It’s been months if not years now, and yet your training program is still the same. That isn’t necessarily bad, but if you’ve reached several plateaus in your muscle and strength building efforts and can’t seem to bust any of them, that’s a good indicator that something needs to be changed.
And this is a good occasion as any to delve into the details of your workout program and examine what needs to be improved and changed if you are to keep progressing.
There is no other way to continue building muscle and getting stronger. In this article we present you 17 tips to help you with just that.
First of all make sure you know your stuff. Everything you need to build muscle you can find in our Ultimate Muscle Building Guide. If you are sure you know all there is to know, you can proceed to the extra guidelines:
Lift heavy, but don’t do it too often
Lifting heavy on a regular basis might not seem to be that hard in the beginning and some volume accumulating in the long-term may not be that bad.
However, the thing is that the majority of lifters seem to forget that strength training and hard and heavy lifting doesn’t tax the muscles as much as it taxes the central nervous system.
It won’t be long before the neurotransmitters slow down seriously and you start reaching plateaus.
If you have been strength training for several months and have been lifting heavy all that time, you should definitely consider incorporating a week consisting of training with higher repetitions and alternate it with a week of strength training.
This will give the central nervous system a period of resting and recovery and will keep you focused and sharp. If you are not competing in powerlifting on a professional level, there’s no reason why you should do it.
The one rep max is less important than the three or five rep max
Training for strength doesn’t necessarily mean that you should push for a one rep personal record every time you train. If we are being honest, a one rep max attempt is always guaranteed to be executed with an improper form, provided that you give it all you’ve got.
Your three or five rep max executed with a proper form is a much better indicator of your overall strength, has much more reference point carry over to your other lifts, it is much safer and will allow you to lift much heavier loads using more reps than trying to lift one or two singles or doubles in the training session.
Just because you aren’t lifting at lower than 95% of your one rep max, doesn’t mean you aren’t strength training.
Give an accent to your upper back
The shoulder capsule’s stability is dependent upon the rotator cuff’s health. The four muscle originate at the scapulae. If you put on slabs of muscle on the upper back and strengthen it with many types of rowing exercises, pull-ups, exercising using bands, reverse flys etc. you will also strengthen the shoulders and positively influence pressing power and stability.
Allocating a certain time period specifically for this type of training will almost always improve bench and overhead press performance.
This type of training isn’t cardio training. It’s as simple as that. Your rest interval should, in no instance, be less than three minutes between each set of heavy lifting. If it’s less than that, you aren’t training properly.
Just because your heart isn’t beating rapidly and you can still breath normally, it doesn’t mean you can cut your rest intervals short. This is not about your heart and lungs taking a break or your muscles. It’s about resting the nervous system. Always give it the respect it deserves and it will reward you big time.
Change the gym (if need be!)
It’s a proven fact that it is very hard to maintain motivation and keep pushing yourself in the gym if the gym is packed with underachievers and no one to look up to and compete.
Even though this may not seem to be true at first, the fact is that the environment in which you train is a big factor to your muscle and strength building efforts.
The ideal place to train in is a gym where you are not the biggest and strongest person, especially where you aren’t even in the top 10. Like any athlete who gets into a competition with much better athletes, you will stay motivated and have the will to beat them, once you are no longer the biggest fish in the pond. And chances are you will learn some new tips and tricks too.
Get in tune with your body and learn to train intuitively
Hopping on one training program to the next very often is never a good thing, however once things begin to go stale you should consider trying out a different program and this could prove to be a real game-changer.
There will invariably be days when you won’t feel like training and up to the task at hand. You may feel some joint pain, some muscle soreness, general lack of motivation or simply a lack of energy to be able to train in the most optimal mental and physical state.
Hey, it happens to the ultimate pros in the world, so it will most definitely happen to you too. Trying to bypass your own physiology because someone told you that you should never skip leg day is plain stupid and you aren’t proving anything to anyone.
If you are in this for the long haul, keep going slow and steady and don’t try to act all hardcore to other people. Err on the side of caution and slow down.
Prioritize pulling over pushing
If you schedule your pulling exercises or pulling workout sessions before your pushing exercises or sessions, you will experience much more effective pushing sessions. The logic behind this is that the soreness in your muscles induced by the pulling will put a limit on the range of motion and the flexibility of the muscles around the scapulae which is actually a good thing.
This will create tightness in your upper back region which will add stability to the shoulder capsule and will create a basis for a stronger and free of pain pressing. Almost everyone who has followed this advice has experienced an improvement in their pressing performance.
Focus your workout around one major lift each day
If you are trying to do triples of deadlifts, proceed with doing overhead press triples and then finishing with a superset of 5s of bench press with weighted chin-ups all in one workout session you are definitely wasting your time and setting yourself up for disappointment in the long-run.
Continuously changing very demanding movements in one workout session will not allow the central nervous system time to change its focus and keep creating maximal neural adaptations and firing for all exercises combined, because it doesn’t agree with the laws of science.
If you want to train optimally, it would be better to take one compound movement, do it within rep ranges suitable for strength training and then add 2-3 lighter assistance exercises, which means structuring every workout session around that particular movement.
This doesn’t mean you should neglect doing other exercises, it’s just that you need to make sure that they aren’t so taxing on your body so that you would be exhausted for your next workout.
Do assistance exercise as tools to strengthen weak points
Following up on the last point, as the name itself says, the role of assistance exercises is to assist you in improving the performance of the big compound movements. In the end, it’s one of the major reasons why people even train them in the first place.
Trying to go heavy on an assistance exercise is useless, if not outright dangerous, like trying to ramp up to 3 rep max on a stiff-legged deadlift or doing 100 lbs cable triceps pushdowns. It just defeats their purpose.
The way to go with assistance exercises is to try to achieve higher amount of reps, full range of motion and executing the exercise with a proper tempo.
This will prove to have a bigger impact on the overall improvement of your strength levels in regards to doing the big barbell compound movements.
Stop doing a movements not suited to your personal body proportions
This point is especially important. What this basically means is that you not everyone is suited to do the same movements.
For example, someone who has long legs and a short torso, poor mobility in his hips and lumbopelvic rhythm is very likely to never set himself or herself into a proper deadlift starting position and will almost always be exposed to a bigger risk of sustaining an injury in comparison to doing a trap bar deadlift, where he/she can keep the torso in a more vertical position which is much more suitable.
Utilizing a certain variation of a big compound movement like front squat instead of a back squat, football bar instead of a barbell, trap bar instead of a straight bar, deadlifting from a platform instead of pulling from the floor, doing pin press instead of bench press can prove to be a real game changes and keep you progressing.
Provided that you put your ego aside and are humble enough to admit to yourself that you just aren’t built for doing a certain lift. Just because you made a certain tweak to the exercise doesn’t mean you won’t get the full benefits of the default variation.
If you kill the acceleration and force transfer in the majority of big compound lifts you will create a much bigger resistance for your muscles to work against, because you’ve eliminated the stretch reflex at the bottom of many movements as well as the elastic component intrinsic to most exercises.
You will immediately notice the difference when you try to move the load from a dead stop with no pre-existing momentum to aid you in lifting it. Even though you may need to lower the weight by 10-15% than you would otherwise you, it is well worth it because it will lead to significant strength gains.
Start doing more eccentrics
Slowing down the tempo of execution and getting additional time under tension during the negative part of the movement is an excellent method of mastering the exercise and make a much lighter weight excruciatingly difficult.
Type II/b muscle fibers are your strongest fibers and they are the most activated ones when executing the eccentric (negative) part of the exercise and one of the reason why everyone can handle more weight while lowering it than lifting it.
You can take advantage of this fact by increasing the TUT (time under tension) of the eccentric phase of the exercise. You shouldn’t care as much about the weight being used as you should care about the effect it will have on building muscle and creating neuromuscular adaptations. We guarantee you will get a lot of benefits from this type of training.
Hire a personal trainer
It should come as no surprise that hiring a professional personal trainer to monitor your exercise programming, observe and fix your execution form, give recommendations and motivation when needed can be a real game-changer when it comes to your success in the gym.
A good coach is also a good observant and will know exactly when to slow things down as he gradually learns about your body’s capacity for physical and mental exertion and the limits to which it can go.
Change the time of the day you train
There are pros and cons to working out at any particular time of the day. Working out after work or late in the evening can about lack of energy and exhaustion, while training in the morning can pose a significant risk to your central nervous system and spine when they are not functioning at their optimal rate.
For both of these cases, a change could be made and it can be something that would benefit the body greatly, particularly when you’ve been training at that time of the day for a prolonged period of time. Trying to do a two rep max deadlift early in the morning can feel extremely different than trying to do it after lunch.
You should always warm up properly
Regardless of you level of physical preparedness or how powerful you feel on any given day, you should always start your warm up for a big compound movement with the empty bar in your hands, “greasing the groove” of the movement.
Put simply, the warm up session’s aim is to better prepare you for the heavier loads ahead and start from scratch at every workout, so that the body can quickly re-learn the movement pattern. This goes double for those who are already lifting heavy loads relative to their bodyweight.
It will take you a lot longer to warm up before starting out with the working sets of the day if you want to be free of injuries. That is one of the hard truths about what it takes to get a beat a big personal record. Get the body warmed up in a proper manner and resist the urge to skip this important training phase.
Find yourself a good training partner
If you have been training alone so far and haven’t had a training partner, you are sadly missing out on many benefits of actually having one. Deciding to train with someone, let alone choosing who to train could be as essential as any of the aforementioned advice.
A good training partner should be able to spot you, should be knowledgeable about training, should be able to train smart and provide a good influence regarding training.
If you’ve had the luck to train with someone who has more experience than you, chances are you going in the right direction. It is very easy to get distracted by various things that may slow your progress and having someone who is more focused on training than you are is an excellent training partner to choose.
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