Are You Stuck In A Rut?

In this article, I plan to discuss different aspects of training your body to help you break through that plateau. Gaining muscle is not only achieved by training hard but also by training smart.
In every person's training whether you are just starting out or have been training for years, you will experience a plateau or get stuck in a rut somewhere in your training. In this article, I plan to discuss different aspects of training your body to help you break through that plateau. Gaining muscle is not only achieved by training hard but also by training smart.

Training smart means knowing when to back off when you are overtraining, eating adequate nutrients, getting adequate rest, and knowing when and how to approach plateaus in your training. Try to incorporate bits and pieces of these strategies to rev up a stale routine or completely revamp your chest workout.

Tips To Rev Up A Stale Routine

1.) Use Shocking Principles

When I notice myself beginning to plateau that usually means that my body is telling me that I am overtraining. I generally take a couple of days off and do not do anything strenuous, which means no cardio, no heavy lifting, or extreme physical activity. This helps me recover physically, and become mentally hungry to get back in the gym and push myself to improve. If you are similar then take some time off to recuperate and rest.

Once you are rested and refocused with a hunger to train, try some of these rut-busting methods I use to break through training plateaus. For example in this article, I am basing things off of having a plateau in my chest training. First off, get back to the basics of training that helped you build those first 10-15 pounds of muscle that you gained when you first started training. For the majority of people this means reverting back to basic compounds movements, namely the bench press.

One of the first shocking movements that I have tried to break through plateaus is using a combination of heavy weight and high reps that my body is not used. You want to force your body to adapt and you want to shock your muscles with a variety of weight and rep ranges. A good example would be with the bench press.

For this exercise you will need a spot because towards the end forced reps come into play. Choose a weight that is about 75%-80% of your one-rep max and go for 15 repetitions. You are going to get this weight whether your body wants to or not, because you have a spotter there to assist you. On the first 10 reps, your spotter will watch your form, execution, breathing, and give you a nudge if necessary. On the last five reps is where the spotter comes into play.

Your spotter will basically be helping you out with these last five reps because you should be spent and these should be forced reps. For a finisher, on the last set reduce the weight considerably and push for a set of 20-30 reps. Basically go till you can not do anymore. This will exhaust your muscles and blast your chest muscles.

As with all exercises form is key. It is extremely important to "feel" the exercise and the movement. This means squeeze a peak contraction at the top and breast correctly. Lower the weight under control while breathing in and do not bounce at the bottom of the movement. Then explode the weight off your chest and exhale as you press the weight upward. Controlled explosion is where growth comes from.

It is similar to any type of explosive movement athlete such as football players or sprinter. You normally never see a professional football player with skinny legs and a flat chest, because of the initial explosion of exploding off the line of scrimmage and the short, intense workload on the body. Incorporating an explosive movement will help you fully develop the fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are the ones prone to hypertrophy (muscle growth).

Another great shocking method to break plateau that many people know is to use supersets and vary the amount of rest between your sets. In doing supersets pick exercises that you normally do and reverse the order or pick different exercises that you have not performed in a while.

Another shocking method that King Kamali uses is doing one basic exercise for the whole workout. For example, instead of doing your usual routine of three exercises, four sets of 12-15 reps, do 12 sets of incline barbell presses. If you pyramid your weight most of the time, thoroughly warm up, and then pick a heavy weight and stick with it. Pyramiding up each set can waste effort especially when you are already warmed up.

Try to keep your rest periods short so usually do not exceed one minute. Another good point is to get into the gym and get your training done. Do not waste your time. Try to get in and out of the gym in 45 minutes. Taking too long between sets and staying in the gym for hours on end is counter productive.

2.) Attack Problem Areas With Dumbbells

As I mentioned earlier, I approach my chest training very fundamentally incorporating heavy pressing movements on flat, incline, and decline benches. I stay away from complicated strategies. Try to alternate between different types of movements to force your body to adapt. For example if your chest is lagging and you have been training with barbells pound your chest with dumbbells to offer your body a change.

For anyone that has used dumbbells you know that it is certainly different than using a barbell. More muscles are recruited to stabilize the movement and dumbbells require greater effort to move the weight. You also have a greater ability to squeeze your contraction harder at the top and stretch harder at the bottom. Dumbbells also really get the inner pectoral muscle area burning, and the same advice holds true for a lagging lower pec line. Grab a pair of dumbbells and get to the decline bench. Dumbbell decline presses are always a good choice for working that lower area of your chest.

In my chest workout, I treat each part of my chest equally and performing exercises that hit all areas of the chest. I usually do three sets each of flat-bench presses, incline presses, and decline presses; all with a barbell. Then I usually finish off my workout with three sets of weighted dips. Everyone once in a while for variety I include a couple sets of flyes to get some extra contraction. This approach helps me keep my chest balanced and proportional.

Whether you use a barbell or dumbbell, you need to keep your movements strict and discipline. Form must always be perfect, or at least very close to perfect. With all pressing movements, especially on flat bench presses, some people will put too much weight on the bar and severely arch their backs trying to push the weight up. When you do this, you diminish the amount of work the chest does. Keeping your back on the bench better focuses the work on the intended pectoral muscles.

I tend to use lower reps on most of my sets because at this point in time I am trying to put on some mass and increase my strength so I follow a style similar to a powerlifting workout. I keep my reps around the 4-6 range on my compound movement exercises such as the squat, deadlift, bench press, power clean, and snatch squat. Everyone is different and everyone must find their style of training.

Some bodybuilder's talk about taking an exercise to failure and some are better motivated when they can shoot for a specific number of repetitions. The best advice I can give is do what works best for you. My specific strategy will not work for everyone but be willing to try different approaches to see how your body responds. I cannot overstate the importance of staying focused and disciplined in your training. Stay consistent in your training.

3.) Go Beyond The Gym & Visualize Your Size

As with anything in your life, success is a result of complete mental focus, both on overall goals and on your step-by-step approach to how you deal with an obstacle. The same holds true for bodybuilding. Before you go to the gym have a plan of attack. Know exactly what you are going to do with each rep, each set, each exercise when you step in the gym because you can never get that workout back.

Once that workout is done; that is it. You cannot rewind time a couple minutes because you cheated too much on that last rep. It does not work that way so that is why it is crucial to know what you are going to do and what you want to accomplish with each workout.

Therefore, visualization is key. Sit down or lie down on a bench and go through your perfect set or perfect workout in your head before you begin. This will get your mind and body ready for the lift. If you put it in your mind and are smart about what you are doing then you can accomplish anything. Find your own personal focal point or motivator whether it is a picture, an event that happened to your, or a quote and use it to achieve something seemingly impossible.

These are just a few of many techniques that you can use to break out of rut whether it is your chest or some other bodypart. Not all techniques work for everyone, but once you find that one or couple techniques that work for you utilize them to their utmost capacities. If you stay discipline and persistent you will achieve your goals


  1. Columbu, Franco. Fragomeni, Lydia. The Bodybuilder's Nutrition Book. McGraw-Hill/Contemporary Books; September 1985. 2003.
  2. Kamali, King. (2001). Strength Training. Muscle & Fitness, July, pp138-141.
  3. Dobbins, Bill., Schwarzenegger, Arnold. (1985). The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. Revised Edition, USA, Simon & Schuster.