When it comes to working out, many of us are creatures
of habit. We do what we know. We stick with whats familiar and comfortable. The
catch is that if you always do the same thing the same way, your body will adapt and your
results will grind to a halt. This is especially true of strength training, where you need
to keep your body guessing if you want to keep seeing results. Here are some techniques
for breaking through strength training plateaus and keeping the results coming:
Variety Its important to regularly vary the exercises you do and the
order in which you do them. Different moves recruit muscle fibers in different ways. By
varying your routine, you keep your muscles changing and adapting and therefore you keep
seeing results. Keep in mind that machine exercises tend to isolate the working muscle,
while free weight exercises incorporate additional muscle groups for balance and
stability. They both have advantages. Try to find several good exercises for each body
part and alternate them regularly.
Pre-Exhaust In addition to trying new exercises, experiment
with their order. If youve always worked large muscle groups and compound movements
first, experiment with pre-exhaust by doing isolation movements first. For example, by
first working (pre-exhausting) your quadriceps on a leg extension machine, you can force
your hamstrings and glutes to do more of the work on squats or leg presses. Be sure to
proceed cautiously and always use a spotter for heavy or difficult movements.
Slow lifting Step into any weight room, and youre almost
guaranteed to see someone struggling with way too much weight, jerky movements and very
poor form. Quite a few people are guilty of compromising good form in an attempt to lift
heavier. If youve reached what seems like the upper limit of your capabilities, try
taking a few plates off of your weight load and performing the same movement very, very
slowly - try ten counts on the lifting movement and 4 counts on the lowering movement. By
moving slowly and precisely through the full range of motion, you totally eliminate
momentum, increase tension on the working muscle, and recruit all kinds of additional
muscle fibers. Youll feel it! Be sure to cut back on the number of repetitions when
training this way. Your muscle is going to fatigue much more quickly.
Breakdown Training In a nutshell, this means that once
youve worked a muscle to failure, you reduce the load and crank out a few more
repetitions with a lighter weight. Suppose that you normally do leg curls with 70 pounds
of resistance, and that you reach muscle failure after 10 repetitions. Rather than
stopping at the end of the set, you would reduce the weight to 60 pounds and immediately
perform 2 or 3 additional reps. This is another excellent way to up the intensity of the
exercise and recruit additional muscle fibers.
Assisted Training This concept is very similar to breakdown
training, but it requires the help of a partner. Once you reach the point of failure on a
particular exercise, your partner steps in and assists you with the movement. So, if after
10 barbell biceps curls, you cant complete another repetition with good form, your
partner would step in and help you lift the bar to the top of the movement. This allows
you to perform 2 or 3 post-fatigue repetitions, again upping the intensity and promoting
further strength gains.
Negative Training This can be approached from two slightly
different angles, both of which emphasize the eccentric or lowering phase of the exercise.
One option is to carefully lower more weight than you can lift (with the assistance of a
qualified trainer or spotter). For example, if youre not strong enough to do
chin-ups, you can have a trainer assist you to the top of the movement and then you slowly
lower your own body weight. The other option is to simply emphasize the lowering portion
of the exercise by slowing it down several counts. Either way, your working the muscle in
a different way, incorporating additional muscle fibers and promoting strength gains.
Periodization The idea here is to avoid always using the same
workload. One way to accomplish this is to set up a program of planned periodization. For
example, you might do three weeks of multiple set, high repetition endurance training,
followed by three weeks of increased weight and fewer repetitions, followed by three weeks
of very heavy single set exercises, followed by a week off. Then you would repeat the
pattern. There are numerous ways to approach periodization, but the basic idea is to keep
changing the intensity at regular intervals so that your workouts dont stagnate.
Rest A final reminder here. Many of these techniques can
greatly increase the intensity of your workouts. As the intensity increases, so does your
need for rest and recovery time. Remember that your muscles dont actually grow while
youre training. They grow during the rest period between workouts. If you dont
allow enough recovery time between workouts, your size and strength gains will be greatly
diminished. Be sure to adjust your training schedule accordingly.
Getting and Staying Active