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Getting Over That Dreaded Exercise Plateau
August 18, 2011 - Dalia Jakubauskas
Is this you? You’ve been exercising regularly for months and watching you diet with good results. You’ve lost some weight and need to shed just a few more pounds. But, all of a sudden, despite your best efforts and faithfully sticking to the same exercise and diet regimen, not a single extra ounce will come off. What gives? Well, you’ve just become stuck in a place that fitness professionals call “a plateau.” This refers to a time period that can last weeks or even months in an exerciser’s life when he or she is seemingly doing all the right things but is making no further progress. This typically happens because people continue to follow the same exact routine day after day and week after week. Their routines have become so regimented that their bodies have gotten used to the “same-old, same-old.” With no new challenges to master, the body becomes complacent and settles into a plateau stage. Some studies indicated that the human body will fully adapt to a regular exercise routine in about 12 to 16 weeks. In order to keep things fresh and keep make progress, it’s imperative that you throw something new into your routine every few months. Before throwing in the towel and trashing your treadmill, consider taking some simple steps to shake up your exercise routine.
• Increase the intensity of your workout. 1. During aerobic workouts: If you have been doing your cardio at the same pace and intensity week after week, try pumping it up by adding some more time to the session (a few minutes will often do). Or, throw in some speed work at selected intervals. Your heart rate should spike up during these so that you feel almost breathless. Sustain this for a couple of minutes at most, then return to your normal pace. 2. During resistance training: If you have been doing the same weight or repetitions for what feels like forever, shake things up by increasing the weight or repetitions. When lifting weights or doing light resistance training, the weight needs to be challenging enough so that your last few repetitions cause your muscles to burn and the weight becomes a struggle to lift. This is called “working to failure.” You can also achieve this effect by increasing the number of repetitions. However, if you go beyond 20-25 repetitions, you’ll also need to increase the weight. • Throw a new activity into your workout routine. 1. For your cardio workouts: Choose a different cardio activity that challenges you. If, for instance, you’ve been doing the same cardio machines in the gym for months on end, substitute a new one 2 days per week. Or, pick up a new outdoor activity like swimming, water aerobics, stand- up, paddle boarding, biking or jogging. You get the picture. 2. During resistance training: If you have been using the same weight training routine for too long, try and find a different way to work the same muscle groups. For instance, if you’ve been using nothing but machines during your weight training sessions, switch to dumbbells, resistance bands or body weight. Throw in things like freestanding squats and lunges, push-ups, pull-ups, crunches and shoulder exercises using resistance bands. Or, try a class like yoga or Pilates, which provides resistance training using just body weight. • Other simple solutions include: 1. Reorder your routine. Switch days that you do your cardio and weight training. Or, switch up the order of your exercises. For example, if you always start with shoulders, bicep and triceps on days that you concentrate on arms, try it the other way around. 2. Throw in a little cardio at the end of your resistance training sessions. Your metabolism gets revved up during weight training and you can keep the effect going by adding 15 -20 minutes of cardio at the end of your session. 3. Replicate an indoor, aerobic activity outdoors. For example, if you are used to running on a treadmill, running outdoors will challenge a whole other set of muscles that a machine does not. Hamstrings and glutes are engaged much more intensely running for real as opposed to running on a treadmill. Or, bike outdoors instead of using a stationary bike. It’s much tougher to cheat on a real hill than one you can de-program on an indoor bike. 4. Rest! Sometimes taking you foot off the gas can be just as important as increasing the intensity of your workouts. If during all of your workouts you are pushing yourself to near exhaustion, you are not allowing you body to heal. It needs to heal in order to build endurance and lean muscle mass. Make sure to include lighter workouts into your schedule. Set aside a day or two where you do nothing or engage in active recovery. Things like, light walks or gentle stretching will suffice.
Getting over your exercise plateau and losing those stubborn, last few pounds may not be easy. But, shaking up your routine every few months using a little creative thinking should provide your body with the challenges it needs to reach your goals.
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