Have you hit a peak in your weight lifting? Can’t add extra weight to your sets no matter how hard you try? Welcome to the dreaded plateau. It’s a widespread problem for weightlifters, but as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is testament to, you can break through this barrier to carry on packing on the muscle.
If you’ve reached a muscle-gain plateau, these techniques could help you start to put more weight on the bar.
Increase Your Caloric Surplus
There are three types of caloric intake:
- Deficit — Fewer calories than your body requires.
- Maintenance — The exact number of calories your body needs.
- Surplus — More calories ingested than your body needs.
Caloric deficits are ideal for weight loss, as your body then uses calories stored in body fat to acquire the energy it needs. Maintenance caloric intake creates a stable environment in which your body does not gain weight, but does not lose weight either — the perfect balance.
But we’re interested in a caloric surplus.
A caloric surplus is all about gaining weight. This doesn’t sound ideal, but remember, muscle mass is also weight. For your body to gain muscle, it needs to have the resources spare to put energy into muscle production. Muscle production is secondary to other bodily functions, so if you’re not giving your body excess fuel, it’s not going to produce excess muscle.
Caloric surplus diets can beat a plateau because your body has more than enough energy available to look after itself and build new muscle at the same time.
Add Supplements to Your Weight Training
If you’re not using health supplements, this could be an easy fix for your plateau.
In a study commissioned by the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, it was found that health supplementation is unlikely to benefit untrained weight lifters. However, it can have noticeable effects on muscle mass and training performance for weightlifters who follow sustained programs involving regular stimulus.
This means those experiencing weight lifting plateaus are likely to be ideal candidates, as plateaus rarely occur in the early stages of training, and are much more common amongst long-term lifters.
Optimise Your Macros
The importance of protein synthesis in weight lifting is no joke. We all know this. Yet you may be absolutely killing it on your protein game and still not be getting results. Why? Carbs, sugars and fats (the other macronutrients) also play a major role in the development of your muscle.
Each piece of the puzzle has something to offer.
You can hit a plateau when your nutrition is not right, and your body is unable to use the fuel you are providing it to repair the damage you are doing in the gym. Protein is not the only key to muscle growth; it’s all your macros combined.
BodyBuilding.com — a leading authority on muscle strength building — has a quick and easy to use calculator you can use to discover how many grams of each macronutrient you need to gain muscle.
Change Your Routine
You may be experiencing a plateau because you’ve developed over-dominant muscles, which result in weaknesses, or at the very least, underdevelopment.
For example, your chest press could be suffering from a plateau because while you’ve maxed out your pectoral muscle strength, and are ready to push for more, the supporting muscular structure — like your triceps or your delts — aren’t strong enough to handle the movements required to complete your heavier set.
It’s at this point that it pays to make adaptations to your workout routine and introduce new training exercises. Targeting areas of your body that are routinely ignored in favour of your favourite exercises can help you create the necessary foundational strength required in supportive muscle tissue to crank out higher-weighted sets on big compound movements.
You want to build muscle, so you train, and you train, and you train — day in, day out. But the more you train, the slower your progress becomes until you reach a plateau. On the surface, it doesn’t make sense. If your training program is great and your nutrition is on point, why aren’t you gaining more strength?
It’s all down to overtraining.
You might feel fine on the outside. Your muscles might not ache and you may be using a split-training regime to not over-target one specific muscle group. But there is something deeper going on here, right down to your nervous system.
Central nervous system fatigue occurs when you train too often.
As you’ll have experienced many times, after a hard training session, you’re exhausted. You’ve used up all your energy and you can’t lift any more. You recover, you recharge and you start again.
The key here is recovery.
If you work out every day, while your biceps might recover as you work your legs, your nervous system is in perpetual use, so it is not getting a chance to heal. This situation can lead to fatigue and reduced overall performance. Your nerves need to fire to stimulate the muscle contractions required to perform a weight-lifting movement. If your nerves are exhausted, they can’t make your muscles work as well — no matter how rested those muscles are.
The simple step to success here is to introduce more recovery days in your program — even recovery weeks. Many high-endurance athletes will take weeks off throughout the year, with standard training cycles being 8-12 weeks training, with a complete week off.
This routine gives your body a chance to recover from all that exertion and your nervous system a chance to rest, which in turn allows you to come back to the bench revitalised and ready to crash through your plateau.