Experimenting In The Gym And Breaking Plateaus


It’s important to experiment in the gym. Many are reluctant to try out new techniques or workout regimes through fear of looking stupid in the gym, but this shouldn’t stop you. Most if not all seasoned gym enthusiasts experiment with their techniques and workout programmes. It’s one of the most important aspects to improve your fitness and to increase muscle mass.

Many seasoned enthusiasts will look towards others in the gym who too are seasoned. They will either directly ask them about technique adaptations they have, or stand back and watch how they perform the technique and then try to replicate it themselves while understanding what effect the adaptation in technique is having on their body.


How To Break Plateaus In Training

Do not keep the same regime for too long as your body will adapt to the stresses over time, making the muscles more efficient to that workout regime, which in cause prevents any substantial physiological changes long term, specifically muscle growth.

You should roughly change your workout regime every three months. Why? You need to leave enough time to allow for your body to physiologically adapt to the changes from the workouts. There will be a point where your workout starts to become less effective as your body starts to adapt. You will find this point in your workouts where you plateau, the point where you are struggling to add more weight to your lifts, add an extra rep or set.

Once you hit the plateau and have been stuck there for some time, this is the point where you really need to change your whole workout regime.


Training For Muscle Mass

Many of you may be training for mass, this is known as hypertrophy training. For muscle hypertrophy, you need to keep around the 8–10 rep range with a medium to medium-heavy weight. However, try experimenting outside of these ranges once in a while. Sticking to these ranges religiously may cause plateaus and will mean your muscles will conform metabolically to these ranges, however, this is not always beneficial to muscle growth. Why? It essentially comes down to muscle fibres.

There are different muscle fibres in your body. Each type of muscle fibre responds to different types of training.


Muscle Fibre Types

Type 1: Slow twitch fibres, they are also called red muscle fibres. These are responsible for low-intensity, long duration activity. An example of this is long-distant running which is an aerobic metabolic exercise.

Type 2: These are Fast twitch fibres and are white fibres. They are responsible for short duration, high-intensity activity. Type 2 has sub-classifications named 2a and 2b:

Type 2a: Fast oxidative fibres, also called white muscle fibre. These are utilised for the short-to-moderate duration, moderate-to-high intensity activity, which we see in most bodybuilding workouts. This is the hypertrophy range and utilises both aerobic and anaerobic metabolisms.

Type 2b: Fast glycolytic fibres, also called white muscle fibres. These are utilised for very short-duration, explosive activity, such as power lifts. This utilises anaerobic metabolism.


Why You Need To Focus On Type 2A And Type 2B To Maximise Muscle Growth

As they are different muscle fibres, they each can be stimulated, and each stimulates with a different type of metabolic activity. This means that each can increase in volume and metabolic efficiency. As many people who train for mass usually stick in the hypertrophy range (Type 2a), which is fundamentally needed for a high level of muscle mass in the long term, they often overlook building the Type 2b muscle fibres.

The Type 2b allows for more scope to build up a different muscle fibre type that too can contribute to overall muscle growth. Yes, it’s not the major contributor to muscle mass building, but it can contribute to some muscle growth. Just take a look at Olympic powerlifter, they haven’t got the shape and mass as bodybuilders do, but they have thick and dense muscles.

There is also a secondary effect to this building Type 2a muscle fibres, which is it will give you a lot more strength and power development.  Type 2a fibres are what powerlifters focus on building, powerlifting focuses less on muscle mass and more on muscle strength and power, however, naturally mass gaining is a by-product of strength gaining too.

Gaining strength will aid in your hypertrophy training (Type 2a) once you introduce strength training (Type 2b) into your regime because in your hypertrophy session you will likely find controlling the weight much easier which will enable you to add more weight to your lifts. Ultimately even for hypertrophy training, a long-term goal is to continually increase the weight lifted while maintaining the same rep range.


What You Can Experiment With In The Gym To Target Each Muscle Fibres:

  • Change the workout type (powerlifting/muscle mass (hypertrophy) training)
  • Change the rep ranges
  • Change the weight
  • Change the volume
  • Change the workout routine order
  • Utilise different routines/technique variations
  • Try different workout methods i.e drop set, super setting, negative reps, cheat reps, pyramid set, reverse pyramid set
  • Time-under-tension
  • Rest time between sets


What We Recommend To Break Your Gym Plateaus

For muscle mass focus 90 percent of your development programme on hypertrophy training. Build  3-muscle groups, change the order of the routines around so that you balance your muscle development, as your last routine in your workout the target muscle will be less stimulated due to fatigue. Within your workouts, occasionally attempt different workout methods to maximise muscle stimulation, such as drop-sets, negative reps etc.

Arnold Schwarzenegger recommended placing in a heavy-weight session into your training sessions every week or two. He said it added thickness and density to his muscles. This means targeting Type 2a fibres and this would make up the other 10 percent of your development programme.

Another technique that can work well is focussing each rep throughout the muscle contraction (mind-muscle-connectivity) so that you fully squeeze the peak contraction and fully experience the entire transfer of weight through the entire muscle contraction.  This touches on time-under-tension to some extent and will likely mean that you will have to lighten the weight in your lifts to fully control the movement.

Remember, your body is different to everybody else. You will respond to training regimes differently to other people. This means that there is no one right way, just a way that works for you. Ultimately, just experiment, learn, and grow!


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