A plateau refers to an extended period of time during our muscle making efforts. Where there is no muscle gain according to the scale AND no gaining inches according to the tape measure.
Every guy has a predisposed genetic potential as to how much weight he is able to gain. Some men will have a higher genetic potential and will naturally be able to build muscle faster, while others will struggle to put it on.
The closer you come to reaching your genetic max, the harder and harder it is to see smaller gains over a longer period of time. While this is normal, there are certain steps to take when you plateau to promote better gains.
Next time you’re struggling to see changes in muscle size, give these points some thought. Many underestimate their genetic potential, so if you feel like you’ve reached it, keep pressing on. The gains will definitely be slower, but over time, you should be able to keep improving provided you are patient.
Here are some steps to take when you plateau.
Change your diet
Diet is a key factor when it comes to gaining muscle mass. Calories are definitely needed to support this growth, but some people do respond better to a macronutrient mix.
While protein should stay relatively constant at 1.2 gram to 1.5 grams per kilo of body weight, the carbohydrate and fat calories can be shifted around.
If you’ve been trying a lower carb approach, consider bumping it up. This scenario is especially common among those who have come off a long period of trying to reduce body fat.
Since more people are starting low-carb diets to lose weight, they may choose to stick with it, simply adding more calories when it comes time to build muscle.
While you can build muscle on a high-fat diet (with healthier sources of fat, of course), generally it is not the best approach. Physiologically, certain enzymes tend to get down-regulated when carb intake is lowered, making it a hindrance.
So, think about bringing your carbohydrate intake up to at least a 30%. That might help get the muscles growing larger again.
If you’ve been on a full-body type of program with a setup of 3 sets of 6 reps or 4 sets of 5 reps as your exercises, consider adding more volume.
While some men won’t gain weight because they are adding too much volume, others will.
Try moving this up to 8 sets of 8 reps or even 10 sets of 10 reps. If you are going to do a 10 by 10, though, cut down on the total number of exercises you do.
If you choose to increase the volume, you should be extra mindful of your nutrition. Extra weight-training volume will place a big demand on the body for muscle glycogen, so your need for carbohydrates is going to increase. You should bump up your calorie intake to accommodate this.
Consider higher reps
If you’ve been training within the 6-8 rep range for the last few months, think about moving this up to the 10-15 range.
While 6-8 is generally what is recommended (especially as far as strength gains go), 10-15 is within the range for hypertrophy. Your body might need to increase the size of the muscle tissue, rather than just make it stronger.
Manipulate the mechanical technique
When it comes to steps to take when you plateau, there are multiple ways to make small alterations to a single exercise to deliver big results.
For example, consider using pauses to increase the difficulty of an exercise. With bicep curls, curl the weight all the way up; begin lowering it until you are at the halfway point, pause, and then finish the downward component of the motion.
Likewise, with the squat movement, a small adjustment with your feet can completely alter the angle the stress is placed on the muscles, helping to respond again. Try turning your feet out slightly or stepping one foot in front of the other to do a split-squat type of movement.
Use tempo variations
As with the pause insertion idea, another step you can take when you plateau is to alter the tempo at which you complete the exercise within a given set.
For example, begin your squat set with 3-5 reps where you use a 3-2-3 tempo (three seconds to lower, a two-second pause, three seconds to rise), and then move into a more typical 2-0-2 for the remaining 3-5 reps.