A lifting plateau is like taking a dump, and noticing there’s no toilet paper.
It sucks, we’ve all been there – and no one knows what to do next.
If you haven’t – you’re either new to lifting or VERY lucky. Plateaus often rear their ugly heads to guys who are afraid of change, usually the “Well it’s worked for me so far!” type of lifter; who performs the same routine day-in day-out.
However, following Einstein’s first rule of insanity isn’t the only way to get into Lifting Limbo. Unfortunately a lot of factors can push that PR way out to sea – if this you, have no fear. This guide will teach you the main things you need to know about busting plateaus – and how to never make that mistake again.
But before we continue, let me get a few things straight.
What is a lifting plateau?
You’ve been riding the Gain Train for so long – you thought the only stop was Snap City station. But you were wrong. Until normal service is resumed you’re in it for the long-haul, so you better get to know your problem.
If you’re plateaued, you’re basically experiencing the following:
- Can’t get past PRs – Stuck on the same weight for months
- Not growing anymore – Stopped packing on muscle mass
- Performance issues – Not lifting as much as you used to
- Not getting your ‘pump’ on – Muscle groups not swelling when trained
But don’t worry. This guide has the solutions you’re looking for. This is your first-class ticket to get back on the Gain Train. Choo choo!
How can I start making gains again?
Breaking through a plateau can be tough, but manageable if you plan it properly.
In short: beating a plateau comes down to four main areas:
- Rest – Recovery between sessions
- Nutrition – What you’re eating and how much
- Workout – How you’re training
- Testosterone – Current levels and how it affects growth
Here are the main reasons why you may not be progressing – and what you need to do to get past it:
Cause #1 – Tired Muscle Receptors
One of the main issues faced when struggling along a plateau is a decrease in appetite. In most cases, guys who can’t up the weight aren’t eating enough – and it’s their body that’s calling the shots.
As workouts become harder and harder, the body struggles to cope with the added stress thrown at it – Especially when it doesn’t have a lot time to recover.
This results in weakened muscle receptor sites. These are collections of sensory receptors that feed your muscles energy they need from the food you eat. When fatigued, the receptors can take only take on a limited amount of energy at a time – and produce less gains.
If they can’t use that extra fuel; you don’t need it – and so your appetite decreases significantly. Without the proper actions, progress from this point becomes pretty much impossible.
How to solve it
In this situation, it’s clear your body needs to rest. One of the best things you can do is take some time off from the gym – a week should do it.
I know that sounds insane – but think about it:
The main thing holding you back in this situation is physical stress, without it: your appetite will return, your muscles will recover and your stress levels will shrink.
Stress is a huge part of this problem. Too much of it will cause your T-levels to decline and your muscles to weaken and your lifts will eventually start to drop – rather than staying stuck at a certain point.
Cause #2 – Not getting enough Nutrition
Now this may sound similar to the last problem – but you’re so wrong.
This is for the guys who plateau even though they have healthy, happy appetites – so where the hell is the progress?!
There are only a few reasons why this happens. The first could be that they’re eating enough for themselves, but not for their gains – a lot of guys make this mistake. It’s easy to fall into a routine of set meals that worked in the past. But as you grow, so must your intake. Not doing so can cause a decreased metabolism – which slows everything down.
The other problem is that guys are taking in too much protein – commonly known as “the worst thing you can do”.
When trying to gain size, the common belief is that protein is the key to muscle. Which is true to an extent, but the body can only absorb so much protein at a time.
Processing large amounts of protein puts major stress on the body and significantly raises cortisol levels – and cortisol is serious shit. It’s the body’s stress hormone and is known to massively decrease testosterone levels, and indirectly causing your plateau.
How to solve it
Both of these problems can be solved by a few quick lifestyle changes to your diet. In the first problem, there needs to be a larger uptake in food. The second just needs you to lay off the brotein shakes.
We recently put together a piece that expands on the second problem – but it’ll help both issues. Our article on the pitfalls of protein shakes tells you the optimum amount of protein to take for your body weight, and how to effectively balance carbs, fats and proteins for the best muscle growth.
Cause #3 – Building a Tolerance instead of Strength
When you work out, your body undergoes a significant amount of stress. To handle it, muscles grow bigger and stronger to prevent further breakdown.
They’re really good at doing this – which is bad news if you repeat a similar workout each session. This results in muscle fibers becoming accustomed to your routine and the stimulus it provides. Damage to the muscles is minimized and there becomes no need for any major recovery or growth. You’re in lifting limbo. When caught in this cycle, the only thing that increases is your frustration… and consequently your cortisol.
How to solve it
Change your workout. Your body is too used to your current routine and it’s time to mix things up.
But what’s the best way to do that?
One of the most popular methods for breaking through a muscle fiber plateau are ‘Drop Sets’ at the end of your routine. You’ve probably heard of them before, but if not I’ll briefly explain.
Drop Setting is a method that involves lifting until failure on a weight that you can’t lift past 12 reps – then immediately taking some of the weight off and repeating the exercise. There should be no break in between sets and you should be reaching failure on every weight.
This additional stimulus put on your muscles should encourage serious growth in the muscle fibers.
Another method to gain back some growth is via Heavy Overloading.
This should be carried out just after failing a weight. Pick and exercise that you just about do 6 – 8 reps on until failure. After you’ve had you’re crushing defeat – rerack the bar, dumbbell, machine or whatever it is your using, and wait 25 seconds. Once passed – knock out as many extra reps as you can at the same weight. As the muscle has not had ample time to recover, this should put on a lot more pressure on your muscles and encourage more growth.
Cause #4 – Testosterone Trouble
Whether you’ve hit the protein too hard and your cortisol is through the roof, or you feel like you’ve peaked and can’t go any further – Testosterone will have something to do with it.
Without testosterone we can’t build any muscle – that’s just a straight up fact. As we’ve covered: this type of problem usually comes from high protein content – but what was that other stuff I said about a natural peak?
The body only produces so much testosterone – the hormonal driver of muscle growth. If only so much of it is present in your body at one time, it will only get you so far. If you’re doing everything right and still not seeing any more results, chances are you’re working at full capacity.
However, there is a way to fix these problem – and no before anyone starts steroids are not the answer. The drawbacks post-cycle are just to dramatic.
How to solve it
Raising testosterone naturally is a hard feat – but it can be done. We’ve made a list of some of the most prominent ways in our article about How to Naturally Boost Testosterone – with one of the most efficient methods being the use of a natural testosterone booster.
Natural testosterone boosters are anabolic complexes comprised of legal and safe ingredients. Instead of adding more testosterone to your system, they encourage your body to produce more testosterone by supplying it with the nutrients it needs. This results is raised T-levels and some room for you to make extra improvements in the gym.
In closing we’ve covered that the main reasons for hitting a plateau come down to a lack of:
- Quality rest and recovery
- Good nutrition and eating enough
- New methods of workout
- Additional testosterone to boost the muscle building process
But it really comes down to your own motivations and how dedicated you are to making these changes in your lifestyle – in and out of the gym.
Good luck, Brosef.