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Have you been making good gains lately? Do you look any different than you did six months ago? Have you gained significant size, and I don’t mean weight, which could just be fat. I mean true lean mass. If the answer is no then something has to change. The definition of insanity in bodybuilding: Making zero gains, but relentlessly doing the same things over and over, hoping for a different result.
I see so many people in the gym that look exactly the same every year. They are always doing the same exercises and lifting the same amount of weight, and I wonder if they’re satisfied?
I go to the gym with only one goal in mind, and that is to continually push for the next level. If I look good today, I want to look better tomorrow! So, if you feel the same as I do, and you’ve been stuck in a rut, then here’s a few ways to light a new spark into your training, and bust through your muscle gain plateaus.
This is perhaps the simplest way to use variation to beat stagnation-changing exercises. I know, you’re very comfortable with the movements you use right now, but are they producing results? Remember that the human body is a brilliant machine that learns to adapt to almost anything thrown at it repeatedly.
If you do not regularly change angles, grips, patterns of resistance (free weights vs. cables vs. machines), etc, your muscles will become overly proficient at the exercises you are using, and less muscle fibers will be forced to fire in order to move the weight.
The majority of trainees out there are overly concerned with the amount of weight that is on the bar. Yes, getting “stronger” is important, but not at the expense of properly working a muscle. Simply getting a barbell from point A to point B is not going to necessarily facilitate muscle growth.
When you become too obsessed with looking like the strongest dude in the gym the first thing that usually suffers is form. Generally, the weight is lifted and lowered too quickly so that momentum can be utilized in order to keep the bar moving. However, this is only serving to challenge your joints, not your muscles.
A much more effective way to train is to lift more slowly, especially during the eccentric (negative) contraction. Try a lifting tempo of 4/1/2 (4 second negative/1 second pause at stretch/2 second positive), at least for some exercises, and I bet you will feel a burning sensation in your target muscles that you have never experienced before! You will have to use less weight, but if you are willing to leave your ego at the door you will be rewarded with a lot of new muscle.
When most people think of a “repetition,” they picture simply lifting a weight up and down. But who says that this simple pattern has to necessarily define a “rep?” Every once in a while you should get a little more creative, which will serve to not only stimulate your mind, but also your muscles!
Remember how I mentioned earlier just how efficient the body is at adapting to stressors that it is forced to deal with repeatedly? Well, there certainly is nothing more repetitive than a repetition! So, rethink a rep, and make your muscles face something they are not used to! This might be just the jolt you need to break through a training plateau!
See examples on the next page.
Pull or push the weight through the first half of the rep, then return to the beginning. Follow that “1/2” rep with a full rep. So, if you were doing a bench press, for example, you would lower to your chest…press the bar ½ way…then lower to your chest…then press to the top. That = 1 “repetition.” Alternatively, you can do a full rep followed by ½ rep, such as with a leg extension (squeeze to the top…lower ½ way…back to the top…lower all the way). This technique provides a tremendous pump and burn!
With these you will actually stop the repetition in the middle, either during the positive or negative portion of the rep. Using a BB curl as an example…curl the bar ½ way and pause in this position for 2-3 seconds. Then complete the range of motion and lower to the start position.
For an eccentric pause, you would curl to the top, lower ½ way and hold this position for 2-3 seconds before lowering to the bottom. Real hardcore lifters might even attempt reps with both concentric and eccentric pauses in a single rep.
You may have heard of 21’s, which is a technique that some bodybuilders will use for BB curls, however, I like using a 5/5/5 sequence instead and I find this to be a real killer on many exercises, not just curls.
Let me explain 5/5/5s using the leg press. First you will perform five ½ reps from the bottom position to the midpoint of the rep. Next you will hit five ½ reps from the midpoint of the rep to the top. Finally it’s time for 5 full-range, quad-cramping repetitions! That = 1 set of 5/5/5s. I utilize these quite often, but especially when I want to give my muscles a good kick in the ass!