When it comes to exercising, maintaining the same workout program day in and day out can not only become boring and monotonous, but will also most likely lead to that dreaded seven letter word that sends chills up an avid exerciser’s spine… exercise PLATEAU. The human body will respond in positive ways to a new stimulus such as exercise because it’s naturally prepping itself to cope with higher workloads through a process known as adaptation. Exercise PLATEAU is when the body no longer adapts or changes to the force being applied because it no longer recognizes the activity as a new stimulus. The key to avoiding this PLATEAU is to create an exercise program filled with variety. Our bodies are fine tuned machines that quickly become accustomed to the things we do. By incorporating an assortment of exercises, programs, intensity levels, and training methods our body in constantly in this adaptive phase.
One way to add variety to your cardiovascular training is to cross train. If you are someone that always uses the treadmill, try another cardio machine or better yet, an aerobic class that integrates lateral and multi-directional movements. The drills involved with a boot camp class or the kicks involved in a cardio kickboxing class are sure to target muscles that are not activated by running. Another way to alter your cardiovascular workout is to train at different intensity levels. Familiarize yourself with your target heart rate(THR) and use this formula to find the intensity level that is right for you and your training goals. Instead of keeping a steady pace for a 30-40 minute duration jog at 55% of your THR, try a shorter 25 minute workout at 75-80% of your THR. Don’t forget to utilize the incline option on the cardio machines to add intensity or add intermittent sprint stages to keep your body guessing.
When it comes to weight lifting, it is important to remember the overload principle. This principle states that fitness improvements are made only when workloads are greater than those normally encountered. Remember increasing the workload includes more than just lifting heavier weight. You can also amplify the work load by increasing the rate at which you are doing the work and by altering the sets and reps to adjust the total training volume. If you regularly perform 15 repetitions, try performing 10 reps at a higher weight for a couple weeks.
Another variation is to train your muscles using isometric contraction versus isotonic contraction. Isotonic contraction is what typically comes to mind when we think of weight training. It is when the muscle length changes throughout the duration of the exercise (picture a bicep curl). Isometric training is the static contraction of a muscle without any visible movement in the angle of the joint (picture holding the bicep curl at the midpoint for a duration of time). While holding a contracted position for a period of time, these muscles are forced to contract continuously which causes your body to activate more and more motor units to help sustain this contraction. This increased activation can lead to strength gains and a more efficient muscle.
Additional training methods that might change up your workout are super sets (when two opposing muscle groups are worked in sequence with no rest periods in between) or compound sets (when the same muscle group is worked continuously with no rest in between). Circuit training is another great addition to any bland workout program. Circuit training is a high intensity, fast paced workout designed to keep your heart rate elevated (like a cardiovascular workout) while incorporating strength training elements. Not only is circuit training a great and time efficient workout, but by rotating from station to station with little to no rest in between, you are maximizing the total calorie expenditure.
When it comes to exercise, a regular routine is something that should be avoided in some sense. Once the body practices the same routine time after time, it grows more proficient at executing the movements therefore it requires less energy to perform them. Keeping your workout program filled with variety will aid in avoiding the exercise PLATEAU and assist with “keeping the body on it’s proverbial toes.” This method will also reduce the risk of burnout. Let’s face it…if your body becomes bored, your mind is soon to follow.