Since my column was cleverly named Grow Without Plateau (by my good friend IM editor in chief Steve Holman), I thought I might talk about some of the best ways to keep you building new muscle on a continuous basis. First, you must understand that the human body is an incredibly adaptable machine and thus will quickly cease to respond to stimuli that it is exposed to time and again. That’s especially true once you reach advanced-bodybuilder status. The answer can be summed up in one simple but extremely important word: variation!
If you are currently stuck in a rut—or want to take action to prevent it from happening—then read on to find out some of the best strategies that will keep you “growing without plateauing!”
1) Rep schemes. Unique motor unit pools are brought into play and different muscle fibers affected when you train with sets in the lower (four to seven), medium (eight-11), high (12 to 15) and very high (16-plus) rep ranges. For maximum development it’s best to vary your rep scheme every few weeks, or even try hitting each of those ranges within the same workout.
2) Rest periods. If you generally rest two to three minutes between sets, for example, try cutting your rest period to a minute or less for a while and experience how much more intense your workouts feel. On the other hand, if you tend to move quickly from set to set, try slowing your pace and enjoy using more weight.
3) Rep tempos. In my 20-plus years as a competitive bodybuilder, trainer and contest prep coach, one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen trainees make is to move weights too quickly through the range of motion. While so-called speed reps do have their place, especially when you’re looking to increase power, it’s far better to slow your reps and keep the muscle under tension for longer periods. It’s especially important to control the negative portion of each rep, taking a good three to five seconds to lower the weight.
4) Exercises. It’s very easy to get stuck using the same exercises over and over in your program, as we are all creatures of habit, but when it comes to bodybuilding, that’s not the best strategy for continued muscle growth. When your central nervous system gets overly acquainted with a movement, fewer muscle fibers are forced to fire to move the weight from point A to point B. Make sure to cycle certain exercises in and out of your program on a regular basis.
5) Exercise order. If you are working with limited equipment, then changing exercises may not be an option—but what you can do is keep your mind, muscles and nervous system guessing by constantly switching up the order of your movements. For example, if you always start your workouts with a compound lift, try leading off with an isolation movement instead.
6) Intensity techniques. Perhaps your body has become stagnant because you need to up the intensity for a few weeks and shock your muscles into growth. Try throwing some beyond-failure techniques like forced reps, drop sets, partials or rest/pause into your workouts. I also like 1 1/2 reps, which is doing a half rep after every full rep.
7) Bodypart splits. Have you been training chest and biceps together for years? Have you always hit quads and hams on the same day? Sometimes all it takes to kick-start new gains is to alter your split by combining different sets of muscle groups on each training day. In fact, I recommend altering your split every eight weeks or so, and basing how you group muscles (as well as which days you work them on) by prioritizing bodyparts that are lagging behind others. —Eric Broser
Editor’s note: Eric Broser’s new DVD, “Power/Rep Range/Shock Max-Mass Training System,” is available at Home-Gym.com. His e-books, Power/Rep Range/Shock Workout and The FD/FS Mass-Shock Workout, which include complete printable workout templates and Q&A sections, are available at X-Workouts.com.