By: Justin Devonshire
Isn’t it strange how there may be around 20 guys who train regularly at your gym, yet only a small handful of them are gaining muscle.
The other 90% look the same as when they started 3 years ago.
That’s because of a few critical mistakes that most guys unknowingly make that are killing your gains.
If you are at a frustrating plateau right now then this article has the answers you need.
Today I am going to give you 5 tips for how to overcome a workout plateau so that you can start building size and strength once again.
Reason #1: You Haven’t Learned the Basics
The basic compound lifts such as military presses, bench press, chin ups and squats should be the first thing to learn. These exercises will no doubt put the most muscle on you in a short time frame as they stimulate multiple muscle groups and put a lot of tension on your muscular system.
Most guys think they ‘know’ the basics and go onto look for new ‘magic bullet’ techniques such as using chains, bands, or drop sets. These methods all have their place, but until you’ve practiced a regular bench press with perfect technique and learned to activate the right muscles these extras won’t do you any good.
You may think you know how to bench press or squat, but I guarantee if you find some articles that go in-depth on the techniques of these exercises you’ll find a couple of subtle tweaks you can make to your form that will give you a new passion for the exercise.
The top guys in bodybuilding and powerlifting spend years and years refining their technique in the basic lifts. Even after 10 years deadlifting, I spent the day with a former Strongman competitor (who deadlifts 800lb) and in 3 minutes he improved my technique and I added 25lbs to my maximum lift.
The more you practice and keep learning about the basic lifts the more your strength and mind-muscle connection (muscle activation) will improve, leading to better gains. You don’t need chains and drop-sets just yet…
Reason #2: You are Lifting to Failure Too Often
Like all tools and methods, training to failure has its place. However, most guys I see in the gym are under the impression that every set of every workout must go to failure.
This is killing your gains.
Every time you go close to failure you fatigue your central nervous system. The system of nerves connected to your muscles determines your energy and recovery levels so you need to pay respect to this part of your anatomy.
When your CNS becomes fatigued you will tend to experience:
• Lack of muscle activation,
• Incomplete muscle recovery (protein synthesis is compromised)
• A drop in strength
• Lack of motivation to train
• Low sex drive (because testosterone has dropped)
To rid yourself of the nightmare of CNS fatigue, stop short of failure on your big compound lifts.
Terminate your set when you have 1-2 reps left in the tank. Slow, grinding reps where your eyeballs want to pop out is what will drain your CNS the fastest.
When can training to failure be effective for building muscle?
Your pulling muscles – mainly the traps, lats, biceps and forearms – respond well to failure training as they recover quickly. Don’t worry too much about going to failure on pulling and holding exercises, such as rows and farmers walks.
You can also go to failure on isolation exercise such as biceps curls or triceps pushdown. Still, don’t go overboard with the failure training, as you can grow muscle without it.
Reason #3: You are Staying in One Rep Range
The problem with an abundance of information on the internet is that too many experts are too dualistic in their opinions. Some experts will preach to do things one way, and another expert will preach the exact opposite.
What I’ve found is that when two opposing extremes are being argued, the real truth is somewhere in the middle, or a combination of both.
For instance, a raging argument for muscle building has always been the right rep range to train in for size and strength.
Do you train low reps – like the 5×5 program many recommend?
Or do you go for the 8-12 rep range which most bodybuilders swear by?
The answer is a sensible mix of both ranges.
Some sets below 8 reps are required for muscle density and a more toned appearance. If you only perform sets in the 10+ range you’ll build a more ‘puffy’ appearance that may give you the impression that you are carrying more body fat than you actually are.
Another reason to include heavier, shorter sets is to increase your strength. The real magic comes when you can work in the established hypertrophy range of 6-12 reps, but with more and more load. You’ll build more muscle doing 6-12 reps with 100lbs than you would lifting 6-12 reps with 60lbs. So, the goal is to get stronger so you can use more load on the higher rep sets.
With that said, don’t mistake my words and try to perform sets of 8 reps with your 3RM load. That’s not what I’m advocating. You need to find the heaviest weight you can lift in that higher rep range, but that you can still feel the right muscles being activated.
Muscle tension is more important that overall load lifted. It’s finding the balance where you maximize the two that leads to great results.
If you go too heavy on a bench press you may only feel your triceps and shoulders doing the bulk of the work. If you want your chest to grow, this is not ideal for you.
Instead, reduce the weight slightly until you can feel your chest muscles activating. This is a skill that you will learn over time with experience in training.
Reason #4: You Aren’t Eating Enough
This is one of the biggest problems for most guys. But whereas the other reasons for lack of progress are quite easily avoided, I’ll admit this one is quite tough.
Skinny hardgainers have to eat a ton to put on muscle mass. You’ve heard that enough times.
Add this to the fact that due to frustration a lot of skinny guys think the answer is to train more and more (leading to the CNS fatigue we just discussed) and you can see the recipe for disaster.
You aren’t eating enough and your training too hard.
I would say more on the subject but former hardgainer-turned-muscle monster Alain Gonzales has summed it up perfectly in this article.
Reason #5: Your Mindset Is Not Right
As with any goal, mindset is everything.
The perfect training plan won’t work if you don’t have the right midnset. On the other hand, even a poor plan can get decent results if you have a strong-willed mindset.
I divide mindset into 3 components:
1) Focus – focus on a very small number of strategies or exercises and commit fully to them.
2) Efficiency – ensure that the strategies you are focusing on are the most effective for you.
3) Persistence – perform the effective strategy with focus daily for a significant amount of time to see results. Like growing a plant, you need to keep watering it and nurturing it with patience.
Too many guys are jumping from one program to the next or changing their exercises too often to make any real breakthroughs. You can’t get better at an exercise if you are changing it every week.
This comes back to the first principle of sticking with the basics until you become a master.
When you get focus and persistence combined with an effective strategy your success is virtually guaranteed – as long as you have the patience to see it through.
Keep yourself focused by reminding yourself of your goals daily. Keep yourself accountable by joining a community with like-minded people. Alternatively one of the best tips you’ll ever receive for unparalleled muscle growth would be to find a training partner at your gym who is far more advanced than you.
Ask if you can come under his wing as an apprentice of sorts, and observe his training and mindset. This is by far the fastest and surest way to success.
I’d also highly recommend buying a proven program and follow it to the letter. Buying a product not only gives you the best information laid out step-by-step, but also makes you more accountable to follow through as you’ve committed to something.
Success really is as simple as following a proven plan by someone who has done what you want to do, and not giving up when the results don’t come instantly. If you can stay focused and look to the long term you will have great success and build the physique you want.
And that’s the real secret.