforts in the gym, pushing yourself to the limit on all of your favorite exercises, nothing seems to be happening anymore. Then frustration really begins to set in as you hit a growth plateau that you cannot seem to break.
Why does this occur? Well, you must understand that the human body is an incredibly adaptable machine and thus will eventually cease to respond to stimuli that it is exposed to time and again. And this brings me to the reason for sitting down and writing this article! I want to give you 8 great ways to GET GROWING AGAIN! Let’s do this…
Unique motor unit pools are brought into play, and different muscle fibers are affected when you train with sets in the lower (4-7), medium (8-11), high (12-15), and very high (16+) rep range. In order to break a rut, it is best to change up your repetition scheme especially when you have been stuck using the same rep range for long periods.
If you generally rest 2-3 minutes between sets, for example, try cutting your rest period to a minute or less for a while and experience how much more intense your workouts feel, and how incredibly pumped you get. 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 affect your CNS, muscles, and hormonal cascades in a totally new manner!
The majority of trainees tend to fall into a basic tempo for every exercise that feels “natural” and/or “comfortable, but this is not the most productive way to train. If you are no longer gaining size even if pushing more weight I suggest you try consciously changing the speed at which you lift and lower the weights. One of the best methods for kicking in renewed growth is slowing the negative down to about 4-5 seconds, pausing briefly, and then lifting as explosively as possible.
It is very easy to get stuck utilizing the same exercises over and over in your program, as we are all creatures of habit. But when it comes to bodybuilding, this is not the best strategy for continued hypertrophy. When your CNS gets overly "acquainted" with a movement, fewer muscle fibers are forced to fire in order to move the weight from point A to B (which leads to a reduced anabolic response). Hit a plateau? Try substituting most exercises in your program for others that you are not used to. This in and of itself can provide a powerful new stimulus for growth!
If you are working with limited equipment (like at a home or apartment gym), then switching movements may not be an option. So, in this case, I suggest changing your basic exercise order instead. For example, if you normally hit 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 can kick-start new muscle gains.
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 pauses into your workouts. Instead of always doing straight sets, wreak some havoc on your muscles with supersets, tri-sets, or even giant sets.
While I totally respect those that go into the gym every day and literally push to their absolute limit at every session, sometimes this can also result in hitting a serious plateau if done for months on end. The human body has a limited recovery ability, and if pushed too hard for too long can actually become overtrained and thus cease to put on any new muscle. If this describes you, try backing off on 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.
Have you been training chest and triceps together for years now? Have you always hit quads and hams on the same day? Sometimes all it takes to ignite new gains is to alter your split by combining different sets of muscle groups on each training day. In fact, I recommend altering your split every eight weeks or so, and basing how you group muscles (as well as on which days) by prioritizing body parts that are lagging behind others.