How to Beat a Muscle Growth Plateau

You may be doing everything right: hitting the gym regularly, adding weight to your lifts, eating right, and getting plenty of rest. Unfortunately, sometimes none of these things can stop you from hitting the dreaded plateau. Your body may just stall out, leaving you unable to lift anything heavier or build that extra pound of muscle. Other times, you may suddenly feel like you’ve run out of steam or are bored with your routine and the cycle of gym, eat, and repeat. Whether your plateau is physical or mental, keep in mind it’s natural and just part of the process. The key is to keep moving forward without allowing yourself to give up or get discouraged.

Humans are happier when we make progress. When this progress stops and you work hard with no results, you may start skipping workouts or not giving each gym session everything you’ve got. Suddenly, the fitness plateau may evolve into the peak of your fitness level as you begin the steady decline back to where you started. Instead, get past the plateau and combat your boredom and frustration with these plateau-busting tips.

1. Try post-failure heavy overloading

a muscular man

Man extending his arms to reveal his muscular back | iStock.com

If you’ve stalled out, trying this technique may help coerce your body out of hibernation so you can move to the next level. Let’s say your max bench press is 200 pounds and you can complete six reps on your final set. If you haven’t been able to beat this personal best in over two weeks, it may be time to try out the post-failure heavy overloading method. Do the exercise as you normally would and then rack the weight. Rest for no longer than 25 seconds before picking it back up and pumping out as many more reps as you can. Your muscles will be tired and you may only be able to get out a couple reps, but the goal is to push your body. The added weight will help take your fitness goals to the next level. When using this technique, always use a spotter and only use it for a few weeks before returning to your regular training routine.

2. Do drop sets

muscular man holding dumbbells to get ready to lift

Young man holding dumbbells at the gym | iStock.com

This method works because it gets you deeper into an exercise, allowing you to push yourself to failure in a safe manner. The drop set technique can be used with any dumbbell, kettlebell, or machine exercise, but let’s say you’re doing overhead presses with a pair of dumbbells. Start by doing 20 presses with the heaviest pair of weights you can handle, then drop five pounds and do 20 more reps before dropping another five pounds and completing another set. Continue this until you’re just lifting a pair of tiny dumbbells. Drop sets work because they push you to put in every last bit of effort and result in your muscle tissue becoming engorged with nutrient-filled blood.

3. Switch it up

young man building muscle at the gym

Young man building muscle at the gym | iStock.com/Antonio_Diaz

Your body craves efficiency, so if you head to the gym and do the same workout every day, your body will figure out a way to do what needs to be done using as little effort and energy as possible. You need to mix it up. For example, if you’re trying to improve your deadlift, spend one day doing a one-rep max before switching to a day where you pump out a higher volume of lifts. Another option is to focus on other muscles while decreasing your deadlift training to twice a week. This method can be used in any form of fitness. The key is to continually shock and surprise your body, never allowing it to get comfortable or lazy.

4. Use your angles

muscular man at the gym kneeling on one leg with his hands on the ground

Ripped man at the gym | iStock.com

You probably have a certain technique and form in every exercise you do. By switching things up a bit, you can actually stimulate your muscles in new ways. If you always stand for your dumbbell curls, try doing them while laying on an incline bench to stress your muscles from an alternate angle. This method also works for pull-ups. Try switching up your grip so you can hit your muscles in a different way. If you always use the conventional double underhand grip when doing pull-ups, try the mixed grip or the towel grip.