We have all reached that point in our cycle where we can’t seem to increase our size or strength. Most individuals will grab a spotter and throw more weight on the bar in hopes to break through and see some more gains. However, this is not always the best strategy.
Plateaus normally occur when an individual conducts the same physical training over and over. Lack of variation causes your muscles to learn and adjust to the pattern, becoming stagnant. Adding more sets and reps to the exercise generally will not give you the desired result . Focus on maximizing hypertrophy through muscle confusion. The best way to do this is to switch up exercise choice, variations in contractions, as well as range of exercise.
A study recently conducted by the ASPI Institute took a number of young healthy males and divided them into 2 groups . One group kept same exercise routine only varying weight lifted and rep count. The other group varied the amount of weight lifted and exercise. Both groups saw increase in size, however, the group that changed exercises saw the greatest increase in size and strength.
SLOW vs. FAST CONTRACTIONS
I have seen people slow down their lifts, thinking it will increase muscle growth. However, studies have shown this to be false. Slowing down a contraction, when lifting, leads to less muscle growth than performing the repetition in a controlled fast motion. When you slow down the contraction you lose tension in the muscle leading to the opposite outcome. Maintaining a faster / controlled motion in the contraction will keep muscles under tension, allowing the exercise to become more efficient while leading to muscle failure quicker.
Ultimately, the best way to break through a plateau is to vary the selection of your exercises. This is more important than even changing exercise intensity. Variation can even come with positioning of hands or stance. For example you can switch your grip on bench press between regular and wide grip to vary the exercise and engage different parts of the muscle. The other alternative is to vary length of motion. After contraction of exercise, release extension only 50% of the way before contracting again (this will allow more reps, and a centralized focus on one portioin of the muscle). After finishing sets, rotate to the missed portion of the muscle by extending all the way out and only contracting 50% before full extenstion.
NEED SOME EXTRA HELP AND MOTIVATION?
Mayhew, T. P., Rothstein, J. M., Finucane, S. D., & Lamb, R. L. (1995). Muscular adaptation to concentric and eccentric exercise at equal power levels. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 27(6), 868-873.
Shepstone, T. N., Tang, J. E., Dallaire, S., Schuenke, M. D., Staron, R. S., & Phillips, S. M. (2005). Short-term high-vs. low-velocity isokinetic lengthening training results in greater hypertrophy of the elbow flexors in young men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 98(5), 1768-1776.