How to break that plateau to achieve mind-blowing size: factors to consider when designing the perfect training program.
How many of us remember the very first time we began training? Were the results greater than we expected? Chances are they were. Rapid, initial results are a pretty well known phenomenon within the lifting fraternity.
It almost seems that from the first time we pushed out that initial rep on the bench or exploded through that gut wrenching set of squats that the gains we would get from these early efforts would never end. In our minds the physical metamorphosis we underwent was to signal future, Mr. Olympia, caliber results.
Then the results stopped. What happened? Put simply, the body adapted to the stress placed upon it. As it became accustomed to our gym efforts it had no further reason to waist valuable metabolic energy compensating for the unusual stress it had undergone up until that point.
The program planning stage is often fraught with difficulty for this very reason. Early initial results are so good that we assume anything goes in the weight room. The novice lifter usually lifts under the misguided assumption that if they continue doing what they are doing long enough they will eventually build a physique to resemble those seen in the bodybuilding magazines they devour every month.
Nothing could be further from the truth. And these budding bodybuilders physiques usually reflect this fact mere months into their program. Their results, or lack of as their program progresses, could be explained through their lack of insight into the adaptation process.
What these trainees don't often realize is that their training programs need to be not only comprehensive as far as training guidelines are concerned, but subject to ongoing change.
Progressive resistance, the ultimate aim of any bodybuilding program, can only be achieved with constant change. By changing training variables such as rep range, weight, exercise used and intensity methods, physical development will be ongoing, results continual.
Would you like constant results on a regular basis, progress similar to that of your initial foray into bodybuilding training? Well keep reading, as this article will give you all the tips on how to achieve a world-class physique through tried and tested methods of progressive resistance along with all the critical factors needed to construct an effective program.
An Effective Bodybuilding-Training Program!
What Should We Consider?
Before constructing a bodybuilding training routine in line with the various intensity methods (to be explained later), it is first important to gain an understanding of what the fundamental workout components are and how these can be used to further progress.
Without a solid training framework, an adherence to exercise variables that all good training routines should include, there is nothing upon which to base progressive mass building techniques. We need to get the basics right before even considering more advanced methods.
Effective Mass Building Exercises:
This emphasis on the basic exercises is particularly important during the initial stages, as it is at this time the trainer's muscles are most receptive to the positive, systemic effect these movements provide. In addition, these movements will provide an ideal way in which to build the right base of solid muscle, upon which to add detail and further mass over subsequent years.
When designing an initial gym program be sure to include at least two mass building movements per body part. The various mass building exercises upon which to base you exercise selection follows:
Without correct technique, correct exercise selection could prove worthless. Failure to properly execute the basic movements will provide only half the progress you would expect from such exercises. For example, doing a quarter squat, as opposed to going all the way to the basement will give only marginal benefits as compared to the full development that results when we achieve a full range of motion.
The same thing applies to all movements: fully squeeze and stretch for complete development. Jerky, incomplete movements could also lead to injury, which would halt progress over a much longer term than would insufficient intensity arising from failure to achieve full range of motion. Select the right exercises and do them properly.
As will be explained in more detail, the rep range of a given set of an exercise can be changed around to challenge the lifter, to facilitate greater gains. On a more basic level, however, achieving a certain number repetitions is the essence of hard training.
Usually, pushing that initial weight for a rep or two, or completing several sets can be accomplished with moderate effort. Achieving all reps of a set, however, is where things usually get interesting.
Without sufficient effort and determination we would all fall short of pushing our sets to maximal failure. And this would stall muscle gains like nothing else, as it is those last few reps that really distinguish one who progresses from one who experiences a continual plateau.
The effective rep range for muscle growth (hypertrophy) is thought to be between eight to 12. This figure is not set in stone, however, as some respond better to higher reps, while others achieve their best gains through a lower number. It all depends on how the muscles respond. But the best method is usually not an either or approach.
The real key to ongoing progress is to change the rep range from workout to workout, or during the same session. For example, one leg workout could see you doing four sets of 15 to 20 reps on the squat, the next could include for to five reps for the same number of sets.
Of course the weight would need to be adjusted accordingly, but the intensity would stay the same: as high as possible. Low reps and high reps each target different aspects of the muscle. High reps (over 15) are thought to carve detail into the muscles, while lower reps (anywhere from one through to six) tend to target strength and size development.
Again, these are not general rules and, depending on how the lifter is built and their individual physiology, the rep range could fluctuate quite dramatically.
Like rep range, sets can also be either increased or decreased. Generally speaking a good bodybuilding program would include at least three sets per exercise, advanced lifters may use additional sets while some (both advanced and novice) feel they get greater results from only one or two sets (the heavy duty type approach).
Structuring in one warm up set (a weight that would allow at least 25 easy reps) is usually a good practice as this will prepare the muscles, both neurologically and psychologically, for what is to follow. The key with set structure is to ensure that a sufficient number are included to properly stimulate the muscles.
With that said smaller groupings such as the biceps and triceps might need fewer sets compared to the larger, denser leg and back muscles. The larger the muscle, typically the more work it will need and the greater the number of sets you will need to include.
Training intensity is the key ingredient to any good workout. Sure, strategically lowering intensity and stopping just short of muscular failure is often merited as being a more productive way of maximising recovery and furthering progress, but all out, balls to the wall effort is what really gets results.
It could even be argued that the single most important training variable is the intensity that is used to rip the muscle apart, thus enabling the process of compensation, which causes the muscle to grow back larger and stronger. Really, there is no other way.
This is why changing as many training variables as possible...weight, reps, sets, exercises and techniques...is done among those who desire continual results. Changing aspects of our program will enhance intensity through the unaccustomed stress this provides.
Unaccustomed stress will cause the body to react differently (read, grow exponentially) to how it would if everything was kept the same day in, day out. The fact remains: the greatest champions of our time are those that outworked the competition.
Rest Between Sets:
An often-overlooked intensity factor is rest between sets. Keeping the rest period to a minimum will have a compounding effect on the muscles, which causes them to benefit maximally from each succeeding set.
Generally, one to one-and-a-half minutes rest between sets is the best way to keep the intensity high. This method will also enhance muscle endurance (better performing muscles) and increase fat burning, thereby providing a leaner, more muscular physique. There is, however, room for lower rest periods.
Short rest intervals will allow the lifter to use heavier poundages, thereby potentially allowing for greater muscle gains. There is still much debate in this area as many feel that the compounding effect shorter rest periods provide is more beneficial compared with longer rest and heavier weights. Try both approaches to determine what works best for you.
Focusing on your training technique, the way the muscles are responding to the training stimulus and the number of reps to be achieved for each set is another major contributor to training intensity and session quality. When doing anything of note it is worth putting yourself in a productive zone, a place where you and your thoughts can zero in on your objective.
Bodybuilding champions know the importance of complete concentration. The most successful ones use their gym time the most productively, meaning they apply themselves to the task at hand, while avoiding any extraneous factors such as that pretty fitness model performing bent over rows, for example.
To really feel the muscle being worked ... a major way to connect mind to muscle to create the desired look ... you must block all else out. Putting yourself into a kind of meditative state where only you and the weights you are lifting matter should be the goal for all serious lifters.
Pre Workout Fuel:
Putting all the important variables into place, factors such as rest intervals, intensity, sets, reps, exercises and proper technique might be fruitless if you do not have the energy to apply them successfully. Taking in a high complex carbohydrate meal along with creatine and an easily digestible whey protein shake one hour out from training, is a great way to provide the muscles with the energy they need to power through the intense training ahead.
How Do We Achieve Ongoing Results?
Now that we have a good grasp of the basics, the fundamental precepts that will set the stage for all our workouts, and have a reasonable level of experience in applying these aspects, it is time to go to the next level.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, training progress will eventually stall if we continue doing the same things. By setting different training targets on regular basis we will confuse the muscles into adapting to the different methods used while ensuring optimal muscular overload.
The following methods are to be used sparingly to kick start further gains in muscle size in those who have reached the plateau stage. They are guaranteed to work if used as described.
Change The Reps:
One great way to ensure adequate muscle stimulation and overload is to schedule your rep-range to achieve a certain training target with each workout.
For example, one week you might want to achieve 48 reps total, evenly divided over four sets of a particular exercise (or this could apply to each exercise of the entire workout). This would involve dividing the number of sets (four) by the number of reps needed to reach your target (48). This would give you a figure of 12 reps to be achieved per set.
Try to keep the weights the same and aim for a 48-divided-by-three schedule next time around, this would equate to 16 reps per set.
The point is we need to continually challenge ourselves to do more. Sixteen reps might be out of range for three sets with the same weight we would normally do 12 reps for, but the benefit is in the effort we apply trying to reach this target.
Changing the reps in this fashion provides a more structured way of challenging yourself to progressively overload your muscles, more so than simply saying, "one more rep" as the set concludes.
Change The Sets:
Changing the sets will also serve to overload the muscles. Unlike our rep manipulation scheme, changing the set structure will involve increasing, rather than reducing the number of sets used.
The trick is to aim for a greater overall amount of weight lifted per workout. For example, discounting warm up sets, if you were to lift a total of 10,560 pounds on the bench (220lbs for 12 reps over 4 sets), you might want to increase the sets to five on a subsequent workout while aiming for the same number of reps per set.
This increase in sets would give you a new combined total for all reps of 13,200, an overall increase in training poundage of 2,640.
With this method it is the accumulation of intensity that is important, not the overload placed on the muscles for any given set.
Again, it all comes down to goal setting and effort put forth. Changing workout variables, in this case increasing the sets, gives the session more structure while providing a concrete goal to aim for, which for this session would include adding more volume in terms of overall weight lifted.
With this method it is important to keep a record of the amount of weight you add to your workout with each additional set, for motivational and goal tracking purposes.
Increase The Weight:
Gradual increases in training poundage should be an ongoing goal for all who lift for massive muscle size. The previous two intensity variables, rep and set manipulation, will ensure the muscles get bigger and stronger through overload via different mechanisms... namely, doing more with the same weight and increasing the overall poundage lifted per session.
Ultimately, however, increasing the weight should still be the overall objective. It is thought that the stronger a muscle is, the larger it will become. In fact, the microtrauma (muscle tears) associated with strength increases is directly linked to enhanced muscle size... the muscle will compensate for the heavier weights by becoming larger.
So the limits to which we can build muscle are largely dictated by the amount of weight we can lift. Try to add weight with each succeeding workout; a 500gram increase being an acceptable addition. Obviously you will not be adding significant weight each and every session, but so long as you are not sliding backwards the gains will continue to come.
Use Intensity Techniques:
After the six-month stage some more advanced bodybuilding techniques can be used to facilitate further gains. The following techniques, to be used sparingly (once every third or fourth workout of a particular body part), will ramp up your training effort, thereby subjecting the body to unaccustomed stress, which will create greater demands for muscle adaptation, and resultant growth.
Use these techniques too often and training progress may slow, as the body might become accustomed to the unique stimulus they provide. Combined with an intense training routine, these techniques may also place the body into an overtrained state if used to often. Use strategically for plateau-breaking purposes.
The rest/pause method can be used to achieve additional reps, once failure has been reached. Once a particular set has reached its conclusion, and no further reps can be done, rest temporarily... usually five seconds... before attempting another rep. Usually an additional three or four reps can be achieved this way.
||Rest Pause Video Guide:
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Drops sets, strip sets, descending sets, and down the rack training, are all names that can be used interchangeably. They all mean one thing: extreme intensity.
To perform this technique you would, upon completing one all out set, drop to a 30 percent lighter weight without resting and complete a further, usually higher number of reps.
||Drop Set Video Guide:
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A third set can be done by dropping another 30 percent off the weight used for the second set. A drop set ... actually two or three sets rolled into one ... will significantly tax your system. Limit to sporadic use... once every third workout for select exercises.
Supersets have been around for a while and have proven very popular as a way in which to compound the stress placed on specific muscles.
Like drop sets, supersets involve going directly to a second or third set following your first one. Supersets, however, involve using a different exercise for each set. For example, you might, for a single body part superset, complete one set of dumbbell press before directly shifting to side laterals for maximal reps.
||Super Set Video Guide:
Choose your version:
Agonist/antagonist supersets (the more common variety) will require training opposite muscle groups. For example, you might begin with a set of bench presses before moving onto lat pulldowns. You can usually do up to three supersets per exercise grouping.
One-week Program For Mass Gains
As explained, the key to continued bodybuilding progress is to change the workout variables around on a regular basis while ensuring the right exercises and techniques are used to adequately stimulate the muscles.
The following one-week program... designed for one who has six around six months experience (an advanced lifter may need greater volume, overall) - provides an example of how the various methods featured in this article can be applied to maximal effect. For subsequent weeks use the same routine, but include changes to continue the upward growth trend.
One Week-Workout Program:
- Squats Four sets of 12 reps: for this exercise divide the number of reps by the number of sets... aim for a lower number of sets and a corresponding higher number of reps the following workout.
- Leg press Three sets of 8 to 12.
- Leg extension Four sets of 15 to 20 (next workout the rep range could be 8 to 12).
- Standing calf raises' Four sets of 15 to 20.
- Standing biceps curls Three sets of six to eight: rest/pause on the last two sets.
- Alternate dumbbell curls Four sets of eight to 12 (decrease to four sets for the following workout while maintaining the same weight total).
- Lying triceps extension Four sets of 8 to 12.
- Triceps pushdowns Three sets of 15 to 20. Click Here For A Printable Workout Log Of Tuesday!
- Chin-ups Four sets of 10 to 15
- Bent barbell rows Four sets of 8 to 12: Last two sets are to be done in descending fashion for three sets.
- Deadlifts Four sets of 6 to 10 (following session could include three sets of 15 to 20).
- Shrugs with bar Four sets of 12 to 15. Click Here For A Printable Workout Log Of Thursday!
Bench press Three sets of eight to 12 (first set a drop set).
Incline dumbbell press Three sets of eight to 12.
Flat bench flies Three sets of eight to 12.
- Side laterals/dumbbell press superset Three sets of 8 to 12 reps for each exercise.
- Upright rows Three sets of 6 to 10 (increase number of sets on the following workout to add volume... record this volume and look to increase on subsequent sessions).
- Rope abs pull-downs/abb crunches superset Three sets of 8 to 12 for each exercise. Click Here For A Printable Workout Log Of Saturday!
Click Here For A Printable Workout Log Of Monday!
Rest the muscles.
Rest the muscles.
Saturday: Chest, Shoulders & Abs
Rest the muscles.
Are you ready to progress?
There we have it, all the training information you need to progress to the upper limits of your potential and beyond. Remember to keep changing around the training variables to force continual adaptation upon your muscles.
Training progress need never stall. You just need to train smarter. And with the methods outlined in this article your body will have no choice but to grow.