The 3 most successful methods to overcome a hypertrophy plateau

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Everyone reaches a sticking point, kind of like a roadblock so to speak, sometime in their training, and I want to give you three tips on how to overcome a stall and boost some new gains.

Everyone is a responder or a non-responder to an exercise program. Meaning, someone either responds really well to a certain program, or the person will not respond very well, if at all. And the things is, all responders will sooner or later face the dilemma of becoming a non-responder. So if this is a dilemma that you’re facing right now then let’s have a look at a few solution factors that you can implement into your workouts which will help you to become a responder again.

 

Increase The Absolute Load (progressive overload)

The first strategy that you can implement, to keep on building new muscle, is to increase the amount of weight you lift. This might be easy at first, but over time, strength gains also stall, and then you can’t increase the weight anymore. There are a few good periodization protocols out there that can help you to keep on gaining strength. One of my personal favorites is a type of linear progression that I tweaked and it works much better for me than the standard version, so I’ll call it the NSMLP (natural supremacy’s modified linear progression). Other periodization protocols include undulating periodization, reverse pyramid training, block periodization, etc.

But if you’re dilemma is being stuck with a certain weight, instead of trying to increase the weight, increase the number of reps you are able to do with that weight. Which is also a form of progressive overload.

Another form of progressive overload is increasing the total amount of sets that you do per exercise and per muscle group. Which brings us to our next point…

 

Increase The Sets

Research shows that non-responders actually start responding to a training program when the volume/sets are increased. There is a significantly greater amount of non-responders in the low volume group, compared to the high volume groups.

By increasing the sets, you increase the volume and the amount of work a muscle does, which will result in new muscle growth.

Muscle growth appears to be highly dependent on the amount of muscle fatigue, whereby the muscle is brought to a point of/or near contractile failure to increase motor unit recruitment/activation.

Low-load protocols require that you do substantially more reps to achieve muscle failure, thus requiring more volume to produce similar elevations in muscle protein synthesis and muscle hypertrophy.

Lifting heavy weights requires a greater increase in sets to induce hypertrophy compared to lighter weight. For instance, Schoenfeld et al. found that 3 sets of 10 results in greater hypertrophy than 3 sets of 3 but that there is no further increase in hypertrophy with higher reps. To get an equal amount of hypertrophy, sets have to be increased, as another study by Schoenfeld et al. found that 7 sets of 3 reps resulted in the same hypertrophy as 3 sets of 10 reps.

So first off, don’t go heavy all the time and then increase total sets, even more, to try and induce greater hypertrophy. Start with 1 extra set per workout. Studies also show that between 4-6 sets per muscle group, per workout, stimulate muscle protein synthesis maximally. So if you do 3 sets per workout, per muscle group, increase it ’till four. So far there isn’t much evidence to prove that going past 6 sets per workout has any added benefits. And to the contrary, it can easily lead to overtraining and injury. There is a ceiling effect for MPS that is quickly achieved per workout and doing more volume won’t be more advantageous.

Too high volume results in a loss of exercise performance, loss of form, going past maximum pump, etc. There is a U-curve as to what the optimal amount of sets are per workout, with too little resulting in inadequate stimulus and with too much resulting in overstimulus, which leads to overtraining and also a blunted rise in MPS.

 

Increase The Frequency That You Train A Muscle

The American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendation is that individuals should rest 48hrs between training similar muscle groups.

But if MPS is only elevated for 24-48 hours in a trained individual, it would make sense to train a muscle group more often, to have MPS elevated for a greater period of time.

Therefore, given that a relatively low number of sets (i.e., four sets to volitional failure) may be sufficient to elicit a large increase in protein synthesis for up to 24 hours post-exercise. Performing fewer sets may be more effective at reducing prolonged fatigue. This also allows the same muscle group to be trained more frequently.

The higher frequency will result in a greater stimulus over time and would hypothetically result in a greater time spent in a net-positive protein balance. It can, therefore, be hypothesized that trained individuals may see a greater benefit in muscle growth by keeping the same number of sets performed, per week, but simply dispersing them over a greater number of training sessions. This would allow for the avoidance of ‘wasted sets’ (more sets after maximal MPS has already been stimulated) in terms of muscle hypertrophy, while also allowing for elevated MPS response to return to baseline before the muscle is stimulated again. Which should be able to take place in about 24 hours in already trained men (1).

Increasing the training frequency may be somewhat less effective for untrained individuals, because their MPS is elevated for a longer period of time, up to 72 hours.  Nonetheless, for trained individuals, it would likely be beneficial to progressively increase the training frequency from one to two times a week.

As you increase the frequency one extra day per week, and you become accustomed to training the same muscle group at higher frequencies, it may even be beneficial to perform full-body routines daily, or every other day, depending on how you recover from exercise.

In this study, they have unpublished data that shows that even three sets of an exercise per day, for 21 straight days, elicited no signs of over-training in previously trained individuals (1).

In fact, another recent study by Schoenfeld showed that to train a muscle group 5 days a week, resulted in a significant greater increase in strength and hypertrophy over 8 weeks.

 

Read more on frequency for hypertrophy and strength.


I apologize for the lack of studies in this post, but I do cover much more detail on these topics in my eBooks, where I also include references to everything.

Want all the latest research about weight training and dieting all in one?

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