I know what you’re thinking — now that you have actually gotten into the habit of going to the gym on a regular basis, why should you have to worry about changing anything?
Well, the fact is that no matter how much success you might be having with your current routine, sooner or later things are going to change and you will hit the dreaded “plateau”.
Plateau may be one of the most hated words in the world of health and fitness, yet it happens to everyone sooner or later. Yes, it is unfortunate that you will have to deal with it, but it happens, you just need to know what to do when it does.
Why Do Plateaus Occur?
Our bodies are very adaptable — they can handle stresses ranging from childbirth to running an Iron man Triathlon. If you know how to train yourself and adapt, your body will do the rest. Actually, that’s why people can run marathons and triathlons to begin with. Our bodies are put under an incredible amount of stress during a 26.2 mile road race, so much so that many people will never be able to accomplish the feet for one reason or another. In order to be able to do in the first place, you need to put faith that your body is actually going to be doing a lot of the work on its own.
Day after day, mile after mile, our bodies endure whatever tortures you can dish out and in the process it adapts by lowering its own heart rate and metabolism in order to combat the grueling task that you are putting before it. If your body is able to this in a situation as extreme as a marathon, it will certainly do it when you are in the gym.
Every time you work out your body is subjected to stress that creates microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. These tears heal with time, rest and nutrition and grow larger and stronger.
However, your body doesn’t really like that this is happening. It is a form of stress and your body doesn’t like stress. So, eventually your body gets used to whatever fitness regime you have set for yourself and will only put forth enough effort on its own so that you can accomplish what you have done before. Over time your body gets used to the stress and ignores it as much as it can. And that creates plateaus in your performance where you gains might not necessarily decrease, but they certainly don’t increase.
How to Overcome a Plateau
In order to avoid the plateau effect as much as possible you need to get creative with your workouts. Doing cardio day in and day out might work at first in the weight loss effort, but eventually your body will get used to the pace you keep and use as much anaerobic energy as possible to avoid having to use calories as a source of fuel. So what do you do?
Believe it or not, it’s a lot easier than you might think, you just have to work a little harder than you might want to. The average gym-goer uses either the “manual” or “fat-burning” setting when doing cardio. And this is just fine, at first. The fat-burning setting will be effective for much longer because the machine will adjust itself to bake sure that you keep an elevated heart rate. However, the manual setting will only work for so long until you adjust to the pace and distance goals that you have made for yourself. After you have gotten used to working out on a particular piece of equipment; instead of using the manual setting try using the “random” setting. This will generate a random elevation or speed by which to keep pace with. With your body being unable to predict what will happen next, you will be able to keep a higher heart rate through out the course of your workout.
Weightlifting is a little more complex. Yes, you might want a bigger chest and bigger arms, but doing the bench press and preacher curl everyday isn’t the way to go about your goals (the fact that it is actually your triceps that give your arms greater size and shape not withstanding). You really need to sit down and figure out your best plan of attack when it comes to lifting. You need to figure out what your goals are and how much time you have each day to devote to said goals. Will you do a training split or a total body workout (see: Train Split vs. Total Body Training article)? What body part or exercise will you do first and thus devote the most energy to? How many reps will you do per set? How many sets will you do per exercise? Will you listen to your body or stick to a plan? This are very important questions that you need to ask yourself before working out, because you are going to need to re-evaluate them regularly.
Training your method of weight training is recommended approximately every month to two months. Changing your routine this frequently will ensure that you body doesn’t grow stale of the same old routine that you put yourself through day in and day out.
Never Give Up
Most importantly, never give up; keep working hard. Don’t think that just walking in the door of the gym is enough, it may be the hardest thing you do, but it isn’t the last thing that you need to worry about. Fitness isn’t short term, it is a lifestyle. Don’t waste your time or money on something that you aren’t willing to put your all into. You health is too important to just go through the motions.