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Breaking Plateaus (In your Lifting)

July 31, 2015

We’ve all been there; started off with a great new program and feeling all of these positive changes in our bodies.  Fast forward several months later.  We find ourselves stuck in the same routine in the gym no longer noticing changes.  This isn’t an inherently bad thing; it just means that we are no longer providing a sufficient stimulus to cause our body to keep adapting.  When we talk about a stimulus in exercise, there are a lot of variables that can be changed to affect it.  We can alter the intensity (the amount of work or effort required to complete and exercise), we can alter the volume (the amount of time or number of repetitions required to complete exercise), and we can also alter the load (amount of weight being moved through the exercise).  When a program is designed, all of these factors are taken into account and adjusted accordingly to where your fitness level is at that time.

This is why a program will start out by making great changes in your body and eventually taper off.  Our bodies adapt only as much as needed to perform the necessary demand (i.e. they only adapt enough to perform our set program).  This is when a change in stimulus becomes necessary, and there are many ways to accomplish this.  One thing we can do is increase the amount of weight being moved during each exercise (this falls under load).  Another change we can make is by altering the number of sets and repetitions that we do (this falls under volume).  Changing our rest period (this falls under intensity) by shortening or lengthening it can also influence the impact of the stimulus.

Let’s go over an example of a single day of exercise and how we might change it to break out of this plateau.

Original Program
Exercise Sets X Reps Weight (lbs) Rest Period in Between Sets
Flat Bench 3×10 135 1 min
Incline DB Press 3×10 55’s 1 min
Pec Fly 3×10 125 1 min
Tricep Extension with Rope 3×10 35 1 min
Dips 3×10 Body weight 1 min
New Program
Exercise Sets X Reps Weight (lbs) Rest Period in Between Sets
Flat Bench 3×15 115 20-30 seconds
Incline DB Press 3×15 40’s 20-30 seconds
Pec Fly 3×18 105 20-30 seconds
Tricep Extension with Rope 3×18 25 20-30 seconds
Dips 3×12 Body Weight 20-30 seconds

With the changes addressed above, we lightened the weight (load) on the exercises, increased the reps (volume), and shortened the rest period (intensity).  The new program has moved away from a strength/body building hybrid into a more endurance based workout.  We have successfully altered the stimulus and will now allow an opportunity for our body to change.

When looking at this sample program, remember that changing to a more muscular endurance style of lifting may not be applicable for you.  The take home from all of this is that it is very easy to break out of a plateau, but it must be done safely.  Enjoy breaking out of that plateau, and always consult a fitness professional to make sure you are doing so in a safe and effective manner.


20150402_jay_0014About the Author Jay Corti is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer at the Ridge Athletic Clubs.

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