Solving Gym Plateaus through Habits Inside & Outside the Gym

Plateau Busters

It's Essential to Try New Programs with Weight Training

For a mountain climber, a plateau can mean a nice rest after a hard climb, but for a bodybuilder it has none such pleasant connotations. Sometimes a plateau is caused by not putting enough effort forth in the gym, sometimes it's caused by doing too much. A plateau can even be attributed to our habits outside the gym. Let's see if we can find a way to bring you off the plateau and headed back up toward the peak.

Intense City

A quick intensity check is a great place to start. Nothing can render a workout more useless than just going through the motions. If you're unable to focus your efforts, you will be unable to intensify your workout, and if your workout isn't intense, goodbye mass. Allowing your intensity to stagnate will guarantee an instant plateau.

How long are your workouts? Its difficult to keep intensity high for a long period of time. Remember those long, drawn-out lectures from your professors as summer vacation was approaching? Maybe you could pay attention for the first minute, but by the end of the hour nothing. Workouts are similar As time increases, intensity decreases. Grunted there are rare days when intensity and focus seem lo last for hours, but usually attention begins to waver somewhere between 30 and 40 minutes after beginning a workout. As many of the top bodybuilders say: Gel lo the gym. work hard go home.

Working too many muscle groups per exercise session is another intensity buster. This just makes for too many sets. As the number of sets increases, intensity decreases because energy levels fall. Energy sources used by the body are supplied through diet and quickly depleted by exercise, so doing too many exercises (sets) will leave your body depleted. If your body lacks fuel, you will not only lack energy, you'll lack intensity.

Be a Progressive Thinker

Progressive training. We all know the words, but do we know the meaning? To train progressively, you must continue lo progress. This can mean running or biking ever-increasing distances; it can mean climbing ever more difficult rock faces; it can mean increasing the number of reps that you do with weight training. One way to train progressively is to increase the poundage used. Without the increase, muscles become comfortable and are left with no reason to grow. The current workout or series of workouts should always be a progression from the last, and we can achieve this progression by increasing the weight. How* much weight increase should there be? You can go up in increments of about 10 percent, but you may find that you can complete fewer reps while your body adjusts.

Training Overload

If an increase in intensity is what you're after, some overload training could be the answer One form of overload training is forced reps. To do forced reps, use a weight that is slightly heavier than you would normally use. Complete as many reps as you can. When you reach failure, have a partner help you very slightly - just enough to get you past the sticking point. This should allow you to pump out a couple more reps. Forced muscle response causes maximum recruitment of muscle fibers, increasing potential for maxi-mum hypertrophy.

Another form of overload is negative-resistance training, or negatives. With negatives, we focus on the eccentric phase of an exercise. Negatives can be done either at the end of a set, as with forced reps, or throughout the set. Lift the weight (or have someone else lift it) through the positive, or concentric, portion of the movement, then fight against gravity as you go through the negative, or eccentric portion. Resist. You can also do negatives by having a partner push slightly against the weight to prevent you from lowering it. The application of negative-resistance training results in an intense lactic acid burn.

Change is Good

Plateaus occur as a result of our workout routines becoming stagnant. The same routine week after week will inhibit progress. For this reason, variety is essential in our workouts. Let's say you've been doing the military press with dumbbells for shoulders, progressively increasing the weight. Over the course of a few months, poundage increases have leveled off and you have reached a plateau. What do you do? By switching to a different variation of military press like the barbell or a machine, you change the angle of the exercise on the working deltoids. Because the deltoids are not accustomed to this angle, they will have to work harder. This will stimulate, or shock, them into growth.

As we can vary exercise equipment and angles, we can also vary workout orders and sequences. This is a sure-fire way to shock your muscles. Simply rearrange the order that you normally do the exercises. Of course, weight used for individual exercises must be adjusted accordingly. Say you typically incline bench press 225 pounds as the third exercise for the workout. If you rearrange your workout so incline bench is first, your upper pectoral muscles will be fresh; therefore you could possibly use 275 pounds. Likewise, if your flat bench is usually 315 pounds as the first exercise, it may be 250 pounds as the third or forth exercise.

A change in sequence assures that you shock your muscles into growth. Rearranging the order of muscle-group placing throughout the cycle can also thwart a plateau. If, for example, your regular routine is a push-pull routine for back and chest on day one, shoulders on day two, arms on day three, try placing chest and triceps together on day one, legs on day two, biceps and back on day three. Workouts should not be comfortable. A comfortable workout does not shock the muscles. Variety is a nice guarantee of success when fighting plateaus. Variety also helps to keep us mentally sharp, which makes us concentrate more on the exercise, which - yup - increases the intensity.

Other Modifications

Modifying the number of sets that you do each workout is helpful both for intensity and as overtraining prevention. As we discussed earlier, intensity fades as time passes. One way to reduce time spent working out is to reduce the number of sets. Doing fewer sets also allows each rep to be executed meticulously, and with greater weight. And fewer sets means less chance of overworking or injury.

There are many possible variations in exercise tempo. We can do any portion of an exercise with either greater or lesser speed, and each way has advantages. A reduction of speed recruits more slow-twitch fibers, and forces better isolation of the target muscle. A slower rate means that you will have to use a lower weight, and it does not allow momentum to do the work. With the loss of momentum and a lower weight also comes the reduction of need for assistance from other muscles. This helps to focus all the work on your target muscle, resulting in growth. The combination of lighter and slower can also prevent injury because the lighter weight decreases stress upon the working articulations.

Explosive form can be beneficial on the positive, or concentric, part of the exercise because this tempo recruits different muscle fibers. In weight training, the fast-twitch muscle fibers are used first, but are quickly replaced by slow-twitch. With explosive movement, fast-twitch fibers are in use throughout the range of motion. You might want to try using explosive movement on the concentric phase and very slow movement on the eccentric phase. In bodybuilding, the more you can stress your muscles in different ways, the better. It is therefore a good idea to vary the speed at which you complete your reps.

Timely Advice

If you train intensely, you need to get plenty of rest between workouts, and in particular between workouts for the same bodypart. Remember, your body doesn't grow when you train, it grows when you rest. You could be at a plateau because you are not giving your muscles enough growth time. If you are training each bodypart twice per week, cut down to once. If you train chest once every five days, try every seven. Extra recovery days will act as a guarantee of maximum hypertrophy gains from the previous workout. On the other hand, you must also be sure that you are training often enough, and with regularity. Too many times you see guys who show up at the gym every day for two weeks, then you don't see them for a month. This is not the way to gain.

You could also think about increasing or decreasing the rest time between your sets. If you increase the rest time, this will allow you to use a higher weight for your next set because the muscle is better rested. With more rest, we give our body time to pump blood into the muscle, providing oxygen and nutrients. It also allows lactic acid to be shuttled, holding fatigue at bay during our next set. You can also decrease the rest time to push the muscle beyond its normal threshold. We see the use of this rest technique with supersets and giant sets.

Inside and Out

Plateaus can be caused or cured in the gym, but that's only part of the story. Growth occurs during rest, so time spent outside the gym is also relevant.

First you must evaluate your activity level. Over-activity outside the gym can have a significant effect upon the ability to gain muscle. This can be tough for bodybuilders, because they tend to be active people who enjoy engaging in high-energy activities and sports. For maximal muscle growth, however, these activities must be limited. Muscle needs time to recover after a workout. As we lift weights, we cause microscopic tears in the working muscle. When the body repairs these tears, more muscle tissue is added and the muscles become larger. If we continue to use these muscles post-workout, recovery cannot happen, and that means no gain.

Along with rest, muscle growth requires a positive caloric balance. In order to grow, muscles need fuel. High-energy activities burn too many calories, which can place your body at a caloric deficit. Your body takes care of its basic functions such as body-temperature regulation before it worries about building muscle, so if you are burning too many calories, you won't grow. Check your activity level outside the gym. If you are doing too much, you might have found the reason for your plateau.

Perhaps you're getting enough calories for your activities, but are you getting enough carbs? Many bodybuilders choose a low carbohydrate/ high protein diet to regulate body fat, but a lack of carbohydrates is a recipe for loss of size. Carbs should be increased during the building phase because they are your primary energy source.

And when we say you need carbs, we don't mean you should be taking a trip to the junk food aisle. You need carbohydrates to grow, but you must also pay attention to the actual food source. Stick with the old adage: garbage-in, garbage-out. Carbs should come from good sources such as fresh vegetables, fruits (not juices), whole-grain products and potatoes. Likewise, protein should be from quality sources such as egg whites, fish and lean meats. And you need to consume fat - your body cannot function properly without it. Try to use mainly monounsaturated fat such as olive oil, and you need Omega-3, -6, and -9 fatty acids. These are found in fish oils and in many nuts and seeds.

The body uses all of this wonderful food to do its job repairing muscle mainly while you sleep. Sleep is the body's most efficient recovery state. This is when growth hormones are released, promoting recovery. Your body requires eight hours of sleep per night, perhaps more if you are a heavy-duty trainer. Anything less than six hours can render the day's activities in the gym utterly useless. So close those weary eyes ... that's right... zzzzzz.

In order for us to maximize our growth process, we must scrutinize our activities both inside and outside the gym. I'm sure we gave you some ideas on how to climb off of that plateau. Pretty soon, we'll see you there at the peak of the mountain.

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