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Help! I’ve Hit A Plateau

Help! I’ve Hit A Plateau

by: Damion Hackett

Have you been getting bored of your workout? Have you been at it for a while and have stop making gains? There can be a few things going on that you have not been thinking about. One thing to remember is that you will make the biggest improvements the first six months that you are lifting, because it’s all new to the body and your body has to change to adapt the your new environment (the gym). There are tons of ways to change up your workout to continue to make the gains that you want. I will talk about some of my favorites.

Make A Change

I am going to start off pretty simple and the one mistake that is made is that you’re not changing up the workout enough. Your body has gotten use to what you’re doing. Let’s say you have been bench pressing with a bar for the last month and either your gains have stopped or they are going down. One thing you could do is switch to dumbbells or a bar incline press. Just that little change can make a big difference. For most people they will make the biggest change the first month or two and then it starts to get harder. For beginners I would recommend changing their plan at least every thirteen to fourteen weeks. For an intermediate lifter I would recommend every ten to twelve weeks. For the people that have been working out for a while I would recommend every eight to ten weeks. I always pay attention to what’s going on with me and my body and if I am not liking what I see or I get weaker I will change my plan right away. Always give it a month because it just could be your body not being use to what you’re doing. On the opposite end though, I will stick with the same plan as along as I am getting good results and gaining mass (or losing weight if that is your goal).

Vary Your Routine and Workout

The next thing you can do is vary the routine and your workout . What I mean by that is if you have been doing chest every Monday for the last year, change that to a back or legs day. Another very critical component to avoiding a plateau in muscle growth (or weight loss) is in relation to the set-up of a workout routine. Essentially, the fundamentals of a good workout program should not change. However, the weekly layout should change every four to eight weeks. There are so many ways that you can do this. I would recommend trying many different workouts and see how your body reacts to the changes.

Drop Sets

Drop sets are one of my favorite things to make the workout harder and push myself to failure and really change up the workout routine. Once again there are many ways to perform a drop set. What I recommend is picking a weight that you can do ten to twelve repetitions to failure and dropping down the weight by 50% and do another ten to twelve repetitions. Drop sets are essentially a technique where you perform an exercise and then drop (reduce) the weight and continue for more reps until you reach failure. This is called the multi-poundage system. This works really good to help tear the muscles so you can make new ones. There are around twelve different ways to use drop sets– strip sets, up the stack,down the rack or running the rack, small drop in weight, wide drop sets, 50% drop set, low rep drop sets, ascending or descending drop sets, drop sets with grip or stance change, zero rest drop sets, rest -pause drop sets, and drop superset. Each one is very good and there are so many you can change up the routine so you can keep your body guessing. 

Neurological Overload Set Training

One of the new things I have been doing is a NOS set (NEUROLOGICAL OVERLOAD SET) Neurological overload set training is something I do that contributes to muscle growth and overcoming plateaus. On the final set of a given exercise — usually for each exercise in a workout — I perform four consecutive drop sets in 20% increments and try to knock off at least five to six reps with each weight. I find this to be a great way to overload the muscle, as well as overload the nervous system to force adaptation. An example of NOS would be lateral raises for shoulders. My example of my NOS set for laterals raise would look something like this: 70-pound dumbbells for six to eight reps, then 55 -pound dumbbells for six to eight reps, 40-pound dumbbells for six to eight reps and finally 30-pound dumbbells for six to eight reps. This plan works really good because NOS is the single most effective way to take a muscle to its complete physical exhaustion. As many of you already know, TIME under TENSION is the number one most highly correlated factor with muscle hypertrophy. NOS start out by putting you in the exact optimal range for muscular growth via optimal Time under Tension (40-70 seconds). 

Increase Intensity

Another simple technique is just Increase intensity. Intensity builds muscle. Other ways you can increase the intensity of your workout are decreased rest times, circuits, forced reps. Compound/ isolation same muscle group in supersets. There is weekly rep cycling which will help you find your place for optimal growth. An example: week 1 – hit out 12 reps per set, week 2 – hit out 10 reps per set, week 3 – hit out 8 reps per set, week 4 – hit out 6 reps per set, week 5 repeat. You have no idea what will work for you and this can help you find it. What we do know is the hitting six to twelve reps can cause muscle hypertrophy and this plan hits all those areas.


Negative is a good one because it will put your muscle under time and tension. Negatives can really help you break through plateaus. Negatives are where you focus on the negative part of a movement by using very heavy weights and a very slow

movement. The main thing on these is you really need to make sure you use a spotter. Along with the negative, you have slow reps that are close to the same but different. Slow reps are all about control and contraction. Using a lighter weight, with a slower movement, for the same number of reps you should be using a 3-1-3 count. Using slow reps you do the same number of reps as you usually do but your muscles are under strain for a much longer time - also a time under tension movement.

Partial Reps

There are partial reps that work the muscle group harder by keeping it under strain for a longer period of time. What you do is take an exercise and modify it by not completing a full rep. This does not let the blood escape from the muscle and makes it work extremely hard to hold the weight. This works really good for dumbbell shoulder press, dumbbell bench, dumbbell triceps extensions and kickbacks. A good example would be for dumbbell curl - Instead of letting your left arm hang while your right arm curls you do not complete the full rep, keeping your left arm slightly bent and under strain.

Pre-Exhaust the Muscle

Another thing I have been experimenting with is pre-exhausting the muscle before you start your actually workout. Pre-exhausting is another one of those plateau busting techniques that has been around for ages. So I will do dumbbell fly for 10 sets of 10, or I will 100, 30, 30, and 10. Forced reps are simple, do as many strict reps as you can without any assistance, then use a spotter to help you force another 2 or more reps out. You can use forced reps to get an extra 2 reps out or you can up the weight and use your spotter to help you force out your regular 10 reps. 


Pyramid sets start from a low weight and work up to a heavy weight and/or then back down. The first set in your pyramid will be with a weight that you can push out 12 reps with good form. Your next set will be 8-10 reps, then 6-8, then 4. Then you can always work your way back to 12 reps. Technique is important here, no cheating. You want to do slow and controlled reps on ALL sets. 


Take the week off. Rest is the most abused aspect of weight training. Bodybuilding is not like marathon running, less is more. Sometimes you’ll find that taking a week off from training is the best thing for you. Our bodies (and minds) need regular rest breaks from intense resistance training. Our training routines put stress on the entire body, not just the muscles. How do you know when to take a break? You’ll know it; your body will tell you. However, as a rough guide, every eight to twelve weeks. These are just some of the things you can do to change it up. I would suggest to try a little of everything and see what you like and works for you.
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