The longer you are in this game, the more obvious it becomes. Like a bucket of ice cold water during mid-slumber, it is a fucker of a wake-up call. You've hit a plateau. You've leveled out. Your progress has ground to a screeching halt. How could this happen to you of all people? You are the most hardcore of a badass breed. Your every waking moment has been mapped out and executed with the intent of making bodybuilding gains. You eat it, you sleep it, you breathe it… You are a slave to the bodybuilding lifestyle. But nonetheless, regardless of your every well-intentioned action, your growth has been curtailed.
This is a time to go back to the drawing board--to examine your training, eating and lifestyle and to figure out what needs to be changed, tweaked or ratcheted up a notch. It is a time to make an adjustment, be it something minor or major to the daily routine, that in the long run, could make all the difference in the world. This is an opportunity to be a mad scientist, trainer, nutritionist and field general all at once… A chance to cause the rest of the world to quake in fear at the sight of your awesome new creation… This year's version of you, the Animal 2005 edition, bigger, better and with a shitload more horsepower.
As a veteran of this racket, you know that the bigger you get, the more years you have put in, the tinier and more incremental your gains become. Shit, as a rookie, you grew just walking up the steps to the gym. A beginner can blow up by accident. As father time trudges on, however, it takes more than just a little bit of effort and blind faith to continue building a larger and more impressive physique. Here are some tips you can try to blow past your sticking points and broaden both your shoulders and your horizons:
Turn Down the Volume
The marathon workouts become less and less necessary, the more advanced and experienced you become. The twenty plus set blood bath has its time and place as a shock technique, but it is no way to train day in and day out. After stretching and warming up, select three exercises per bodypart, and perform three work sets per: a 12 rep warm-up, a moderate set of 8 to 10 and a balls out set in the 4-6 range. This structure would have you performing 9 real sets per bodypart: a perfect range when looking to blast chest, biceps, triceps and calves.
Delts, quads and back, because of their complex physiology, will require slightly more, probably in the 12 to 15 set range. This is a movement towards maturity as a bodybuilder, to acknowledge that you have reached a level where you can generate enough intensity and train in efficient enough a manner to absolutely pummel a bodypart with a limited amount of sets and then get the fuck out of the gym. You've gotta strive for quality over quantity.
From Intense to Immense
In a state of limited training volume, it is a good idea to employ some intensity techniques designed to prolong a set while wringing every last bit of strength from each and every muscle fiber in the targeted muscle group. Include one of the following methods in each training session with the idea in mind of demolishing the muscle:
Circuit Training: Line up four or more exercises for the same bodypart and perform one set of each without rest. Three time through the gauntlet and you are cooked. A great time to use circuit training is on leg day: try a leg extension, squat, leg press, hack squat circuit. Navigate that fucker a few times and you'll need help walking to your car.
Supersets: Pair two exercises together for the same bodypart or for opposing bodyparts and perform a set of each movement in succession without pause. Perfect for arm day: hit bis and tris simultaneously by grouping together exercises like barbell curls and skull crushers, pushdowns and cable curls, dumbbell overhead extensions and hammer curls. Flush your arms full of blood, stimulating the entire region in one short session.
Dropsets: Destroy a chosen bodypart by not letting a set end once failure arrives. Instead, lower the weight and prolong the torture, then when the grim silhouette of failure again appears from the shadows, drop the weight one more time. Continue in this fashion until breakfast is on the rise and your limbs are quivering. This is the perfect scheme to use on side laterals and leg extensions.
Forced Reps: You are gonna need an able bodied training partner for these bad boys. Upon reaching failure on a heavy set, your training partner will provide you with just enough assistance to complete an extra rep, then will help you yet again, slightly more this time, yet just enough to allow you to properly execute another rep. This is a perfect method to use on the barbell bench press or military press.
Rest Pause: When employing the rest-pause technique, you will simply go to complete failure on an exercise, lower the weight, rest for 20 or so seconds, regroup and continue the set until you reach failure yet again. If you opt to, you can again rack the weight, rest and attempt to eke out a final rep or two. Rest pause training is performed ideally on machine movements like a Hammer Strength chest press or a low cable row.
We've now covered the adjustments you can make in the gym to bust through those plateaus and push outward into the elite physique stratosphere. You are still, however, left with 22 or 23 more hours each and everyday that you must live like a bodybuilder. Remember, Animal, you do your growing outside of the gym. Next time around, we'll address nutrition and recovery strategies designed to keep you driving forward on all cylinders.