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If you’re exercising a lot, and still getting nowhere, chances are you have hit a plateau. Mike Ryan thinks it’s time you added the element of surprise
One of the toughest aspects of training is the ability to maintain your programme. This is essential for continued success. Weight training is probably the most common form of exercise that people quit. Why? Because it’s tough and also because people get bored when they don’t get instant results. I’ve been training since I was 12 and I’m still going strong at 44. How do I keep going? It’s because I’m crazy! Of course, I’m kidding [at least I think I am]. I constantly challenge myself with short obtainable goals and very often I completely change my workout routine.
How do we recognise when it’s time for us to change our training programme? First, we need to identify if we are getting the desired results. If you are not getting the results you feel you’ve earned, then it’s probably time to change your routine. Also, if you are coming to the gym with a defeatist attitude and just “going through the motions,” this is a definite sign that it’s time to break your training plateau.
Well, there are a number of ways to start. First, you can actually change the time at which you train. If you usually go to the gym every day after work, try getting to the gym before work. A new setting, new environment and new schedule can often motivate you to overcome your plateau in your training.
Second, review your training environment. The gym should provide a fun and friendly atmosphere. And going to the gym every day at the same time, you probably train with the same people all the time. You need to break the monotony. So when you change your training time, you become open to meeting new people, some of whom may share your same goals. You may get a new training partner as well. This can be great motivating factor to breaking plateaus. Look for someone who’s motivated enough that you feel will push you even harder.
Now you’ve changed your training time and picked up a new training partner, what else can you do to break your training plateaus? Basically change your whole training regimen. And I mean change it!
The exercises you’re used to doing last, you should now do them first. You should probably do your weaker muscles first as well. Basically, you need to totally reverse your current training programme. A simplest way to do that is to totally switch the exercises once you’ve established what muscles you are going to train on what days. That means, if you worked out your chest by doing the bench press every Monday as per your old programme, then in the new programme, do the dumbbell bench press or chest machine or even push ups on Friday.
Not only should you change the training exercises and the days you train, but also vary your repetition scheme. If you are used to doing 3 – 4 sets of 12 reps, try altering it. Do super-high reps with lighter weights—25 reps for 4 sets [please make sure you’re using weight that you can lift for 25 repetitions without causing potential injury]. You could even change to super-low reps with heavier weight, say 3 – 4 sets 3 – 6 reps. Again, exercise caution when training with heavier weight. Remember, proper form and techniques must be applied, or else you will not get good results even with this.
Basically, what you’re doing with all this changing of schedule, time, weights and schemes is shocking the muscles to bring out a desired positive response in your overall fitness and physique.
So now that you have totally revised your time and programme, why not add something new and dynamic to your training. As silly or crazy as it may sound, try something you never thought you would ever do. A perfect example, especially for the men, is to try an aerobics class. Or better yet, a yoga class. Or even take it to a whole different level with a dance class. All these forms of exercise are amazing for you and since they are all new, they will challenge you to new levels of fitness. When it comes to experimenting, don’t quit. Often when it comes to aerobics, yoga or dance, you can often feel silly or embarrassed. Please don’t! Just stay focused, give it a try and have fun.
As for women, this can be a great time for you to try working out with weights. And no, it won’t make you look huge. I’ve been training for over 30 years, and I know how hard it is to put on muscle. So please, don’t think that after one workout with weights you’ll look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Weight training is great for women; not only are you developing long and lean muscles and getting stronger, but you are also burning fat, as it takes a lot of calories to feed a muscle. Lastly, women also need to recognise that weight training promotes bone density. This is the only form of exercise that does this. When you begin to enter your formative years, enter it with a strong skeletal structure because you trained with weights.
So now just about every aspect of your current training programme has been modified to achieve new goals and break old plateaus. The last component would be to switch your cardiovascular training. Again, if you use the treadmill every day, alter it. Hop on the Stairmaster or the stationary bike. Also, encourage yourself to try new classes like spinning or a boot camp.
This was first published in the February 2010 issue of Complete Wellbeing