bodybuilder busting a curlby: Kelly Baggett

So, you’ve reached the dreaded sticking point. You’re hitting your workouts consistently but there is not much happening. You might have a specific body-part that is stuck, a specific lift that is stuck, or your entire body might be stuck, but rather than search for the next magical routine, try some of the following plateau busters. 

1. Busting Through a Strength Plateau

Bodybuilders who reach plateaus in strength on a given exercise can almost always get moving again if they back off a bit on the intensiveness and up the frequency. Say your bench 1rm is 225 and you’ve been stuck there for an eternity. The way to bust through a strength plateau is to back off a bit on the poundages, add some frequency, and don’t train the exercise to failure. Here is a scheme based on a two steps forward one step back approach you can use for any lift where you increase the weight for two consecutive workouts and decrease it for one. It will work for any lift. Let’s say your current bench 1rm is 225. You’d do the following at the beginning of your workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Mon: 205 x 1 Wed: 210 x 1 Fri: 215 x 1 Mon: 210 x 1 Wed: 215 x 1 Fri: 220 x 1 Mon: 215 x 1 Wed: 220 x 1 Fri: 225 x 1 Mon: 220 x 1 Wed: 225 x 1 Fri: 230 x 1

You’ll start with a weight you can handle for 3 reps, add weight for 3 workouts and then reduce for 1. You can hit a given lift fairly frequently but you don’t have to train the specific body parts associated with the lift that often. For example, you might do your normal higher volume chest workout once per week each Wednesday, but there’s no reason why you can’t do a few heavy reps of bench on Monday and Friday.

2. Do the Opposite

If you normally train a muscle group once a week with high volume, train it 3 times per week with low volume. If you normally train it 3 times per week with low volume train it once a week with high volume. If you normally train it twice per week go either down to once per week or up to 3x per week.

3. Add Feeder Workouts

24 hours after you’ve worked a body part pick an isolation exercise for the same muscle and hit a couple of very light sets for 30-50 reps short of failure. It’ll help increase blood flow, nutrient delivery, and also help recovery. A sled works great for this as you can do a variety of movements for either the legs or various pushing and pulling upper body movements.

4. Get Your Bodyweight Up

One of the biggest causes for a plateau is lack of sufficient intake at the dinner table. Unless you are a doughboy, a beginner trainee, or have genetics to die for, the body is not very good at keeping your fat cells the same size while it increases the size of your muscles. Therefore, one good way to break a plateau is to lose the obsession with the ripped abs. Pick a number on the scale you want to weigh, figure 1 to 1.5 pounds per week pace and get after it. Yes, you will gain some fat and no you probably won’t look your prettiest, but your strength will go way up and any size plateaus will be shattered. Just make sure your bulk doesn’t take you to beached whale type body-fat percentage. Around 15-17% is as high as you wanna go. Any higher then that and you’re getting into the territory where you risk permanent fat boy syndrome.

5. Add Targeted Calories

Short of an all out bulk this option will also work well. Most muscular growth occurs in the 36 hours immediately following a workout; however, restoring of glycogen takes precedence over growth. Therefore you want to get glycogen stores filled up ASAP and also make sure you have plenty of fuel floating around the following day while your muscles are growing. Add an extra 100 grams of carbohydrates to the combined total of what you normally take in during your workout, immediately after your workout, and your 2nd post-workout meal. So, if you normally take in nothing during your workout, 50 grams of carbs immediately after, and 50 grams a couple of hours later, you might consume an extra 50 grams during your workout, 75 immediately after and 75 a couple of hours later. Also make sure you’re slightly hypercaloric the following day. For an extra bonus I’d also recommend synthesize.

6. Pound the Protein

Increase your intake up to 2 grams per pound of lean bodyweight- If you normally take in 1 or 1.5 grams of protein per pound of lean bodyweight try a short blitz phase where you take that number up to 2 grams per pound.

7. Train a Muscle Group Twice Per day

Not only do you obviously get more muscle stimulation with 2 a day workouts but it also allows you greater nutrient partitioning as you have 3 periods each workout where you can really direct a lot of nutrients to the muscle with little risk of spillover: one during the workout, another immediately after, and another a couple of hours later. In the 1st workout choose a compound exercise and perform 6-10 sets of 3-5 reps with long rest intervals. In the 2nd workout choose an isolation exercise and perform 6-8 sets of 12-15 reps with short 45 second to 1 minute rest intervals.

8. Rearrange the Volume

This will work for general overall stagnation. Take a sheet of paper and write down the name of each body part. Next, figure out how many total weekly sets you do for each one. If your like most people chest will have 20% more sets than any other muscle, followed by biceps. To even out your physique, keep the number of sets roughly the same but do more for the body parts that don’t get much attention and less for the ones that do. That probably means exercises like hamstrings, forearms, and calves will be getting more volume. This works because after a few weeks of chronic stimulation most muscles require more than what most think in order to fully recover and demonstrate the results of that stimulation. Muscles that are used to getting hammered will finally be allowed to recover and muscles that are being neglected will finally get optimally stimulated.

9. Double up the Volume

If you have certain lagging muscle groups you want to focus on take the number of sets you currently do for that body part and double the number of sets for 2 weeks. Don’t do this chronically or you’ll risk overtraining, but for short periods of time this can be an effective plateau buster. Make sure you follow this in conjunction with increased nutrient intake.

10. Add a Low Volume of Cardio on Your Off Days

Cardio will eat away your muscles right? Not if you eat enough to make up for it! In fact, regular cardio helps improve nutrient partitioning by improving insulin sensitivity and muscle capillarization. It will also boost your conditioning so you’re not huffing and puffing like a locomotive in between sets of squats. Additionally, it will also help stimulate appetite if you have trouble eating enough. Any cardiovascular is fair game as long as you do something. Start at 10-15 minutes and work your way up. A walk on the treadmill, dragging a sled, doing a few HIT intervals on a bike, bodyweight calisthenics or any of the tons of options at your disposal are all fair game.

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