If you've ever tried to change your body composition, maybe for your wedding, or training for a 5k, or whatever your reason, you've probably hit that wall. You know the one I speak of: that immoveable, solid brick-with-steel-reinforced-concrete wall. You lost 5 pounds, or added some definition, but then nothing else happens. That 15 pound goal? Can't hit it. Lowering your body fat? Not low enough.
In gym speak we call it the plateau. It's when your body adapts to the same workout routine. It's a common problem many people (newbies and seasoned fitness vets alike) suffer from. The good news? You can break through your plateau and continue to get the results you want. Let's breakdown why we hit the wall, and how we can bust through it!
Hitting Your Plateau
When you start a fitness plan, it feels great, right? You sweat, you lose some inches, gain some muscle tone, and all is right in the world. And then about four to six weeks of doing the same routine, you may notice that the scale won't budge, or your waistline hasn't shrunk anymore. This is the first sign that you are hitting the plateau. It's also the first sign you need to change up your routine. Just like you won't get any stronger if you don't add more weight, or if you want to run a marathon you continually run longer distances until you can handle 26 miles. Your body, and muscles, will get used to the same workouts, and then stop adapting. This leads us to the main principle of how to beat your plateau: muscle confusion.
What is Muscle Confusion?
At its most basic definition, Muscle Confusion is the principle of continually changing the type of stress (exercise) that you put on specific muscle groups. While this may seem like Greek to you, let's put it in a better perspective.
Say you want to add definition to your arms (biceps, triceps, and and shoulders/deltoids). You begin by doing bicep curls with dumbbells, triceps overhead dumbbell extensions, and shoulder shrugs. You do it for 4 weeks, say, and see some results. Muscle confusion requires you to alternate the exercises (dumbbell hammer curls, triceps pushdowns, and dumbbell shoulder presses). By doing this, your muscles are forced to continue to adapt, thereby becoming stronger and more defined. By confusing your muscles, they will continue to grow and help with your physique and toning.
In addition to adding varied exercises into your workout, you should also be cognizant of the weights or rep numbers that you perform. In order to see gains, you must continually push yourself by adding weight or increased repetitions to these exercises. You don't have to be Superman, either. Simply moving from 5 to 8 pound dumbbells, or performing 12 reps instead of 10, can help you see gains in these areas.
The same principle can be applied to cardiovascular endurance. You can only build stamina by increasing the intensity and/or time that you perform cardiovascular work. Increasing by an extra tenth of a mile, or an extra two minutes, or stepping the intensity up a notch each workout will help you to reach your goals more often and stay away from being stuck in a workout rut. If you still need help, a qualified fitness professional should be able to help you find exercises to add to your repertoire. Good luck and bust through those plateaus!
Ryan Barnhart, MS, PES, is a certified Performance Enhancement
and Injury Prevention Specialist through the National Academy of Sports
Medicine (NASM). He also holds a master's degree in exercise science, as
well as a bachelor of sport management, both from California University
of Pennsylvania. Ryan has worked with numerous collegiate and amateur
athletes across many different fields. Ryan also has had the opportunity
to work with several professional athletes. Recently he has worked with
amateur and professional athletes within the emerging sport of Mixed
Ryan is currently the director of fitness at a 700+ member gym near Pittsburgh, PA. He enjoys working with weekend warriors, athletes, and everyone in between. You can contact Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.