Has Your Journey to Gain Muscle Hit a Wall? 1 Trainer Says to Look at These 3 Things
So you want to gain muscle — and, at first, you do. Everything's going great! Maybe you've got your weekly workout routine down pat (here's one trainer's guidelines on how much you should be training if you're at beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels) filled with gradually increasing strength exercises and compound movements. Maybe, also, you're implementing recovery days and eating healthy meals with plenty of carbs and protein. But, here's the thing: your progress starts to plateau and you want to keep going upwards instead of coasting along where you are (which, to some, might be perfectly fine).
Paul Searles, CSCS, from the New York Sports Science Lab, told POPSUGAR that hitting a wall when it comes to gaining muscle might not be something you need to worry about. "Say you're putting on half a pound [of muscle] a week for six weeks in a row, and then you plateau. It depends on how long that plateau lasts," he said, in terms of when you should consider making changes.
The general rule of thumb, Paul explained, is if it's working, keep doing it. "So, if it's one week or two weeks where you're not really seeing results, you don't necessarily have to change anything right away," he said. But, if you're really not improving for a month or so, then that's when you can start to examine factors that might require fixing, he noted. Ahead, check out the three things Paul identified as the potential causes of this plateau and how to push past each.
You're Not Eating Enough
Paul said that you may want to look at your diet, specifically how many calories you're eating. If you put on a lot of muscle mass, your basal metabolic rate is going to increase, he explained. This, in simple terms, is the amount of calories your body burns on its own at rest. He continued, "You'll be burning more calories throughout the day, and then you're going to have to eat more calories."
Everyone's bodies are different, so you can use this equation as a guide for calculating how many calories you should be eating per day. But, for muscle gain, you generally need to be eating in a caloric surplus.
As we've mentioned in the past (and countless times at that), when it comes to what you're putting into your body, carbs and protein are important because they help build and repair muscles. Find out more information on proper macros here. Paul said, though, that you shouldn't be doing anything drastic; make small changes by bumping up calories slowly to see what works for you.
You Don't Have Enough Workout Variety
Paul said that another factor contributing to a plateau might be lack of variety in your workouts. "If we don't have enough variation in our training, then eventually we're going to adapt," he explained, and these workouts aren't going to be strong enough to keep having an impact on our bodies.
That doesn't mean program hop every week, he said. Stick to a type of training all the way through, and then, if you feel like you're seeing progress, change it up a bit. He gave a simple example: Let's say you like squats (don't we all). Sure, changing the reps can be effective, but you can't expect to see results if you're just doing basic squats over and over. Change how you do these squats over time so you're adding "different stimulus" to your body, he advised (check out a slew of variations here and, for the record, building your glutes requires more than just squats).
You still want to be consistent, but some ways Paul said you can add variety to your workouts aside from finding variations of exercises are:
- Keeping the same weights and adding reps
- Keeping the same reps and adding weight
- Reducing rest time in between sets
You Need to Kick Up the Intensity
On a similar note, you might need to up the intensity. "Maybe you've gotten a little complacent over time where what was working when you first started out doesn't work anymore because you've hit a point where you're past that beginner stage," Paul said. And, someone who's been training for 20 years, he explained, is going to require a lot more stimulus to have muscle growth than somebody who's been doing exercise for 20 days.
Kicking it up a notch doesn't have to be about variation, he said, but more so about progressing what you're doing. So add some volume or increase the number of days that you're training per week, he suggested. (Other tips worth noting from experts we've spoken to in the past include making sure you're staying hydrated and getting plenty of sleep.)
Bottom line? Don't be discouraged if you've hit a plateau. "The biggest thing with a plateau is don't stop because you hit one," Paul said. "Keep going and just try to play with some of the variables to see if you can get to that desired result." Stay consistent yet open to change.