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How to Overcome the Exercise Plateau
Posted by John Doty on Sep 1, 2003 - 3:56:00 PM

Photo by Brittany Crouse

It's the "dog days of summer." August is upon us. Triple digit temperatures seem to make our bodies move slower. Is it the heat, or are you just experiencing an exercise plateau? Think about it. Are you stuck in a workout rut? Bored with your training regimen, you may become less than enthusiastic in terms of training. Don't be discouraged. Although it may feel you are on the downside of your love affair with training, there are ways to vary exercises you are doing making them more interesting and challenging.

An important aspect of varying your exercise routine is to take the exercises currently utilized and change them in some manner every 4 to 6 weeks. Some simple and subtle changes include:

  • Varying the type of weight resistance. Use dumbbells or barbells instead of machines. Switch to tubing or just use good old-fashioned body weight. For example, instead of doing a bench press, switch to pushups.
  • Change the movement of the exercise. Alternate the use of arms or legs. For example, instead of doing a bicep curl with a barbell or curling bar, use dumbbells and alternate the arm movement. Or, do one-legged squats, instead of both legs.
  • Intersperse plyometric exercise (sudden explosive movement, such as a jump). Jumping jacks or a jump rope between weight sets, gets the heart rate up. This has been proven to hasten weight loss and increase lean muscle development.
  • Perform balance training. For example, perform bicep curls with a dumbbell or barbell while standing on one leg, a Bosu ball or similar unbalanced environment. Balance training has been shown to increase proprioceptiveness (agility in an unstable environment) as well as the toning of the small muscles which support your body while in the unbalanced position.
  • Change the weight or reps performed. When adding weight, reduce the number of repetitions. Conversely, when reducing the weight, increase the repetitions.
  • Vary the sequence of the exercises performed. Remember, constant repetition of the same exercise in the same order tends to make the muscles unresponsive. For example, if you only take spinning classes or stick to a certain weight routine, your muscles will stop responding. Any weight loss you experienced in the beginning of this regimen will, in a sense, hit a wall. You will, in turn, become discouraged and less likely to continue with a workout routine.

Photo by Brittany Crouse
You may be burned out in your workout environment. Always at the gym? Hit the beach for an invigorating run. Run a quarter mile, stop and do 20 push-ups, then lunge for 20 reps on each leg and run backwards for another quarter mile. The variety is limited only by your imagination. The point is to shock your body. Wake up the muscles, get the endorphins coursing through your body. The variation of exercise will work the muscles in a new way and develop new skills. Change of training environment forces the use of new muscles and allows overworked muscles a chance to recover. You won't "hit a wall," and will continue to get results.

If you train too hard and too long, hitting a plateau is inevitable. The chance for injury is increased as well. Remember good and adequate rest and recovery are essential for continued progress in your workout. As important, good nutrition will allow your muscles to rebuild and fuel your workout.

Plateaus happen. The heat of the summer may just underscore the onset of a plateau. Do not be discouraged. Follow the above guidelines, and you will find it easy to overcome the plateau. 


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