Thursday, November 29, 2012

Overcoming fitness plateaus

Have you hit a plateau in your workout program?  Odds are you are not alone.  Far too often, many exercisers reach a point where they no longer continue to make progress or see results.  By following these simple rules, you will prevent hitting that inevitable "plateau" with your workouts.

As we head into the final month of the year and begin getting ready for the final holiday, make it your goal to add these strategies so that those goals or "resolutions" you set can actually be attained.  Don't just say something that sounds good, but instead write it down, tell your family/friends, and incorporate these simple rules and I'm confident you will start your New Year off to a great start.

#1  Add more rest days
It's very common for most of us to ant to exercise every day and not take any days off.  This is probably one of the most common mistakes.  On average 3-4 days per week is sufficient for most exercisers.  Following the standard workout regimen of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday will be plenty of training and will allow the muscles to repair themselves and allow you to give 100% during each workout.  If you are an elite athlete, or are an experienced exerciser, you can add 1-2 days (total of 4-6) allowing for 1-3 days of rest per week.  I like to use the phrase, "rest as hard as you exercise".

#2  Use different speeds of movements
I see a lot of people lift weights at the same speed month after month.  Although this emphasizes good form and safety, increasing or decreasing the speed during each lift will make the exercise more difficult and allow to the body to continue to make new adaptations.  If you are new to exercise, be careful when trying to speed up the movement, this can potentially lead to bad habits.

#3  Perform Drop Sets
Performing drop sets is a great way to build strength, but due to the nature of the stresses added from these (small muscle tissue damage) I would recommend that you allow for lots of rest/recovery in between these workouts.
Drop sets can look something like this:  10 reps at a certain weight, then reduce the weight and do another 10 reps, and continue this for 4-8 sets until you no longer can do 10 reps.

#4 Plyometrics 
Plyometrics are one of my favorite types of workouts, they are great for building explosive power.  Since this type of workout requires jumping, it may not be suitable for everyone as the chance for injury increases.  However, if you are able to jump then this can be a great addition to help you break out of that plateau you are in...not to mention it will be fun.  Examples of plyometric exercises include jump squats, box jump squats, jump lunges, explosive push ups, and medicine ball slams.  As with the drop sets, you want to allow for adequate amount of recovery between workouts.

#5  Intervals
Adding intervals to your workout can help break up the monotony of doing the same thing.  Intervals can be added to strength training or cardio workouts. For strength workouts, try adding some Tabata workouts, and for cardio workouts try adding some short bursts (up to 2 min) of sprints followed by easy running/cycling/eliptical/rowing until you have recovered and then repeat.

#6  Use a Variety of Equipment
Are you using only machines or dumbbells during your workouts?  Well then I would suggest trying to involve other great pieces of equipment; such as TRX, Kettlebells, BOSU Balls, and Swiss Balls.  All of these pieces of equipment will add more challenge to your workout and will also help to improve any imbalances you might have.  Performing the same exercises (let's say a squat) but using a completely different piece of equipment will change how the body has to stabilize itself and will get a whole new response.

#7  Change Timing of Exercise 
Do you always workout in the morning, or always workout in the evening?  If you can, try to workout at different times occasionally.  Instead of working out first thing in the morning, try an evening workout and vise versa.  Simple changes as these can again help break plateaus.  Our bodies are very efficient at adapting to things relatively quickly, so the more we can confuse it the better.

#8  Perform One-Sided Exercises
Instead of your usual two-legged squats, try doing them on one leg (keep in mind you will have to reduce weight or not use any weight at all; these are challenging).  Instead of always doing your shoulder presses with dumbbells and both arms, try doing them with a kettlebell and only 1 arm.  Doing one-sided exercises is a great way to add more strength, but also a way to increase core strength and improve balance.

#9  Change # of Reps
As a general rule of thumb, 3-6 reps will build strength, 8-12 reps will increase muscle size (hypertrophy), 12-20 reps will improve muscle endurance.  It doesn't matter if you are training for competition, or for general fitness, changing the amount of weight along with the number of reps will increase adaptation and prevent plateaus.

#10  Challenges!!!
Does your gym offer Challenges?  If so, then I recommend that you participate in at least one.  If not, try this workout next time you hit the gym.  These types of workouts will typically involve high number of reps and will definitely "challenge" your fitness limits.  I like to offer members a new challenge every 4-8 weeks.  Doing this type of workout may be just what you need to get you over the hump and out of the slump you're in. You'll want to allow for adequate recovery time after doing one of these workouts.

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