A lot of my clients always wonder why I suggest they change their workouts periodically. For starters, the same workout for a long period of time is just plain boring. You can’t expect someone to stay compliant if they are bored to tears. With any workout prescription, there should always be a driving goal whether it is weight loss or sports performance. After a certain period of time, goals and performance need to be reassessed for growth and success. Most clients want to avoid plateaus and this can be done by understanding the principles of specificity, overload and adaptation. In this segment I will discuss specificity and overload and in part 2, I will highlight adaption and other factors for avoiding training plateaus.
The number one reason why we need to mix up our workout routines is to avoid the all too common training plateau. We’ve all been there when it feels like we can’t run any faster, lift any heavier or lose one more stinking pound. Specificity refers to the performance improvements of certain muscles doing a specialized action. For example, bench presses specifically train the upper body muscles in a horizontal press pattern. Bench press will NOT however improve your swimming performance. In order to get better at a specific action, we must do the specific action. I can’t tell you how many times I have humbled runners with a lower body training routine as they assure me “my legs are strong because I run.” So doesn’t it make sense to do a wide variety of exercises to improve performance in as many ways as possible? Also, consider the angle of the muscle you are training and the range of motion the major joint is going through. By no means, does the pec muscle only function at a 90 degree angle like experienced during a flat bench press. This is precisely why body builders add in inclines, declines, flys, and many more into their training routines. We are multidimensional beings therefore so should our training routines.
Frequency, intensity, time and type are the four basic components of overload training. Changing any one of these can result in an overload to the body therefore breaking through that dreaded plateau. I suggest picking one variable at a time so that you know if the specific principle is producing the desired results. Which variable would be the most important of the four? Intensity is the number one, most important factor to maintaining and advancing your performance. This is why high intensity interval training (HIIT) is so popular and so effective. You can cut the frequency and time of exercise drastically as long as the intensity level is 80% or higher.
When it comes to strength training intensity, there are a variety of ways to break through that plateau. One way I often use is to mix up the sets and reps a client does for a specific exercise. So, if my client is comfortable doing 3 sets of 8 reps on the bench press, I have them try 4 sets of 6 reps or 5 sets of 5 reps. The volume of reps is almost identical, but my client should be able to do a higher intensity since the reps are fewer. There a so many different variations of exercises, rep schemes and even exercise order can aide in breaking through plateaus. The body will never fully experience training adaptations unless overload is applied. I often think about it as over-shooting to fall back to a new higher level. If we don’t push the boundaries of our strength and our bodies, we will never know what we are truly capable of.