In bodybuilding training we can all be certain of one thing: we will all at some point experience a plateau, that dreaded barrier to continued progress. One thing I need to be acutely aware of, as a trainer, is the extent to which my client is progressing.
Inferior results will not successfully advertise my business compared with rapid transformations, followed by ongoing progress in terms of fat loss, muscle building and performance. So the key for me as a trainer is to be constantly on the lookout for training strategies that work.
Clients usually want only one thing: Results. As bodybuilders we all experience plateaus, essentially sticking points where progress, whatever it may mean at a given time stops. It is especially prevalent among experienced lifters who, as a general rule, are closest to exhausting their bodybuilding potential.
Beginners, however, usually make spectacular gains seemingly through any kind of training practice. Those who have been lifting beyond one year though must begin looking at the bigger picture if they want continued progress. This article will give you that bigger picture; the detailed, systematic approach to training needed to end your plateau once and for all.
Massive Muscles Begin At 37?
It is generally believed that once you reach a certain age (usually 30 for men) training progress comes at a much slower rate. And it is true that with increasing age comes a reduction in our favorite bodybuilding hormone testosterone along with a general physical resistance to muscle building results. But it can be done with the right training approach.
I recently came into contact with one such man, Joe Merolle, a long time bodybuilder and strength/conditioning coach who actually made his most impressive gains past age 34.
Having begun bodybuilding as a teenager, Joe made some good progress initially, which is typical. He increased his bodyweight from a skinny 140lbs to a pretty impressive 172lbs of solid muscle at 11.7% body fat.
Towards the end of his transformation Joe began competing in bodybuilding competitions (in 2001), placing highly in all and learning much about the training process. But then at age 33 the gains stopped. With a Bachelor of Science degree in Health and Physical Education, and background helping others to reach their own training goals, Joe, using his expertise, got to work looking at all the variables associated with building lean body mass and fat reduction.
After an extensive search and much trial and error he hit upon the perfect formula, and begun applying it to his own training goals. He commenced training in this new fashion and now weighs an amazing 242lbs at 13% body fat, a whopping 54lb increase in lean body mass. It is worth mentioning that Joe had always been a natural bodybuilder and has never been tempted to use any kind of anabolic substance to build his physique.
At this point you might be asking, "Exactly how did Joe built his phenomenal physique." Well here are the answers, the secret to he overcame his plateau and how you to can do the same.
"Sometimes you learn more from third place finishes than first place finishes. Sometimes the agony of defeat forces you to look for answers, which in my opinion can be a greater reward than a trophy. This much I can say, every year the judges and other competitors comment on my progress, which is hard to find in natural bodybuilding."
As his quote suggests, Joe has always been a man who has searched for answers. When, at age 33, he experienced a major plateau he did not give up, or simply accept his situation like many would. He began looking for answers. What did he find? To get the highest growth rate possible and achieve continually it is the percentage of change in any of the important bodybuilding variables and the consistent manner in which they are adjusted that is the key.
Unfortunately there are many myths and much dogma in bodybuilding. While many things work for some people not all things work for all people and after a certain period (usually the first year of training) not much seems to work at all and sessions are often all about maintaining what you built in the early stages of training. But many still fall back on the conventional wisdom.
What has worked in the past and what is reported in the magazines must work, right? Well, yes, but only if these factors are manipulated in the right way. This article will give you the tools to just do that.
- 'If I get a great pump, I feel the workout is productive.'
- 'I am directed by my instincts and feel, which leads me to a productive workout. With years of experience, you know what to do and what not to do.'
- 'If I am sore the next day, this usually tells me whether I am on the right track.'
- 'If I get a good burn, I know that without a doubt I am doing the right routine.'
- 'If my heart rate is elevated and I am building a good sweat, I know I will see progress.'
- 'If I am supported with the right supplements, my workouts are the best.'
- '... just as long as I am able to get extra reps in.'
- 'If I hit a lot of forced reps, I know my body has to respond with growth.'
- 'Stick with the basic power movements, and your body will grow.'
"Oftentimes when I am in the gym and shop talking with other trainees, I ask them what they consider a good workout to be. The answers I receive are interesting; however, out of the many times I asked this question, I have never received an answer I agree with, or an answer that someone with a doctorate in physiology would agree with.
The following answers are from experienced trainers, weightlifters and athletes. These answers may sound reasonable and often guide our decision-making process in the gym."
Joe says that while the above answers do correlate to success in bodybuilding, they do not guarantee progress.
"You would be amazed how quickly the body adapts to certain training schemes from the past years of training. Even if one thinks the routine is new, the body's defense mechanism does not forget (so easily) past overloads."
So what Joe is saying is it is not the type of routine of system of training that really matters, it is the change that is made from workout to workout. While you might say this is hardly revolutionary stuff, Joe has put a completely new twist on it and transformed his physique in the process.
What Joe discovered was that by logging all his workouts on an Excel spreadsheet he was able to continually track his progress from workout to workout.
Not only was he through this method able to ensure sets, reps, resistance and intensity techniques were changed frequently to keep growth on the upward trajectory, he was able to construct the routines, execute them and change them in line with how his body was responding from workout to workout.
Says Joe: "What constitutes a good workout is whether it yields you the highest growth response possible. In other words, how much more weight and reps will you be able to perform the next time you carry out this workout?
In mathematical terms, what will be your percentage of change in the power, strength, work and weight-training endurance output the next time you do the workout?"
Though most of us do chart our workouts, are we being precise enough, or does our instinctive side tend to take over?
Although I am fairly structured in my training approach, I have been known to break way from this rigidity from time to time and train more instinctively. It is said that training instinctively is good as it allows the body to dictate the training pace, ensuring that we do not overtrain. However, if variables such as proper rest and nutrition are in place, we should be able to train harder and harder, with structured rest periods, without fear of regression.
The key according to Joe is to keep a database of all bodybuilding progress - the spreadsheets - and adjust and review this after each and every workout. Bodyweight, measurements, resistance lifted and all program details are charted after each session. Gains, however small, are noted.
Once training trends that signify definite growth are identified, sessions are planned in line with the variables used to achieve these results and changes are made to the program's structure to facilitate greater progress.
Joe: "The more you are able to lift from session to session (provided you take all sets to failure in both workouts and you are free from injury in both workouts) dictates how much growth and adaptation took place in your rest time. When comparing subject A to subject A at a different date, if he/she is able to lift more weight, it proves there is more muscle to do it.
I do not care how many of the previous quotations (listed at the beginning of this article) are a part of your workouts, if you cannot lift more weight and reps compared to your previous session, then you wasted your time and effort. The only thing the workout did for you was to reinforce your plateau.
This is the main reason why most natural bodybuilders look the same year in and year out, in spite of brutal efforts in the gym. First, they do not take the time to record what they are doing. Second, there is no concrete measurement of progress for the workout."
The key for Joe is to be consistent in recording his workouts and in adjusting the variables for continued growth. How many of us do this religiously? If we were to analyze our workouts, in particular the five components of overload (power, strength, work, weight training endurance and change for each set executed), on a constant basis, and make changes when needed, the results would be ongoing and we would achieve like never before. Joe showed this to be the case.
Joe again: "Let us break down the five components of overload to measure for percentage of change. Power is how much work you are doing in a unit of time.
Therefore, power is weight multiplied by reps from each set, totalled and divided by the total time it took you to do the routine. Strength is how much you lift in respect to your body weight. Work is how much total weight (weight multiplied by the reps from all sets) you lift. Weight-training endurance is how long you are able to sustain the overload (weight), which is a measurement of how many reps you are able to perform in the workout."
"Finally, there must be a measure of change and percentage of change for each set you execute compared to the last time you did the routine. You must analyze each set of each exercise for productivity. After trying the system, you will begin to realize why you are not growing."
Right down to rest between sets and time between exercises it is, according to Joe, important to monitor training variables exactly. For example, if your shoulder workout is not producing the growth you would expect, it is often hard to trace the problem to any one factor, if nothing is recorded. And even if sets, reps exercises and time variables are taken down, it is still impossible to know exactly which of these was responsible for this lack of progress.
With pre and post-workout logs, exact percentages of change can be monitored and variables can be switched around until the perfect program is found. This will be the one that causes the percentages to go up. When this one fails to provide adequate results, changes can be made to ensure continued progress. Usually it is lack of either sufficient rest or adequate training intensity that causes a plateau.
By decreasing the rest between sets (done using a stopwatch), the number of reps performed in a set and/or the resistance of a given set or sets, intensity will be increased. We all know this but if the exact progress percentage for that workout is not given how do we really know if we have it right?
Joe recommends using a PDA to note progress right at the gym as you are training, but the information can also be recorded and placed on your PC.
"If your percentages and changes are not 50% or greater, you need to choose a different overload scheme. An extra rep or two is not good if you could have chosen a routine that yields double the weight and reps using less rest time between sets. The reason why a beginner grows at such a fast pace is because each of the overload domains mentioned above are moving at a rate of 200% or more each workout. You can rekindle this high growth rate if you comprise routines based on your percentage of change and not how you feel or how pretty you look with a pump."
I have become convinced that this systematic approach to building muscle is the best way to keep the gains coming, so much so that I now have some of my experienced clients adopting his approach. After all it is based on solid science and makes perfect sense.
|BODYSPACE: TRACK YOUR PROGRESS|
Diet & Basal Metabolic Rate:
Logging training results in the most effective manner as described in this article is clearly the best way to make continued gains in muscle size and strength, but nutrition is something that must be carefully considered also.
By using a nutrition log, nutritional goals can be recorded, and then measured against a database of all of the foods likely to comprise your daily intake to ensure adequate calories and percentages of protein, carbohydrates and fats are obtained. A nutrition log can also be used to continually measure bodybuilding progress while allowing for changes to be made to the structure of ones nutrition plan.
Once your bodybuilding goals are determined (say you need 200 grams of protein per day and would like to achieve this amount by consuming 40 grams of protein for each of your five daily meals), the exact number of grams per meal of any protein source needed to fill this quota can be determined.
This way you can ensure your nutrition plan is designed with pinpoint accuracy and that all desired calories, macronutrients and micronutrients are provided.
When aiming to build massive, defined muscles two factors must be considered: fat loss and lean muscle gain. Achieving physique goals is often a fine balancing act between getting enough calories to grow yet avoiding the over consumption that leads to unwanted fat gain. People usually either want to gain or lose weight and everyone wants to increase muscle.
The basal metabolic rate pages (3 and 4) in the nutrition log will help one to balance food intake with training activities. This basal metabolic calculator provides a way to estimate the number of calories needed to maintain current body rate while resting.
This article shows that there is always hope for those who have reached a sticking point in their training progress. While my personal clients have made great progress through my own methods, using what Joe has to offer has taken things to a new level for those who have reached a plateau.
The major lesson I took from what Joe had to tell me was that there is always a new way to approach an age-old problem. When we think there are no more answers, it pays to look again until you have exhausted all possibilities.