Have you ever noticed that muscle growth slows to a screeching halt even though you continue to train hard each and every workout? Week in and week out you train harder and harder but have little or nothing to show for all of your efforts.
The problem could be that you are doing the same exercises, sets and reps over and over. One must realize that even though certain training routines have worked in the past, the body adapts very quickly to stimulus and will compensate just enough to deal with the stresses at hand. Muscle requires a lot of resources for the body to maintain, so it takes the easy way out-doing everything it can to avoid building new muscle!
So how can we “trick” the body into building new muscle?
Even though you have been training to or very near failure in all or most of your exercise sets, your body has adapted to this high intensity and stagnated muscle growth. It is imperative , if you want to re-institute muscle growth, to change intensity, rep count,exercises,order of exercises and other variables in your training.
While I am a dyed-in-the-wool high intensity training advocate, I believe it is necessary to vary the intensity of effort in your training to “decondition” your muscles from maximum intensity training. This idea resembles the periodization program that is popular in the high training volume protocol. It’s called Intensity Cycling in my program.
The program outline is as follows:
- Beginner – Trains to sub-failure, where each set is stopped 1-2 reps before the trainee would be unable to complete any additional full reps. Set count during this phase is 4 for small muscle groups and 5 for larger ones. The main object is to learn proper exercise form with a lesser concentration on muscle and strength increase.
- Intermediate – Trains to failure on every set. The set count in this phase is moderate by HIT standards, 3 sets for smaller muscle groups and 4 for larger ones.
- Advanced – Trains to failure on all sets, adding high intensity variables on many sets, but not all. The variables used include forced reps,negative reps, rest-pause and the like. Set count is 1-2 sets for small muscle groups and 2-3 for larger ones.
This is my preferred outline of natural progression for HIT trainees. Taking a look at the set count, it may seem puzzling to many that the set count is reduced as one progresses to the advanced level. The reason for this is simple: an advanced trainee is capable of much higher training intensity, which taxes the muscles far more than a less experienced trainee is capable of. This is because an advanced trainee is much stronger and more efficient at focusing effort on the muscle being trained, which utilizes more energy and taxes the body’s systems at a higher rate. This can cause overtraining and will drain the central nervous system if you aren’t careful.
Reconfiguring Your Workout
Try changing the order of the exercises in your workout. For instance, if you are doing dumbbell flyes followed by bench presses, reverse the order and do bench presses first.
Substitute new exercises, or ones that you haven’t done in a while, for the current ones you are using. Change the angle of the exercises by using a different grip spacing or by using different bars or handles. Use higher rep ranges than you have been to offer new stimulation to your muscles. Slow down rep speed to superslow levels, that is, a 10-second positive followed by a 4-second negative.
We all know the downfalls of overtraining- tired all the time, decreased strength and muscle size and lack of interest in training. Overtraining is something to be avoided if a trainee wants to continue making progress in their workouts. But if overtraining is done on a temporary basis, its referred to as overreaching. Typically, a bodybuilder overtrains for no more than two weeks and takes a break from all training or from training the muscle group being focused on.
The following program is a good example of applying this to arm development:
- Bicep Machine Curls-1×10
- Concentration Curls-1×12
- Barbell Curls-1×8
- Palms-facing Pull-downs-1×12
- Triceps Pressdowns-1×10
- Lying Triceps Extensions-1×12
- Seated Triceps Extensions-1×12
- Seated or Bar Dips-1×10
All sets need to be taken to muscular failure, which is the point where no additional full reps can be completed.
Pick three days in which you train using this program twice per day. At the end of three days take ten days off training arms then resume normal arm training. You will be stronger and your arms will have had ample time to rest and rebuild.
This “shocking” method can be applied to any muscle group to give it a “kick start” for new growth!
David Groscup has over 35 years of training experience in HIT, or High Intensity Weight Training. He is certified as a High Intensity Trainer by the IART/Med-Ex Group and has trained many people successfully in this protocol.
He has authored seven books on the subject of high intensity training, which are available at: http://www.amazon.com/author/davidgroscup.
You can read his blog on High Intensity Training at: http://drhitshighintensitybodybuilding.blogspot.com/.