So your chest isn?t growing like you want it to, or your bench isn?t going up anymore, or your squat has stalled. Why?
Here is one of the most common reasons why, other than diet.
CNS fatigue. Unless your diet just sucks balls, the answer is usually that you don't understand fatigue, what it does to progress, and what to do about it.
Get this, because the solution to your problems WILL involve this concept one way or another.
Think of CNS fatigue as water and as yourself as a bucket. When you lift heavy weights, it's basically like taking a cup of water, and pouring it into the bucket. The size of the cup is how strong you are coupled with how much work you do. When you sleep and eat right, you open up a temporary hole in the bottom of the bucket. Now. The stage is set.
Take this example, and imagine what happens as you continue lifting weight on a frequent basis, slowly getting bigger and stronger. Your decent sleep and eating habits allow you to empty the bucket of the fatigue you've accumulated because the cup you've been using to fill the bucket is pretty small. But now you're stronger and can do more work, and the cup is bigger. The bucket fills itself faster than you can empty it. And eventually, it's too full. What happens when the bucket is too full? Simple. The fatigue spills over, inhibiting performance in the gym. Boom. Automatic plateau halting your progress just as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow. Why the plateau? Because of accumulated CNS fatigue that you can't get rid of.
So. What do you do about it? Chances are VERY good that you have the genetic potential to reach whatever goal you?re shooting for, unless you?re already quite advanced, at which point, some realism might be a healthy thing. How do you get there when the CNS fatigue induced by the weight you?re using is halting your progress?
Again, the answer is simple. The answer gets into the different rates at which fatigue and fitness dissipate. All this time while you've been lifting weights, accumulating fatigue, you have ALSO been accumulating fitness, in the form of bigger and stronger muscles. The CNS fatigue has halted your progress however, so the fitness is temporarily stalled. If you were to do something that would temporarily decrease the size of the cup, what would happen? The fatigue would dissipate, right? Well, wouldn't the fitness likewise dissipate? Actually, NO, it would not, at least, not at first. So, how do we use a smaller cup? Perform less work, for a limited period of time. This allows the fatigue to dissipate, because fatigue dissipates FASTER than fitness, good thing too.
Result... dual factor theory. CNS fatigue and fitness dissipate at different rates. If you deload, or start using a smaller cup for a short period of time, the CNS fatigue will dissipate quickly, while the fitness won't really dissipate at all. Thus, your CNS is now fresh, and progress can once more take place.
So what do you do? You deload. Deloading is just drastically cutting the amount of work you perform. You can do this in several ways.
1. Cut sets and/or reps, use same weight.
2. Cut weight, use same sets and/or reps.
I like to cut sets and use the same weight. My primary concern is getting stronger, so I'd rather keep the intensity high, but just do less work with it.
So, if you normally do 10 sets for chest, for example, do 2 or 3 for a period of one to two weeks. OR, if you?re still relatively weak, just do a reset. Drop weight by 20-30 pounds, and work back up to your current maxes over a period of 3-4 weeks using the same set/rep scheme.
Do this with ALL the work you do in the gym. This will allow the fatigue to dissipate. Once the deload is over, resume normal training. Your fresh CNS will now allow you to get stronger because it can now perform at full capacity again.
In terms of timeframes involved, the stronger you are, the faster the bucket fills up. An advanced lifter moving big poundages will be ready to deload after only 3-4 weeks. It's the primary reason why progress gets progressively harder as you get stronger. A weaker lifter will take longer to fill his bucket, but as soon as he crosses a threshold, he WILL fill it with any kind of serious work in the gym.
Also, there are things you can do to make the hole in your bucket bigger. Eat better, sleep better, reduce stress in your life, take your vitamins, improve your conditioning with cardio, get laid once in a while. Stuff like that.
BUT, don't let anyone make you believe that overtraining is a myth. It's simply a matter of time before heavy weight training puts you there. Not that you shouldn?t do all you can to increase the size of the hole in your bucket, but if you don't learn how to deal with fatigue, you'll become a "critique my workout" thread starting zombie, perpetually wondering why you can't make any progress, looking everywhere you can for the next magic workout program to "shock your muscles into growth", buying hundreds of dollars worth of supplements each month thinking they are actually the answer. Funny. All you really needed was to learn how and when to take one step back, so you could take five steps forward.
This is also one of the primary reasons why guys prematurely turn to steroids, unless their just stupid and start using them right off the bat because they think it's the only way to grow muscle. They stall and think they need something special to help them continue making progress. Will the steroids do it? Absolutely. Because they generally have the affect of increasing your recovery capacity. The real kicker is, the results they achieved throughout their early use of steroids could have easily been achieved without the gear, if they had simply understood fatigue. How foolish is that?