- Training plateus should be met with alterations to programming, specifically tempo or volume.
- Accentuated eccentrics and pause reps are a simple and effective way to increase the difficulty of any exercise without adding weight to the bar.
- Advanced lifters can handle higher training volumes but should still seek to tweak warm up sets and loading patterns.
Workouts can become redundant – and usually the net result is a plateau that is unwelcome, no matter the circumstance.
No one wants to see a halt in their gains, and they shouldn’t have to. It’s a matter of taking care to exhaust muscles in new ways so development is still an option.
The body’s adaptive. We know this. It doesn’t take long for it to acclimate itself to the demands and rigors of a program design, which is a good cue to inform a lifter that change may be needed.
However, it also means that drastic measures may not be needed in order to stimulate growth.
Bodybuilders don’t need to become crossfit athletes. It could mean minor (but substantial) modifications that are worth their weight in gold. Here are a few you probably never thought of.
Tweak your Tempo
Sometimes shocking the muscular system and nervous system isn’t necessarily a matter of adding weight to the bar, or reps to a given set. It could be a matter of using the same or less weight, and making it feel heavier by the manner in which you decide to lift it.
Remember – you’re the one in control here. When it comes to bodybuilding, the goal is mainly to break down and completely exhaust muscle fibers in order for them to grow and repair as you take in nutrients.
1. Paused Reps
This is a simple trick - make the weight feel more “absolute” by adding a dead stop to every major lift. That means a complete pause at the bottom of a squat, overhead press, bench press, pull up, or any other major movement.
With tightness, pause for a full second; long enough to remove any stretch reflex or transfer of force, then drive to the top. This action can make dormant muscle groups (like the glutes and hamstrings in the case of the squat) wake up and push their own weight.
It’s a small change but it can make a big difference. Lower the weight by 20% and try to match the rep totals you used when performing normal reps.
2. Slow Eccentrics
It’s mainly a strength tool – but it could also be just the ticket to more size for the big lifts. During eccentric training you actually create more microtrauma (“good” tearing) which is a factor in muscular hypertrophy.
To do them, simply use a 3 to 4 second negative phase for each of your movements. Expect to perform at least 20% fewer reps per set using this method. Also, it’s most effective when using heavier loads – look to use at least 80% of your max effort.
However, make sure you don’t use this method all the time. It’s much more demanding on the central nervous system and overdoing it can lead to questionable recovery.
Turn Up the Volume
Before you think this is just a pitch for higher volume training methods like German Volume Training, 8x8, or DoggCrapp, don’t forget what I wrote in the title. This is catering to advanced lifters who have likely dabbled with all three of the above training systems. It’s time to think outside the box.
3. Eccentric – Less Sets
Remember what I said about eccentric reps and the microtrauma they cause within musculature?
Well alternatively, an easy way to increase your work capacity would be to ditch the eccentric rep altogether. Though it may not have the same absolute strength training benefits, it can work well for size, as it focuses on the blood delivery that concentric-only training can provide.
To do them, perform the “up” phase of any exercise with your regular tempo, and then avoid negative rep tension by making that phase as quick as possible.
This goes without saying, but this kind of training asks for you not to be an idiot. Once you’ve finished the concentric phase, it doesn’t mean to stupidly lose all technique and collapse into your next rep. That’s just an injury waiting to happen.
Instead, stay tight and lower fast but under control. This method works best on pulling exercises (think deadlift, V-grip pulldowns, biceps curls, DB rows, cable flyes), but can also be performed with squats and machine-loaded press exercises, under lighter loads.
4. “Ramp Volume” Training
I developed this method as a way to seek an alternative from classic high volume protocols. Whereas a lifter will often perform low reps to stimulate the nervous system just enough in all sets leading up to the “work sets”, this protocol asks for things to be consistent throughout every single ramping set.
In any given workout, a lifter may be focused on squatting 300 pounds for 5 sets of 8 reps. His approach may look something like this:
95lbs x 5 reps
135 x 3 reps
185 x 2 reps
205 x 2 reps
225 x 2 reps
250 x 2 reps
275 x 2 reps
300 x 8 reps x 5 sets
If you do the math and calculate the cumulative weight lifted, the grand total to everything you’ve read above would be 15,160lbs. That’s a lot of weight lifted.
Truthfully, this example is generous, and chances are most reading this will use larger jumps in weight leading up to their first work set of 8. That means even less volume than this example provides
The problem is, sometimes lifters run out of steam and their muscular endurance can’t handle 5 sets of the same amount of reps at the top weight.
If it’s not that, they may just plain be looking for a method that doesn’t compromise their goals but adds similar amounts of volume to the protocol.
Applying my “Jail” method includes adding volume to all ramp sets, as mentioned above, but performing only ONE to TWO top sets. All of a sudden the sets you see above would look like this:
95lbs x 8 reps
135 x 8 reps
185 x 8 reps
205 x 8 reps
225 x 8 reps
250 x 8 reps
275 x 8 reps
300 x 8 reps x 2 sets
In this method, the lifter ends up lifting 15,760 pounds, and will likely be both more exhausted and more technically sound through the duration of the set.
This method will further challenge a lifter’s conditioning and leave him with the pump of his life due to the amount of repetitions completed.
Don’t be fooled by the lack of top end sets – and expect progressions at a faster rate.
Suffer For Size No More
It’s all about how you use it. Really. The weight you lift will get you nowhere if you don’t know how to lift for gains.
The size game is a whole lot of manipulation and stimulation to muscles in question. The above 4 training tweaks will do just that, and take you through plateaus bigger and stronger than you imagined. Don’t believe me? Just try it and watch what happens.