I believe that we can always progress given we structure our training properly. If a client ever hits a sticking point in their progress, I have a few plateau busting methods in my tool box. You’ll never beat the basics, but here are a few methods that are as brutal as they are fun.
For most people, muscle growth can be stimulated through progressively overloading compound movements with good form and eating a calorific surplus. However, changes in programming does add excitement and can help motivation if training becomes tedious. The following methods are all trialled and tested by myself and clients and are excellent for adding variation for those who have been training for a number of years.
Extended Reps or “X” reps
An extended rep is when you extend a set through pulses in a certain range of movement specific to your goal. Once you’ve hit failure, you then lower the weight eccentrically to a sticking point and then perform mini pulses in a short range of motion.
This is a fantastic way of overloading the muscles, ligaments and tendons whilst stimulating hypertrophy and muscle endurance. To get the most out of this technique, I’d advise using a slow eccentric tempo and broad rep range. So for example 6-10 reps with a 4010 tempo.
The reason for this is that you may find the fatigue from one set then carries on to the next. I’ve seen a lot of people be able to perform this exercise comfortably on set 1, but then lose 2-3 reps set 2. It’s a very demanding protocol where the goal is reps and time under tension, not necessarily weight. If you find yourself speeding up during the eccentric portion of the lift, or only able to get 2-3 pulses instead of 5-6, then reduce the weight.
Sets = 3-5
Reps = 6-12
Rest = 45-75 seconds
Descending Ladder Super-set
If you’re feeling sadistic, give this one a try. I use it as a hypertrophy come body comp protocol as it involves a lot of reps with minimal rest. The idea is to pair up two exercises with opposing muscle groups, i.e. chest & back, quads & hamstrings, bi’s & tri’s.
I would recommend starting with a weight that is roughly your 12-15 rep max. This isn’t something you’ll probably know off the top of your head, but estimate that is 60-65% of your one rep max. You start by completing 10 reps on your A1 exercise, you then immediately go in to your A2 exercise and also perform 10 reps. Without resting, you go back to your A1 exercise and perform 8 reps. You do this 5 times, taking off 2 reps each time until you perform 2 reps of each exercise.
That may not sound like much, but the accumulation of fatigue is huge. You’ll end up doing 30 reps of your 15RM and 60 reps in total in a very short period of time. The lactic acid build up and the amount of volume is huge, so this is something you’d only do for 1-3 sets max. I rarely give more than 1 set and usually use it as more as a finisher due to the amount of fatigue it can cause.
Sets = 1-3
Reps = 10-8-6-4-2
Rest = 120-180 seconds before next series
Modified Double Method
The double (pronounced Doo-blay) method is where you do a tri-set (3 exercises back to back) where the first and last exercise are the same. The second exercise can either be a different muscle group to the first and last exercise or the same.
What’s specific about this method is the weight used on the A1 and A3 is the same, however the reps done on A3 are half what you’d do on A1. So for example;
A1) Front Squat 4 x 8 reps 4010 tempo
A2) Pendulum Squat 4 x 10 reps 4010 tempo
A3) Front Squat 4 x 4 reps 4010 tempo (no weight reduction)
You may use 100kg for A1. After doing the second exercise, which is also a quads exercise, your quads will be extremely fatigued. The goal is to then do a further 4 reps with 100kg in the front squat for the last exercise.
Sets = 3-5
Reps = 8-12 A1, 4-6 A3
Rest = 30 seconds in between exercises, 90 seconds in between tri-sets
These are three of my go to plateau busting methods when a client needs a new stimulus in their programme. If you’ve recently hit a plateau, give one of these a go and see how you get on. All feedback on the methods are welcome via email or comments on social media.
To learn more about the science behind muscle growth and hypertrophy, check out my podcast with Dr Scott Stevenson