Alright, so you’ve been lifting for a while now and have made some good progress. Then all of the sudden, your gains aren’t coming as quickly as they once were or even worse, you stopped making any gains at all! Now, this is actually quite common. You see, when anyone starts out weight lifting, they usually start making gains pretty quickly and are normally pretty satisfied with their results. However, as the months start to go on, they soon find their progress slowly diminishing until they have seemed to hit a brick wall! Why does this happen? Adaptation. Your body will start to get used to the stressed placed on it and adapt. It will stop making progress simply because you are doing the same thing over and over and it knows it can handle that. So what should you do if you are or get in a situation like this?
- Eat More – If you haven’t gained weight on the scale, then you definitely need to eat more. You can’t create mass out of nothing, and it’s very hard to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. If you want to gain muscle the fastest way you can, you need to eat over your maintenance level in calories. So if you normally eat 2700 calories, then add 500 to that to make 3200 calories per day. However, since most people don’t count calories, it would be best just to eat around 5 times a day and make sure that you are never hungry. You can maybe count calories for a week or so if you want. This way, you will be able to guess the calorie content of some foods easier. Though, the important thing here to remember is that if your weight isn’t going up, then your calories should be! Also, weight yourself in the morning before you eat; you’ll get a more accurate reading for each day.
- Change How Many Reps Per Set You Do – Some people swear that you need to lift heavy – 5 reps per set. Others say that lifting for a pump (generally 8-12 reps) will work like magic! However, rarely does sticking to one type of rep range work best. People’s bodies seem to adapt and changing the amount of reps per set doesn’t allow your body to get used to any one specific type of training. However, don’t fall into the trap of changing the reps per set you do every time you go to the gym; it is unnecessary and just makes it difficult to track your progress.
- Eat More Protein – Most people do not eat enough protein for their goal of getting bigger. I even know some people who follow the advice on the back of the food labels, the percentage of Daily Value (DV). First of all, that is based on a 2000 calorie diet, WAY less than any guy lifting needs to eat. Second, it is based on general health, not gaining muscle size. The general rule of thumb is to eat your bodyweight in grams of protein. So if you weigh 170 lbs, then you should eat 170 grams of protein every day. That is a ton of protein, so it’s going to take some conscious awareness! Just make sure you get that protein in so that your muscles have the building blocks that they need in order to grow!
- Change the Frequency of Your Workouts – Some people workout too little, some workout too much. Either way, your hurting yourself for potential growth! Your workouts should be based around how many times each muscle group gets worked per week. So far, the current belief is that twice a week to once every 5 days is best. Notice I didn’t say workout only twice a week to once every 5 days, work each muscle group that much. So for example you could work your pecs every Monday and Friday. Of course, this is assuming that you are doing a split routine and not a full body workout every time. The is one area where you should to some self-experimenting. As a general rule, beginners need each muscle to be trained 2-3 times per week, average (and the majority of) lifters do well working each body part twice a week to once every five days, and some very advanced lifters get by with training each muscle group once a week. Try different ranges out for a while each, track your improvement, and see what works best for you.
- Change How Long You Rest For – Some people say that full recovery takes anywhere from 4-5 minutes between sets, while others claim that the longest you need to rest for is 1 minute for maximum muscle growth. In my experience, it seems that between 2-3 minutes of rest per set is good if you are doing about 8-12 reps per set. However, if you decide to change how many reps per set you do, then you should also change how long you rest for. You see, some people might think that if you do more reps per set, then you would need more rest, right? Actually, it’s just the opposite! Lifting heavier, and thus less reps per set, puts a tremendous strain on your nervous system. If fact, that is how some powerlifters might not look nearly as strong as some bodybuilders, but they will have a greater one-rep-max lift! During every lift, your nervous system shoots out an electric signal that tells your muscles how much force to contract with. If someone starts to lift heavy (5 reps per set), they won’t exhaust their muscle fibers as much as 8-12 reps, but they will definitely exhaust their nervous system! This is why when you lift heavier, you need to rest more to let your nervous system recover. In my opinion, you should train both for maximum hypertrophy (increase in size of actual muscle fibers) and for strength (increase in intensity of electrical signal from nervous system to muscle fibers).
- Focus More On the Eccentric (Lowering) Part of the Lift – So many people are so concerned with trying to get the weight where they want it to go, that they seem to completely forget why they’re actually lifting: To get bigger muscles!! The more you use momentum to help you get the weight up, the less muscle you are using. Furthermore, lifting heavier weights with bad form is not nearly as good as lifting lighter weights, the weights you should be using, with proper form. Also, the eccentric (lowering) portion of the exercise is arguable as or more important than the concentric (contracting) portion. For example, the eccentric movement in benching is when the weight is being lowered and in lat pull downs it is when the bar is moving up. It is during the lowering part that causes the most muscular damage, which might be an important aspect of hypertrophy, especially for advanced lifters. When you lift you want to make sure that you can feel constant force on the targeted muscle(s); if you can’t, then you might need to adjust your form a bit. Common examples of this are abdominal exercises. Many people tend to bend their waist instead of their midsection and end up working their hip flexors more than their abs.
- Change Your Routine – Your body is an adaptive machine! Give it something for long enough, and it’ll find a way to deal with it. At first, your routine might have been working like magic for you, but over time your body will not longer allow you to keep building muscle. It decides that since you have been doing exercise X for so many days and it has handled it, it doesn’t need to keep growing. In order to force your body into growth, you need to change things up a bit at times. If you have previously been pairing biceps and triceps together, try doing biceps with back and triceps with chest. Change the exercises that you do for specific muscle groups. You should have realized by now that a lot of this article has focused on change, so go ahead and change some variables! There is no one workout that will keep producing the same results forever, so get a whole new workout! Again, just be aware that you must stick to the same plan long enough that you can accurately track the progress that you are making. Do not change things just for “muscle confusion”, as this is not the point.
By using these seven tips on how to keep building muscle, you will no longer have to be dissatisfied when you suddenly stop building muscle. From now on you know what to do when you hit that brick wall!