Change It Up: 7 Ways To Break A Plateau
Tempo training, giant sets, and body part specialization aren't just tricks for the pros. They're also fantastic ways to keep your body guessing—and growing!
Plateaus suck. They don't ever not suck.
When you're busting your butt, watching your food, and pushing through your comfort zone to transform your body, the last thing you want is to discover that your results have stopped. This is where some athletes fall off track. They get frustrated with the lack of results, and instead of pushing through the plateau, they get discouraged and start slacking off or doubting that their program is working.
Everyone who gets serious about physique and fitness has to find a way to get through these situations—including me. I do everything in my power to make sure my athletes, students, and clients aren't quitters. They're dominators. Learn from people who've been where you're going, and you'll see that you have the ability to master the variables, blast through any plateau, and power toward your goals.
Some of these are new ideas I've learned in the last year from the likes of Charles Poliquin and IFBB pro Ben Pakulski. Others come out of my own experience as a fitness model and bodybuilder. If they share anything, it's that any one of them has the potential to do more than just put you back on track. They might make you rethink your entire approach to strength and hypertrophy.
Tweak Your Tempo
Varying the tempo of a move means manipulating the time under tension—and time under tension is the key to growth. You can increase or decrease the concentric part of the move or increase the eccentric part of the move. You can use a slow and controlled tempo such as 8:0:4, 6:1:3, 4:2:1 or 3:1:3.
In case those number systems are new to you, the first number dictates the number of seconds in the eccentric, or lowering, phase. The second, or middle, number is the pause or isometric contraction duration between the eccentric and concentric phase. The third number is to the concentric phase. On the other end of the continuum, a fast controlled tempo could be 2:0:1 or 1:0:1. And in between, you could experiment with 3:2:1, 3:1:1, 2:1:1 and many more options.
Flip Your Reps and Sets
Instead of doing 3 sets of 10, do 10 sets of 3. A program with 3 sets of 10 is an example of volume training and 10 sets of 3 is an example of intensity training. Volume training tends to produce increased muscle size. Intensity training tends to produce increased strength.
Try a 6-12-25 Giant Set
Here's the gist: Do three exercises for the same body part, back-to-back-to-back, in one big-ass 43-rep set. This workout puts demands on all three of the primary muscle fibers responsible for growth and definition, making it an incredibly effective protocol. Once you've got the hang of the loads, you'll get low-rep strength work, hypertrophy work, and endurance work in one mother of a series.
I did a YouTube video series on this protocol last year. Having gone through the workouts, I can say it's a very tough, but very valuable approach. Give it a try.
Wear a Stopwatch
Are you sure you're resting for 30 seconds and not 50? Is your strength going up from week to week? Or are just your rest periods going up? Wear a stopwatch. Keep your workouts honest and consistent. Remember those things that you need to manage every second of your workout. Heed them.
Bust Your Ass, Then Take a Week Off
This past year, I attended Charles Poliquin's 5-Day Hypertrophy Boot Camp. It was the hardest week of my life. I trained every body part three times per day for five days. We learned 15 unique muscle-building workouts full of methods I've never seen published anywhere in my 10 years in the industry. Afterward, I was told to take five days off, which was good, because I was sure I was dying.
The end result: I gained five pounds of lean mass in those next five days. I wasn't the only one. All 17 students gained, on average, five pounds of lean muscle during the five days of rest. The lesson: Extreme overreaching produces super-compensation. To try the same thing on your own, work each body part three times each day for five days, and then take a full five days of down time for recovery. If three workouts per day is too much, start with two workouts per day on the same body part.
In either case, your body won't know what hit it, and your plateau will be a thing of the past. Poliquin's method earned an immediate place in my toolbox, and my business partner and IFBB Pro Bodybuilder Ben Pakulski now teaches this protocol to our inner circle of Hypertrophy MAX students.
Rotate Protein Sources
If you've been eating chicken breast, scrambled eggs, and flank steak for two consecutive weeks, pick three new proteins and skip the old ones for a week. On top of that, make sure you're not eating the same protein twice in the same day. I touched on this recently when I wrote about bulking, but your body can adapt to what you eat just like it can adapt to a repetitious program.
What other protein sources can you introduce? For starters, try scallops, sable fish (black cod), turkey, chocolate milk, bison, Greek yogurt, beans, and quinoa.
Pick a Part, Any Part
Focus on one body part, whether it's your delts, quads, triceps—whatever needs the most work. Become a specialist for at least three weeks, and work that part to the max at least two or three times per month. Your body adapts to whatever training frequency you subject it to. So if you give your body seven days between workouts, it'll learn how to recover in seven days. If you always give your body two or three days to recover, it'll adapt to that as well.
Some of my best gains happened by training the same body part up to three times per week. Of course I also reduce the volume—but not the intensity—of the training for my other body parts during this specialization phase. Specialization phases should last no longer than 3-6 weeks before resuming previous frequency, so you can allow that body part to super-compensate.