Here’s a question I hear a lot: “I’ve hit a plateau in my training and haven’t made any progress for weeks, what can I do?”
Nobody has every major muscle group progress at the same predictable rate. Gains come fast at first then they slow down. Your body recovers quickly at first then takes longer. So plateaus in training are inevitable but they can be very short-lived if they are handled rationally.
There are things you can do to get your progress moving again. If you are training efficiently and effectively you should spot a plateau the first day it occurs. In fact, the slowdown in progress will likely show up in one or two exercises out of an entire workout. These yellow flags indicate it’s time to make an adjustment in your training before full-blown stagnation sets in. This is a simple concept, yet I’ve known guys who’ve trained so blindly three days a week and never even noticed they had five months of no progress whatsoever. That’s crazy and also inexcusable.
Here are three things that will bust any weight training plateau.
1) Take time off. The number one cause of lack of progress is overtraining. By simply not lifting weights for a week or three you allow your body to fully recover…and to add that new muscle growth you’ve already stimulated. That way you can return to the gym and resume training effectively. People worry about the immediate loss of muscle if they don’t lift. I’ve never seen a case where an experienced lifter took a month off and then discovered he’d lost muscle. Being sick for a month is a different matter, but a healthy person not lifting weights for a month will not see sudden evaporation of his lean mass. Even if he did, it would rebuild very quickly, and when you consider the value of full recovery the minuscule risk is very worth it.
2) Space your workouts farther apart. This keeps you from falling into the same trap over and over. A fixed training frequency will not work for building new muscle mass. It works for aerobics and for martial arts techniques and kayak padding skills and many other things but it won’t work for building new muscle. As you get stronger your weightlifting workouts need to be spaced further apart. Ignore this and you will be plagued with constant, lengthy plateaus.
3) Do heavy leg training. By far, the best exercise you can do to increase your body’s anabolic activity is heavy leg presses. Surprised I didn’t say squats? Squats are a great all-around exercise but they are limited by how much weight you can comfortably support on your shoulders and by what spine compression you can tolerate. Many people I work with do 3,000-pound leg presses. Accounting for the 45-degree angle of most leg presses, that’s equivalent to a 2,100 pound squat – and nobody in the world does that. The legs contain the largest muscles in the human body and when those muscles are forced to operate at the limits of their capacity the systemic anabolic effect spills into every muscle group in the body. It is literally true that heavy leg training gives you bigger arms.
Most people experience lengthy plateaus because they train blindly, don’t write down important measurements of their workouts and keep doing the same thing workout after workout. Use these three tactics and your steady progress is assured.