Everyone wants to build lean muscle, burn fat and improve their fitness, but now and then despite all efforts, you find yourself struggling to make improvements in the gym. Your progress is flat, you’re not lifting more and your workouts seem to feel harder.
These are called “plateaus”, and while they can happen, they don’t have to. In fact, if you structure your fitness regime correctly, you can make consistent progress from your hard work.
The first thing you need to understand is your body is designed to adapt to an incredible amount of various physical demands, but you have to train it correctly.
Instead, focus on one area (or two, at the very most) and dedicate most of your training to improve it. For example, if you want to boost your strength, you can follow a powerlifting program and spend a little time each week to maintain your conditioning and endurance.
1. Don’t try to improve everything at the same time
With fitness, the main area’s performance most people want to improve are: speed, strength, power, aerobic and anaerobic endurance, muscle mass, etc. It’s nearly impossible to improve all of these areas at once because increasing and focusing on any one of these things come at the expense of something else. So if you try to improve everything, you’ll ultimately improve nothing and move sideways in your training.
2. Organize your training into parts
Start by dividing your training into “blocks,” with each block lasting about 4 –6 weeks. The first block can target conditioning, the next block can target strength and the last block can target power.
Once you decide what area your main focus is on, you have to figure how to structure your workouts and for how long. Blocking out your training for different parts is good because if you want to improve one area of your fitness (eg. Losing fat), it takes several weeks for your body to adapt and improve. So by dedicating an adequate amount of time in the first few weeks to body conditioning – instead of trying a different type of workout each week, you’ll find you would have built a platform before getting better and better.
3. Focus on progressive overload
After organizing your training into blocks, it’s important to squeeze the most potential out of your block. Gradually make your training more challenging and intense. This could mean using more weight, adding a couple more reps, longer of shorter rest intervals between exercises. These can all be ways to add “progressive overload” to your exercise plan. By giving your body more and more challenging workouts, you’ll develop and enjoy more results.
4. Get more rest
If you train too hard for too long, you will undoubtedly hit a plateau. It is also likely that you will develop some muscle fatigue or injury. Adequate rest and recovery is an essential element in continuing to make progress in your training program. Most world class athletes train in a ‘rest – recover’ fashion. There may even be times during the year that you should reduce your strength training altogether.
5. Focus on small, steady increases
Aim to increase your training by the smallest amount that gives you improvements. As a guide, you should only increase your training by about 10% per week. Otherwise, if you increase your training too must, too fast, you’ll be vulnerable to plateaus and burnout, or even injuries.
6. Take “Deload” weeks
Despite your best efforts to rest and add in muscle recovery time, by the end of a block, you will get more fatigued depending on how much you’ve increased your training load, nutrition and your initial level of fitness.
That’s why, before you jump into a different block with a different focus, take a week to go easier on your body by only working to around 70 per cent of your maximum so it can repair itself, grow and lock in those gains.
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