Jerry Brainum breaks down the straight facts for breaking through a training plateau.

Unfortunately, there is no “secret” to mastering bodybuilder. Rarely, if ever, can you learn the “perfect training routine” that transforms your physique forever. In fact, as time passes, your body will need new stimuli to earn more gains. The act of bodybuilding is about adapting constantly. It’s failing to adapt that can lead to frustrating training plateaus. It happens to everyone and finding the best way to break out of it can be both mentally and physically exhausting. In our latest episode of Straight Facts, Jerry Brainum breaks down the top 10 ways to break through a training plateau.

The number one aspect of bodybuilding that all athletes should know about is progressive overload. This is a key principle behind weight training for increased muscle size and strength. So what is it? It’s the concept that your workouts must continue to progress. You can’t simply do the same weight and reps and exercises every single day and expect non stop continued results. Your training must increase in some matter to put more resistance onto your muscles for continued growth.

There are many ways to do this (which we will go into more detail about below). But it’s important to know that your workouts must evolve over time or you will certainly run into plateaus. Other factors such as your diet and sleep regiment can have additional effects towards your gains – and when managed poorly can lead to plateaus. Considering these elements, let’s break down the ten tactics you can apply to help rise out of a plateau.

training plateau

1. Increasing weight

One way to increase muscle resistance is to increase the amount of weight you are lifting for each exercise. This is one of the more basic tactics to prevent a training plateau. If you never increase weight – you will stop seeing gains after a certain point. If you’re a beginner and find yourself doing the same routine today that you were doing six months ago – this can be a key reason why you’re hitting a plateau.

2. Increase intensity

Sometimes a key factor that contributes to a training plateau is a lack of intensity. This is somewhat more psychological. Over time of getting comfortable in the gym with your workout plans – you will start to enter a sort of “autopilot mode.” The entire experience of training becomes so second nature that you aren’t putting the same kind of focus or intensity into it.

Sometimes this can happen without you even realizing it. If you believe that this may be a factor contributing to a frustrating training plateau, one tactic that can be helpful is training to failure. By training until you physically cannot lift another rep – you are guaranteeing that your intensity is on point. It’s a great way to shake yourself out of a possible rut in the gym.

3. Increasing reps

Another way to increase resistance progressively on your muscles is to do more reps and possibly even more sets. The debate of more weight or more volume has been eternal – but most studies show that both can work towards making the same kind of impressive gains. Of course, there is a limit to how many sets you should do before it becomes pointless. As you grow in strength and experience – you will likely increase weight and volume over time.

training plateau

4. Reduce training frequency

This might sound counter intuitive – but sometimes it helps to reduce the amount of workouts you do in a week. A training plateau may be caused by overtraining. While overtraining is generally seen as an excuse or a myth – it can be very real in one specific factor. If your training so much that you give no time for recovery – you’re losing out on gains.

Muscles do not grow in the gym, the grow when they repair during rest. If you are training so often that it cuts into sleep or rest, you’ll be cutting your gains short.

5. Try different exercise variations

There are a variety of different ways to train a specific muscle or muscle group. Changing the form or angle of an exercise can help activate different parts of a muscle group. We typically call these exercise variations. And even if certain variations don’t actually vary that differently in terms of muscle activation – mixing it up can be a powerful psychological tool to keep your intensity up.

Jerry Brainum suggest that you should change up your workout routine every six to eight weeks. If you’re not doing that – you’ll run the risk of hitting a plateau. That being said, there are always exceptions to the rule. Ronnie Coleman was notorious for the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” method. That being said – if you find yourself stuck, this might be a good tactic to try.

6. Reevaluate your nutrition and supplements

If you’ve tried all of the above options out and still seem to find yourself stuck in a training plateau – the problem might be your work in the kitchen rather than the gym. Your bodybuilding diet provides the fuel needed for muscle growth – and can be a lead cause for plateaus. This is especially true if you are not eating enough protein. While protein is an absolute basic building block most bodybuilders know about – it should be noted that during cutting or a diet, you need to up your protein intake or you will start losing muscle.

In addition to this, other factors such as how much dietary fat you are including into your diet matters. If you cut dietary fat completely from your diet, your testosterone will drop. This will lead to less progress in the gym. And while carbohydrates are not necessary – Glycogen (often derived from carbs) is key to building muscle. You can get it through other sources other than carbs. Does this mean cut all carbs? No. But it can be reduced with proper dietary rebalancing.

Lastly, supplements are a key factor that can help boost you out of a plateau. Ensure that you are getting the full amount of vitamins and minerals via supplements. In the modern world, it can be near impossible to achieve through food alone. Also a supplement like creatine – a legal and proven way to increase strength, energy, and gains – might be just what you need to bust through a training plateau (if you aren’t already using it).

training plateau

7. Get more sleep

As we mentioned earlier, muscle doesn’t grow in the gym. It grows during rest as it repairs. If you are not having enough rest or even sleep – this can cut on your efficiency in the gym and also your ability to grow muscle. In today’s world, it’s often seen as a strength to work long nights and cut your sleep schedule short. At a certain point, this weakens your body and health. And thus, weakens your gains as well.

Of course, one final obvious point. If you get so little sleep that you are exhausted at the gym – you’ll put in a crap workout. So this even further increases risk of hitting a training plateau.

8. Don’t do excessive cardio

Cardio exercises are vital for heart health and endurance. But too much cardio can cut down on muscle growth. This is pretty well known as many pro bodybuilders avoid cardio all together. While Jerry Brainum doesn’t suggest that you cut it out completely, he encourages you to look at your cardio habits and evaluate if it can be contributing to a muscle plateau.

9. Implement high intensity tactics into your training

This takes us back to Jerry Brainum’s original note about increasing intensity. There are many tactics you can apply to your workout to push your intensity up. These tactics also help push your muscle towards exhaustion. Consider drop sets, supersets, and the rest/pause technique. These are all ways to help force your muscles towards exhaustion – and possibly busting through a plateau.

10. Focus on the negative contractions

Jerry Brainum explains that muscle fiber is damaged more on the negative movement rather than positive. So for example, during a bicep curl, lowering the weight is where the most muscle tears happen rather than when you first curl them up. Damaging of the fibers leads to repair – which leads to muscle growth.

If you’re stuck in a training plateau. Try to focus more on your negative movements. Make sure to pause and squeeze for a moment at the peak of the movement as well (for most exercises – but not all). And also consider your range of motion. Short and quick reps don’t help here and can lead to plateaus.

Wrap Up

Jerry Brainum goes into even more detail than what we’ve listed here regarding the top ten ways to bust through a training plateau. For those looking to optimize their workouts or are frustrated and stuck in the gym – make sure to watch the entire Straight Facts episode above. And don’t forget to come by every Wednesday for new episodes!

Derek Dufour
Derek Dufour has been managing all digital operations on the Generation Iron Network for over six years. He currently manages a team of editors, writers, and designers to provide up-to-date content across the GI Network.