You’ve been going hard at the gym and riding high—your muscles are strong, your endurance is at its peak, and you’re feeling good. But you’ve also noticed that some of those gains you made have plateaued.
Muscle-building plateaus occur once your body becomes accustomed to your workout routine. Muscles have to be stressed in order for the process of growth to begin—the muscle fibers have to be torn so that they can be repaired, only to be built up stronger and slightly bigger than before.
Janelle Tank, personal trainer and owner of Nell Nation Fitness, recommends that clients facing plateaus should focus on updating the movements they already do, turning them into compounds movements that shock and challenge the muscles in a new way. Here’s how you can do that:
Start By Perfecting Your Basic Compound Strength Moves
It’s important to ensure that you have the fundamental movements down correctly before moving on to increased weight. If you aren’t doing a strength exercise correctly, you won’t be getting max gains from the movement—and worse, you might hurt yourself.
Tank’s recommendations? When working on the lower body—such as with lunges or squats—ensure you’re pushing through the heels, keep your knees back behind your toes, and keep your shoulders stacked over your hips.
With shoulder movements, you’ll push through your elbows. And if you are working on the chest, keep your chest pushed upward, towards the ceiling.
“When working your back, pull through your elbows,” says Tank. “In any movement you do, you should always have good posture—don’t look up when you have weight over your head (keep your spine neutral), and don’t let your chest fall down (keep your chest pushed up towards the ceiling).”
Increase The Resistance
Both weight-lifters and those who use their own body weight to work out will need to increase the resistance to see the gains. According to The Review of Food Science and Nutrition, increased stress on muscle fibers is a crucial part of creating muscle growth, which is what occurs when you up the resistance in your workout.
Resistance can be added in the form of five pound increments in weights during sets, or adding a resistance band to various compound movements like squats, side kicks, or lunges.
Work SuperSets Into Your Routine
Tank often has her clients do supersets (which may include two or more exercises done back to back with no rest in between, usually focusing on different body parts) to jumpstart muscle growth.
An example: “We ended a leg workout with 30 reps on the abductor machine followed by 30 weighted lunges and 30 unweighted lunges,” Tank says. “It was crazy intense! But the high repetition shock was a great challenge for my clients.”
Get Plenty of Sleep
A study in the journal Sleep showed that extending sleep to a minimum of 10 hours per night increases physical performance. You may not be able to get that many Zs very often, but it’s worth a try during a serious plateau.
Don’t Forget the Power of Protein
It’s absolutely essential to consume enough protein in order for muscles to be able to repair damage done, heal themselves, and produce the growth you want. During a period of growth, the body needs even more fuel, and more protein, than usual. How much protein are we talking?
For strength training, Mike Israetel, Ph.D, sports physiologist and co-founder of Renaissance Periodization, recommends looking to take in two grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, which equals the USDA’s base recommendation multiplied by 2.5.