“Muscle Building Miracle Discovered”: A brief history of the snake oilers through my own lens
“Thinking like a Winner”: Much of it’s a ‘Meta’ Thing

“Muscle Building Plateaus”: Why they happen and how to break them

I’m now convinced: At least 95% of people engaging in natural muscle building are going about it ineffectively. That’s likely a conservative estimate; it’s probably more like at least 98%. And that includes steroid users who are trying to eke out some natural muscle gains between their drug cycles.

 

Biceps Concentration CurlsDoes my saying this make me presumptuously bold? Not really. Just observe the proliferation of existing bodybuilding information and how it coexists with an increasing number of frustrated individuals seeking guidance and you’ll realize something’s amiss. Especially within the realm of breaking ‘muscle building plateaus’ – if adequate information were provided, why are there so many dissatisfied trainees who experience such stalled progress? It seems to me like a lot of existing theories of natural bodybuilding have been tainted by their distorted cousin: the steroid-augmented methodologies.

Nowhere is this truer than within the context of ‘muscle building plateaus.’ We still get the same ole’ bull-squeeze; that muscle building plateaus occur due to a simple lack of changing your workout routine. We still hear the hare-brained advice about applying muscle confusion; about needing to keep our muscles and bodies “guessing.”

I’m currently plateau-less, and I’ve got no guessing-game going on with my muscles. Stalled bodybuilding progress is a thing of the past for me. I’m forty-six, stronger than ever, and making steadier gains than I did at twenty-six. The most exciting part is that I can “see” my bodybuilding gains coming. Using my system, I can anticipate, with total confidence, my body being more muscle-packed down the road than it is now. Plateaus are something I used to experience when I was following the common muscle building advice propagated by the mainstream bodybuilding magazines. No more of that.

Yet regardless of what system you decide to use, there are a few general remedies you can implement if you are experiencing a muscle building plateau. Before I cover my unique suggestions, let’s go over some of the common ones you’re likely to get from everyone else.

‘Muscle Building Plateaus’: Commonly Prescribed Remedies

When you hit a sticking point in your progress, the common muscle building plateau recommendations you’re likely to hear go something like this:

  • Eat more food
  • Get more sleep
  • Take an extra day (or two) off between workouts
  • Change your exercise selection
  • Change your weight/reps selection

Typically, the most useful recommendation on the list above is the third bullet. That’s because, in my opinion, the most common reason for muscle building plateaus is recuperation that’s no longer commensurate with the degree of tissue tear-down being inflicted during workouts. Although the recommendations next to the other four bullets might help, they’re usually inadequate by themselves, or even collectively, as plateau-busting remedies.

‘Muscle Building Plateaus’: The real way to break them

Muscle building plateaus are usually caused by overtraining. This is easy to conclude given the word “plateau”; it assumes or presupposes that progress was previously forthcoming. So if we’re dealing with progress that previously occurred and has now come to a screeching halt, it’s not likely the trainee experiencing the plateau is training with insufficient intensity. If he or she were, muscle building gains would likely never have occurred to a respectable enough degree so as to label the current predicament a “plateau.” Therefore, the plateau is more likely caused by overtraining or under-recuperation, the second merely the inverse of the former.

My cornerstone recommendation for a muscle building plateau is to start off by taking at least two weeks away from training the muscle experiencing stalled progress; no less. Three weeks to a month is even better. The reason is that overtraining tends to have a cumulative effect. What do I mean by that? Let’s say your overtraining started out something like this:

 

  1. You worked your pectorals really hard on Monday.
  2. When you went to work them a week later, they were weaker – not stronger; (they were “under-recuperated”).
  3. You worked them again anyway – giving them MORE intensity because of your frustration.
  4. Now they’re even more torn down than they were after the first workout that over-trained them. Yet you still give them their customary week of recuperation.
  5. For the next workout, your pectorals are in what I call a “recuperative deficit”; they need more rest time than ever to get back to square one where you can put them on a stimulation/recuperation/growth trajectory.

 

What I just described happens often. It’s the reason a muscle building plateau usually requires a person to take up to three weeks off from training to let the tissue fully recuperate. I recommend a month off as the ideal. Before you balk at the idea of taking a month off training for fear you’ll lose precious muscle size and strength, consider what the overtraining plateau is doing to you; it’s causing you lost muscle size and strength. Ask yourself which of the following two scenarios is worse:

  • Lost muscle size and strength along with more wasted time.
  • No more wasted time – a fresh platform to start from – no worse off on muscle size and strength than while over-trained (possible slight increase in strength).

With rational circumspection, most bodybuilders will opt for the second situation. They realize that continuing to train while in a “recuperation deficit” is an emotionally-driven default rather than a logically-deduced solution. 

The best thing to do while recuperating the over-trained muscle is to write down on paper what you were doing to that muscle when the plateau occurred. If you’re one of the 99% of workout enthusiasts who keeps workout progress in your memory, this will help you see the picture more clearly. Write down as best you can how many sets you were doing – which exercises – and how many repetitions. This will provide a reference point from with to adjust your routine to be “plateau-less.”

Muscle Building Plateau No-More

Once you have at least a rough idea of what you’ve been doing recorded on paper, make some slight adjustments to your routine when you start working that muscle again. You’ve got two methods of adjustment to get that muscle on a growth trajectory:

  1. Slightly back off on the intensity and number of sets you’ve been performing.
  2. Slightly increase the recuperation time between workouts of that muscle (keeping sets and intensity about the same).

If you go with choice number two, you’ll likely need to add a rest day between the working of all your muscle groups in order that workout days don’t start to overlap. Simply adding more rest days between all your workouts is the best way to go if you’re generally having lackluster results with all your body parts. Keep adding inter-workout rest days while keeping your training routine constant until progress returns due to recuperation being commensurate with muscle tear-down (stimulation).

Backing off on the intensity and number of sets performed is the best choice if the plateau is an isolated case of one stubborn muscle.  In this case, simply reduce the number of sets performed while keeping the number of inter-workout rest days constant until progress returns.

One final note: If you have been performing forced reps during your workout routines leading up to a muscle building plateau, cease and desist that practice immediately. I can almost guarantee that this is the cause of your progress stall.

Comments

Dean Crawford

Hi Scott,

You’re welcome – I’m an author so I’ve developed a bit of an ‘eagle-eye’ for speelin mistaks :o)

Workout progress is great thanks. Ten months lifting, started at 152lbs ( I’m six foot tall, 37 years old and with very low body fat, a so-called ectomorph ). I'm currently 172 lbs. I’d guess that maybe 12-15 lbs of that gain is good muscle, with the rest being natural fat / water etc. Only minor plateaus so far, all of which were solved using your advice on recuperation, and I keep a record of each workout to monitor progress. I also don’t take any notice of supplements, excessive calorie/protein stuffing, steroids etc etc.

If there was anything I’d ask you to write about it would be realistic expectations for new bodybuilders. You’re one of only two experts whose work I’ve learned to trust: compare that to the sheer number of Internet advertisements claiming “Gain 30lbs of pure muscle in three minutes” and so on. At my age, I think I’ve done well to gain 12-15lbs in my first year, and it’ll be less each coming year as I edge closer to my genetic potential. Whilst I know everyone is different, I think a good piece on general realistic expectations in terms of time and growth would both provide a trustworthy resource and also broader recognition of your work here – there’s scant accurate advice on the Internet for this right now.

All the best,

Dean

Scott

Hi Dean,

Thank you for catching that. I hadn't even noticed. I'm no English expert, but definitely know the distinction between 'then' and 'than.' It might have been my past web designer, but I'm kicking myself in the butt for not seeing it :-)

Thank you for the compliments on my posts. Just let me know if there's something in particular you'd like me to investigate and write about.

Let me know how your workouts are going.

Scott

Dean Crawford

Hi Scott, another great post.

Just wanted to let you know that on some of your website logos, the tag line reads something along the lines of;

'Getting in shape could be easier *then* you think!'

A simple typo, should be "than you think" but probably worth sorting out.

All the best,
Dean Crawford

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