Hitting a plateau, that is having your training progress come to a screeching halt, is probably one of the most feared and frustrating events a bodybuilder can ever experience. No one wants to work extremely hard at something and show no signs of improvement. That's especially true when it comes to such a demanding lifestyle as bodybuilding.
Having your training stagnate will surely lead to frustration, a feeling that undercuts the fulfillment you hope to enjoy from bodybuilding. Mounting frustration will eventually overwhelm you. Becoming overwhelmed is the primary reason many lifters stop training altogether.
Unfortunately, too many bodybuilders quit due to the frustration caused by what they perceive as a lack of progress. With that disempowering perception, they can only muster a halfhearted effort as a way of protecting themselves from experiencing the pain. That situation occurs whether or not the person realizes what is happening. That's usually the time you start hearing some natural bodybuilders complain about poor genetics or being hardgainers, or when they become convinced that what they had hoped to accomplish with their physiques is impossible because they don't use drugs.
Plateaus are definitely to be avoided, and in my opinion, they can be. Reexamine how you currently define a plateau and start thinking big!
Sometimes what we perceive as plateaus are actually the following pitfalls in our thinking:
• We are not being persistent enough in finding the answers to training challenges that, if discovered, will propel us to higher levels of development.
• We really are getting results, but they just aren't visible to us at the time.
• We compare ourselves unrealistically and/or unfairly to other bodybuilders.
• We are not being creative enough to uncover new, exciting and unique ways to enjoy the entire spectrum of fulfillment bodybuilding has to offer.
• We don't realize we are growing in ways that are more important than physical growth.
Be Persistent to Find Better Strategies
Bodybuilders say to me such things as, "I just can't figure out how to get my shoulders to grow! I've tried so many different routines and nothing seems to work."
"Exactly how many is so many?" I ask them. Normally, if they reply honestly, they have actually tried no more than three or four different routines.
There are obviously many more than just three or four ways to train shoulders. You could train them once a week or twice. You could even train them once every other week. You could train them very heavily, moderately or lightly. You could put extra focus on the negative movement. You could perform a high number of repetitions or very few. You could train with a partner or alone. You could have a person spot you or use only as much weight as you can handle yourself. You could train in the morning, when your natural growth hormone level is supposed to be at its highest, or later, when your closest rival is there to motivate you to take your training to the next level. You could train shoulders after setting a contest date for one year from now or after initiating a shoulder-building contest with your buddies. You could train while on a high-protein, moderate-protein or low-protein diet. You could train them with different amounts of carbohydrates in your system or with the many different nutritional supplements available today. Then you could switch, mix up and rotate every single one of those variables for different periods of time.
Would each of the factors lead to different results in the development of your shoulders? You bet they would! You and I would never stop trying after only three or four different routines and then blame our lack of improvement on a training plateau, would we?
As a natural bodybuilder you will probably mature at an older age (in your midthirties or older). Don't just assume you'll become outstanding when that time rolls around if you aren't persistent enough to put your time, effort and intelligence into your training today.
You May Be Getting Results Without Even Realizing It
Stop and think about your situation for a moment. Can your progress ever really stop if you're consistently putting forth your best effort? If you're training with regularity and intensity and supporting that training with sound nutritional practices, you can rest assured you're not really stagnant, regardless of what you may think. (If you're not, then you're obviously not at a plateau.) Often, you're improving even when you don't necessarily feel you are.
One of my favorite illustrations of this comes from motivational speaker Zig Ziglar. He talks about a man who goes to an old-fashioned well to pump some drinking water. The man pushes the pump's lever over and over again and is seemingly making no progress.
The man is indeed making progress, however. It just isn't visible to him at the time. His pumping is creating suction deep in the underground pipes and is slowly siphoning the water to the surface. If he gets discouraged and stops pumping, the water will fall back down and he'll have to start all over again.
If he is persistent, the man will eventually see results from his efforts. At that point he'll no longer need to pump as hard because now only a little force will produce enough water to equal 10 times the effort he gave at the beginning.
Sometimes it feels as though you're putting 10 times more effort into your training than you seem to be getting in improvements. If you're persistent, you'll enjoy bodybuilding benefits that could be 10 times greater than the effort you invest, just like the man in the example.
Another problem may be that you see yourself too often to truly appreciate your progress. Have you ever had a friend who hasn't seen you in a while tell you how muscular you've gotten? That friend's perception is probably a little more accurate than yours. We often become our own worst enemies. The same drive that motivates us to become our very best sometimes makes us too tough on ourselves.
If you keep pressing yourself to train harder and learn more, you never know when a big payoff in significant muscle mass will occur. One thing is certain, however. You won't see results if you stop giving 100 percent of your effort, get frustrated or quit.
Don't Make Unfair Comparisons
Sometimes we're winning but feel as though we're losing. I had a training partner who was no better than average when we first began working out together. Within months his physique dramatically improved and the amount of weight he tackled increased by at least 30 percent.
He was initially ecstatic about his progress and set the ambitious goal of winning the drug-tested Muscle-mania Bodybuilding Championships later that year. Unfortunately, his excitement didn't last very long. His gains did not come as quickly as he wanted, and he became discouraged. Although he had only been training for about three years (with only a small portion of that at a maximum intensity level) he wanted a great physique now.
"I get so down when I look in the magazines, Skip," he confessed. "I look at those guys, and the only thing I think is that I don't look like that."
He was being terribly unfair to himself by making such comparisons. The bodybuilders in the magazines more than likely have at least twice as much training experience. In addition, most of their training has probably been as focused as his few intense months.
We no longer train together, as other things in his life now have a higher priority. He no longer dreams of winning a national show or being featured in an international magazine. Bodybuilding, which for a short time brought him so much pride, fulfillment, accomplishment and optimism, is no longer an interest. He had been winning the game in a big way, in my opinion, but he felt as though he was losing.
Enjoy More of the Excitement Bodybuilding Has to Offer
The truth is you can never really plateau when it comes to bodybuilding because there are countless exciting facets of this complex lifestyle to enjoy. Here's a unique way to break through any plateau you feel you're experiencing: Fall in love with bodybuilding! Take your passion for the sport to a whole new level. Make it much more than a fun hobby or a passing interest.
You might say, "what do you mean", I already love to train, eat a lot of protein and read the magazines every month!" I know what you're thinking, but reducing this lifestyle/sport of bodybuilding to simply working out, eating right and thumbing through its publications is like saying Picaso has a few interesting paintings. You are robbing yourself of tons of stimulation available for you to enjoy. You could do one or a number of the following:
• Plan a trip to a national contest.
• Plan a trip to the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic.
• Plan a trip to the Mr. Olympia contest.
• Research and find the highest-quality supplements for the best price.
• Order a bodybuilding book from the Home Gym Warehouse to increase your level of knowledge.
• Read a book on motivation.
• Choose a role model to help you in your bodybuilding efforts.
• Learn everything you can about your favorite bodybuilder.
• Learn more about the history and legends of bodybuilding.
• Enter a bodybuilding contest.
• Volunteer to help run a local bodybuilding contest.
• Set the goal of getting your picture in a bodybuilding magazine
You May Be Getting More Than Just a Better Body
You can grow more from bodybuilding than merely building big muscles. The courage, discipline, passion and confidence the lifestyle creates are much more significant to your total quality of life. Maybe those attributes make you a better student or employee. Maybe they make you a better father, mother, son or daughter. Bodybuilding could enrich your life for many more years to come, so stick with it and work through those illusionary plateaus!
And remember, you won't start getting big until you start thinking big!