The best and bizarre-est tips to bust through your plateau
Physique transformation is a hell of a process, and it’s really not a straight path.
Sure, I talk about fat loss plateaus quite a bit, but as anyone who has ever tried to put on some muscle can tell you, progress can stall in either direction.
A lot of the time, you hear about guys who simply “can’t” get any bigger despite their best efforts—full body plateaus, really. Most of the time, this is an issue with diet more than training; these guys are often not eating enough.
Less talked about but certainly more insidious are single body part plateaus—where someone is experiencing pretty decent progress overall, but one muscle group seems to have stalled out like the ’84 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cierra I drove in high school. (Hey, don’t laugh; that car had personality. It may not have air conditioning or a working radio… or a functional passenger side seatbelt, but it sure as hell had personality.)
These plateaus aren’t generally dietary; they’re usually a training issue. Not just lack of training, but lack of activation that leads to lack of development.
Before I begin, I need to mention that these tips are not just about guys trying to add some size to their gunz— I often use the SAME tactics to help women develop their calves for a sexier look in heels, or (in my opinion, far more interestingly) trying to add some mass to their ass for a better fit in their absurdly tight jeans.
So ladies, listen up!
Unless you’re doing a program that specifically calls for a dedicated lifting and lower speed (like lactic acid training), don’t worry about tempo. As an industry, we’re really getting away from tempo prescriptions as a whole.
In fact, Jason Ferruggia (excellent trainer, extreme bad-ass) has said the prescription of slow tempos for muscle growth is one of the biggest mistakes and wastes of time in his career. For my part, I couldn’t agree more.
Instead, always try to lift explosively.
Increasing bar speed will force you to amplify recruitment of fast twitch muscle. This simple trick will affect your body in profound ways.
The increased neurological efficiency has obvious implications for muscle growth—the term really refers to the degree to which your nervous system will “allow” your muscles to get involved in a lift—but from a fat loss perspective it’s also great, because you’ll use more weight, which is simply more calorically expensive and metabolically challenging.
Ultimately, you’ll have greater activation, recruitment, and development. As an added bonus, lifting fast will increase both neurogenic and myogenic muscle tone, which will help you look leaner even at slightly higher level of body fat.
Try this with shoulder exercises and enjoy the new look of your delts just a few sessions later.
Single-limb movements—particularly with heavy weight—recruit High Threshold Motor Units (HTMUs). Recruitment of HTMUs has carryover to muscle building by escalating overall fiber recruitment and neurological efficiency, allowing you to stimulate muscles more easily and create growth more efficiently
Of course, training your entire body using unilateral exercises will double the workout time, so I normally recommend starting your workout with big bilateral movements, then transitioning to a few sets of single-limb exercises, and finishing back up with some more explosive bilateral stuff.
As an example, going from a front squats to heavy single leg squats, and then jump squats.
To increase growth of a target muscle, pre-stimulation with an isolation movement is one of the smartest things you can do. While I don’t normally like too many isolation exercises, everything has its place.
This is very different from something like pre-exhaustion, where the goal is to fatigue the targeted muscles in an attempt to shift the emphasis later.
With pre-stimulation, the idea is to establish recruitment patterns early in the workout with an isolation exercise that will have carryover to the more productive compound movements you’ll use later on.
Perform a fast and light set of flies before you hit the bench press and your pecs will be activated and actually perform more work; whereas, had you not done this, your triceps and shoulders may have done the brunt of the work.
Absolutely one of my favorite sneaky tricks to get a muscle going. During your set, lightly touch the muscle you are working. This will boost mind-muscle connection via a method called tactile stimulation, which to send signals to both brain and body to increase the activation of that muscle.
Early in my training career, I had less connection to my back than I did to any other muscle. No matter what I did, I’d pretty much just leave my back out of it. Anytime I did pull-ups, I was basically just using my arms.
(Well, I did.)
I switched all of my back exercises to unilateral movements, and with my non-working arm, I would reach across my body and touch the lat of the working side. By doing this, I was able to feel when I wasn’t working, and try to actively engage my muscles during the exercise.
Over time, I was able to develop intense mind-muscle connection.
And my back went from being one of my visually weakest body parts to the most impressively well developed.
I use this with my clients now, and we’re able to see significant progress over a short time.
This works incredibly well with back and calves.
Most people also have an issue with glute activation, so resting a hand on your tuckus while you’re doing lying hip raises can definitely help get your glutes to fire and begin to improve development and strength.
Another fun (and challenging) way to bring up a lagging body-part is to try to complete your given workout in less time. Decreasing training time without cutting workout volume increases training density; the targeted muscle will experience more stimulation without recovering, forcing your body to compensate with an increase in work capacity, power output, muscular density (hardness) and size.
On top of being great for jump-starting development in a given muscle, increasing training density is incredible as a fat loss technique—and performing density training for a single muscle while on a fat loss plan can certainly help you bring up that body part while losing a little fat.
Density training is one of the featured training styles in my bad-ass ebook, Final Phase Fat Loss.
Five simple but instantly effective ways to jump start growth and development in any muscle, tips that that you can put into action as early as tomorrow.
If you’re interested in constructing an entire specialization program dedicated to building just one muscle group, you can learn how by checking out my blog post about specialization training here.