You can avoid hitting an exercise plateau by learning to listen to your body and increasing physical challenges.
Your exercise routine should be progressive in nature. As your body adapts to the increased demands that you place on it, you should respond by slowly increasing the workout intensity. Training in this way will help you to continually build on your results over time.
Athletes train in cycles that involve increasing their intensity, duration and load. This method has proven to be a very successful way to keep your body improving. In fact, everyone can benefit from training in cycles and adapting their exercise routine every few months. Each workout cycle should be based on your response to an exercise program.
Our bodies all respond to a new exercise routine differently. In general, you may start to notice some changes after following a plan consistently for 6-8 weeks. When you first start to exercise, the physical changes that you go through and indicators that you’re physically improving tend to be quite pronounced. As you become more fit, knowing when it’s time to switch up the challenge becomes a little harder to notice.
Sometimes, a routine that used to be challenging no longer is. If you find yourself able to simply go through the motions without too much effort, it’s time to increase the difficulty level.
Tip: If you’re only a few weeks into a new routine, increase the difficulty level by adding a balance challenge. This will provide you with an opportunity to work the small, stabilizing muscle groups in your body. Try using an upside down 1/2 ball for your squats. It will keep you focused throughout your routine.
If your time on the treadmill or cardio equipment used to get your heart rate up and feeling out of breath—but in recent days you seem to have a stable heart rate and can easily talk through your workout—it’s an indication that your cardiovascular fitness has improved. In order to push yourself and burn additional calories, you need to increase the challenge.
Tips: Increase the duration of your cardio workout to work on your endurance level. Increase your speed or incline to improve your strength and maximize your calorie burn.
Safety tip: Monitor your heart rate and be sure to keep it within the safe guidelines for your age and current fitness level. Your overall aim should be to push yourself to improve, but not too hard too soon. Most cardio equipment has a chart that will help you to understand the correct heart rate range for your age and your goals.
If you’re lifting weights as part of your workout and they feel too light, you may need to increase the weight you’re using. Lifting light weights for a high number of reps doesn’t provide your body with an effective challenge.
Tip: Select a weight that you can use to perform 10-12 reps while maintaining good form. The last 3-4 reps should feel like a challenge. I like to follow a simple rule: no more than 10% weight increase every 3-4 weeks. Repetition is essential for mastery and muscular change, so carefully select the right weight when you first start out. Then you can work on increasing intensity as needed.
If your workout has you feeling bored, then it’s definitely time to change it. It’s hard enough to stay motivated and stick with a plan in the first place. If you’re dreading your workout or can’t wait for it to be over, you risk falling off the fitness train altogether.
Tip: Try a new fitness class to get some new ideas. Choose exercises that challenge your mind and keep you mentally engaged. Exercises that work two or more muscle groups at once, or require you to put together complex movement patterns, will help to strike down boredom.
In general, a fitness plan will only fail if you quit. Make an effort to keep your results evolving by listening to your body and knowing when it’s time to change things up.
Samantha Clayton is responsible for all activities relating to exercise and fitness education for Independent Herbalife Members and employees. Through in-person training sessions, educational tools and materials, and her blog (www.discovergoodfitness.com), she ensures that the important role of exercise as part of a healthy, active life is understood by all. She also helps create, organize and promote employee fitness programs and activities as an integral part of the company’s corporate wellness program.
A native of Liverpool, England, Samantha initially worked as a consultant for Herbalife for two years and led the Herbalife24-Fit program, the company’s first comprehensive fitness training program and DVD series.
Before joining the corporate ranks, Samantha was a professional athlete. She represented Great Britain in the 2000 Sydney Olympics in both the 200m and the 4x100m relay events. Prior to the Olympics, she won two medals in the Olympic AAA trials – a silver medal for the 200m and a bronze for the 100m – as well as a silver medal in the 4x100m relay during the European Junior Championships in 1997. Her personal records include 11.40 seconds in the 100m and 23.02 seconds in the 200m.
Samantha is a personal trainer and group exercise coach through the American Fitness and Aerobics Association (AFAA) and International Sport Science Association (ISSA).