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6 Methods To Break Through A Muscle Building Plateau

Never Stop Making Gains!

Posted by TimeIsMuscle - February 18th, 2017

Tired of running into plateau after plateau in the gym, and not knowing what to do about it? Don’t worry, there are a number of ways you can push past plateaus very quickly. Here are six methods you can apply to your training to ensure the gains don’t stop!

1. Take A Planned Recovery Week Of Rest

Your body doesn't assimilate new muscle while you are working out. It's actually the exact opposite. It catabolises muscle tissue (breaks down muscle), then when you rest and re-fuel properly, your body will build new tissue in its place.

This is the primary reason you need to give your body sufficient rest time between workouts, so that your muscles have a fighting chance at repairing fully. In a perfect world, we would never miss out on eight hours of sleep a night, we wouldn’t get stressed, miss meals, or do more activity in one day then other days, but life happens to us all.

Therefore why not consider a planned recovery week?  Every 6-8 weeks, I plan a recovery week where I don't workout. At most all I do during this week of rest is go out for walks. Aside from that and my 9-5 working day, I spend the majority of time eating or sleeping. I plan that week as a complete rest and recovery week to give my body sufficient time to repair itself and ensure I return to the gym stronger and rejuvenated.

As well as muscle recovery and repair, other advantages you can enjoy from taking a recovery week are:

  • Relaxed and refreshed central nervous system (CNS)
  • Your joints and ligaments get much deserved rest
  • Psychological benefits

At the end of the day, you always want to make sure you create a healthy balanced lifestyle, which makes a recovery week a must.

2. Post-Failure Heavy Overloading Method

The Post-Failure Heavy Overloading Method is a method that I like to include in my strength training workouts, where I am lifting heavier weights for fewer reps and using longer rest periods. Take the bench press as an example. Let's say that your max bench press is 225lbs for 6 reps on your final set, and you haven't been able to beat this personal best in a few weeks by adding more weight to the bar or even adding an extra rep. Here is what you can do…

On your final set, the one that you cannot progress in, you will do the exercise just as before. Then, if you haven't beaten your personal best of 225lbs for 6 reps, you will rack the weight, rest for no longer than 30 seconds, then pick it back up and pump out as many more as you can. You may only achieve a few extra reps, but that's OK. The key here is to just force the body into doing that little bit more work.

After applying this method for a few weeks into a few exercises, you should return to your normal training style and this time around just add weight to the bar and try to beat your previous personal best using your old workout goals that you had set yourself. Be sure to have a spotter for safety reasons, especially if the exercise is one that puts you in a situation of vulnerability such as the squat, bench press and even the military press.

3. Drop Sets

Drop sets are a method in which you add additional volume after reaching failure within a working set. Let's use dumbbell lateral raises as an example. If you have reached failure on a set of 8 reps, and want to further fatigue the muscle group to try to stimulate new growth, simply have another set of dumbbells/weights ready to go and jump right into another set.

Here is a breakdown example of how to do this:

  • Set 1: 30lbs for 8 reps
  • Drop set 1: 25lbs for 8 reps
  • Drop set 2: 20lbs for 8 reps
  • Drop set 3: 15lbs for 8 reps
  • This would complete 1 SET

The above is a three sequence drop set using a subsequent weight that is lighter than the previous weight. These numbers above are not set in stone, so if you find you are failing before hitting that rep range, or even if you perform more reps than listed, that's OK. So long as you are not surpassing 12 reps on each set or drop set, you know you are challenging yourself.

Note: I would only incorporate this method on your last set of an exercise. This way you don’t hinder your lifts later in the workout.

4. Superset Training

For those of you who don't know what a superset is, a superset is when you combine two exercises for either the same muscle group or opposing muscle groups, and you perform two exercises one right after another with no rest intervals in-between them.


When adopting this method you should focus on  hitting between 6 to 8 reps on the first exercise as well as on the second, bringing your total to hopefully more than 12 reps. If you achieve more reps than this, add more weight the next time around and try to stay within that rep range.

Here are some exercises you can combine when practicing this method:

  • Bench Press Superset with Dumbbell Chest Flys (Same Muscle Group)
  • Barbell Squats Superset with Leg Extensions (Same Muscle Group)
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press Superset with Dumbell Lateral Raises (Same Muscle Group)
  • Barbell Curls Superset with Tricep Kickbacks (Different Muscle Groups)

The possibilities and superset combinations are endless, and this is a great method to increase the intensity to a workout without adding much more time to your total time in the gym.

5. Forced Assisted Rep Training

First of all, I just want to highlight that you should not perform this method without a spotter, as you will be putting yourself in danger.

On one of your final sets of an exercise ask someone to spot you. You must explain to the person spotting you how the set will be performed to ensure you can trust this person to help you. On your final set, pick a weight that will have you failing near 6 reps, only this time, you are going to have the spotter aid you once you fail on the 6th rep.

When you can't perform any more concentric movements (pushing the barbell back up, for example) around that 6th rep, you are going to focus on lowering the bar (eccentric action) by yourself. Your spotter will follow you, and at the bottom of the movement, the spotter will help you get it back up to the starting position. You should then proceed to repeat this for about 2-4 reps.

In this particular case, we are stressing the muscles by going past failure by having a spotter help us out. You don't want the spotter to always be helping you, but rather just when you are doing this final set as you find yourself fatiguing.

6. Exercise Modifications

Modifying an exercise is a simple and great method to force the body and muscles to adapt to a new stress stimulus. However, this method should not be considered before attempting all of the methods described above. The reason for this is that the methods mentioned above have more muscle growth potential.

Having said that, this method is still useful, and should be experimented with after trying all other muscle building plateau methods. It will keep things fresh and allow you to begin building different areas of a muscle.

A few ways to modify exercises are as follows:

  • Grip position on a barbell when performing a bench press – you can move in by a few inches, or out.
  • Foot spacing when performing the squat exercise – move your feet a little closer together, or further apart.
  • If you have been using one particular machine to work a specific muscle group, try changing machines all together.


Now, there’s no need to be concerned when you next hit a plateau. With all of the methods we’ve just talked about in your arsenal, you’ll be back on the gain train in no time, and continuing to move forward.

Related Articles:

I've Hit A Plateau. What Now?

NattyLife: How To Push Through A Plateau & Set New PRs!

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Amazing points. Another method I've been trying lately is Cheat & Recover but I guess that's more for the advanced lifter!

TimeIsMuscle  Edit  Delete  Close

Thanks! Yeah I need to try out that cheat and recover!