An Old-School Technique for Breaking a Mass-Building Plateau
I can remember rather vividly my first plateau in muscle-building. It was 1991, and I was only seventeen years old, but I had also been training hard for a couple of years prior to this. (I started training at the age of 15, when my father bought me my first weight training set—a DP bench, and about 120 pounds of weight from the local Sears. By the time I was 16, I started training at a commercial gym. It was located adjacent to the dojo where I practiced Karate-Do consistently 4 to 5 days per week.)
At the time, I used a full-body routine, where I would train 2 or 3 days per week, focusing on the basics such as squats, bench presses, chins, barbell curls, and whatnot. (To be honest—as ashamed as I am to admit it—I didn't discover the efficacy of deadlifts and the "quick lifts"—power cleans, power snatches, et al—until several years later.) For the most part, it was a 3-days-per-week routine, but I would cut it down to 2 when I had a particularly tough week in the dojo. (Lucky for me, my sensei at the time knew the effectiveness of serious barbell training for aiding in the practice of the ways of Budo. He was a student of the great Okinawan karate master Shoshin Nagamine, who always recommended barbell training as a supplement to karate. For those interested, you can read Nagamine's thoughts on training in his wonderful book "The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do.)
And in '91, I hit a serious plateau. I knew that part of it was all of the martial arts training—it's always hard to put on muscle when you are doing serious cardio so many days per week, and it was even harder for me, considering my ultra-fast metabolism as a teenager.
My first attempt at busting out of the rut was through lowering my training volume at each session. I had read enough Arthur Jones, Mike Mentzer, Steve Holman, and Stuart McRobert to be influenced by their thoughts on overtraining.
It didn't work.
My second attempt at plateau-breaking was through seriously increasing my calories. Owning the book "Super Squats", I used Strossen's recommended diet in the book, which consisted of a lot of milk and meat-and-cheese sandwiches. The diet consisted of around 4,750 calories and 250 grams of protein daily. In addition to all of those calories, I would regularly supplement this diet even more by drinking home-made protein shakes consisting of ice cream, protein powder, milk, and raw eggs.
It didn't work. I just ended up too bloated to be able to train effectively—in the gym or in the dojo.
Around this same time, I also began reading the likes of Gene Mozee and Greg Zulak—which I've mentioned elsewhere in this blog. Both of them were more volume oriented bodybuilding writers—Mozee in particular—and their training articles had a differing impact on how I trained after their influence. There was the me before Mozee/Zulak, and the me after.
During this rut that I was stuck in, I came across an article of Mozee's at the newsstand, in Ironman Magazine, about "Plateau Busters". It had a routine that he recommended—which didn't bust me out of my plateau; it was simply too much volume for me at the time. (Later, I would use such volume-high routines with a great deal of success.) But it also contained a "One-Day Blitz" that Mozee recommended for those trainees stuck in a bad rut.
And the one-day "cure" did work.
This is what Mozee had to say about the program:
"Here is a tough but highly effective routine that you can use occasionally to jolt stubborn muscles into new growth. If you are doing whole-body workouts three days a week, as most average trainees do, once every two weeks is as much as you can handle of this exercise barrage. Advanced intermediate trainees will get best results on the same schedule. Highly advanced trainees can do it more often, say once a week. Either way, it will help you smash through a no-progress slump."
|Gene Mozee, in his competitive bodybuilding days, in the '60s.|
The One-Day, Mass-Building Blitz
For Mozee's seemingly crazy rut-busting program, pick one day that you can devote entirely to training. For myself, this would be Saturday, and even then, I would need to make sure my sons are in the mind of doing it with me, and I would need to make sure the rest of my family and friends knew that this was a day where my sons and I were not to be disturbed. In other words, you need a day where you don't just devote it to training, but also to resting and eating when not training. Aside from the training, it should be a day of complete relaxation.
Here's the one-day blitz:
10 a.m. workout
Incline presses 4x10
Leg presses 4x10
Long-pulley rows 4x10
Dumbbell presses 4x10
Preacher curls 4x10
Dumbbell triceps extensions 4x10
1 p.m. workout
Barbell bench presses 4x5
Barbell rows 4x5
Behind-the-neck presses 4x5
Barbell curls 4x5
4 p.m. workout
Flat-bench flyes 3x15
Hack squats 3x15
Lat pulldowns 3x15
Lateral raises 3x15
Incline dumbbell curls 3x15
Rope pushdowns 3x15
Gene Mozee had quite a few tips at the end of his article about how to make this program work, but, to be honest, I think a lot of them were too basic, or possibly just made some false presumptions about how routines such as this one work. (I absolutely loved Mozee's articles, still do, but there are some inherent problems in a lot of theories that he espoused—and sometimes his recommendation was simply to do more workouts. More is sometimes better, and sometimes it isn't, and I think he had some great stuff. But I also think the ideas that he espoused, taken from many of the great champs of the eras he covered, can be made even better today.)
With that being said, here are my tips for making this thing work well. It did work well for me almost 25 years ago, but I think it could have worked even better.
- This program works the best if you are currently performing a three-days-per-week, full-body workout (just as Mozee said in his original article). Let's say you train Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and plan on using this on Saturday. On your Friday session, either take the day off or—and I think this is even better—perform a "light" workout where you use about half of the weight from the Monday workout on all lifts.
- You will get even better results from your Saturday blitz if, on Friday, you do little other than rest aside from your Friday workout.
- Eat a lot of calories daily in the week leading up to this workout.
- This is a mass-building program. It should not be used by anyone who is currently trying to get ripped, or is simply on a caloric-deficit diet.
- Always take the day off after completing this one-day blitz, even if you are following a split training program when you attempt it.
- It really works well if you are performing extremely low reps in the workouts leading up to it. For instance, if you're performing a three-days-per-week, full-body routine, consider using triples, doubles, and singles on all workouts that week. Your Monday and Wednesday workouts can be fairly "intense", but drop the weight way down for the Friday workout, even while maintaining the triples, doubles, or singles.
- At each session, do a couple of warm-up sets for each exercise.
- On the day of your blitz, eat your first meal about 8 a.m., and not much later. As soon as you finish the first workout, eat another meal.
- Eat immediately after your 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. workouts, as well. Eat two more meals following the meal after your 4 p.m. session.
- When the day of the blitz is over, you should have consumed 6 meals.
- The last three meals of the day should be the highest in calories, and the total amount of calories consumed should be higher than your average days during the rest of the week, even if you already consume 6 meals a day.
- Use this blitz three or four times over the course of a training cycle before you deem it either a success or failure.
- If possible, do no "taxing" activities the day or two following your blitz.
If you're having trouble building muscle, and you already tried more volume, less volume, and significantly increasing your daily calories (just as I did initially), then it wouldn't hurt if you gave this seemingly odd, rut-busting blitz a try. If you do, then please feel free to email me any questions you might have—or just comment below. And, please, leave feedback for any muscle-building results you experience.
As always, good luck, and good training. Better yet, just good training, because luck has very little to do with it. And properly programmed training has almost everything!