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Break Through Muscle Building Plateaus

  • 9 min read

by Josh Hodnik

Many of us can easily recall a time when everything regarding our training, diet, and supplementation seemed to come together just right. We were consistently rewarded with muscle and strength gains for our hard fought battles in the gym. This left us content, happy, and comfortable in the world of muscle building. Then out of nowhere, we seemed to hit a wall and all progress just stopped. This is known as the muscle building plateau. When we are afflicted with this inevitable muscle building plateau, it seems that all we do is maintain, regardless of how hard we work. Sometimes we may even take a bit of a slide back in progress during one of these periods. It all can become a little frustrating to say the least.

The human body is extremely efficient it it’s ability to adapt to it’s environment. This does include the ability to adapt to the stress from a particular training routine. Once the body has seen a style of training for long enough it adapts, and the muscles have no reason to develop greater strength or muscle. While this adapting to change may not be so welcomed in a muscle building sense, overall it should be appreciated, because its what keeps our bodies alive. Often times, getting through a muscle building plateau takes switching a training routine, style of training, and set and rep patterns in order to shock the body to start increasing strength and muscle mass or losing body fat again. But before I get into how this can be done with training, I will cover how adaptation can also occur with diet and supplementation, and how they all tie in together.

As with training, the body does have the ability to adapt to our diet. You may notice that the amount of calories that once resulted in a successful run at losing body fat has now left you at a standstill. A calorie surplus with an overabundance of protein that once aided in consistent muscle and strength gains with minimal fat storage, is now resulting in fat accumulation around the midsection and the muscle gains have come to a halt. When there is a surplus or deficit in calories, and increase or decrease in body weight will result. Over time, the body makes hormonal adjustments and other changes in order to adapt. The human body is first and foremost self preserving, and it will eventually slow down fat loss during a calorie deficit to preserve fuel. Many variables factor into how long it takes the body to stop responding in our favor from a particular diet. Meal timing, frequency, and macronutrient ratios play a role in how long the success of a diet will last. When its all said and done, any diet that is left unchanged for too long will lead to a muscle building or fat loss plateau.

Muscle building plateaus are still common even when anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing drugs are used over extended periods of time. In fact, plateaus are probably just as common, if not more common, with steroid users than non-steroid users. There is a ceiling that is determined mostly by genetics, and it determines how much muscle and strength a person can gain. The closer a person gets to this genetic ceiling, the slower the muscle gains become. When someone is using anabolic steroids correctly, they usually make long leaps towards this genetic limit in a shorter period of time. While they may be carrying around much more muscle than the non-steroid user, they may have stopped progressing. On the other hand, the non-steroid user still has a long way to from hitting his ceiling, and he continues to inch along, making progress, as long as he isn’t letting the body adapt to training and diet. Steroid users have thrown an extra element into the mix that has to be accounted for. If anabolic steroids have been used, and used for an extended period of time, they’ve been a factor in the gains in muscle and strength that have occurred. So when a plateau takes place, steroid use has to be taken into account. Many will change their diets or training, while leaving their steroid use unchanged. The body, over time, builds a certain tolerance to almost all prescription drugs that are available. Receptors simply don’t respond the same way as when the drug was brand new to the body. Often times, the dose of a given medication will have to be increased in order to experience the same effects that the drug exhibited in the beginning. After enought time passes, the drug’s intended effects will begin to diminish altogether, regardless of the dosage taken. This scenario occurs just the same with anabolic steroid as it does with other medications. As gains start to become non-existent with steroid use, the general solution is thought to increase the dose, and when that stops working, its increased again. Well, at some point, as with other prescription drugs, a higher dose just stops being effective. Just like with training and diet, when a muscle plateau takes place, steroid use must be evaluated, and if nothing has changed in quite some time, the whole steroid regimen may need to be scrapped and replaced with something new and fresh; something the body will respond to.

Below I will cover the changes that can be made in three different areas that shock the body into breaking through any muscle building plateau.


Consistently making muscle and strength gains isn’t easy. Your body needs something different on a regular basis to shock it into progress. The body must be pushed outside the comfort zone by switching up training. The body is forced to handle the change in training by packing on more muscle and becoming stronger. Adapting by getting stronger and more muscular is the adaptation you want happening.

One method that works well in igniting new gains is the use of multiple set and rep patterns within the same workout. This style of training has shown to be effective on all muscle groups. Here is how the set-rep patterns work.

First Exercise (Heavy) Build up to two heavy sets of 3-6 reps
Second Exercise (Medium) Build up to two or three hard sets of 7-12 reps
Final Exercise (Light) Perform two hard sets of 13-20 reps

Resistance training isn’t just about lifting weights; lowering can be equally if not more important. Research shows that negatives, or eccentric training has a greater affect on muscle growth than concentric training. Heavy negatives should be incorporated into your routine, preferably at the end of your last set of a given exercise.

Maintaining high volume and intensity on every set, rep, and training session can actually limit results. Yes, training hard and heavy is essential to grow bigger and stronger. Its the basis of the overload principle, which states that you need to challenge your muscles beyond their present capacity. Studies show that this constant approach can lead to impaired IGF-1 and testosterone production while chronically elevating cortisol levels, leading to overtraining.

Structure your routine so that it includes regular deloading periods of reduced intensity and volume throughout a given training period.

There are a number of very effective training methods. There are simply too many to name. The goal should be to completely change training methods every few months. It really doesn’t matter what method is being used as long as it challenges your muscles. When switching routines, its important that there is change in rep and set pattern from your prior program. The only that should remain consistent is deloading. When there is constant change, and the body doesn’t have the ability to adapt to what you are putting it through in the weight room, periods of deloading are necessary.


The body can become complacent in a way when it given the same calories and macronutrients for long periods. Whether the diet is designed for muscle gain or fat loss, after some time it can wear out its welcome, and the body simply stops responding the way it used to. A way to shock the body to respond the way you want again is with calorie cycling. I will not get into the macronutrient totals here. There are plenty of online calculators for that. What is important here is change. Calorie cycling is nothing new. In fact, a format I will refer to here is base don one put together by Bill Phillips almost two decades ago in his Sports Supplement Review book. Its very simple and to the point.

First two weeks: 3,600 calories daily
Second two weeks: 1,800 calories daily

These calorie figures are based on a 180 pound person, and they can be calculated and adjusted based on bodyweight. This cycle is very simple to follow, but the constant change keeps the body on its toes and from completely adapting.

Steroid Use

If you’ve found that gains from steroid use have started to fizzle, even though you’ve increased dose and maybe added other steroidal compounds, its time to completely change things. Many may not want to hear this, but coming off completely for roughly 30-60 days with the help of HCG may be what’s needed to start fresh.

Once its time to start again, it would be wise to start simple. More is not always better. 300mg a week of testosterone propionate would be a preferable starting point. Excellent gains can be made at this dose, but remember its just a starting point. Oxandrolone or boldenone can be added later, but I would give the testosterone time to see what it can do on its own. By starting low, you have more options on where dosage can go and what compounds can be added once the body stops responding.

The way to getting through muscle building plateaus is through constant change. If you allow things to remain the same for too long, the body adapts, and the result becomes no more strength and muscle gains. Its that simple.