Overcoming Plateaus And Overtraining – Part 2

Now its time for the good stuff. So far we have identified what causes plateaus, covered common questions about overtraining and we also identified The 9 Major Signs that might indicate a plateau or overtraining. So how do we get around a plateau or beat overtraining? Well there are countless methods that we can use, but I discovered 7 fast ways in particular to bust through any plateau and have you progressing again and beating overtraining.
If you have not read part 1 of this article please do so: Overcoming Plateaus And Overtraining – Part 1

Some apply more to overtraining syndrome (OTS) while other some of the other tips below apply to overcoming a plateau. Although they are closely related, I will identify which technique should be used in which instance.

What causes muscles to grow?

The trick is to give it a reason to build new muscle tissue instead of just repairing the muscle tissue that was previously there.

The way to do this is to apply progressive overload to your muscles through several methods which we will discuss throughout these 7 tips.

You see, over year’s of evolution and development, our body’s genetic profile have been developed to do one thing; SURVIVE!

Now comparing this principle to gaining muscle, if we stress our muscles one week with a certain amount of stress (stress created in a workout), then we return to the gym the week after and apply a greater stress within the same workout, our bodies will respond by adaptation and it will grow new, bigger muscle tissue.

The reason for doing this is because, it does not want to experience that stress again. And since you exposed your muscles to the greater stress stimulus, it signalled a response to grow bigger to avoid that happening again. Understand?

Your body will adapt under the survival principle. But the trick is to not apply too great of a stress to your muscles to the point that you cannot efficiently repair and recover.

That is why it is very important to apply ‘progressive overload’ in your workouts.

Do not fall into the illogical thinking that if an hour workout is good, then a two or four hour workout is even better. It doesn’t work that way!

The best way to progress in your workouts is to apply progressive overload using absolute overload and relative overload.

Absolute Overload:

Absolute overload is achieved when you overload the muscles with a heavier weight but using the same workout variables as before (rest time, tempo etc).

This technique has the greatest chance of triggering new muscle as it taps into the type 2b muscle fibers which have the greatest growth potential.

Relative Overload:

Relative overload on the other hand is based around applying more sets, more reps and this principle does not necessarily take the muscle to muscular failure.

Both techniques should be used at different times. Some argue that you should not use relative overload, but I disagree.

I do agree that constantly adding in more sets and making a workout longer and longer will inevitably lead to overtraining and lack of progression. But, when used properly, we can easily use this method to force our bodies to adapt which will then lead to stressing the muscles with heavier weights (absolute overload).

Still with me…? Good :

Let’s get into the nitty gritty of overcoming overtraining syndrome and busting through that plateau, ok?

1. Take A Planned Recovery Week of Rest

Most people often don’t associate resting with muscle growth. After all, you only grow muscle when you are working out right? Wrong!

The truth is, your body doesn’t assimilate new muscle while you are working out. It’s actually the exact opposite. It catabolises muscle tissue (breaks down muscle), then when you rest and re-fuel properly, your body will build new tissue in its place.

Remember the progressive overload principle? Well you need to give your body sufficient rest time between workouts so that your muscles have a fighting chance at fully repairing.

Now, given a perfect world, you would never miss out on 8 hours of sleep a night, you would never get stressed out, you would never do more activity in one day then you did in another and everything would be sunshine and rainbows!

But, since this is not the case, and life happens to everyone, you need to take precautionary measures.

One to consider is a planned recovery week.

Every 6-8 weeks, I plan a recovery week where I don’t workout at all! Not even cardio. I plan that week as a complete rest and recover week to give my body sufficient time to repair itself and ensure I return to the gym stronger and refreshed.

Some advantages to taking a recovery week are:

– Ensure proper recovery and muscle repair
– Refresh and relax your central nervous system (CNS) which can be taxed during heavy training sessions
– Give your joints and ligaments a much deserved break
– Come back to the gym refreshed and with much more motivation than before
– Gives you a marker to aim for when training. Knowing you have a break coming up will help you stay focused and train harder.

Besides the physical benefits to taking a week off training, there are also some very psychological benefits that come into play as well.

You always want to make sure you create a healthy balanced lifestyle.

Also, by specifically planning that week off, you make sure that you actually take the week off. If you didn’t plan it, you might let it slip and end up training for a much longer time frame.

Something I found to work great is to plan my recovery weeks around vacations or time’s when I know a gym won’t be as accessible.

Bottom line take at least 4-7 days off every 6-8 weeks after subjecting yourself to an intense progressive overload training program and you will benefit big time from it.

2. Post-Failure Heavy Overloading Method

The Post-Failure Heavy Overloading method is a technique that I like to include in my strength training workouts where I am lifting heavier weights for fewer reps and using longer rest periods.

Recall: The general rep range for muscle gain is anywhere from 6-12 reps.

Now, lets use a bench press as an example in this scenario. Let’s say that your max bench press is 200lbs for 6 reps on your final set.

Perhaps, you haven’t been able to beat that personal best in over 2 weeks by adding more weight to the bar or even adding an extra rep.

So here is what you would do:

On your final set, the one that you cannot progress in, you will do the exercise just as before.

Then, if you haven’t beaten your personal best of 200lbs for 6 reps, you will rack the weight, rest for no longer than 20-25 seconds then pick it back up and pump out as many more as you can.

You may only achieve a few extra reps and that’s ok. The key here is to just coax the body into doing a bit more work.

Of course, after applying this technique for a few weeks into a few exercises, you should return to regular training and this time around add weight to the bar and try and beat your old personal best using your old workout parameters.

Be sure to have a spotter for safety reasons especially if the exercise is one that puts you in a situation of vulnerability such as the squat, bench press and even barbell military presses.

3. Drop Sets

Dropsets are a technique in which you add additional volume after reaching failure within a workset.

Let’s pick dumbbell shoulder presses. If you have reached failure on a set of 8 reps and want to further fatigue the muscle group to try stimulate new growth, simply have another set of weights ready to go and jump right into another set.

Here is a breakdown of how to do this:

Set 1: 90lbs x8
Dropset 1: 60lbs x6
Dropset 2: 40lbs x5
Dropset 3: 25lbs x5

The above is a 3 sequence dropset using a subsequent weight that is about 1/3 lighter than the previous weight. That is the rule of thumb to use when dropping the weight.

Those numbers are not etched in stone, so if you find you are failing before hitting that rep range, or even if you perform more reps than listed, that’s ok.

So long as you are not surpassing 12 reps on each set or dropset, you will be good.

I would only incorporate this technique on your last set of an exercise as to not hinder your lifts later in the workout.

This technique also works great for more isolation exercises such as side shoulder raises or even on a peck deck machine since sometimes the weaker smaller heads of a muscle group are not as efficient at making dramatic strength increases. Because of this reason, using more volume based approaches work best.

4. ‘New School’ Superset Training

For anyone who is familiar with exercise protocols, you should know by now what a superset is.

For those of you who don’t know, a superset is when you combine two exercises either for the same muscle group or opposing muscle groups and you perform two exercises one right after another with no rest in between.

Basically, you perform two sets of two different exercises which form a superset.

Now, a regular style superset will have the trainee performing above 15-20 total repetitions by the time they have finished the superset because both exercises will usually call for 8 to12 reps.

This is great for conditioning at times, but there is a much better potential for growth when we keep the rep range in that 6 to12 range.

Introducing the modified ‘new school’ superset protocol.

Instead of aiming to perform 12 reps on each exercise, I want you to focus on only hitting about 6 to 8 reps on the first exercise as well as on the second which will bring your total to hopefully no more than 12 reps.

If you achieve more reps than that range, add more weight the next time around and try to stay within that sweet spot rep range.

This focuses more on triggering those type 2b fibres again, which, as you should no know, have the greatest growth potential.

Some exercises you can try this technique with are:

– Superset Barbell Bench Presses with Dumbbell Flies
– Superset Smith Machine Squats with Leg Extensions
– Superset Dumbbell Shoulder Presses with side cable laterals

You can also superset opposing muscle groups:

– Bentover Barbell Row with Barbell Bench Presses
– Barbell Bicep Curls with Triceps Extensions
– Squats with Stiff Leg Deadlift

The possibilities are endless and this is a great technique to increase the intensity to a workout without adding much more time to the total time in the gym.

5. Forced Assisted Rep Training

Ok, I’ll admit, this one sounds a little technical am I right?

Don’t worry though; it’s actually simple but extremely effective.

This is a technique I see being performed the wrong way unintentionally every time I hit the gym. Generally, there are guys who get spotted for every set, and the spotter never lets go of the bar. That is what you call ‘training your ego’.

The only problem is that it doesn’t do much for muscle growth. But there is a way to use a spotter correctly to trigger new growth.

Here’s how forced assisted rep training works:

On one of you final sets of an exercise, let’s pick bench press, ask someone to spot you on your next set.

Now, you will need to explain to the person how the set will be performed to ensure you can trust this person to help you.

Better yet, I wouldn’t even try this technique without a spotter that you trust.

You cannot perform this technique without a spotter, so be aware and don’t put yourself in any danger. There are lots of other techniques that don’t require a spotter and are much safer.

This is definitely more advanced.

So on your final set, pick a weight that will have you failing near 6 reps only this time, you are going to have the spotter follow you once you fail on the 6th rep.

So when you can’t perform any more concentric movements (pushing the barbell back up) around that 6th rep, you are going to focus on lowering the bar (eccentric action) by yourself, with the spotter following you, and at the bottom of the movement, the spotter will help you get it back up then you will repeat for about 2-4 reps.

So this technique stresses the stabilizer muscles after pre-fatiguing the type 2b muscle fibres. You can stimulate growth using both eccentric and concentric movements. In this particular case, we are stressing the muscles by going past failure by having a spotter help us out.

You don’t want the spotter to always be helping you, but having one around and helping out for this set and post fatigue, then you can stress the muscles further than you would have had you not had a spotter.

6. Choose a New Rep Range Completely

In every workout program there is usually a set protocol to follow for rep ranges. Now, if it is a good program design, it should have variations in rep ranges very 4-8 weeks.

The reason I cannot be more specific is because everyone is different.

For example, beginners could potentially follow the same workout for nearly 3 months and continue to see progress simply because they are new to training and their muscles still have a lot of catching up to do so to speak.

But, an advanced trainer may need to switch rep ranges every 3-4 weeks to keep things from getting stale.

The key is to do this in a planned manner. Map it out. Make a complete periodization schedule where you already have your training and workouts laid out before hand.

This will give you something to stick to and commit to the end.

I might be getting a bit ahead of myself, so let’s just focus on the plateau buster application, ok?

So, this is a very simple tip and will not require much effort on your part.

Remember how the body responds to change? Remember how we want to coax the body and not shock it too extremely? Well by changing rep ranges this can be accomplished.

In basic terms, if you have hit a plateau and you have been doing straight sets of 4×10, switch it up!

Do 4×12, or 3×8.

If you have been pyramiding your sets such as 1×10, 1×8 and 1×6, switch that up as well to 1×8, 1×6 and 1×4. This particular modification will allow you to use a heavier weight.

You can also take the route of adding less weight and pyramiding your sets with an increase in reps instead.

Both versions will do what we want; provide a new stimulus of change so that the muscles have to adapt and grow bigger.

Simply change your rep scheme, establish the baseline of what weight you can lift within that range, then progress on it until you cannot progress any longer.

Word of caution: Just to let you know, if you’re doing 4 sets of 10 and think that making a jump to 10 sets of 10 will shock you body, let me tell you that it most certainly will!

But it will be too much of a shock to the body, and can quickly lead to overtraining syndrome (OTS). Small changes will be the sum of big results over time.

7. Exercise Variable Modifications

Changing exercise variables is a simple and valuable technique to forcing the body and muscle’s to adapt because of a new stress stimulus.

However, this technique should not be considered before attempting all of the techniques described above.

The reason being, there are still lots of growth potential when you reach a plateau and the most ‘bang for your buck’ plateau busters are the ones that stimulate those type 2b muscle fibres.

This technique is still useful and should be experimented with after trying all the other plateau buster techniques. It will keep things fresh and allow you to begin building different areas of the muscle.

Some variables you can think of changing are:

– Grip position on a barbell when performing a bench press. You can move in by a few inches or out.
– Foot spacing when performing the squat exercise. Move your feet a little closer together or further apart.
– If you have been performing incline barbell presses, make a switch to using dumbbells instead and the same if you are always using dumbbells for shoulder presses, you can switch to barbell presses instead.
– If you have been using one particular machine to work a specific muscle group, try changing machines all together.

The point is you should modify some exercise variables to work weak points and to create a state of imbalance again. After so many workouts, your body simply gets used to the same movement and it is not longer a shock.

You have to continually challenge yourself and make your workouts hard again. If they are not difficult, there is very little possibility or chances of encouraging new muscle formation.

Now a couple points to note:

a. Do not change everything all at once. Simply make small changes in your workouts and that should be sufficient.
b. Make sure to give yourself sufficient time to apply progressive overload in your new workouts.

Do not change variables on a weekly basis. Remember, it is important to change things and then allow you ample time to progress in the new exercise modification strategies.

If you change things every week, how will you know if you are progressing? You need to create a reference point and then use progression techniques again on your new exercise variables.

c. Don’t panic if you have to use a slightly lighter weight. For example, when squatting, generally, the closer your stance, the less total weight you can squat. But it is not always about the total weight.

Just remember, you are changing a variable in your workout which might have an effect on the weight you use for that exercise. But just consider that the weight is now only relative to the new exercise variable. Do not compare the differences in exercise poundage.

How to Properly Use Plateau Busters

At this point we have covered quite a bit on what a training plateau is, how it’s caused and some advanced techniques to use to overcome your plateau.

But you might be wondering how you can incorporate these into your training plan you have right now. If you don’t have a training program at the moment, then that right there is your biggest mistake and you need to get one immediately.

The plateau busting techniques shared with you within this manual are meant to be used as tools in a toolbox. They are great to use when you need them but you should not necessarily use every one of them at once. Simply pick the ones that apply to your training program at the moment.

When you notice you are reaching a plateau on your bench press for more than 2 workouts in a row, you might want to incorporate a technique at this point.

Which one will also depends on your training plan. If you are serious about gaining strength, then you could use the rest-pause method or even the forced assisted rep. Method.

If you’re stuck on a side shoulder raise, try using the dropset method or even a superset method.

Be creative, but be smart. Remember not to change anything too quickly and only to incorporate 1-2 techniques at a time and be sure to track the results! You should be keeping track of all your workouts in an exercise binder of some sort.

How To Transition Back To Your Regular Training Plan

Of course, I hope you realize that the entire point of including plateau busters is not to continually add more and more sets of exercises and make each workout more complicated than the previous one.

No, the point of including plateau busters and overcoming a plateau is so that you can use creative methods to trigger new muscle gains, performance enhancements and strength increases so that eventually you can return to your original plan and progress again without the plateau buster techniques.

Make sense?

Good. So essentially, what you want to do is to include a plateau buster technique for about 2-3 workouts or 2-3 weeks.

Then, after performing the methods in your workouts, you will resume your previous workouts without the plateau busters and under the same parameters you were using prior to including the plateau buster techniques.

When you go back to your regular training, you will then be able to progress naturally again within the exercises and you will have overcome your plateau.

But before you go and add in these techniques, always remember that overtraining and lack of rest is normally the #1 cause of a plateau. So before you hammer away and include every plateau buster from this report, be sure to try resting for anywhere from 4-7 days to ensure you are properly recovered.


Well, that wraps up The 7 Fast Ways To Bust Any Plateau report and everything you need to do to beat overtraining and overcome obstacles.

I also want to leave you with some summary notes you can print out and keep with you at all times in case you need a quick reference.

—Review Notes—

“9 Signs You Have Hit a Plateau”

1. A Loss In Strength
2. Failure to Achieve a Pump
3. Lack Of Motivation
4. No Progress in at Least 2 Workouts
5. Feeling Flush
6. Lack of Aggression and Increase In Irritability
7. No Progress In Muscle Gain In at Least 2 Weeks
8. Variances In Resting Heart Rate
9. Decrease In Appetite

—Review Notes—“7 Fast Ways to Bust Any Plateau”

1. Take A Planned Recovery Week of Rest
2. Post-Failure Heavy Overloading Method
3. Drop Sets
4. ‘New School’ Superset Training
5. Forced Assisted Rep Training
6. Choose a New Rep Range Completely
7. Exercise Variable Modifications

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About the Author:

Hey everyone, my name is Joey Vaillancourt and I am a former skinny/out of shape guy who turned his entire life around by doing the same thing you are doing today…searching for answers to a better body. You see, I was not a certified personal trainer straight out of a well respected university graduating with top honours with a Kinesiology degree. I actually graduated with an Electronics degree (I’ll talk more about that after). I was also not gifted with above average genetics.No I was just another lost soul amongst the mass of bad fitness information out there today desperately searching for an answer to my most burning questions. I was also another victim of living my life by other people’s standards and beliefs and not believing in myself. Don’t worry, that all changed and it WILL for you too. Now, 5 years later, I am a certified personal trainer, am in the best shape of my life, releasing a highly anticipated fitness program and looking to compete in early 2010 in my first fitness model competition. I have helped others change their life and take action and I cannot wait to start helping you with your journey. Stop all the self doubt and start believing in you. Take action RIGHT NOW!I know you will find what you are looking for and I know you will achieve your goals. BonestoBuff.com