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  1. #1
    Registered User JediMasterT's Avatar
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    Help with muscle gain plateau

    I'm over 40, I've been strength training since mid teens, but was never doing anything right for the longest time.

    Only a few years ago did I finally get a squat rack and bench.
    Last year I finally got a bodyfat scale.
    And last december I finally started tracking macros and calories.

    Since tracking macros and calories, I've improved my diet considerably. I've dropped from 202 to 184lbs and 14% to 11.2% BF on the scale (however accurate it is, but relatively). I've got visible 8pk abs and veins up my legs and arms. But my muscle lbs as tracked by the scale hasn't changed (using my projected muscle at 185 math), and i'm not making any real gains on lifts.

    (From tracking during gains/cuts, I very consistently gain/lose at 0.25lb muscle 0.45lb fat per 1lb bodyweight)

    And my core lift numbers are pretty pathetic. I've about 30% below what I should be lifting based on standard metrics for naturals.

    I'm definitely a hard gainer. I was the kid who would eat 5 donuts and a bucket of ice cream with footlong subs and never gain a pound. I was probably eating 4-4.5k calories maintaining 200lbs, and right now I'm eating 3400 calories and maintaining 183lbs.

    I was hoping lean gaining would work. I really like seeing abs and don't want to put on a bunch of fat to gain muscle. I did some mini-builk/cuts but ended back the same. I get my 185g protein on training days.

    I've changed up my workout routines. I went from 3 days full body 3 days cardio to 6 days push/pull split no cardio. I went from 3 sets of 8-10 to 4 sets of 6-8 to 5 sets of 4-6, and now I'm doing 3 sets of 10-12.
    I get the requisite 90-ish reps per muscle group per week. The 7 core exercises 3 times a week and accessory lifts.

    I have trouble really racking on weights. Years of golf/karate and bad training I've got some knee and low/back/hip issues. Sometimes i have to deload for 6 weeks if something's flaring up.

    I'm sure there's hundreds of these posts a day, but any help would be appreciated.
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  2. #2
    Registered User xTeTe's Avatar
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    how tall are you?

    Right off the top of my head I'd stay in the 5-7 rep range if you're trying build strength. Ten to 12 probably wont move the needle much.

    Most important question though... are you progressive overloading?
    Age: 41
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  3. #3
    Registered User JediMasterT's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by xTeTe View Post
    how tall are you?

    Right off the top of my head I'd stay in the 5-7 rep range if you're trying build strength. Ten to 12 probably wont move the needle much.

    Most important question though... are you progressive overloading?
    I may just not correctly understand progressive overloading, but I haven't really figured out how to make it work.

    My understanding is, say my target is 5-7 reps. Say I bench 175 at 7 reps for all my sets. Then it's time to add 5 lbs.
    But say week after week I can't get past 5 reps. How am I supposed to keep adding 5 lbs if I'm not reaching the 7 reps yet?

    That said, I did find a post on this forum about a way to get hard gainers off their plateau, and it was to do the overloading within the sets.
    So start out at a weight you can do 10-12 reps, and then just keep adding 5 lbs per set until you're down to 1 rep.

    I actually started doing this last week, and it seems to work. In just one week I added 10lbs to my best bench and 30lbs to my best deadlift. So it may be onto something there.


    Some exercises I can keep doing the same weight/reps for each set after 45 seconds of rest. So if my goal is 5-7 reps, I put on my weight, and do 3-5 sets of 5-7 reps, and all is good.
    But some exercises I just can't. Bench is one of them. Shoulder press another. Bicep curls too. Even with a 2-3 minute rest between sets, I can't hit half the reps the next set without deloading.

    So anyway, I found that it was interesting to change the focus. Instead of focusing on the rep#, dropping weight to make sure I could still hit 8-10 or 4-6 or whatever reps was my target, to instead just buck the reps and add weight anyway. There's something subconscious in there too. Like if you know you're supposed to hit X reps, you kind of self-fulfill that prophecy. Or if you know you're gonna be 2 reps short then next set, ditto. But by increasing the weight so you know you're not gonna hit reps anyway, it kind of breaks that subconscious limit and I feel like I'm hitting max ability. Maybe i'll get used to it and it won't last. But it was an interesting week anyway.

    Also, I should say I'm 6'4.5, to explain my numbers.
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  4. #4
    Registered User xTeTe's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by JediMasterT View Post
    I may just not correctly understand progressive overloading, but I haven't really figured out how to make it work.

    My understanding is, say my target is 5-7 reps. Say I bench 175 at 7 reps for all my sets. Then it's time to add 5 lbs.
    But say week after week I can't get past 5 reps. How am I supposed to keep adding 5 lbs if I'm not reaching the 7 reps yet?

    That said, I did find a post on this forum about a way to get hard gainers off their plateau, and it was to do the overloading within the sets.
    So start out at a weight you can do 10-12 reps, and then just keep adding 5 lbs per set until you're down to 1 rep.

    I actually started doing this last week, and it seems to work. In just one week I added 10lbs to my best bench and 30lbs to my best deadlift. So it may be onto something there.


    Some exercises I can keep doing the same weight/reps for each set after 45 seconds of rest. So if my goal is 5-7 reps, I put on my weight, and do 3-5 sets of 5-7 reps, and all is good.
    But some exercises I just can't. Bench is one of them. Shoulder press another. Bicep curls too. Even with a 2-3 minute rest between sets, I can't hit half the reps the next set without deloading.

    So anyway, I found that it was interesting to change the focus. Instead of focusing on the rep#, dropping weight to make sure I could still hit 8-10 or 4-6 or whatever reps was my target, to instead just buck the reps and add weight anyway. There's something subconscious in there too. Like if you know you're supposed to hit X reps, you kind of self-fulfill that prophecy. Or if you know you're gonna be 2 reps short then next set, ditto. But by increasing the weight so you know you're not gonna hit reps anyway, it kind of breaks that subconscious limit and I feel like I'm hitting max ability. Maybe i'll get used to it and it won't last. But it was an interesting week anyway.

    Also, I should say I'm 6'4.5, to explain my numbers.
    So given your weight and height, you have quite a bit of muscle to gain I'd say.

    Progressive overloading is pretty simple... do more than you did the last time on a specific exercise. Whether that's 5lbs more or just an extra rep more. Track your workouts to be sure.

    If you set seven reps as your target, that's fine but if you're doing seven reps on every set... add five or ten more pounds and shoot for seven reps with that weight the next time. If you can only do say, six reps on the second set and five on the third, that's fine. Just try the following week to increase an extra rep so maybe 7,6,6 the next week. If you're finding that your stalling out and can't hit 7,7,7 at specific weight for several weeks... maybe try throwing in an extra set till absolute failure at the end regardless of reps performed.

    Or....

    I'll give you an example of what I go (not guaranteed that this work for everyone, but works for me). I actually go in the reverse. I'll do 5, then 6, then 7... then forth set to fail and fifth set beyond fail. I don't even bother tracking my reps on those last two sets. If I can do 5,6,7 with ease for a couple weeks, then I increase the weight. The fail sets are where the gains are made. The ability to hit 5,6,7 is the measuring stick for me as I start adding weight as to whether or not I'm gaining strength. Sometimes I can't hit 5,6,7.. sometimes it's 5,6,5 or 5,6,6.. that's fine, I work towards it with my failure sets.
    Age: 41
    Location: San Diego, California

    Amateur boxer turned bodybuilder...

    Hit me up on Sherdog.. TeTe

    June 2020 = 185 @20.5% bf
    Junel 2021 = 183 @18.2% bf
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  5. #5
    Registered User xTeTe's Avatar
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    Also, In regard to your OP... your calorie intake seems good around 3400 a day but don't go over as I'd agree there's no reason to get fat to gain muscle. I weight 183 and only eat about 2800 cals per day but I have some room to lose some body fat right now. Maybe as I can trade fat for muscle I may adjust that a bit in favor of some extra calories.

    I'd say eat 1g protein per 1lb body weight every day, not just workout days.
    Age: 41
    Location: San Diego, California

    Amateur boxer turned bodybuilder...

    Hit me up on Sherdog.. TeTe

    June 2020 = 185 @20.5% bf
    Junel 2021 = 183 @18.2% bf
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  6. #6
    Registered User JediMasterT's Avatar
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    Speaking of doing reps to failure, a couple years ago I made a post here asking about whether you should go to failure or not. I was pretty much ridiculed off the forum for apparently saying bro-gym stuff.

    So still curious about that.

    Back in the day I used to, after finishing my max/8 reps at weight, I'd just keep dropping weight and doing 3-5 more reps several more times until I couldn't even do more reps at a lower weight. At the time i thought fully burning out my muscles was the only way to make gains. If i couldn't feel the burn and barely be able to lift my arm anymore I figured it was wasted effort.

    I was "schooled" that it's all about volume and not failure. And going to failure makes you prone to injuries. But there's definitely a lot of schools of thought, and different things work for different people.

    I definitely can be prone to injury. I tend to tense up a lot, and make the wrong move and I yoink something between lower neck and lower shoulder blade, and can't move my head for days. Or poing something in my lower back/hip and can't stand up straight for days.

    I do about 20 min of warmup before lifting just to prevent injury. Also researching a lot of youtube channels, and learned about certain lifts that were inherently bad for you, like the leg press for lower back and the upright row for shoulders. Avoiding pull-downs behind the head, etc. Chest fly's causing pain where the chest meets the shoulder. Some of these changes definitely alleviated some of my chronic problems.

    I pulled some rib muscle and couldn't deadlift for 6 weeks earlier this year. I think a lot of my problems were rotational imbalance. I've been a lot more conscious of keeping my body not rotating during lifts, body aimed straight ahead, keeping both sides balanced. It's definitely helped.
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  7. #7
    I love my power hour MrCarrot's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by JediMasterT View Post
    Speaking of doing reps to failure, a couple years ago I made a post here asking about whether you should go to failure or not. I was pretty much ridiculed off the forum for apparently saying bro-gym stuff.

    So still curious about that.

    Back in the day I used to, after finishing my max/8 reps at weight, I'd just keep dropping weight and doing 3-5 more reps several more times until I couldn't even do more reps at a lower weight. At the time i thought fully burning out my muscles was the only way to make gains. If i couldn't feel the burn and barely be able to lift my arm anymore I figured it was wasted effort.

    I was "schooled" that it's all about volume and not failure. And going to failure makes you prone to injuries. But there's definitely a lot of schools of thought, and different things work for different people.

    I definitely can be prone to injury. I tend to tense up a lot, and make the wrong move and I yoink something between lower neck and lower shoulder blade, and can't move my head for days. Or poing something in my lower back/hip and can't stand up straight for days.

    I do about 20 min of warmup before lifting just to prevent injury. Also researching a lot of youtube channels, and learned about certain lifts that were inherently bad for you, like the leg press for lower back and the upright row for shoulders. Avoiding pull-downs behind the head, etc. Chest fly's causing pain where the chest meets the shoulder. Some of these changes definitely alleviated some of my chronic problems.

    I pulled some rib muscle and couldn't deadlift for 6 weeks earlier this year. I think a lot of my problems were rotational imbalance. I've been a lot more conscious of keeping my body not rotating during lifts, body aimed straight ahead, keeping both sides balanced. It's definitely helped.
    Well, you are not the only one prone to injury! It's frustrating because in my late 20's I could lift incredible amounts (compared to now in my 40's) and never once felt anything bad. Now I have a bad shoulder and bad knee. The knee has been bad for over a year now and doesn't seem to get better no matter what I try (more weight, less weight, more rest, time off completely, etc).

    I tend to do 3 sets of an exercise and on the last 2 sets I'll go to failure. It's how I've always done it and particularly with progressive overload I find it difficult to get my head around how else you could do it. If you're attempting to add 5 pounds or 1 more rep every week or so, eventually you're going to have to go to failure, unless you're starting with really light weights to begin with. That's my opinion anyway.
    Donkeyno9: Don't think you're the only one here who suffers from addiction, depression and failure. Winner is an attitude not a body type. Use your inner demons to gain an iron fist on the forces in life that hold you down. Step into the furnace of reality and walk out a hard ass mother fu....
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