It can be frustrating when you put time and effort in the gym, diet on point, and program your workouts right, only to feel your gains have stopped. Maybe your newbie gains have ended, or perhaps you are a seasoned strength training vent; as we train, we are looking to make results in some way or another. When you flex in the mirror, it is nice to feel like all the work is paying off.
Don’t stress too much. There are a few things that you can do to help shock and restart the gym gains and keep you on the road the achieving your goals. If you want to break through a plateau, you might need to change a few parts of your diet, work on recovery more, and even switch things up in the gym.
You might be thinking, just add more volume to the workout with more reps and sets. If you continue to keep adding more to every workout, you’ll spend all day in the gym. Let’s focus on a few research-backed tips to help the gains coming.
Try New Exercises & Workouts
You might have your favorite exercises that you have been using in your workout routine for now. Maybe you have been training the bench press hard but cannot overhead press even half the weight? If you have been doing the same routine for months and your progress is stalling, it could be time to switch things up. That does not mean start program hoping. You could make a few minor tweaks to your routine to keep it fresh.
A great program can be a double-edged sword. While performing a routine for a long time, it can become boring but gives you the results you are training for. On the other hand, allowing for new exercises and switching up the workout can make the gym time feel interesting and help improve your muscles’ stimulus.
Adding in new exercises or a minor tweak to a workout can help get the gains back. If you have been at the same place for a while, it might be time to switch it up. For example, switching from flat presses to incline, barbells to dumbbells, or having a deload week can help you with long-term gains.
Increase The Volume
This was touched on in the intro, but there is some reason when it would be nice to add in more sets or reps. There is a level of intensity needed for muscles to get bigger or stronger. It is common to do three sets or rounds, but only to do two, four, or more. Many beginners and intermediate lifters can benefit from increasing their volume by simply adding in an extra set or trying out a new exercise.
It is important to slowly increase the volume to see how the weekly training and body feel with it when adding in volume. How would that affect your push/pull the next day if you were to double your leg day? You might be tired and not be able to train the usual way you do. Adding even one more set to one or two exercises in a training session can add a lot more workload without completely wrecking your body.
Try two weeks with the same added volume. Watch how you recover and how it affects the week’s training. You cannot just keep adding sets and reps forever; you will have to be smart. Different training styles involve splitting volume over different days, sets, and exercises depending on your goals. But starting with adding weight to exercises as you complete all of your sets and reps will help ensures you are progressively overloading.
Experiment With Tempo Training
Tempo training is an interesting twist on any workout plan. When talking about tempo training, we are referring to slower concentric (shortening the muscles), eccentric (elongation of muscles), and holds (or pauses). Some studies have shown that performing an eccentric-only contraction led to a higher gain in muscle mass when compared to a concentric-only movement in the same exercise (Krzysztofik, 2019). When performing a pause in an exercise, the stretch reflex of the muscles is (mostly) eliminated. When you bench press, it is harder to press the weight when you stop on your chest verse when you bounce the bar.
You might have heard of bodybuilders using ‘time under tension’ in their hypertrophy training. Tempo training is also a version of time under tension and can contribute to training volume (Wilk, 2018). This if you were to do a set of 8 reps in the bench press. If you go down and up usually, the set might last 20-30 seconds. Let’s take that same set of 8 reps, do a 3 second down and pause at the bottom. That set could take 45-60 seconds. You might have to lighten the weight because of how much longer you will be holding the barbell.
Lifting weights at a slower tempo can be more challenging and cause more damage to the muscle tissue, but that is the point. Eccentric training is superior to concentric training at building both muscle size and strength.
Add In Drop Sets
A popular bodybuilding strategy, Drop Sets can be a fun and challenging way to change your workouts. Drop sets are a great way to ultimately fatigue target muscles and add volume to an activity. You can also build strength and size by doing drop sets (Ozaki, 2018). While you may think it would be the same to just add in more sets over doing a drop set, one of the benefits of a drop is it will save you time during the workout.
A drop set is easy to add to a workout, and there are many different ways to add them into your training. Traditionally, after your last set of exercises, cut the weight in half and safely perform as many reps as possible with good form. Then, perform the drop set to failure but pay attention to your form and body. Drop sets are optimally performed with isolation exercises or machines due to the fatiguing of all of your targeted muscles.
In some exercises, like squats or bench presses, you cannot perform an extremely high volume without the risk of injury. Make sure you have a spotter if you want to try drop sets on these movements, and be mindful of your form.
When first adding in drop sets, try adding them in once or twice a week. It can be easy to overtrain if you overuse them and further slow your progress.
Clean Up Your Diet & Nutrition
If you want to make results, what you eat is essential. For example, are you eating enough protein? We touched on this topic in our ‘How Protein Can Help with Weight Loss’ article. Protein is also critical if you want to build strength.
If you look at elite or top-level strength athletes or coaches online, they will tell you food is the most important part of their performance. If you want to make gains and grow your muscles, you need a surplus of calories to be anabolic.
This can be tricky if you are not the skinny guy trying to gain muscle. If you are a bit overweight, the nutrition part can be stressful. You have to eat more, but at the same time, you don’t want to gain any fat. Anyone who is bug will understand this struggle. Making better nutritional choices can improve your overall performance and health, so cleaning up your food could do more than just help your muscles grow or be stronger.
I will not tell you to replace candy with chicken; this is just crazy talk to most people. Also, check out our article on Meal Replacement Shakes and how they can assist you with your diets. If you are looking to add size and calorie intake is not a problem, try adding 300-500 calories a day for a few weeks to see how your body does with the new energy intake. We have a calorie calculator to help you understand how many calories you may need for your goals.
You are what you eat is more accurate than most know.
It is easy to get into a workout routine that you enjoy and forget to track if you are making the progress you are after. While it is important not to program hope too often, trying new exercises and changing a few small parts of a workout can be a nice twist.
Try small changes to your diet by slowly adding in protein if you do not eat enough already. Remember, we all hit the wall at some point. Being able to make gains every week forever is not what happens. After a while of training, you will have to grind for gains. However, minor tweaks add up to the overall long-term success of your fitness goals.
Krzysztofik, M., Wilk, M., Wojdała, G., & Gołaś, A. (2019). Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(24), 4897. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16244897
Ozaki, H., Kubota, A., Natsume, T., Loenneke, J. P., Abe, T., Machida, S., & Naito, H. (2018). Effects of drop sets with resistance training on increases in muscle CSA, strength, and endurance: a pilot study. Journal of sports sciences, 36(6), 691–696. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2017.1331042