A solution for the dreaded fitness plateau

Physical exercise

By pH health care professionals

You had the best intentions when you first started working out, but after a while, you find your motivation has been sapped. Not only is it harder to get to the gym or place where you train, but you just aren’t seeing the results, no matter how hard or how often you exercise. You are stuck on a plateau. How frustrating!

What is happening?

On the one hand, we have a positive, sought-after effect; the exercise you have been doing has worked so well that your body has adapted to it. This means you have improved your athletic and physical conditioning compared to when you first started your workout program. On the other hand, the not-so-good effect of this adaptation is that now you are in a rut and the same routine is not yielding results.

How can you jumpstart your routine and get results again?

You can jumpstart your routine by “shocking” (surprising) your body. You need to give your body a new challenge periodically in order to continue making gains. This concept applies to both strength and cardiovascular training, and is key to allow for progression in your training. It involves changes in the variables and in the stimulus of the exercise program. One way to do this? Periodization.

What is periodization?

Periodization can be defined as the systematic planning of athletic or physical training. “Periodizing” your training entails changing your workout program at regular intervals or “periods” to keep your body working harder, while still giving it adequate rest time.

Periodization of training is a research-based approach. A study  from Ball State University involving 34 women showed periodized training yielded greater gains in lean body mass and more substantial decreases in body fat than non-periodized training. In this same study, periodized training was superior for strength gains as well.

Periodization in resistance/strength training

There are many ways to change the training variables and the stimulus placed on the muscles when you train. You can change:

  • Number of repetitions per set, or the number of sets per exercise
  • The amount of resistance (weight) used
  • The rest period between sets, exercises or even training sessions
  • The order of the exercises, or the types of exercises
  • The speed at which each exercise is performed

Periodization in cardiovascular training

A cardiovascular training program should challenge the body while still allowing for adequate recovery time. The variables that can be changed are:

  • Mode
  • Duration
  • Distance
  • Speed
  • Intensity
  • Frequency
  • Progression
  • Rest or recovery phase

The overall goal is to avoid doing the same routine every time.

What are some of the benefits of periodized training?

  • Keep your muscles guessing. Because the stimulus is changed on a regular basis, plateaus are less likely to happen, if the method is applied correctly. This approach keeps the muscles “guessing,” thus applying the principle of muscle confusion, which states that “muscles accommodate to a specific type of stress when the same stress is continually applied to the muscles over time, therefore one must constantly vary exercises, sets, reps and weight to avoid accommodation.” The body will respond by maximizing gains in strength, muscle endurance and lean body mass (body composition).
  • Allow your body to recuperate. Periodization also reduces the risk for overtraining and injury since not every workout is “maxed out,” High-intensity strength training can be periodized to stress the muscles during some cycles and then giving them time to recover while still keeping them active. The same principle can be applied for cardiovascular conditioning using HIIT (high-intensity interval training) where short periods of intense anaerobic exercise are alternated with less intense recovery periods.
  • Stay mentally motivated. A periodized training program is psychologically stimulating. Because the person is not doing the same workout for weeks on end, motivation stays high and the expectation for something new is constant.

To recap, there are many compelling reasons to periodize your training routine: strength gains, muscle gains, cardiovascular conditioning, less boredom, less risk of injury and overtraining, body composition changes and effectiveness in training.

At pH Total Body Fitness, our exercise specialists are experienced and knowledgeable in periodization training, utilizing different training techniques and equipment. Get the most out of every workout by having our fitness specialists walk with you every step of the way in terms of nutrition, physical training and conditioning, and body composition testing, and achieve the results you have been looking for in a fun, dynamic, effective and safe environment.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.