By Mike Dewar Breaking Muscle
For most beginners, training is a glorious time where personal records are seen monthly, new striations pop up every day, and you feel invincible. But for those of us who have been around the iron block before, we find ourselves in a rut more often than not.
Stalled progress, plateaus, and dead ends are a part of the process. They highlight our flaws, challenge our ways of doing things, and force us to get better. With a little science, savvy, and a whole lot of grit, you can and will reach new heights.
So let’s break down what goes wrong and how we can fix it to get back to growing our strength and muscles.
Serious gains aren’t just for newbies.
Minor Adjustments for Serious Gains
The body needs some form of competency in a training program so it can master technique before beginning to move substantial weight and taking on increased volume (sets x reps x load). This learning process can take as little as one to two weeks for more advanced trainees, but months for others. Program variations should not be massive overhauls, rather slight adjustments to a select few components at a time.
Often I find that trainees hop from one program to the next, mistaking their twelve-inch arms and 200lb squat for poor programming and/or the “plateau effect.” These trainees feel that completely restructuring their program will allow them to shake up their body’s ability to adapt, and therefore stimulate muscle growth.
“If you perform the basics perfectly, and treat every training session as an opportunity to become better, you will see progress.”
On the other hand, the people I call “The Simpletons” walk into a local global gym and perform the same ten to twenty exercises for the same 3×10 since they began their journey. Their toolbox is small, their tools are worn, and let’s face it – a hammer and a screwdriver cannot build the Taj Mahal. Unlike the program hoppers, The Simpletons have semi-mastered their technique (hopefully), but so has the body’s physiological processes. The body has learned how to work less under the same training program, decreasing the need for adaptation.
The question then lies before us: how can you stimulate muscle growth through constant variations without over complicating the body’s ability to find its groove and adapt?
I have found these seven ways are great variations to sprinkle into a well-developed training regimen. They not only stimulate muscle growth, but also still satisfy the mad-scientist experimentation we all love to do.
There are steps to keep your strength and muscle growth progess rolling beyond the novice phase.
7 Ways to Stimulate Muscle Growth
1. Slow Down
Tempo training is a great way to stimulate new muscle growth through increased time under tension. When prolonged tension occurs, local muscular fatigue and lactic acid accumulation drive physiological and hormonal adaptations can result in substantial gains in muscle hypertrophy.
Isometric training allows you to over stimulate the body and your nervous system, creating a shock that can increase neuromuscular activity, increase spinal and muscular loading, and enhance mental confidence under supra-max loads.
Both of these approaches together are great ways to shock the body to bring about new growth.
2. Banded Everything
Training with bands and chains is critical to breaking new ground in your training capacities. Increased power production will lead to increased fast twitch muscle fibers, muscle firing rates, and performance.
Overloaded training techniques – such as a personal favorite, the lightened method, allows you to train at higher intensities and match your personal strength curve throughout the entire lift, creating maximal strength through sticking points and increased muscular loading. Using bands and chains is an effective, yet inexpensive way to stimulate a great deal of muscular growth and strength.
3. Eat Better
Face it – you cannot outrun a poor diet. Whether your goal is fat loss, muscle gain, strength, or athletic performance, nutrition is vital to the recovery and adaptation processes.
Too often people try to train more to burn calories because they cannot control their gluttonous ways. They end up getting hurt in the process. Instead of going to the gym every day, doing more of the same stuff, and then eating the sub-par diet that ensues, educate yourself on what real sports nutrition and performance fueling looks like, and live healthier and stronger.
4. Rest Better
Instead of training day in day out, slaughtering your technique, motivation, and training quality, find a better balance between. Too often people assume more is better – more calories, more sets, more weights, and more reps will lead to results. While, yes, it’s undeniable that increasing volume is a surefire way to create change, you need to balance that with sound recovery through active rest, mobility training, and proper nutrition. At the end of the day, the athletes at the top are where they are because they work hard – and they rest and recover harder.
Balance productive training session with well-deserved breaks away from the bar.
5. Train More Frequently
One of the best ways to increase muscle hypertrophy is to increase your training volume. Many people train a body part once per week and blow it out, which may or may not work for you. Instead, try a different training split, one that allows you to train your weak parts twice or even three times per week. Does that mean you blow legs out every other day? No. Instead, try a balanced program that involves the foundational lifts done perfectly.
Increasing the frequency of a lift throughout the week is an amazing way to add volume, the biggest influence on muscular growth and strength. For example, bench pressing, squatting, and deadlifting three times per week at varying loads is a systematic way to improve both technique and foundational strength. Many powerlifters, weightlifters, and even bodybuilders perform particular lifts two to four times per week at varying submaximal loads and rep schemes, aiming for consistent loading over blowing themselves out weekly.
6. Stop Running, Start Sprinting
No matter who you are, you need to introduce high-intensity speed training to your program. Whether you are a marathon runner, cyclist, or barbell slayer, high-intensity speed training is key to improving fat loss, retaining muscular strength and power, and enhancing your performance goals.
“Instead of training day in day out, slaughtering your technique, motivation, and training quality, find a better balance between.”
Research has shown repeatedly that near-maximal bouts of sprinting, rowing, cycling, and even sled pushing or pulling mobilize fat cells better than traditional steady-state cardio. And without the diminishing and destructive catabolic effects on muscular strength and power.
Am I saying stop what you are doing and start doing more higher intensity training, cutting your training time up to half? Maybe. Start off by substituting some interval training into your training split one to two times per week, and go from there
7. Go Solo
Good training partners are key to getting stronger, challenging your training mentality, and holding you accountable for diet and exercise. They keep you on track, push you past your mental walls, and never let you settle for less than your best.
Bad training partners, or even okay ones, will limit your potential. They suck the time from your sessions, talk about pointless stuff, and break the mental mode needed to destroy iron and crush it. But they are not to blame. You need to take responsibility for why you have stuck around in this lackluster relationship.
Training solo here and there, or until you find a legit training partner, will teach you to hold yourself 100% accountable. It will show you that you can be your biggest ally and biggest foe. When you train solo, you tend to get more done and find your zone. Once you’ve done that, then you can help others and be the role model for all those sub-par training partners around the world.
Consistency Is the Name of the Game
There you have it. Seven surefire ways to become stronger, leaner, and healthier. If you perform the basics perfectly, and treat every training session as an opportunity to become better, you will see progress. Consistency is the name of the game.