If you stick with the same weightlifting routine for more than six to eight weeks, it’s likely that the muscles you train will begin to become accustomed to the workout, and your progress will slow and eventually stagnate. The easiest way to detect a plateau is when you do not feel the effects of a workout the days after a weight lifting session. You don’t necessarily need to feel sore, but if you are completely unaffected chances are you should mix up your routine.
If you have been doing weights and cardio on alternate days, with one rest day per week, consider switching your routine. You could, for instance, do weight training four times per week, rather than just three. An example workout could be:
Monday: Chest & Back
Tuesday: Legs & Shoulders
Wednesday: Cardio (flat heart rate at 70% of maximum, 45-60 mins)
Thursday: Arms & Abs
Friday: Chest & Back
Saturday: Cardio (interval training, switching between 30% and 85% of maximum, 18-23 mins)
This way you will be targeting each muscle group more often, thereby allowing less recovery time, and more potential for growth. It should be noted that this is not a good routine for beginners, as the muscles are not given enough time to recover between workouts. You should only switch to weight training four times per week if you have been weight lifting for more than six months and have seen some progress.
Back Muscle Plateau Busting:
If you have been slowly increasing the weight and number of reps of lat pulldowns, you could consider switching to full bodyweight pull-ups. You won’t be able to do the full 3 sets of 15 reps at the beginning, so just do as many as possible (even if it’s only 2-3) for 3-4 sets. If you want to speed up the strengthening process, limit the rest between these sets to about 20-30 seconds. You should also ensure that your grip is just as wide as it was with the lat pulldowns. The further apart your hands are the more you are training your back rather than your arm muscles. It’s normal to feel some soreness in your forearms during pull-ups or lat pulldowns, as there is inevitably some tension in this area when you are doing any pulling motion. This is why it’s a good idea to stretch your forearms between sets and flex your hands and fingers.
Another good exercise to break the routine from pulls and rows is to sit down facing a cable pulldown machine, keep your back straight and perform controlled rowing motions with your arms at a 45 degree incline to the floor. This will target the inner muscles of your back and help you develop your chest muscles as well.
Yet another variation on the standard pulling and rowing is to stand with a straight back leaning forward and bring a barbell towards you along your upper leg. This will work both your lower and middle back, and increase core and arm strength at the same time.
Chest Muscle Plateau Busting:
If you have been working out using only dumbbells, one good way to break routine and increase strength is to switch to barbells. Barbell flat and incline bench presses are great ways to build strong chest muscles and complement shoulder and back development.
When doing flat bench presses, keep your grip (comfortably) wide, arch your lower back and keep your legs bent with the balls of your feet in contact with the floor under your knee. Make sure to tighten your abs and gluts during each rep, as this will lend strength to your core and increase the effectiveness of the exercise.
Arm Muscle Plateau Busting:
If you have been concentrating on cable and barbell tricep excercises, you could also consider switching to full bodyweight dips. Once again you won’t be able to perform the full sets in the beginning, so do as many reps as possible with limited rest – your strength will increase at a faster pace doing dips rather than cable exercises. When doing dips, don’t come down too far, as you will then begin to work the chest rather than the triceps. Once your forearm is touching your upper arm, stop and head upwards again. It is also recommended to keep your body at an angle leaning forward during the exercise, as this more effectively targets the triceps.
Leg Muscle Plateau Busting:
If you have been concentrating on leg extensions, leg curls and leg presses, you could consider changing to dumbbell walking lunges, one leg squats and dynamic stretching.
When doing walking lunges, make sure you have enough floor space ahead of you. Visualize two parallel and closely spaced lines stretching in front of you and keep your feet in line with them. Take wide steps and make sure to feel the stretch in your back leg at each rep.
When doing leg squats, stand facing away from a flat bench and place the upper side of one of your feet on it. Cross your arms and hold onto your shoulders, whilst keeping your head straight and your eyes fixed forwards. When performing the motion, make sure to keep the back leg relaxed, as the tension should only be felt in the leg supporting your weight.
Dynamic stretching is a good way to break up leg exercises and allow more strength and flexibility during the actual workout. One effective way of performing a dynamic stretch for the legs is to do walking lunges (without any additional weight), whilst holding a Swiss ball. Hold the ball straight ahead of you, and rotate your body to the right when you come down with your left foot forward. Similarly, rotate your body to the left when you come down on your right foot.