If there's one key to moving beyond a plateau, it's surprise. Plateaus occur because your body adapts to your training, your diet or both. The more you work out and the higher your fitness level reaches, the faster your body adapts. You need to know how to surprise your body into working harder. You almost have to sneak up on your own body.
It's all about changing things. Change your routine, diet, or program—just do something your body doesn't expect so it has to work harder to do what you ask it to do. It may not feel like it, but you're in control of this plateau, just like you're in control of the weight. You just need to figure out how to take the reins.
I've already given you seven tips for powering through a rough patch. More is almost always a good thing, so here are eight more sticks of dynamite. Just light 'em and throw them into your program, and they'll bust right through whatever's blocking your progress.
1 / Sleep More and Better
Muscle grows when you sleep. If you shortchange your sleep time, you shortchange growth. Your cortisol levels get out of whack, too, which promotes fat storage, not muscle growth. Set a bedtime that permits eight hours of sleep and stick to it. That means for weeks, not just days.
Do you need me to break it down for you? If you have to be up by 6 a.m. to get to work or the gym, then you need to be asleep by 10 p.m—not just in bed—asleep. If you have trouble getting to sleep, get serious and ritualize bedtime. Cut out pre-bed television and Internet, cut down on stimulants and alcohol, or try taking magnesium or melatonin before bed.
2 / Catch a Wave
Try 7-5-3 wave loading to shake things up in your routine. This is when you adjust the load up and/or down within subsequent sets of the same exercises. A wave-loading protocol allows you to creep up in weight while the reps go down, allowing you to take advantage of neuromuscular adaptations that occur over multiple sets.
I have a six-part video series on You Tube called "The Wave Loading Workout," where I walk you through every single workout. It's worth checking out if you're serious about building strength in a safe and strategic manner. It may sound bold, but I predict you'll be 20 percent stronger on all the major lifts in just four weeks following the 7-5-3 workout.
3 / Cut Your Rest Time
Something as small as changing your rest periods can make a huge difference in your progress. Cut your rest time by 15 seconds each week until you start seeing new progress. For hypertrophy, I wouldn't drop the rest period much lower than 30 seconds, or else the loads you're forced to use might not be sufficient to stimulate your powerful, Type II muscle fibers.
4 / Periodize Your Calories
Everything in your program, even your calorie intake, should be periodized if you want to see consistent progress. Bump up your calories for four weeks by 250-500 each week—depending on your current intake and your caloric needs. Then bring them back for two weeks.
This is like taking two steps forward, one step back—but in a good way. It's an excellent way to help make lean muscle gains without the blubber.
5 / Get a Grip, Dude
Thick bar implements may seem like a small change, but they bring big, rapid changes. Increasing the diameter of the handle on dumbbells and barbells engages different muscle fibers, so you'll often find yourself using muscles you undertrain or even overlook. This includes, but is definitely not limited to, your forearms and hands.
It took a year for my set of thick-bar dumbbells to arrive so I could install them in the new Gym Del Monte, but it took me far less time to become a believer. If you can't find fat bars at your gym, you can always order a set of Fat Gripz, excellent and portable substitute.
6 / Try Timed Rest-Pause Training With 6x10 Sets
This is an absolutely brutal secret weapon I can't believe I'm sharing! Here's how it works: Let's hypothetically assume that your best maximum repetition set (MRS) of 10 is 100 pounds. First, do 1 or 2 dress rehearsal sets of 5 repetitions with two-thirds of that poundage, which would be 66 pounds (we'll round down to 65 to match the plates). Rest 30 seconds between the two sets.
Next, step up to 90 percent of your MRS, which in this case would be 90 pounds, and perform 6 sets of 10 reps, but like this:
Add 15 seconds to the rest-pause each time to allow you to work with the same weight each set. Even though the weight stays the same, you'll find it harder and harder to hit 10 reps.
Once the exercise you select becomes easy, you can start adding 1-or-2 reps to your sets and start over. Or you can increase the weights by five pounds and work back up to completing this 6x10 protocol. Your body won't see this coming—which means you can expect some new muscle after trying this for a month.
7 / Add 30-second Isometric Holds
Your muscles are weakest at the extreme ends of a movement, when a muscle is fully shortened or lengthened. This is why you see so many people do partial range-of-motion reps in the middle range of a movement. It's just easier that way.
Let's make it harder! Try to add 30-second isometric holds in your movements in order to maximize the demand on your muscles. For example, camp out down in the bottom of a squat, or keep your shoulder blades pinned back when the barbell or handle is closest to your body in a row. If you lift with a fair amount of "body English," this will cure you of it right away—and you'll beg the clock to speed up!
8 / Get A Personal Trainer
I firmly believe your mom could give you a better workout than you could give yourself, simply by standing over you and encouraging you to do more. She doesn't have to know anything about fitness for this to work; she just has to be there to encourage you.
Once your mom is tired of seeing you whine, hire a professional coach who'll go to even greater lengths—and show you no mercy. This works. Why else would I submit myself to getting my butt kicked every month by my coach, IFBB pro bodybuilder Ben Pakulski? Join Ben and my Hypertrophy Max group this June, and you'll be in pain just from watching me suffer!
I tried to do it on my own for years, but after working with Ben, I saw the benefit of having someone else's eyes looking at my program from the outside. We get so focused on what we do that sometimes we can't look at the variables objectively. A good trainer can look at your diet, your program, and your progress (or lack thereof) and see important changes you may not see. A personal trainer can also give you a kick in the butt when that's what you need.