33 Ways to Crush a Plateau
33 Ways to Crush a Plateau
Stuck in a rut with no idea how to get out? Let our expert panel help you learn the telltale signs of an approaching plateau and teach you how to bust through it with ease to keep your big-muscle gains on track.
By Eric Velazquez, NSCA-CPT
Lifting straps? Check. Knee wraps? Check. Belt? Got it.
Serious tools for a serious lifter. These elements, combined with your take-no-prisoners attitude in the gym, will help you do what you always do: Kill it. You’re a training machine and, as a result, the gains come easy … until they don’t, that is. You see, even the most astute, dedicated lifters eventually hit a stale period — a time when they can no longer add pounds to the bar, extra reps are tougher to grunt through, fat burning grinds to a halt. The routine that once provided progress in bundles suddenly becomes fruitless and laborious. This unfamiliar landscape is called a plateau.
Take heart, iron lover, because it happens to everyone. The good news is there are ways to get through it — strategies you can apply both in the gym and in the kitchen that can help you to get back to doing what you do best: shattering personal bests and looking better for it.
This panel of experts, which has endured its fair share of plateaus, offers its insights on how to minimize these confidence-killing ruts, both in frequency and severity.
1. Anticipate plateaus
Don’t hit the panic button when the gains come to a screeching halt. Just know it’s part of the game. “Nobody just keeps growing,” he says. “Not everyone can get to be 240 and ripped. There’s no point in getting super frustrated.”
2. Train less
Instinctually, many lifters start training a bodypart more often when they hit a plateau but that can be a death knell for gains. “I started training less frequently, and I gained a lot of size. Sometimes people just need to take a step back to rest and their bodies will respond.”
Trying to look your best, even if you love training and eating clean, can become arduous — even if you don’t realize it. If you plateau, Armon says, it may be best to try backing off. “Sometimes your body is just really tired, so try taking a few days off to relax, maybe have a cheat meal and let your body recover.”
4. Divide and conquer
Heavy compound moves are the absolute best way to pack on size. But there does come a time when you need to break things out and zero in on a stubborn bodypart. “I usually stick to the basics for biceps like barbell curls. But when I started switching to more isolation moves, training one side at a time and mixing in superset and tri-sets, that’s how they grew.”
5. Don’t schedule
Got a great routine? Awesome. Tear it up, throw it in the trash and learn to improvise. “I never really have a set schedule with arms. Mix the order, sometimes superset them or tri-set them or do a 15-minute workout to go really intense. Spend less time in the gym, then go eat afterwards to get growing.”
“If it stops working, the simplest solution is usually to just change it up. Don’t be afraid to try new things. You’re already in a rut — what’s it going to hurt?”
7. Detail through diet
Sometimes, when you can’t work any new detail into your physique, you may feel inclined to change your training, but, “for detail work, it’s typically your diet,” Armon advises. To look super ripped, cut out the junk and fast foods and focus on eating clean and high-protein foods.
8. Go high-carb
Physique looking flat? Don’t automatically assume that going low-carb will get you burning fat and losing water weight. “Most people in that situation would cut carbs and do more cardio,” says Armon. “But this happened to me for one contest and I increased my carbs for a while. Some people don’t eat enough carbohydrates when they diet and if you do it long enough, it’ll just make you watery and flat.”
9. Size up with calories
Not seeing any movement on the scale? No problem. Eat all you can … then eat some more. “If I’m trying to gain size and hit a plateau, the first thing I do is add calories,” Brian says. “I’ll take a gainer shake or add a couple more ounces of food to each meal. I’ll also add Met-Rx Xtreme Size Up Shakes and more red meat.”
10. Rest, rest, rest
Hour-long weight sessions, everyday cardio sessions, meal planning, work, school, and family — it’s no wonder our bodies eventually decide to shut down. One must-try strategy is to rest, Brian says. “Rest is pretty much the key. The old standby is that you’ve got to sleep to grow. I try to get 8–9 hours a night and occasionally I get a mid-afternoon nap. In my program right now, I have two dedicated rest days when I’m not training at all.”
Stress hormones can destroy a bodybuilder’s physique. “Eliminate all stress!” he says. “Don’t worry about it too much. If you’re not gaining weight, it’s calories. If you’re not getting stronger, you need to break down more fibers. These things aren’t simple to get through but the reasons they happen are usually pretty simple. You don’t want to stress. Cortisol levels go up and everything goes to hell.”
12. Train through it
For some, rest is the only viable option. Other times, you may just need a change of pace. “I’ve never taken much of a break. If you haven’t been training that long, just try to maybe train through it but switch things up a bit. Mix in some variations on what you’ve been doing and that could get you back on track.”
13. Strength up with training
If you’re training strictly for strength, then your main shortcomings may be in your routine. “If my main goal is to get stronger, I change what I’m doing in the gym. I start mixing in forced reps or heavy negatives to get those low-rep poundages up.”
14. Shoulder up
If your shoulders are stalled out, do what Brian does. “Initially, I bust through it with more strength-specific training — heavy negatives with the Smith machine is a good option because it’s safe. If I’m trying to add more detail, I’ll try to use less weight and implement more cable work targeting specific heads to really isolate.”
15. Reduce risk
Plateaus are inevitable if you train long enough. But you can reduce how often they occur by keeping your training fresh. “You want to get more variation into your workout,” he says. “The more you do the less likely you are to stumble. Every other week, do something different. One week it’s squats, the next it’s leg press, the next it’s the Smith-machine squat. Grow yourself from all angles.”
16. Supps to keep
“To get me through my training lows, I try to make sure I’m consuming creatine, glutamine and aminos year-round.”
17. Understand plateaus
“In bodybuilding, folks eat the same things every day at the same times, do the same workouts, the same preworkout drink,” Ken says. “It’s all repetitious and the problem is that repetition causes plateaus.”
18. Avoid plateaus
“I believe the body needs change constantly. My trainer, Neil Hill, constantly changes my diet. I’m not competing until 2013 but he’s putting me on a diet like I’m going to compete. Not because I’m overweight or fat but to get used to dieting, then he’s going to rebound me off that diet to help me gain more size. It’s to throw a curveball. The change will be huge for my body.”
19. Adapt to the scale
If you’ve been doing the same thing for a year with some success, and you’ve added a few pounds of quality muscle, your calorie requirements are probably different now. “What happens is that your body can shut down and stop responding because the status-quo number of calories aren’t sufficient because you’re bigger now. What you were doing a year ago might have worked but now that you’re bigger and stronger that diet may not have enough calories, protein or carbs to withstand the training.”
20. Pump up … with fat
“If you’re not getting a pump in the weight room, it’s probably more related to your diet and supplementation. More than likely, you’re low on carbs and dietary fat. You should never not get a pump in the offseason — your calories are high, your carbs are high, your fats are high and you’re taking your preworkout supps.”
21. Consider Y3T
Covered in MuscleMag before, the Neil Hill-conceived Y3T periodization program advocates training changes every week in three-week cycles. “Week 1 is 10–12 reps, Week 2 is 14–16 reps, then in Week 3 we’re doing giant sets and supersets where I’m doing 20–60 reps. So my body is being forced to adapt constantly. It’s produced a night-and-day difference in my body. It’s like built-in resistance to plateaus. It also helps reduce the risk of injury.”
22. Squat sparingly
Yes, it’s the king of all lower-body exercises but it’s not the only exercise. If your legs stop bellowing out, try a different version. “Use the front squat or hack squat to get away from strictly back squatting,” he says. “This hits your legs from a different angle, different positions, different range of motion, etc. There are other exercises that can make your legs grow. Guys get so caught up with wanting to squat 1,000 pounds but this isn’t powerlifting, it’s bodybuilding. So try to find what’s optimal to make your legs look the best.”
23. Strategize supps
Not all supplements are created equal and not all popular supps work with every body type. As with your training, finding the best strategy for your body is the best bet. “I’m sponsored by Gaspari. Fortunately, I was using their products long before then. None of their products have adverse effects on my body. Normal creatine blends, I have to cut them out for a whole month because of water retention. SizeOn keeps me nice and full all the way up to a contest and it helps keep my endurance up through workouts when my carbs are low. Anavite, I use twice a day. I found that those, which contain key aminos,
keep me from breaking down excess muscle tissue while dieting.”
24. Death, taxes, plateaus
“They’re definitely going to happen. Even if you make changes, you’ll still hit a time when things are kind of stale.”
25. Find your motivation
Why do you train? How bad do you want it? Sometimes, finding your mojo again is just a matter of answering these questions. “Early in my career I was so hungry when it came to winning titles and getting to the next level. Every single thing I did kept me motivated — reading mags, going to contests, learning from other people. After a while, those same things don’t seem to do it anymore. I found that I have to draw energy from other places. Now, I get more energy from average everyday Joes who post stuff on Facebook — guys who reach a new best on the bench press, stuff like that. Just following some of these people helps me get remotivated. I see the hunger and motivation in people who aren’t where I am and it makes me remember how that felt and that helps me get to the grassroots of it.”
26. Don’t dwell on strength
Some guys still get caught up with how much weight they can move but without proper periodization [cycling your training] and coaching, you can expect to level out in the strength department pretty regularly. “For me it’s not about lifting heavy weight and trying to be stronger and stronger like it used to be. For me, it’s about trying to maintain and not lose strength and size.”
27. Keep healthy
One area that may be overlooked if you’ve hit a plateau is your overall health. Luckily, you can take some preventive steps to avoid ruts brought about by inflamed tendons and aching joints. “During the season, I get to a certain level of intensity and I try to keep it up to the contest. After that, I take 2–4 weeks off completely. When I come back, I try to do it differently — low intensity, low volume to get back into the swing of things. It’s helping me to make sure that my muscles and joints don’t get overworked. It tears up the ligaments and tendons to train hard and heavy all the time. People think they need to train as heavy as they can right away after some time off but that’ll prevent gains or get you
28. Chest checks
Your pecs not growing? Check your routine. “What are you currently doing? Probably the same thing you’ve been doing forever,” Tricky says. “Use forced reps. Use partials. I try to mix it up every couple of weeks. I’ll do two workouts where I’ll do straights sets, then two straight with drop sets or something else.” The pecs also allow for a lot of angle work, he says, so take advantage.
29. Let your partner lead
“Sometimes, I’ll let my training partner lead the workout,” Tricky says. “Typically that burden is on me. But if you’re close-minded and don’t think you can learn from anybody you’ll never break through that plateau. Or I might pick up a magazine and follow Ed Nunn’s routine or something like that.”
30. Clean it up
Nutritionally, that is. “When I’m eating clean, I feel good about my training. So if I plateau, I may eat more protein and fewer carbs so I get looking a little leaner and that in and of itself is motivating.”
Don’t be afraid to look for a solution on your supplement shelf. Sometimes, the right fuel is all you need. “I started implementing MHP’s DREN and it’s helped me get through workouts for the last couple of weeks. It gives me energy and helps me burn fat. Some of the supps that help fuel your pump, like MHP’s N.O. Bomb, are good to help you get that pump that you’re used to getting, which you may be missing because you’re in that rut.”
No, you don’t have to sign up for a contest but it’s a good idea to tap into your inner competitor to keep you pushing hard. “I may shoot a text to David Henry, saying, David I’m pounding legs today, I’m coming for you! I try to do that every once in a while to keep some camaraderie and the competition going.”
33. Get crazy
Sometimes, going slightly off playbook can pay big dividends. “One time me and my partner did dumbbell overhead presses all the way up to the 100s and all the way back down. There were dumbbells all over the floor. Sometimes, you have to step it up and do something out of the ordinary to get a bodypart back on track.”
this literally reads like "throw a bunch of shit at the wall and hope something sticks"
He is probably a computer lifter!!! Neither to said...we may here from him again if he actually compete???
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