We all remember those magical days of training when we started. Every week you broke another personal record. Every month you gained a pound or two. In a perfect universe, you thought this would continue right until you reached the Mr. Olympia stage.
Why do plateaus occur? Well strictly speaking, because your body hates you. Or, to be more precise, it loves you so much it doesn't want you to ever change (it shares that quality with your mom).
Evolution-wise, carrying a lot of muscle doesn't make any sense. it will require you to consume more energy aka food, making you more likely to die in the next famine. When it comes to survival, an 18- inch arm doesn't help much. Our ancestors killed a mammoth by lurking it into a trap, not by wrestling it.
So you are stuck. Your strength, body weight, body fat...nothing moves. To quote the famous Russian bodybuilder Vladimir Lenin: "what is to be done?" Instead of killing the czar and his family, here are my ten favorite strategies to bust through a plateau.
11 Plateau Busting Tips
1. Add a shake before going to bed.
Sometimes it is simply a matter of getting another 500 quality calories to kick start the growth process. I prefer to keep my pre-bed shake low on the carb side, and made with coconut milk, whey protein and green powder. This makes for a nice snack.
Another option would be protein ice cream. Simply mix some chocolate whey with two tablespoons of milk or water, add one tablespoon of almond butter, freeze for 10 minutes. Delicious sludge!
If you feel you tolerate carbs well, by all means, add some oatmeal.
2. Switch the fat and carb ratio.
Let's say you have been eating 200 grams of carbs and 60 grams of fat for a while. I'd suggest you start consuming 100 grams of carbs and 120 grams of fats for a change.
By the same token, if you have been following a low carb diet, double or triple the carbs while halving the fats. That way your calorie content wont dramatically change but your macros will.
The reasoning behind this is that athletes on a high carb diet often become insulin resistant because their insulin levels are constantly elevated. Being insulin resistant means that insulin is becoming less effective in shuttling nutrients into the muscle, which is a detriment to growth. Lowering insulin levels by reversing the fat/carb ratio is a good way to create better insulin efficiency in the future.
On the other hand, athletes who have been on a low carb diet for a long time often have diminished IGF-1 and insulin levels, which are two critical hormones for muscle growth. A short overfeeding with carbohydrates will spike the levels of those two hormones, without creating any fat storage. This then will set you straight on the road to hugeness.
3. Do 100 reps.
I am referring hereby to the incredibly hard 100 rep workout. You can find this workout here.Two whole body workouts a week for 3-4 weeks should push you over the hump.
4. Turn things upside down.
Yes, we all have been told to do the big exercises first ( I hope you squat), but for a short time I suggest the "Guido workout." To do the Guido workout you start your training with biceps curls and work your way backwards.
Not only will you approach the bent over row with some totally pumped triceps, it will also pose a whole new challenge for the body. You will have to work through the bigger exercises with less energy than your body is used to.
I often find that I do better this way, I often get bored when I get to the auxiliary exercises and do not put as much work into them as I did into the big 5.
This might not always be possible, but nothing restores your body like a 30 minutes nap in the afternoon.
That weird guy from Austria, who later became governor of California, was a huge believer in naps. It is not uncommon for top athletes to take two naps a day, but then they do not have to sit in an office like most of us.
If your job or life as such do not allow for a nap, try at least to find a spot where you can close your eyes for 5-10 minutes (sales meeting anyone?).
6. Take out a stop watch.
Next time, try to beat that number. Not only will this create new motivation, it will also make your body more efficient.
7. Quit the caffeine.
Yep, we all love our pre-workouts, Starbucks and energy drinks, but adrenal fatigue will kill your progress quicker than anything else. Once the CNS is over-stimulated, your cortisol levels are constantly elevated.
My suggestion: take a weekend where you do not have much planned and go cold turkey (plan to sleep a lot). After one week without caffeine and other stimulants, you can re-introduce them twice a week. You'll be shocked how much your body will change once the cortisol gets flushed out.
8. Change gyms.
A new environment can work wonders, so change it up. Take the bus into the scary part of town and get a day pass. You will have to re-instate your alpha male status, which will require you to work that much harder.
Also, there might be new chicks to impress. And lastly, the machines will be different which means new angles for your muscles to work against.
9. Add green powders and lemon water.
Nobody pays attention to the little things such as staying alkaline, but the fact is that is much harder to make progress if your body is in an acidic state. I for one do not eat my 6 servings of vegetables in a day. There, I admitted it.
Green powders are an easy and tasty option to get said six servings in. It makes for a good post workout shake if mixed with whey. This concoction blunts the body's cortisol response very effectively.
The lemon water (taken in the am, and made from the juice of one lemon mixed in water) serves as liver detox. A functioning liver is a must have for fat loss and overall happiness. One of the main jobs of the liver is it to pump fat out of the body. However, if it is constantly busy with getting rid of toxins, it simply becomes much less effective.
10. Back to the basics.
Whole body workouts, that is. Steve Shaw will agree whole heartedly on this one: whole body workouts still rule supreme. They provide a great mental challenge and put the body in a very anabolic state, since all muscles are stimulated. Personally, I use the push pull/ legs approach when designing a whole workout for myself.
Here are three sample workouts:
You can add auxiliary exercises as you see fit.
11. Train twice a day.
Two sessions a day sounds like going on the fast track to overtraining but if used properly, two-a-days can be very effective. You train the same muscles twice a day with a different focus. The am session is geared toward maximum CNS stimulation. You do not go to muscular failure during the set.
- 8x3 speed squats
- 3x4 fast presses
- 4x5 explosive dead lifts
- 10x5 squat jumps
- 8x3 floor press fast
- 4x5 bent over rows, full stop, explosive pull would all be good options
The workout should not take more than 30 minutes. The night session would be a regular hypertrophy-oriented session, 12-15 work sets.
There you have it: 11 ways to get to the next level. Let me know how you do.