How to Overcome Stagnation through Variation.
Head over to the mirror, strip down to your “skivvies,” and take a good, long and critical look at yourself. Meticulously analyze your entire body from head to toe and decide if your muscles have more size, shape, separation and/or density than they did say, six months ago. If you can honestly say “yes,” then you are likely on a good path and should continue with what you have been doing until the day it stops producing results.
Don’t fix what isn’t broken – right? However, if upon close examination of your physique you notice little to nothing in the way of positive changes, then it is time to switch things up! When it comes to building the body, the definition of insanity would most certainly be: “Consitently making zero progress, while relentlessly doing the same workouts over and over – hoping to one day get a different result.”
Don’t let this be you my friends! If your goal is to be a “maintenance man,” than stop lifting weights and carry around a box of tools. But – if your sole purpose for pushing and pulling the iron almost daily is the pursuit of the biggest, baddest physique you can possibly imagine, then read on for some new ways to seriously IMPACT your workouts!
One of the most common reasons lifters experience long periods of stagnation is because they utilize the same exact exercises in their workouts for months, and sometimes years straight on end. I refer to this as “exercise exhaustion.”
Yes, I certainly understand that most gym-goers settle into a pool of movements that they are comfortable with, and/or are perhaps “good at,” but what good does it do if no new muscle is being produced? You must understand that the human body is a brilliant machine that learns to adapt to almost anything it is exposed to repeatedly for periods of time.
Thus, if you do not regularly (at least every few weeks) change things up, your muscles/CNS will become overly proficient at the exercises you are using, causing less musscle fibers to fire and decreased anabolic activation.
Ok, so perhaps you refuse to give up any of your favorite exercises, or lift in a gym with very limited options as far as equipment is concerned. What then? Do not panic my fellow gym rats, as you can still overcome stagnation to a great degree through a concept called “movement manipulation.” By simply changing your grip, torso angle, and/or plane of motion you can use the same basic exercises while actually altering motor unit recruitment patterns entirely. So, in a sense, to both your muscles and CNS, it will seem like you are doing a totally different movement, and thus the stimulus they receive will then be unique (and more productive).
Slow your Roll
The majority of trainees out there are far too concerned with the amount of weight that is on the bar. Yes, getting “stronger” is important in this pursuit, but not at the expense of properly working a muscle. Simply getting a BB or DB from point A to point B is not going to necessarily facilitate muscle growth. When you become obsessed with appearing to be the strongest dude in the gym the first thing that usually suffers is technique.
For most, this generally means 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 with greater control, especially during the eccentric (negative) contraction.
Try using a rep 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 wicked burning sensation in your target muscles that you have never experienced before! Yes, you will definitely have to lighten the load a bit – but if you are willing to leave your ego at the gym door, you will soon carry may more lbs. of muscle with you everywhere else you go.
When most people think of a “rep,” they picture simply lifting a weight up and down, or down and up. But who says that this basic pattern has to necessarily define a what a repetition always is? Now and again you should “think outside the box,” which will serve to not only stimulate your mind, but also re-ignite 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 (at least for the close-minded)! So, I say its time for you to explore a “repetition reboot” and make your muscles face something they are not expecting! This might be just the kick in the rear you need to break through a training plateau! Here are a few examples:
–1 and ½ reps: 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 seated shoulder press, for example, you would lower to a point just below the chin…press the bar ½ way…then again lower to just below the chin…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 skin-stretching pump and burn!
–Eccentric/Concentric Pauses: With these you will actually stop the repetition in the middle, either during the positive or negative portion of the rep. Using a BB Preacher 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. And if you are really hardcore (or feel your IMPACT IGNITER kicking in), you might even attempt reps with both concentric and eccentric pauses in a single rep! Note: I take no responsibility if your biceps tear through your shirt!
–5/5/Max reps: 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/Max sequence instead and I find this to be a real killer on many exercises…not just curls! In case you are a novice and have no clue what I am talking about, let me explain 5/5/Max using the Hack Squat machine. 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 maximum to exhaustion full-range, quad-crushing repetitions! That = 1 set of 5/5/Max’s. Give this method a try for one exercise for each body part this week and test your tolerance for (growth-inducing) pain!
The “Stave off Stagnation” Chest Workout:
-Reverse Grip Bench Press (4/1/2 tempo)…3 x 8-10
-Smith Incline Press (3/0/1 tempo)…1 x 8-10 at 30 degree angle; 1 x 8-10 at 45 degree angle; 1 x 8-10 at 60 degree angle
-Bodyweight Dips (1 and ½ reps – lower to bottom, push up ½ way, lower again, push to top)…3 x max
-Seated Flye Machine or Pec Deck (5/5/Max reps)…2 x 5/5/Max