Fastest Way to Build Muscle After You Plateau: 9 Effective Methods
Hitting a plateau in your training sucks. You leave no stone unturned with your diet, you’ve exhausted every one of your tricks in your training tool bag and you’re more consistent than 24-hour political updates. Yet you still find yourself starring down that pesky plateau.
Played around with rest periods? Check. Using mostly multi-joint compound movements? Done. Giving yourself the proper rest and nutrition between training sessions? Been there, done that. Despite your apparent best efforts of sweat, tears and frustration there is still hope.
Related: How to Gain Muscle Mass Fast
Below are nine training intensity techniques you may have never considered. These aren’t just your old-fashioned forced reps or drop sets that have you rolling your eyes and moving on to the next so-called “big thing.” No, these are nine practices that will have you kick-starting your strength and muscle mass gains once again minus the empty promises.
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Fastest Way to Build Muscle After You Plateau
#1 – Heavy, loaded sets
In the iron game one of your goals is most-likely to gain strength. You want to lift heavier than you did the last session. This not only helps to build muscle but is one of the most literal ways to track progress.
Loaded sets give you the chance to experience a higher than normal load without risk of injury. This will coax your body to eventually get stronger.
The how: After you have performed all of your normal working sets of a major, multi-joint lift such as a flat bench barbell press take a few minutes of rest and then load the bar with a higher amount of weight – an amount that only allows you three to five reps. Perform those reps with textbook form and avoid going to muscular failure. A single set after each big lift is plenty.
#2 – Static holds
Performing a hold is another way to increase the load on your central nervous system outside of normal rep movements. Again, the increased amount of weight will let your body “feel” a heavier than normal load and slowly adapt to that “feel” over time. How will you ever know what a heavier weight will be like without ever experiencing that amount in some way, shape or form?
The how: After all of your normal work sets are completed for a specific compound lift, load the bar with a higher weight than normal – high enough that you would not be able to perform a single rep. However, make sure it’s an amount that you can at least pick up and stabilize safely.
Lift the weight and hold it in an unlocked position so the weight is placed more on your muscles and tendons instead of on locked joints. For example, hold a barbell for the barbell bench press in the top position with your elbows slightly unlocked and keeping the stress on the pecs, shoulders and triceps. Hold for a count of 20 to 30 seconds.
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#3 – Big compound sets
Compound sets, sets for the same body part done back-to-back, are normally reserved for the smaller muscle groups such as biceps and triceps. This practice stresses the importance of not overtraining a certain area and creates less of a load on your central nervous system.
Since training the big muscle groups more effectively gives you more potential for overall gains in muscle mass and strength, applying this technique to larger, stronger areas is a no-brainer.
The how: Performing compound sets for biceps using two forms of curls won’t do much for overall muscle and strength gains. You may get an extra 1/8 on your arms but not much else.
To get big gains pick two hard, multi-joint exercises and get after it. Leg presses compounded with squats, incline bench press compounded with flat bench press or pull-ups compounded with bent-over barbell rows are just a few examples.
#4 – Pulses at peak contraction
Pulses are another unique technique that will burn the living crap out of any body part when executed correctly and for specific body parts. Look at these as a form of partial reps but reserved for the peak contraction for a weak point. When you can no longer perform another perfect rep for a specific movement add in a few pulses until all fibers are thoroughly well done.
The how: Choose an exercise that has an intense peak contraction. Many arm movements and other isolation movements are great for this.
For example, for preacher bench curls once you are depleted of all full range reps bring the bar up to the top position and then lower the bar about a quarter of the way down and begin pulsing the bar up to peak contraction over and over until you can no longer move the bar. The range of motion should only be a few inches.
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#5 – High-rep sets
Increasing your reps by a few isn’t going to get much done. Going from six reps per set, dropping the amount of weight and going to 10 reps isn’t all that significant in the big picture if you’ve been stuck in a rut for a while.
What you need is major change – enough of a significant shift to knock you down so you can come back stronger and more determined. Enter high-rep sets.
The how: If you are new to high-rep sets then start using this technique on a machine to help you with imbalances. For example, choose a leg press for a set of 100 reps. You may not complete all reps in the same set but stay determined to finish no matter how long it takes you.
If you’re up for it try high-rep sets on free weight exercises such as squats, bench presses and deadlifts. These ultra-high reps will give you enough bang for your buck to see real change.
#6 – Stretch reflex
The stretch reflex is a reaction muscle tissue has to avoid injury. For example, if your biceps stretches further than it is used to your muscle will automatically contract to avoid being stretched too much and prevent injury from occurring.
This, in turn, recruits many muscle fibers. The trick is to use this to your advantage.
The how: Let’s take a look at using this on a set of pec flys. Lower the dumbbells (for the free weight version) or the handles (for the machine version) until you are only a few inches from the bottom stretched position. Pause there for a brief second and then “release” the tension on the muscle and allow the weight to pull your arms down just a bit further rather quickly.
Without pause reverse direction and contract the muscle up the top position. This twitch at the bottom will activate more muscle fibers to contract.
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#7 – Rest/pause singles
Rest/pause or cluster set training has had a resurgence of sorts relating to increases in strength. You would simply take a weight that you could originally only perform a few reps for and end up completing double or even triple the amount in one segmented set.
For example, if you can only get three or four reps with a certain weight on bench press and want to complete nine or 10 simply perform three reps with a 10 to 15 second rest in between those clusters of three reps. Do this for three rounds until you get a total of nine reps. But let’s take this a step further.
The How: Instead of performing cluster sets of three, four or five reps shoot for several single rep sets. Also, try completing more sets total to reach that ultimate rep goal. For example, for the same bench press move above now you will perform 10 singles separated by 10 to 15 second breaks between.
#8 – High-rep pre-exhaustion
Pre-exhaustion has been around for a while now. Performing an isolation exercise immediately followed by a multi-joint exercise will help you hone in on that targeted body part more effectively.
For example, if your goal is to build a bigger chest but you find that your shoulders and/or triceps often take over the lifts you perform then doing a pre-exhaustion set of dumbbell flys immediately followed by a bench press will pre-exhaust the pecs and allow the bench press to fully activate the pecs.
The how: To put a unique spin on an old technique simply perform pre-exhaustion sets with very high reps. Why? Because the higher reps will be significantly different than powering through a low rep set prior to your big compound move. So to keep with our example, go with four or five sets of machine flys for at least 20 reps per set before lower rep bench presses.
#9 – Post-exhaustion
Just as pre-exhaustion will “pre-load” the muscle before the bigger lifts, post-exhaustion saves the isolation work until after the multi-joint lift. If you’re shoulders and triceps are spent after a set of bench presses simply continue your set with little-to-no rest with an isolation exercise.
The how: Choose any multi-joint exercise and pair it with a comparable isolation exercise. This could be bench presses with chest flys, squats with leg extensions, barbell rows with pull-overs, shoulder presses with side lateral raises or any other combination.
Perform your set of the compound movement as normal and then immediately head over and complete your set of the isolation move. Once you’ve completed a post-exhaustion set rest for one or two minutes before starting the next set.