How to Cycle Your Training Plan to Bust Through Plateaus
By Ana Snyder, M.S., Exercise Physiology; CPT, FNS
A good workout creates some of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced. There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you finally achieve a major goal. Exercise is most enjoyable when you incorporate it into a routine. But if you stick with the same routine for too long, you risk running into an exercise plateau. This is where the work you put out no longer gives you the gains you expect. But if you cycle your training plan, you can overcome performance plateaus and return to healthy and consistent growth. Cycling, in this case, does not refer to bicycling, but to rotating the exercises in your routine to avoid the pitfalls of stagnation.
The Science Behind Exercise Plateaus
Each individual muscle is composed of millions of bundles of muscle fibers. Electromyography (EMG) is a tool scientists have used to peer inside our muscles. They examine the different parts and let us know what is going on during exercise. Most exercises only flex your muscles in one way, targeting the same subset of muscle fibers and neglecting some of the others. When you focus on one exercise without variation, the targeted muscles get a repetitive and limited form of exercise.
At some point, this singular motion is no longer effective at building new muscle, and your gains plateau. The solution is to make sure your workouts are balanced to include different types of motion. The bicep, for instance, can be flexed in many different ways. These depend on the position of other muscle groups like the shoulders. Each exercise works the muscle in subtly different ways. So, if you rotate your exercises, you can have a profound impact on your overall workout experience. The variety of exercises help you achieve balanced results. Furthermore, changing up your routine will help keep you mentally engaged and having fun with your workouts.
Dehydration Effects: Its Impacts on Fitness and Workouts
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Build Muscle to Lose Fat
Everyone knows you can do cardio for fat loss, and cardio is an important part of every exercise program. But did you know that strength training can give a powerful boost to your ability to burn calories, too? Muscle burns a lot of calories, even when you’re resting. So, building muscle is a good goal to have, even if you’re trying to lose weight.
Some people, especially women, are afraid they will bulk up if they build muscle. But consider that a pound of fat takes up four times the space of a pound of muscle. If you add a pound of muscle for every pound of fat you lose, your shape will shrink significantly. Plus, you’ll add tightness and tone. Bulking up is something you have to try very hard to accomplish. It takes a lot of time and serious effort, so rest assured that you can add muscle and make yourself a lot stronger without any risk of getting bulky. Building muscle also improves your mood, so there are many reasons why women should lift weights. And you are sure to achieve your best and most-balanced results if you cycle your weight training plan. It’s simple; work each muscle group in a variety of ways.
Cycle your Training Plan to Build Muscle Fast
Let’s assume that your main focus is cardio training, and you have run into a plateau. Cycling your exercises and introducing a focus on strength training can help. You’ll build up some muscle that will allow you to break through that plateau. A varied routine is the best way to ensure you stay on track and avoid problems.
If you want to build muscle fast, try two days of high-intensity lifting followed by one day of medium intensity lifting. Do this, and you’ll maximize your gains while minimizing your chances of injury. This holds true for both the upper body and the lower body. Keep in mind, it’s best if you complete all three days inside of one week.
Example Plateau-Busting Workout
- Monday: Upper-body (high-intensity)
- Wednesday: Lower-body (high-intensity)
- Friday: Full-body (medium-intensity)
Switching Up Your Workout
So how much should you focus on cardio? And how much should you focus on strength training if your goal is to lose weight?
Cardio training is an important part of every fitness program. How much cardio you should do depends on who you are as a person. This includes your long-term goals, and how fast you can reasonably expect to reach them without risk of injury. Studies have shown that most people can maximize their results with 30 minutes of cardio exercises per day.
In order to avoid plateaus, it’s best for most people to switch up their routine every four to six weeks. If you pay attention to your results, you will be able to fine-tune your cycle until it is perfect for you.
Cycle Your Training Plan Every 4 to 6 Weeks
Cycling your training routines help you avoid fitness plateaus. In addition, it will help ensure no muscle group gets too much attention while others get neglected. How you work each muscle group will impact your training as well. Changing the exercises you use to work each muscle group will help, too. This is because you will maximize the return on your fitness routine. Combined, these strategies can ensure optimal flexibility and muscle growth while minimizing the risk of injury and the chances of hitting a plateau.
Alternating Workouts with Creative Themes
One way to make sure you have a well-rounded and engaging fitness routine is to use simulated sports. A basketball-themed workout can help you improve your skill-set specific to that sport. But even if you don’t play basketball, incorporating basketball-centric activities will allow you to use your muscle groups in different ways. You’ll likely avoid repetitive motion injuries that can come from doing the same set of exercises too often. And including different kinds of workouts into your routine will help things from feeling too stale or repetitive.
Plan to Cycle your Training: Exercise Should Be Fun
The best way to deal with exercise plateaus is to never encounter them. With careful planning and attention to your results, you can develop a healthy routine. And as you cycle you training plan through a series of different workouts, you may find that you never actually hit a plateau — physically or mentally. After all, physical fitness is best attained when it is incorporated as a part of your lifestyle. Making it fun will exercise a part of who you are as opposed to just something you do.
Make change a part of your routine. You will not only avoid plateaus, but you will also avoid repetitive stress injuries and make your workout an interesting part of your life that you look forward to. When you hit the gym today, be sure to pick one new exercise that you excited to add to your workout.
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