Do you feel like you haven’t been making progress with your fitness? You’re putting in the work, doing your exercises, and eating healthy foods — but nothing’s happening. You were seeing progress when you first began, but now, nothing. This is called a plateau, and happens when your body gets bored and becomes stuck at its current stage. It’s changed and adapted as much as you’ve pushed it to, so now it feels as if it doesn’t need to change any further. It’s your workouts that need to change! Increasing the difficulty or trying a new training style will snap your body back into the progress phase and out of the plateau.
So how can you make a workout more difficult? There are some obvious ways: increase your weights, lengthen your session. But doing the same thing again and again does get tedious, and many of us don’t have enough time to squeeze in any more exercises. Luckily there are a lot of ways that you can make your workouts more difficult in order to see great results. Below are some examples.
High-intensity interval training
Otherwise known as HIIT, this type of workout increases your heart rate to its maximum. This burst of effort is followed by a rest, then the cycle repeats. A workout like this will get you sweaty and help to burn more calories through the rest of the day. For more details about HIIT, check out this article.
There are various ways you can approach a HIIT workout. A cardio-based session is standard, such as mixing up sprinting and walking. Another great, full-body approach is to utilize weights and different exercises and mix them up with rest times. For example:
-Circuits: Do three large muscle group exercises (legs, back, or chest) as one set with 15 reps per exercise and no rest in between. Then take a one minute rest after you’ve completed the set. Repeat this for 3–4 rounds.
-Sprints and planks: Sprint on the treadmill (or outside!) for one minute, then drop into an elbow plank for another minute. Alternate your minute-long sprints with a straight arm plank, a left side plank, a right side plank, and an elbow plank. Repeat this until you’ve done five minutes of sprints and five minutes of planking. Don’t take breaks in between; the planking is your rest time. If this is too difficult, modify the planks by resting your knees on the ground, or simply follow up your sprints with a rest.
Efficiency is key to intensifying your workouts, the basis of which is form, control, and activation. Most people’s form isn’t great, and activates the wrong muscles. But we can’t help it; sitting at a desk all day is bound to deactivate your glute muscles. It’s also hard to know how to perform an exercise correctly if you haven’t taken the time to research and learn about it.
Most people just watch fitness videos and follow them around, unaware that they have terrible posture and their body isn’t moving correctly. Ask a personal trainer at your gym to show you an exercise — they’re there to help, so trust them! Alternatively, find an educational video online that talks about good form with deadlifts, squats, and planks (such as the Fitness Buddy App).
Don’t go to Instagram for information; you’ll often find models on social media who aren’t clued up on the technical side of fitness.
When it comes to working out, you want to have control with your movements. If you see guys at the gym doing bicep curls and swinging their weights around, don’t learn from them! Look for the person who controls their movement, and observe them. They won’t be swinging the weight, and their breath will be steady. This person is controlling that movement, which means they’re optimizing the correct muscle activation. Move slowly and in a controlled manner. It doesn’t have to take 10 seconds per exercise, but make sure your body is stable other than the movement required. Squeeze your abs to keep you tight and move with confidence.
Control means more activation. Concentrate on your exercises and the muscles you want to use while you perform them. Studies have shown that this will increase the activation of the working muscles, which means your body will use more energy when you workout, thereby burning more calories and helping you break through that plateau.
The term eccentric in this context refers to lengthening the phase of the movement.
When you flex your arm, your bicep is shortened (the concentric phase), but when you release the flex, your bicep lengthens out again (the eccentric phase). When we focus on the eccentric phase in a movement, the muscle performs it with the contraction, but also puts in more work during the lengthening phase.
This puts the muscle under tension for a longer period of time, causing microtears. More tissue is built on top of these microtears, which is how we build muscle. Here’s an example set of exercises that include this method of training:
-Lunges, eccentric squats, leg press
-Pec flys, eccentric push ups, kickbacks
-Bicep curls, eccentric pull ups, reverse flies
Research shows that this type of exercise yields more results than standard lifts or curls. But that doesn’t mean you should only do this type of movement during your workout. Scattering a few of these movements into your program will help you get those gains faster.
Maddy has worked in the health and fitness industry for 5 years. She has a bachelors in Exercise Science and has recently received her Masters in Exercise Physiology. She has worked with a wide demographic of clients as a Personal Trainer and loves helping people reach their goals and continue to grow. She is an outdoor enthusiast and dedicates her workouts to rock climbing, hiking and whatever new experiences may come her way.
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