Do you remember that one exercise or workout that was really good?
It was not like other sessions, there was something special about that one. Maybe it was something that beat you up (in a good way) or at least made you feeling good about yourself.
After that, you stuck with the lift or the program for a few weeks and got tons of benefits for a while.
Then something strange happened. The great progress that you were seeing had suddenly stopped.
Some call this a plateau and it can happen with lifting and running.
The human body is truly fascinating. It is actually a lot smarter than we give it credit for.
Just like someone not wanting to work a minimum wage job, the body does not want to be worked over the edge.
As a result, of training the body makes adaptations.
It does this by taking a training stimulus and making the necessary internal changes to account for that stimulus again. It is these adaptations that are necessary to get stronger, faster, and leaner. It is your job to outsmart your body.
Depending on training age, these adaptations (plateaus) can happen in about 4-6 weeks.
Once the progress starts to slow down, the program needs a new stimulus.
This idea bothers and hinders a lot of people because there may have been an awesome program that got them tons of results. They feel great about themselves and they want to repeat the program once it is done.
You are never going to get those original gains because the body has adapted to that training.
What worked at first does not work forever.
I am going to give 3 ways to vary the program when adaptations are occurring.
1. Increase the volume
This can be done by adding sets and or reps. If you have done 3 sets of 10 for the back squat, a workout consists of 30 total reps. In this scenario you can add a set to make it more demanding.
Another option would be to lower the reps to 8 and use the 4th set. This way the total volume is still increased (32) but you are not adding reps to the actual sets. We do not want to add reps and work against our goals.
Lowering the reps is also beneficial because you can in turn:
2. Increase the intensity
Intensity is the amount of weight lifted or the pace at which you run at. When manipulating intensity, it is important to note that increasing it means that the distance/reps needs to go down.
If you normally run 2 miles at 15 minutes, run one mile at 7 minutes.
In the above example for volume let’s say the weight on the last set of squats was 200. If you switch to 4 sets of 8, the last set of 8 should be closer to 215.
This is the simplest way to increase the intensity of a training session.
What about when the weights are just too heavy? Believe me I have been under the bar where I tried for 6 reps and barely got 2 in week 4 of a program.
In this case you need to:
3. Vary the exercises
I am not a big believer in changing things up all of the time. If adaptation is necessary to gain strength, power, speed, etc. then we must get close to that point in training.
I like to switch the program every 4 weeks. When I do, radical changes are not made. Instead I like to use similar variations to achieve a goal.
First I determine what I want to get good at. This needs to take place before any program starts.
I’m going to choose the deadlift for this example because deadlifts are awesome. After 4 weeks of deadlifting, the gains have started to slow down.
For the next four weeks I am going to perform Hex Bar deadlifts. A very similar exercise but it is different enough that it is going to work on some different qualities.
Other examples include dumbbells instead of barbells (and vice versa), taking a limb away from an exercise, or changing up the starting position of the movement.
It is very often that I hear about people that are unsatisfied with their training because they have been doing the same thing for a long time. It worked at first but now the gains have stopped.
Adaptation happens with lifting and running alike but it does not have to frustrate you. Use the above techniques to overload your program and start seeing some results again.