For any aspiring bodybuilders out there, you will already be well aware of the fact that, when you’re making gains in the gym, life is good and all seems right with the world. There are fewer better feelings in the world than the ones you receive when you have been working hard for something, and you begin seeing positive results. When training, if muscle growth is your key objective, you will no doubt be killing your workouts, nailing your diet, getting your rest, and utilizing the best supplements that your budget will allow for. When you do all of this, of course you will see impressive rates of muscle growth, and very positive changes in your physique. However, yes, unfortunately there always seems to be a ‘however’, no matter how great your training, diet, and lifestyle has been, eventually you will almost certainly find your results stalling. Once you find yourself hitting the dreaded plateau, training will suddenly become less enjoyable. Fear not however, because we’re here to help you through this very difficult time in your life. When you hit a plateau and the gains stop coming, you will need to find a way of stimulating new muscle growth, and that’s where we come in. Below you’ll find a series of training techniques, many of which are used by the pros, the shock the muscles into growing. Before we look at these training techniques however, let’s first take a look at the dreaded training plateau.
What are plateaus and what causes them?
When we lift weights, often we do so because we’re looking for a specific result from doing so. The response in this instance, is for the body to repair and rebuild the muscle tissue we damaged during training, with muscle tissue that is even bigger and stronger than before. Now, in the early stages of training, that is exactly what will happen. Yet as time goes by, you may find the levels of muscle growth you receive to be far less impressive than they were in the early stages. Eventually you may find that your body is actually not building muscle, or growing stronger, in the slightest. In fact, worse still, you may find that you are actually, shock horror, losing muscle as opposed to building it. For a bodybuilder, this is simply not an option and it is the stuff that nightmares are made of. Yes, when this occurs, you have hit the dreaded plateau, and you will need to make some very drastic changes if you wish to get back to your muscle building ways. Plateaus are caused by a variety of different things, yet primarily you will find that common causes include:
- Following the same training routine for prolonged periods of time
- Not getting enough rest between training sessions
- Using the same weights for the same number of sets and reps every time you train
- Following the exact same diet plan for several weeks
- Training too frequently (overtraining)
- Not places your muscles under enough stress when training
- Not training frequently enough (under-training)
- Leading a lifestyle that is not conducive to bodybuilding
Training techniques to shock your muscles into growing
As you can see, there are a number of causes for training plateaus, but what can we do to get back to our muscle building ways? Actually, there are a number of things we can do. If your gains are coming on slower than an elderly tortoise with arthritis in all four of his legs, here are some training techniques proven to shock the muscles into optimal levels of hypertrophy. In English, here are some things you can do in the gym to help build muscle once again:
Some of the training techniques in this article, you will already be familiar with, and you may have even performed them yourself in the past. Chances are however, that you will not have performed ascending sets before. Ascending sets are fantastic for stimulating new muscle growth, yet for some reason gym-goers across the globe don’t seem to be performing them, and don’t actually know exactly what they are. Basically, when you perform an ascending set, you will carry out a predetermined number of reps for each exercise, at a specific weight. You will go from the lightest weight all the way through to the heaviest weight, with a short amount of rest between each set. You literally ascend from lightest to heaviest. Clever, huh? When you move up in weight, the idea is to try to stick to the predetermined amount of reps, though if you can’t, you simply drop down slightly and get as many as you can. Ascending sets are a great example of high volume training, because you will have performed so many more reps than if you were simply following a ‘4 sets of 8 reps’ program. Not only that, but because you move from set to set so quickly, your muscles will be pumped full of blood, and you will have a crazy pump once you’ve finished. Now, you obviously can’t perform an ascending set for every single exercise, that would be madness! What you should do instead, is select one exercise per workout, in which to perform the set. As an example, if you are performing seated dumbbell shoulder presses, you could go with 10lb dumbbells for 20 reps, 15 pound dumbbells for 15 reps, 20 pound dumbbells for 10 reps, 25 pound dumbbells for 8 reps, 30 pound dumbbells for 5 reps, and so on. Alternatively you could simply run the rack and aim for, say, 10 reps per set of dumbbells.
GVT, or German Volume Training, is another guaranteed way of stimulating your muscle fibres and forcing them into growing. As the name implies, volume is very much the aim of the game in this case, as most GVT protocols dictate that trainees should perform 10 sets of 10 reps with the exact same weight from start to finish. With GVT, often individuals will only perform two exercises, which may seem crazy, but actually, when you consider the fact that this would mean you are performing 200 reps whilst training, it’s not that crazy at all. The idea is that you aim for around 60 seconds of rest between sets, and that you use roughly 60% of your 1 rep max. So, if on bench press, your 1rm is 225 pounds, you should aim to use 135 pounds for your GVT chest training. GVT recruits maximum muscle fibres and places the body under a great deal of stress, whilst results in very impressive rates of muscle growth. Now, when you begin the first 10 reps, you’ll find things very easy, and you may be tempted to use slightly more weight. Don’t. As you perform more sets the exercise will become progressively difficult and by the time you reach the 7th set your muscles will be on fire, figuratively, not literally, and you’ll be glad you resisted to urge to throw on that extra weight. When you complete your 10th set, and your 100th rep, the pump you have will be insane. When you perform GVT, only use one GVT exercise per muscle group. A GVT chest and shoulder session could look something like:
Flat bench barbell press – 10 sets of 10 reps
Seated dumbbell shoulder press – 10 sets of 10 reps
If you’re training with a buddy/training partner, another great way of shocking those pesky muscles and convincing them to grow bigger and stronger, is to have your partner assist you with some forced reps. When training alone, once you perform a certain number of reps with a specific exercise, your muscles will fatigue and you will reach failure. Training to failure means that your literally cannot perform another rep by yourself, as your body just would not allow it. This is where it pays to have a training partner on hand. You see, with forced reps, once you reach failure, your training partner will basically help you to squeeze out another few reps, either by grabbing you, or grabbing the bar, and taking some of the weight. If you’re performing dumbbell incline bench presses for example, once you reach failure, your training partner will then very gently place their hands on your elbows, and help guide your arms into the air as you squeeze out another couple of reps. The idea is that you do the majority of the work, and they do just enough to help ensure you can get the weight up safely and effectively. Training in this manner means that you can train beyond failure, which is a great way of ensuring that your muscles once again start responding favourably to your training.
100 rep sets
Guess how many reps per set you perform with this method of training? Yep, you got it, you perform 18 reps per set. Only kidding. Yes, as the name suggests, with this method of training, you perform 100 reps per set. Don’t make the mistake of getting this confused with GVT either, as GVT relies on you performing 10 reps per set, with 100 reps being performed in total. Here you are performing 100 repetitions per set! It may sound extreme, and it is, but by throwing this shock method of training in there every so often, you’ll soon be once again riding the gain train to Gainsville. The most effective way of utilizing a 100 rep set is to throw it in there as a finisher exercise, at the end of your training session. You couldn’t start with it because you’d be exhausted for the remainder of your workout, and you certainly couldn’t make each exercise of your session a 100 rep set either. With a 100 rep set, you will perform a very light warm up set, and you will then select the weight in which you are going to be performing 100 reps. Obviously it shouldn’t be too heavy, but it also shouldn’t be too light, as it still needs to be taxing on your muscles in order to stimulate them into growing. If for example, you have trained shoulders and wish to really smash your deltoids at the end, you could aim to perform a 100 rep set of lateral raises. Choose a suitable weight, perform the lateral raises, and try to perform 100 reps with as little amount of rest as possible.
Super-setting is one of the most popular training methods in the gym, and for very good reason. Single sets are, as the name implies, individual sets which are performed by themselves. A super-set however, is a combination of two exercises which you will perform back to back. The great thing about super-setting is the fact that you can choose any two exercises you like, and they do not both have to be unique for one specific muscle group. For example, you could perform a leg exercise and super set it with a triceps exercise. By pairing up two exercises back to back, you are cutting back on the amount of rest in between each working set, plus you are able to work the muscles harder and stimulate more impressive muscle pumps. You can also work different muscle groups at once, which will help provide a more balanced, all around training environment. As an example, you could be training chest and biceps, where you could super set incline dumbbell flyes with standing dumbbell curls. Or, if you are training one muscle group, say, the legs, you could perform barbell squats, super-setted with walking lunges.
Drop sets are also incredibly beneficial for people trying to build muscle and increase their training intensity. With drop sets, the idea is that the individual performing the exercise will perform a certain number of reps for an exercise, with varying levels of weight. Normally you will find that you should choose a weight in which you will reach failure by the time you hit 8 reps. Once you reach failure, you simply remove a plate, or move the pin, or use a lighter set of weights, and aim for another 8 reps, before going slightly lighter again, performing 8 reps, and so on, until you physically cannot go on any further. Drop sets work so effectively because they are able to fully exhaust the muscles. What’s more, as you are dropping down in weight, even though the exercise itself will be extremely difficult, you should still be okay without having a spotter on hand. As an example, you could begin with lat pull-downs, starting with 120 pounds for 8 reps, before dropping down to 90 pounds for 8 reps, 60 pounds for 8 reps, and 30 pounds to absolute failure.