Have you been slogging it out in the gym with little or no results? We are often led to believe that the amount of work and sweat we put in equates to the results we achieve. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case. Maximum effort alone with little or no variety in our workout routines can still lead to frustrating training plateaus that can be hard to break out of. Here are six tips that can get you out of that rut and achieving your goals more quickly:
1. PERIODISE YOUR TRAINING
The word ‘Period-ise’ simply means to group your training into distinct periods or phases. Each new phase can be dedicated to a particular training goal such as strength, hypertrophy (muscle-building) or fat-loss.
Generally speaking, it is best to change your training goals often, as that not only adds variety to your training but also encourages the recruitment of different types of muscle fibers. Research has shown that 70% of the population will adapt to a given training program with about six to eight repetitions of the same program. This usually equates to keeping your program for a maximum of 3 to 5 week periods before changing it up.
2. CHANGE THE EQUIPMENT USED
Varying the types of equipment used within training is important for both neuromuscular (the coordination between the brain and muscle) and muscular development. When we use the same type of grip, handle, bench angle or equipment over and over again, we are restricting our muscles to the same stimuli. While this leads to training plateaus and boredom, it is also a common cause of overuse injury, where the joint is strained through an overly repeated motion. By exposing our muscles to different types of equipment, we encourage the recruitment of a different proportion of fibers, as well as the creation of new patterns for movement and stability.
3. VARY YOUR TEMPO
Tempo refers to the speed of the movement when performing a repetition. This is not a new concept and may be familiar those who already make an effort to perform their exercises at a well-controlled pace.
When executing a given exercise, we are putting load on the muscles involved until we finish the set. The tension created on those muscles is known
as ‘Time under Tension’ or T.U.T for short. By varying the T.U.T, we are able to produce a specific desired training effect such as muscular endurance, hypertrophy or power.
Compare a person who completes 10 bicep curls within 30 seconds and another who completes the same in 60 seconds. Where all other factors are constant, the length of time the bicep muscles is under tension is effectively doubled in the latter example.
With an increased T.U.T, the body is able to recruit more muscle fibers and cause more micro damage within the muscle, hence giving the body more opportunity for growth and recovery. What this means is, if you are not already monitoring the timing of your reps and sets, this could be an effective strategy for you to gain better results almost instantly.
4. PRACTICE A FULL RANGE OF MOTION
These days, many people place more importance on the weight lifted or the number of repetitions performed than on actually performing a full range of motion with correct technique.
Moving through a full range of motion with each repetition ensures that a large proportion of muscular fibers are being utilised, contributing to better development of overall strength and muscular development of that muscle.
By performing an exercise over a limited range, the muscles targeted are only effective within that given range. Short ranges of motion contribute to an imbalance within the muscle, but also between the joint and the muscle itself, often leading to nerve impingements, muscular tightness and overuse injury. While there are specific types of training that encourage shorter ranges of motion, they are used for rehabilitation purposes or for specific periods of time.
This is such an important concept that is taken too lightly by so many. How many individuals do you know who are impacted by work stress and/or family stressors and yet still opt to channel what little energy they have left into long bouts of vigorous training?
While the gym can sometimes be used quite effectively as a source of stress relief, overtraining is in itself a major physical stress on the body. Overtrained individuals often find themselves getting weaker, losing weight, sustaining more injuries and experiencing fluctuations in appetite. Unfortunately when it comes to stress, the body’s response is simply to increase its release of cortisol (the stress hormone). On an ongoing basis (i.e, where the stressors are continuous) this especially leave. This leads to the breakdown of muscle and encourages fat storage around the front of the belly .
The key here is to train smart, keeping training times to no longer than 45 minutes after warm-up, and taking at least a week off after 12 weeks of consistent training.
Resting can sometimes mean staying away from a particular exercise, especially if you have been excessively using it. Renowned Strength Coach and regular visitor to us in Melbourne, Charles Poliquin, suggests a ‘Jachère’ style of training can be crucial for growth.
For example, if you have been continuously performing bench presses for the last 6 months in every chest workout, try staying off the bench for up to 12 weeks. This does not mean staying off chest workouts, but substituting your bench presses for a dumbbell chest workout. When you return to the bench 3 months later, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with your increase in strength.
6. CONSIDER TRAINING TWICE A DAY
For the individual that has a little more time on their hands, sometimes training twice a day can really help boost results. For example, performing a more demanding strength training at the start of the day and a lighter circuit session in the evening. While such a training regime is a great plateau buster, it must be monitored carefully to prevent overtraining and fatigue, as that can be counterproductive to your gains. The main considerations when training twice a day are optimal nutrition and sufficient recovery, ensuring a minimum of 6 hours of rest between workouts.
Remember – Training hard is good, but training smart is better! Enjoy!