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No matter how fit you become, you will eventually reach a bodybuilding plateau. Breaking that plateau requires switching up your goals and your workout routine so you can continue to notice results.
When your body places a new or increased demand on your muscles, it stimulates the adaption process. This response is what causes your muscles to grow in the first place. Once your body has adapted to the new or increased demand, the muscles are no longer stimulated to grow, and this is what causes a plateau. To spur new growth, you must therefore change up your routine in order to reactivate the adaption process. This requires setting new goals-for example, you may want to work on building your strength if your primary goal before was to build muscle.
It isn’t always necessary to switch up your routine drastically once you reach a bodybuilding plateau. Your muscles respond to a variety of stimuli such as volume, intensity, load, and time under tension. Switching up just one of these things is enough to stimulate your muscles to adapt again. Try lifting slightly heavier weights, performing new exercises, or increasing the intensity of your workout, and you should begin noticing gains in only a short while. You should be gradually increasing weight each time you exercise to improve anyway.
Another way to break a bodybuilding plateau is through the use of Constant Tension Timed Sets or CTTS. With CTTS, you focus on the amount of time your muscle is under tension instead of the number of repetitions you are performing. In fact, pro fitness model Vince Del Monte recommends not counting reps at all, claiming that doing so will actually make you smaller in the long run. A Time Under Tension or TUT of 10 seconds or less is ideal for building strength, while a TUT of between 10 and 20 seconds is best whenever your goal is hypertrophy.
Changing up your sets and reps can also help you break through a bodybuilding plateau. Instead of doing 3 sets of 8-10 reps which is generally ideal for building muscle, you could change to 5 x 5 training heavier weight. Performing more sets of fewer exercises is known as intensity training, and is more effective at building strength rather than increasing muscle size. Some trainers even recommend trying a technique known as ‘backwards training’ which involves doing 10 sets of 3 reps. This sounds pointless, but many have touted it’s effectiveness as you still perform 30 reps but with much heavier weight.
You may also try a “giant set” by performing three consecutive exercises for the same body part. Do 6 repetitions of the first exercise, 12 of the second, and 25 reps of the third one. This will place demand on the three muscle fibers that are responsible for growth and definition so you can continue to notice gains. You could also consider a pyramid set, where you start with 1 rep and work your way up to 15 reps, and then back down again. This is usually best for bodyweight exercises.
Bodybuilding plateaus are no fun, and are something you must make a conscious effort to work through whenever you encounter them. By changing up your fitness routine and establishing new goals, you are less likely to become bored with your workout, and will also find that breaking your plateau will be easier to do.