Exercise progressions: How to overcome plateaus 

Exercise progressions: How to overcome plateaus 

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Have you found yourself not progressing in your exercise regimen? This can include not being able to increase your weights properly or not hitting a certain running time. Maybe you stopped losing weight and haven’t changed anything about with your regimen. This is what the fitness industry calls a plateau, which is a state of little or no change and is a very common situation for many people. Luckily, it can be fixed with the right strategy.

When starting an exercise routine, it is important to have a plan leading to your main goal to prevent plateauing. This plan includes the progression in volume, or the product of sets and reps, for each exercise. It also depends on your intensity, which is measured by your maximum rep (RM). The concept I am describing is called periodization and is commonly used by athletes. However, studies have shown that periodization training is also effective for non-athletes as it prevents overtraining, injury and plateauing. For example, if you want to lean out by the summertime, your exercise regimen should change at the end of the winter, beginning of spring. This also means you should be realistic in your time frames. 

If you are already plateaued, first take a week off, without splurging, to rest. Then, increase the amount you’re lifting and do less repetitions or lower your weights and do higher repetitions. Taking a week off helps you recover properly. As mentioned above, overtraining is not good for your body in long periods. Rest is really important to make those gains you’ve been training for. When you rest, your muscles begin to rebuild and your joints and connective tissues have time to recuperate from the impact. There is a misconception that rest will make you lose your results. This is false! Even your favorite athletes rest strategically. Keep in mind a rest period doesn’t mean you should slack off. You need to continue your eating regimen and instead of exercising, implement stretching or a different mode of exercise like cardio versus resistance training or vice versa. 

Increasing your weights and doing fewer repetitions will “trick” your muscles. No, your muscles do not think, but when you try to do a set of 10 with the weight you’ve been struggling with, it will be easy. Also, working out in your 80 percent and above RM range will promote hypertrophy. Hypertrophy is when your muscles grow. It is important to “switch it up.” 

Loading your weights may be more appropriate for bulking season or strength-building, when your caloric intake is higher. It all depends on what you’re trying to do. Some people like lifting heavier so that they look pumped up for their evening outing. Considering it is almost the summertime and cutting season for many, lifting in the 10-15-repetition range may be more ideal. Lifting in higher repetitions promotes muscular endurance and muscle strength, allowing you to tone instead of building a certain aesthetic.

Periodization also works for aerobic athletes such as runners and cyclists. If you run or cycle, it is important to plan your training regimen as described above; however, your “RM” is your maximum heart rate (MHR) instead of your maximum repetition. Your weeks should be divided by high-intensity and high-volume days. High-intensity workouts include sprinting, time trials, etc., and should be performed at almost your MHR. High-volume days are days that you perform at a distance. It is also important to include resistance training into your regimen using the high-repetition strategy. 

For maximum results, speak with a fitness professional about developing a periodized program. Make sure they implement appropriate lifting transitions between high repetition and low repetition that are influenced by your maximum repetition, and get appropriate rest time to recover. Whether you lift weights, run or work out at home, you should be making progressions on a month-to-month basis while using a periodized program.

Megan Niño is a kinesiologist and personal trainer who trains out of 12th Street Gym. She is an energetic and positive person, who prides herself on teaching others to find empowerment in their lives through fitness.


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