How often should you change your workout?

Is that treadmill plan not delivering results? Are you consistently weight training but seeing no new muscle gains? We have all heard and maybe experienced hitting a plateau in our fitness plan. Plateaus are very frustrating since we are still working  just as hard as before but with fewer or no results. Unfortunately, this is often the time a relatively new exerciser will quit exercising. So why do we hit a plateau?

When our bodies are faced with new stress they change. After the same stress is placed on the body it adapts and the changes lessens or stops altogether. The General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) introduced by Canadian endocrinologist Hans Selye, explains the ways our bodies reach this plateau. There are three phases:

Phase 1.  Alarm reaction : This is when we put brand new stresses on the body that it has never experienced before. Significant change and weight loss can occur during this “beginner” phase. Depending on the person, this phase can last a few months and up to a year.

Phase 2.  Stage of Resistance : In this phase your body starts adapting and some tweaks in your plan such as adding weights or heavier weights may be necessary as well as perhaps more calorie restrictions to continue weight loss.  The adaptation is gradual and may take several months before you see no results at all from your workout. If you don’t stress your body in different ways a plateau will be right around the corner.

Phase 3. Stage of Exhaustion : No I am not talking about how you feel after your workout :). This is when overtraining can occur. Never letting oyur body rest can do more harm than good. Your body needs to recover and when you don’t let it, injuries, sickness, disruptive sleep, change in appetite and lack of results are all possibilities. If you feel you are experiencing overtraining, give your body a rest week. This  means lighter workouts and lighter weights. You don’t have to take a week completely off from exercise, but lessen the intensity for the WHOLE week.

There a different schools of thought on ways to bust through a plateau, and some of them depend on what kind of results you are looking for. First let’s look at weight loss. Let’s say someone begins a running program (say 2 miles/day) and starts to shed the pounds. If they stay with this routine for more than 6-8 weeks, their weight loss will probably slow down or even stop. The body is the great adjuster, and it adapts to the challenges we give it. This runner can do several things to shake up their workout such as increasing their miles/day and adding intervals in their runs. Alternating running with different cardio routines such as cycling, elliptical, and stairclimbing are great options. Adding a weight program is another great challenge as well.

If you are already weight training and have hit this plateau, again you have to keep your muscles guessing. If you are doing the same number of reps with the same amount of weight during each workout, your body knows exactly what’s coming and goes through the motions and not delivering you results. A few ways to change this is to lift heavier weights with fewer reps or sticking with the same weight and increasing reps. You don’t necessarily need to completely change every exercise you are doing – just the stress you are putting on your muscles.

Obviously another way to do this is to change your workout completely, which is a good idea for more seasoned exercisers whose bodies adapt to change quicker than beginners. Taking a new class, changing up the weight routine with different exercises to recruit different muscles, adding balance exercises, and doing  upper and lower body movements together are great ways to see change again.

I think change in our routines is good for the body and the brain. Not only can we get bored with the same routine, but pretty soon we are just going through the motions and maybe not giving it all the effort we have. That’s when you need to stop and reevaluate your plan.

There are a few other factors that may affect a plateau as well such as dehydration, insufficient nutrients in your diet, overtraining and a diet too low  or too high in calories. Restricting calories too low can put your body into a fat saving mode, so make sure to eat enough healthy foods.

Try some of these methods if you have hit your plateau. Don’t give up! Your body will keep changing if you give it the challenge!

To learn more about GAS visit this site:  http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/wotw44.htm

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