What to do when you stop gaining
The last two weeks have been somewhat of a workout nightmare for me. My schedule filled out quickly and I started to struggle to make my workouts.
Fortunately, a lot of my appointments involved shooting workouts so it wasn’t too bad. The actual problem was that I had seemingly plateaued and I had to make some adjustment. Sometimes we hit a plateau with training, no matter how many times you perform an exercise you just aren’t getting any stronger or any more results.
Don’t panic this is very common. Just by making a few changes to your workout you can burst through plateaus and continue making improvements. Making subtle changes on an ongoing basis will keep your results from plateauing and you can quickly get back to gains-ville.
Increasing the speed of your exercise repetitions will make the workout feel totally different. If you are used to exercising at a steady pace start injecting a little speed so rather than squatting at a pace of 2 seconds down and 2 seconds up, try 1 second down and 1 second up. Be careful though, if you are a beginner speeding up an exercise is a quick way to lose form and build up bad habits.
If you are looking to build muscle or are new to exercise, slowing down your ‘time under tension’ will make all the difference. Most people perform their exercise repetitions far too quickly. Why? Because slower reps are far more challenging. If you are performing a push up with a tempo of 1 second down and 1 second up, try 3 seconds down and 3 seconds up. Although you will struggle to perform the same amount of reps, the rewards will be greater if you are looking to gain muscle.
Sometimes, all you need to spark a fresh change in your body is a switch in the exercise order. As a general rule, the most challenging exercises should always be first on the list. So, a kettlebell snatch would always be before a push up or squat. Also, the most important exercise should always take priority first too. So, if you are weak at Lunging but strong at Push Ups, you should always perform the Lunges first. Take a look at your workout order and see if you can switch things around a bit.
Negatives involve concentrating on the eccentric phase of the exercise. The eccentric phase is when the muscle is lengthening. So, if you think about a Pull Up, the lowering phase is the eccentric part or the negative phase. Sticking with the Pull Up example, to work on the negative phase you would use a chair to help you get into the top position with the bar at chest height and then lower slowly under control for 5 seconds. Be warned, negatives will leave you feeling very sore but they are a great way to increase strength during a certain movement.
Performing just half or a quarter of the exercise can stimulate growth in areas that have not been focused upon before. To perform a partial, simply perform only a part of the complete movement. So, if you think about a squat you may do 1 full Squat followed by 1 half Squat. Another example may be 1 full Chin Up, followed by half a Chin Up, followed by half a lowering Chin Up.
This type of training comes straight from the body building guide book. Drop sets are highly effective but should not be over used because they do cause a lot of muscle tissue damage and so require a lot of recovery. The process is simple: perform say 10 reps with a weight then reduce the weight and perform another 10, then reduce and perform another 10. Continue for 4-8 sets until you cannot take any more and have little weight left to move.
Explosive training like jumping and throwing movements are classed as plyometric. Jumping onto boxes, off boxes, performing jump squats, slamming a medicine ball, clap push ups or jumping lunges are all plyometric exercises. These are definitely not for the beginner and the chance of injury certainly increases with these types of exercises. However, if you have hit a rut, then a few weeks of Plyometric-based exercises with some good recovery in between workouts, can really help.
How 3 dimensional are your workouts? Have you tried side lunges? or Rotational Squats or Push Ups? Most people get stuck in a workout routine that is primarily Sagittal or forwards and backwards. In life, we don’t just move this way. We bend, twist, turn, step, rotate all over the place. If you have hit a plateau, then addressing the direction of your movements can work muscle never trained before. If you usually do forward lunges, try a side lunge instead. Spice up your squats by adding a twist at the top.
What do you do once you have finished your workout? Do you eat a meal high in protein and complex carbs? Do you take a cold shower or ice bath? One great way to increase your recovery time is to take a cold shower after your workout. Turn the shower to cold and dive in. If you have just completed a run then try a cold bath. No need for ice just fill the bath with cold water and sit in there for 5-10 minutes. Changing temperature from cold to warm will help flush toxins from your body and stimulate fresh blood and nutrients.
Change when you exercise
Do you exercise in the evening, afternoon or morning? Hormonally, we are best prepared first thing in the morning. If you are training at night and can manage a morning session then give it a whirl. Conversely if you find that you are tired first thing in the morning then try an evening session. Don’t forget to get to bed on time, 10.30 is best. Rest is vital for recovery from exercise.
Adjust your grip
If you are using dumbbells, barbells, or a pulley machine, changing your grip can make a vast difference to the muscles used for that exercise. For example, have you tried Chin Ups with a parallel grip? Or shoulder presses with a hammer grip? or rows with a reverse grip? Take a look at all your regular exercises and see if you can change grip position for a month and see what difference that makes to your strength gains.
See how these work for you. Overall, I always recommend my clients regularly mix things up so the body doesn’t get too comfortable to repetitive moves. Good luck and let the gains begin.