Work Smarter, Not Harder: Tips to Increase Muscle Strength After Hitting a Workout Plateau
Do you remember when you first started working out and it seemed like your body transformed every week? Those were the good old days.
Of course, back then, you weren’t nearly as fit or as strong. But man, those results came quickly.
Now that you’ve been working out for a while, you’ve probably noticed that you have to work much harder to increase muscle strength, add mass, or otherwise progress. It’s only natural, our bodies were made to adapt.
But there’s good news. You can trick (or confuse) your body to maximize your gains and expedite your results. Keep reading to find out how to increase muscle size and strength, no matter how long you’ve been working out.
Hire a Trainer
Hiring a trainer may sound counter-intuitive, especially if you’ve been working out for a while, but it may be a good idea to get an outside perspective. If you’ve never had any official education or training lifting weights, there’s also a good chance you’re doing something incorrectly. It could be your form, your programming, or anything in between.
Just as importantly, a weightlifting coach is imperative for avoiding lifting injuries.
Hiring a trainer or lifting coach is a good way to correct mistakes, find new motivation, or gain insight into your workout regimen. If you struggle with commitment and consistency, they can also keep you accountable. If you find a coach with nutritional training, they can help you with your diet.
Yes, personal trainers are expensive. However, you don’t have to hire one for an entire year or for every workout. You can pay for a trainer or lifting coach to get you on the right track, then move off on your own.
Find a Workout Partner
If you don’t need a coach or personal trainer, you can still seek external motivation. Find a workout buddy with similar goals. Working out with a partner has multiple benefits, such as:
- Increased motivation
- Improved energy
- Increased accountability
- Someone to spot you on big lifts
- And more
When you work out with someone, you feed off each other’s energy. Make sure you’re staying positive and energetic for your partner, particularly if they’re having a rough day. They should do the same for you.
By using a workout buddy to spot you, you can push yourself harder during workouts. When working out solo, we avoid pushing ourselves to or near the point of failure.
Doing reps to failure is one of the most effective ways to increase muscle strength. It means you are demanding a maximum effort of your muscles, which forces growth.
Change Up Your Routine
If you’ve hit a workout plateau and are looking for new ways to increase muscle strength, start by switching up your workout program. Many of us tend to fall back on two things:
- What makes us feel good about ourselves
- Things that have worked well in the past
Unfortunately, doing what makes us feel good (which for men is usually chest and arms), leads to inadequate training in other areas. This results in asymmetry and stalled out success. While bicep curls are a good part of your routine, doing a heavy back workout is far more efficient at building mass in your arms.
And if you’re repeating things that worked in the past, your body will become unresponsive. It may have helped you increase muscle size and strength, but it won’t have the same effect twice, particularly if you’re doing it back to back.
Instead, try a new workout program. Change up your routine.
For example, if you’ve been following a program that focuses on 3 sets of 10, try a 5×5 program. Switching to fewer reps will allow you to significantly scale up in weight. This will shock your muscles into more growth in size and strength.
You can also try tempo lifting. These sets follow a tempo for each part of the movement. For example, a 4-2-2 tempo means lowering the weight for four seconds, pausing at the bottom for two seconds, and raising the weight for two seconds.
Tempo sets are a great way to increase muscle strength, size, stability, and balance. You’ll be limited on how much weight you can do, but you will substantially improve your form.
Alternatively, try doing pyramid sets. Pyramid sets are great for finding a balance between heavy sets and high-rep sets. Here’s an example, using bench press:
- Set 1 12 reps at 100lbs
- Set 2 9 reps at 110 lbs
- Set 3 6 reps at 120lbs
- Set 4 9 reps at 110lbs
- Set 5 12 reps at 100lbs
Expect to come up short of your goal reps on the last few sets. If you don’t, it means you’re not using enough weight.
Drop sets are similar to pyramid sets in that you’re constantly changing the weight and the reps. However, drop sets are one-directional, whereas pyramid sets are two-directional. Here is an example:
- Set 1 6 reps at 150 lbs
- Set 2 8 reps at 135lbs
- Set 3 10 reps at 110lbs
- Set 4 Max reps at 95lbs
When doing drop sets and starting with a heavy weight for your first set, make sure you do an adequate warm-up to avoid muscle strains, joint pain, etc.
German Volume Training
German volume training is a unique style of programming designed specifically to increase muscle size and strength. However, unlike most programs, GVT focuses on only two major lifts and two minor lifts for each workout. It makes up for the lack of exercises with the volume of sets and reps.
Here’s an example of GVT training day for chest and back day:
- Bench Press 10 sets of 10
- Weighted Pullups 10 sets of 10
- Incline Dumbbell Press 3 sets of 8
- Bent-Over Barbell Rows 3 sets of 8
The primary lifts are bench and pullups, where you’re doing the most volume. Expect to start getting fewer and fewer reps after set four or five. If you’re able to do all 10 sets for 10 reps, you should have chosen a heavier weight.
Finally, if you’ve been focusing on higher reps, consider changing gears and putting your attention on how much weight you’re lifting. For example, if you’ve been doing a bodybuilding program (3 sets of 8-12), try a powerlifting program.
Powerlifting programs place a major emphasis on the three powerlifting exercises squat, bench, and deadlift. The whole program is designed to increase muscle strength to improve these lifts.
You’ll be doing low-rep, high-weight lifts based on percentages of your one-rep max of each lift.
Eat More Food
When looking to maximize progress, we cannot ignore the importance of diet to increase muscle strength. In other words, if you’re not eating enough food, you’re not going to see the results you want. However, you should also watch what you eat as well as how much you’re eating.
Nearly 72% of Americans are considered overweight or obese because of our reliance on convenience foods, overly-processed foods, and restaurants. These types of food use added sugars and have way too much fat and calories for what we need.
Proteins, Carbs, and Fats
Alternatively, try to focus on whole, clean foods. For protein, eat lean meats like fish, poultry, and game meat. You can also find plenty of protein in beans, lentils, and quinoa.
For complex carbohydrates, eat whole-grain or whole-wheat foods like oats, whole-grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, etc. Though they have tons of protein, beans, lentils, and quinoa are also good carbohydrates.
Avoid simple carbs like white bread, white pasta, donuts, cakes, etc. This includes sugary beverages like soda, commercial coffees, juices (even 100% real juice), energy drinks, alcoholic beverages, and more.
Fat, unlike what you may have heard, is not bad for you. You just need to make sure you’re eating the right kind of healthy fats. These include things like avocados, olive oil, salmon, chia seeds, nuts, etc.
Avoid fatty meats, butter, and other high-fat dairy products. Things like ice cream, cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, and creamer will quickly add to your waistline, rather than your chest size.
Know Your BMR
To eat the right amount of food for muscle growth, you need to calculate your BMR. BMR stands for basal metabolic rate. In other words, how many calories you burn given your age, height, weight, and regular physical activity.
Your BMR will tell you how many calories you need to consume to maintain your current weight. You’ll need to eat a surplus of calories to increase muscle size and strength. We recommend starting with a few hundred extra calories per day.
You can go extreme to get better results. However, consuming 1,000 extra calories a day to increase muscle strength and size will likely result in excess fat build up as well. Your body can only use so much fuel.
Invest in Better Supplements
Aside from eating the right foods, you should also look into high-quality supplements to increase muscle strength.
Everyone knows about protein powder. It helps you pack in enough protein into your daily consumption to speed muscle growth.
For people who are naturally skinny and have a hard time putting on muscle, you can also look at weight-gainers. These shakes are packed with both carbs and protein, helping people consume an extra 1,000 or so calories a day.
There is also creatine (muscle growth), BCAAs (recovery), and pre-workout (focus and energy). Depending on your budget, you can invest in some or all of these supplements to help fast-track your progress.
If you want the absolute best results, buy SARMs. Sarms is a supplement that works similarly to steroids, but are much safer and legal to purchase and sell.
Use Progressive Overload Training
No matter what program you’re using and what supplements you’re taking, you need to implement progressive overload theory into your workout program. Progressive overload is the art of making small changes over a period of time to effect substantial, long-term growth.
In other words, if you make sure you’re lifting just a little bit heavier each week, you can make big progress over the course of several months. However, progressive overload training isn’t just about increasing weight, there are other ways to go about it.
Here are some examples, using deadlifts as the sample exercise:
- Week 1 3 sets of 8 at 200lbs
- Week 2 3 sets of 10 at 200lbs
- Week 3 3 sets of 12 at 200lbs
- Week 4 3 sets of 8 at 225lbs
- Week 5 3 sets of 10 at 225lbs
- Week 6 3 sets of 12 at 225lbs
- Week 1 3 sets of 10 at 200lbs
- Week 2 3 sets of 8 at 220lbs
- Week 3 3 sets of 6 at 235lbs
- Week 4 3 sets of 10 at 220lbs
- Week 5 3 sets of 8 at 235lbs
- Week 6 3 sets of 6 at 250lbs
As you can see, there are several ways you can use progressive overload to increase muscle strength and mass over time. The key is learning to be both patient and consistent. If you’re changing up your routine every couple of weeks, you won’t see the results.
Focus on the Major Lifts
One of the most important tips to increase muscle size and strength is to focus the majority of your efforts on the most effective lifts. These are called compound exercises. Compound exercises are the movement requiring multiple joints and muscle groups.
These lifts call upon the most muscle fibers, forcing the most growth. They also improve balance, symmetry, and stability, as your muscles have to work together to perform the lift. The most common and effective compound exercises are:
- Front squats
- Bench press (flat, incline, and decline)
- Bent-over barbell rows
- Military press (shoulder press)
- Barbell cleans
- Barbell snatches
- And more
Do these lifts at the beginning of your workout (on the appropriate day). They provide the best results and require the most energy. Doing them fresh at the beginning of your workout will yield the best results.
Looking for More Tips on How to Increase Muscle Strength and Get Better Results?
People who are new to working out get to enjoy the benefit of quick and noticeable progress. However, because our bodies are so good at what they do adapting to the demands of our environment, workout progress gets harder as you progress.
Fortunately, as you can see, there are plenty of ways to shock, confuse, and force your body into growth. Follow the tips listed above to ensure your workouts increase muscle strength, otherwise, you’re just spinning your wheels.
And if you’re looking for more health and fitness tips, you’re in the right place. Take a look through some of our other exercise and nutrition articles for more valuable insight. Good luck!
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