Gaining muscle can be difficult once you have hit a plateau, this is a state where no matter what you seem to be doing you are not getting any stronger and therefore you are not gaining any muscle. This is something that really sucks and I will try to address this is three different posts. First I will deal with your sets themselves, secondly deal with your workouts and thirdly deal with the stuff going on outside the gym.
So what can you do to gain muscle and break through the plateau? Shock your muscles in entirely new ways! There are a few ways within your sets. One thing to remember when you are doing sets is the intensity of the set itself.
Your muscles are very rarely using more than a few percent of the total number of muscle fibers to do an activity. Think of how your muscles are going to work if you are doing a marathon compared to how your muscles are going to work when you are running a 100 meter sprint, a big difference.
What we want to do when lifting weights is to push our muscle fibers all as hard as possible and use as many as possible. You will likely be more interested in having legs like a sprinter not legs like a marathon runner. A sprinter uses lots of muscle fibers per step, as many as possible while a marathon runner is using very few and the muscle alternates using them so that the person can run for a far longer time. simplistic example, but hey it works!
Here is the best way to use the most muscle fibers.
Change up your sets and do not do what your muscles will expect!
There are a few ways to change your sets to use all of these muscle fibers to maximize gaining muscle and I would like to look at just a few. High rep sets, negatives, and slow reps.
High rep sets to shock muscle
I will talk about this first because most lifters hate to do a lot of reps in a set. It is a little demeaning to be struggling with a 45 pound bench press. The best way to do a high rep set is to drop your that you would usually do for a final in an exercise in about a third and then just do reps until you can not do them anymore, one set to failure and try to make sure you are doing between 50 and 100 reps for that set.
More then 100 reps and you are working more like the marathon runner and to few reps and you are not really taking advantage of this method of exercise. The urge with a light will be to do your reps very quickly but fight that and go at a comfortable pace knowing that it will take a few minutes to finish your one set.
Use this method just once a month and replace your regular number of sets per exercise to just one set. Eg: one set bench, one set flyes, one set cable crossovers.
I know that many people are against the idea of high rep sets saying that you will only build muscle using low 4-6 reps but I disagree, when you do a high rep set of lets say bench press you are stressing the muscle fibers in a way that you have never done before. At the same time I do not think that doing these kinds of sets all the time will ever build very much muscle.
Negatives to build muscle
These are really great for gaining muscle. When you are doing your regular sets try to make sure that instead of just letting the drop that you force it to go down slowly instead. Take twice as long for the lowering of the rep as you o for the raising half of the rep. As an example when you are doing barbell curls you can raise the for one second and then drop the for two seconds before raising it up again.
Doing these negatives seems like it would be easy but it is not. Negative reps are difficult to do and you will really feel it during your set and the next day.
Slow reps to use all muscle fibers
Slow reps are when you do your entire rep for a longer time. This is a really difficult way to do an exercise! Load up about 75% of the usual that you would do and then do your entire rep half as fast as normal. Using our previous example of a barbell curl you would go up for five seconds and then down or five seconds. This I believe is one of the toughest types of sets you can do and by about the third rep it is agony.
All of these different kinds of sets are a great way to shock the muscles of your body. I love the standard way of lifting weights with regularweights and sets but these different types of reps can really shock things up and help you get more of your standard workouts.
Next time you are going to the gym, chose which of these methods that you would like to try and see how it goes for you. Expect to be really sore the next couple of days after trying these new methods of lifting to gain muscle but you will find that fairly quickly the muscle will start to build more quickly and your strength will increase.