Resistance training is awesome when you're killing it in the gym and your hard work is consistently rewarded with improvements in the mirror. However, after training for a while, you'll inevitably run smack-dab into a two-headed beast of a plateau, where your results founder and flat-line.
As your results slow down, your motivation wanes. You might begin skipping workouts, thus making your physique and strength suffer. In order to keep the positive strength and size gains coming, you have to reinvent the way you train once you've hit a stalling point. And trust me, these adjustments must be made consistently throughout your training career, ad infinitum.
Meet the Muscle Militia
Sales rep, Twinlab
Favorite Supp: MVP Fuel
"I want to be proportionate, work on my weak spots, and make sure I give 100 percent in the gym."
Powerlifter, coming back from pec injury
Favorite Supp: Test Fuel
"My goal is to compete in powerlifting again."
Occupation: VP of Sports Nutrition, Twinlab
Favorite Supp: DIET FUEL Pro-Series
"I just want to be as strong, hard, and lean as I can be."
Thankfully, Twinlab's Muscle Militia captains are all too familiar with overcoming training plateaus. Powerlifter Jason Wheat, pro bodybuilder Ronnie Milo, and physique-minded executive Chris Thompson know what it takes to get you moving toward progress again. They've shared their five best tips to help get you back on the road to gains-ville.
If you think you've approached failure with the weight you've been pushing, Thompson wants you to move down in weight and keep going.
"Try doing 20 overhead presses with the heaviest pair of dumbbells you can handle. Then drop 5 pounds and do 20 more reps," he says. "Then drop 5 more pounds and keep going. As the weight comes down, you struggle your ass off, putting every little bit of what you have into that lift.
"Every time you hit your limit, you drop the weight and keep lifting until you're dying just to lift a pair of little purple dumbbells. The beauty of dropsets is that, because you're using lighter weights as you get deeper into an exercise, you can push yourself to failure with perfect form, safely."
With dropsets, you'll also get a massive pump, the term that describes your muscle tissue becoming engorged with nutrient-filled blood. Dropsets also coerce you to put forth every last bit of effort you can muster.
"When I'm lifting heavy weights, sometimes I feel like I have a little bit left in the tank at the end of a set, so I'll do dropsets to totally destroy that muscle group," says Wheat. "Then I feel like I've truly exhausted myself and done everything I can to grow."
You can safely use dropsets with any dumbbell, kettlebell, or machine exercise. They can be used on barbell lifts, but that's best done with a partner. Your only limitation? The amount of equipment you can hoard at the gym at any one time.
Make Your Sets Super
If you do a traditional body-part training split, consider incorporating supersets into your workouts. A superset involves pairing two movements that typically work opposing muscle chains—bench presses paired with bent-over rows, or deadlifts paired with squats, for example—and finishing one set of each exercise in succession to complete one superset.
"The one thing we're all after in the gym is that massive pump," says Milo. "Whether you're 115 pounds or a totally jacked 200-pound dude, finishing a superset will give you a pump that makes you feel like Hercules.
When you do supersets, you feel like you did your job at the gym. You don't want that pump to leave; you want to accent it. "Supersets make you look as big as possible," adds Milo. "I like to pair biceps and triceps exercises, quad and ham exercises, or shoulders and chest at the end of my workouts to get that last little bit out of my muscles."
Ride that pump, my friend.
Add Rest To Gain Strength
I'm not telling you to wait around and do nothing; I'm merely suggesting you try adding a rest-pause into your lift. At the mid-point of a lift, stop and rest (pause) for a predetermined duration—three breaths, 10-15 seconds, or any safe variant—and then finish the movement for as many reps as possible. This slight pause eliminates all the momentum that would otherwise help your lift. It can make light weights seem heavy and heavy weights feel downright oppressive.
"You can use this with any exercise," says Wheat. "If you want to give it a try with any lift where you're under the bar, like the squat or bench press, have buddies spot you. For the squat, you'd lower yourself under control, pause, then explode back up."
You can use the same technique on a deadlift by exaggerating the pause at the bottom of the deadlift—the spot where many people "cheat" on the rebound of bumper plates.
"When you use the rest-pause method, you transform any exercise into a higher-level test," says Wheat. Try it and you'll know what he means soon enough.
Sometimes Bodyweight Is Best
When you're in hot pursuit of moving ever greater mountains of iron, it can be easy to forget that using your own body weight is an option. When was the last time you did a push-up or pull-up? If the answer is longer than a week, it's time to get reacquainted with these gym-class classics and their many variations.
"The hanging leg raise might look like an exercise that just targets the rectus abdominis, but it really hits your whole body when you complete it with strict form," explains Thompson. "Yes, it definitely lights up your abs, but it hits your lats, your arms, your hip flexors, your glutes, and even your shoulders."
You'll get similar total-body benefits from push-ups and pull-ups. "They recruit literally every muscle fiber in your entire body, and put you under huge muscular tension for significant periods of time over the course of a set," he adds.
Keep that in mind the next time you can't find access to a gym!
Blast Your Workouts With Circuits
You rarely get more for less in life or training, but circuit training provides a double-barreled shotgun blast to your fat stores. It's Thompson's secret to achieving his beach-ready physique. He uses a supercharged Muscle Militia circuit that works each body part to exhaustion.
"The number one complaint people have about working out is that they don't have time to go to the gym," Thompson says. "Circuit training eliminates that excuse. If you'd told me 10 years ago that circuit training would get me in the best shape of my life, I wouldn't have believed you. But it's shocking how well it works. I've been training for almost 30 years, and this is the absolute most time-efficient way to get maximal results."
To get a taste of what circuit training can do for you, take a page out of Wheat's playbook: "Any time you want to cut weight, cut all rest sets to 30 seconds. That way you're getting a cardio workout and strength workout at the same time."
Have another tip for plateau-busting?
Leave it in the comments below!