The problem with most videos and articles covering plateaus is that they’re made for advanced lifters. The authors talk about tweaking exercise form, implementing paused reps, using bands to strengthen your lockout, etc.
While these methods are great, they’re not what most guys need.
Look in any gym. Most people are stuck at a novice/intermediate level. Fixing their plateau doesn’t involve advanced tweaks and tricks, it involves the basics.
From this article you’ll learn exactly why you are plateaued and what to do to start making progress again. Let’s get started!
Strength is an Effect
Here is the most important message you need to remember:
Strength gains happen automatically if you’re doing a few basic things right. If you are plateaued, by definition one of those basic things is off.
To progress on the Bench Press (or any exercise for that matter) you need to:
- Do enough heavy reps for chest every week
- Eat enough to permit muscle growth
- Use an effective progression model
- See yourself in your mind getting stronger
- Use good Exercise Technique
- Allow proper recovery between workouts
If your bench is stuck, I guarantee it’s because one of these points is off.
Over the years I’ve talked with tens of guys who had this issue, while following Kinobody programs. I noticed that the Bench Plateau usually has these symptoms:
- Strength fluctuates a lot from workout to workout – one week you may easily complete the required reps and next time you may barely hit 2. This goes on and on and on for weeks.
- You hit failure frequently, especially in the first heavy set. The next workout usually sucks.
- You make good progress for a few weeks but then suddenly you lose a bunch of strength, having to start all over again
Do these symptoms describe your current situation? If yes, pay close attention to the practical steps we’ll discuss next. Put these points to action in the order given and I guarantee you’re going to make progress again.
Point #1 – Eat more calories & steadily gain bodyweight
This may seem too basic but I found that not eating enough is the most common reason people plateau on the Kinobody muscle building programs.
If you’re skinny and you haven’t gained any weight for months, this is probably the reason why you’re not making progress. You may say: “But I gained strength no problem until now, without gaining bodyweight.”
Yes, you can gain strength without gaining bodyweight, but only up to a certain point. After that, muscle fibers must increase in size in order to be able to produce more force. This is the reason why skinny guys must make sure their bodyweight steadily goes up every month. To allow muscle growth to occur.
Luckily the solution is simple, you just have to eat more. Here’s what you need to do:
- If you’ve been lifting for less than one year, eat enough to gain 2-3 pounds per month
this will maximize muscle growth and minimize fat gain
- If you’ve been lifting for 1-3 years, eat enough to gain 1-2 pounds per month
- If you’ve been lifting for more than 3 years, gain 1 pound per month
- Eat 0.9-1 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight every day
Now, if you’ve been gaining weight every month and are still plateaued, don’t eat more. Your plateau is caused by something else. Move on to the next points, to find what.
Point #2 – Stop grinding reps (if you are)
In 2015 when I was struggling to make strength gains I used to grind my last reps like it was my mission on earth. I craved strength gains so bad. Every set was maximum effort. The problem with that was my strength fluctuated a lot from workout to workout.
I used to be thrilled about a great PR one week only to come back weaker next time.
Consistently training to failure leads to strength fluctuations. There are two reasons for that:
- Consistently training to failure develops a condition that is similar to overtraining. Your central nervous system gets exhausted with time and can no longer recruit the muscle fibers properly.
- It can make you think you’re stronger than you actually are. Here’s how:
In the great training book Never Let Go, coach Dan John tells The Story of 5. Let me quote him:
In a group of five workouts, I tend to have one great workout, the kind of workout that makes me think in just a
few weeks I could be an Olympic champion, plus maybe Mr. Olympia. Then, I have one workout that’s so awful the
mere fact I continue to exist as a somewhat higher form of life is a miracle. Finally, the other three workouts are the punch-the-clock workouts: I go in, work out, and walk out.
Every once in a while you’re going to have an amazing workout. Because you push to the max all the time, you’re going to set an amazing PR that day. That’s great! But you may assume that is now the norm. You may assume this is your new strength level.
Next time, you expect to do the same number of reps and fail. You trow your hands up in frustration. You think you got weaker.
What happened is not that you were unusually weak this workout, you were unusually strong the day you set the PR. If most of your workouts are disappointing, you’re probably trying to replicate a workout when you were unusually strong. In other words, you’re now using weights that are too heavy for you.
To stop strength fluctuations, here’s what you need to do:
- Reduce the weight by 10%
You may feel you’re taking steps backwards but trust me, you’re not. It’s the only way to fix strength fluctuations.
- Progress back up using microloading, independent set loading or double progression
Here’s how you do it: Please pause the video to read these instructions. The key is to not hit failure in any set and to not grind the last rep.
By always saving some strength you create the confidence that you can be stronger next time. What you’ll find is that you’ll quickly progress back to your initial strength and easily surpass it.
Point #3 – Increase your work capacity for 8 weeks then go back to the RPT minimalistic routine
Several great powerlifting coaches pointed out that when you change from a high volume routine to a lower volume-higher intensity routine you always gain strength very fast.
I always noticed this when working with clients online. EVERY SINGLE TIME I took them off their high volume routine onto Kinobody Programs they made outstanding strength gains.
The reason for that is because the high work capacity built with volume was aiding their recovery.
Think of it like this: On a high volume routine your body is used to recover from let’s say 8 units of volume. If you then reduce volume to 5 but keep intensity the same, the 3 extra units of recovery can now be used for super-compensation. For a while, you make great strength gains.
In powerlifting this called peaking. Steadily reducing volume and increasing intensity in order to reveal your true potential for the competition.
If you’re currently stuck on a low volume routine, your work capacity may be what’s bottlenecking your progress. This was the case for me. I noticed that after following the GGP for 2 years, although I had great relative strength my work capacity was very low. I could lift heavy weights for a set of 5 but my performance went down very quickly after that. I couldn’t do several sets of 5 with weights that were 80% of my 1RM. My low work capacity was making my progress very slow.
What you can do to fix this is to increase volume for a period of 8 weeks to build work capacity – handling more volume at high intensities. Then you go back to a Kinobody routine and you’ll see very rapid increases in strength.
Not only that but the higher volume period will also make your muscles much bigger. That is because you increase the amount of glycogen you store in your muscles.
Here’s how you do it:
1. Keep using the same Kinobody routine + add one more pump exercise
There’s no need to change the training split or exercises.
2. Do straight sets instead of Reverse Pyramid Training
Doing 5 x 6, 5 x 8 or something similar allows you to accumulate a much higher volume load than Reverse Pyramid Training. To build work capacity we’re going to use straight sets. Remember, the main goal here is not to build strength (although it will probably happen) but to adapt your body to a higher amount of work.
I recommend doing 5 sets of 6 reps with the same weight. For this you’ll use 15% less weight than you did in your first RPT set.
3. Use a linear progression model
You are going to increase the weight when you can perform 5 sets of 6.
Let’s say this workout you did 5 x 6 with 200lbs:
6 x 200
6 x 200
6 x 200
6 x 200
6 x 200
Next time you’ll add the smallest plates you have to the bar and try to maintain 5 sets of 6:
6 x 202.5
6 x 202.5
6 x 202.5
6 x 202.5
5 x 202.5
You may lose a rep in your last set. That’s fine. You’ll add it back the following workout. When you reach 5 sets of 6 you increase the weight again.
Going back to high intensity
After 8 weeks of increasing work capacity, you go back to a low volume, high intensity routine. Here’s how you do it:
- Add 10 pounds to your working weight to determine the first RPT set
- For your second set reduce the weight by 10%
- For your third set reduce the weight by 10%
- Progress using microloading, independent set loading, or double progression
When you reach a plateau, you can repeat the whole process.
Point #4 – Increase the amount of volume you do for chest
A few months ago, Greg and I did an interview with Eric Helms where we talked about how training volume affects muscle growth.
Eric explained that the amount of volume you need usually goes up with your training experience. After each plateau you may need to do more volume than you needed to progress before the plateau.
If you’re following the Greek God Program, you noticed that it is structured in this way. As you get more advanced you do routines that are higher and higher in volume. You start with the Strength & Density routine, then you progress to the 3 day split or to specialization routines, both of which include more reps per body part per week. And finally you get to the MEGA workouts which are the highest in volume.
So if you notice you plateau often on the Strength and Density Routine, move up to the MEGA workouts. The increassed volume will keep you progressing for months, maybe even years.
If you’re plateaued on the MEGA workouts, add one more RPT set to each exercise. Use the same weights as in set number 3.
When people hear that volume needs to go up with time, they usually make the mistake of increasing it too fast. In a matter of 2-3 months they do twice as much volume as before. It’s best to keep volume as low as you can while still making progress.
So when you’re plateaued and well recovered, increase volume by 15%. This will usually be enough to produce an adaptive stimulus again.
Point #5 – Surround yourself with people who are stronger than you
A few years ago, a study was made in powerlifters to see how much the placebo effect could improve their performance. One group was told they were given a fast acting steroid in the form of a pill. They were told they’re going to get stronger immediately because of it.
Guess what happened? The group that thought they were on steroids added 11 kilograms to their total on the very same day! Keep in mind these were national-level athletes not some newbies. 11 kilograms is a ton of progress.
Now listen to this. Two week later, half of them were told the pill was fake. Their new strength gains vanished, while those who still thought they were on steroids maintained their strength.
In another study athletes were told they are given a pill that will decrease their performance. In reality, that was a sugar pill. Guess what happened? They lost strength and power.
If you apply what we talked about in this video and still don’t get stronger, the obstacle is almost certainly in your mind.
Do you see yourself as weak and frail? If you do, unconsciously you don’t allow yourself to get stronger. Do you see yourself skinny? If you do, you’ll have all sorts of thoughts that justify why it’s ok to have a bad workout.
I used to have this problem. I couldn’t see myself big and strong and I was always finding excuses to stay at my current level. “I’m just not feeling it today”, “I didn’t sleep well last night”, “I didn’t eat right yesterday” excuses all of them.
You need to replace this negative talk with motivation and inspiration in order to make progress.
Here’s how you do that:
It’s a well known fact that the people we surround ourselves with influence our results. If you take a lazy person and put them in a group of high performers, that person’s productivity will improve immediately. If you take a high performer and put him in a group of lazy people, that person’s results will decline.
This also applies to training. Go to the gym where the strongest guys train. You need to be surrounded by success models at every turn. If a guy is benching 315 right next to you, you’ll realize 185 is pathetic.
But in a gym filled with students, old people and women, 185 may actually be pretty impressive.
If you want to make progress, put yourself in an environment where people are better than you. The best case scenario would be to train with someone who is much more advanced than you are. Unconsciously, he will pull you up to his level.
This is it. Four ways to break through your incline bench press plateau:
Apply these steps in order
1. Eat more
if that doesn’t work
2. Stop grinding reps
if that doesn’t work
3. Build your work capacity
if that doesn’t work
4. Increase training volume by 15%
if that doesn’t work
5. Visualize yourself getting stronger
and change gyms
Put these points to action and I guarantee you’re going to make great progress.
The Greek God Program
This is the training program I used to build my current physique.
It’s based around building strength on a few key exercises that will give you the look of a Hollywood actor. The incline bench press is one of those exercises because developing the upper chest is essential to looking great.