Boyd Jason Waverley
Changing It Up
Avoiding Hitting A Plateau
Featuring SOAK Girl Tara (www.soakworld.com/tara)
No matter how hard you train, no matter how hard you diet, and no matter how strict you are with your cardio, youíll eventually run into what everyone in the gym dreads: a plateau. Another word for it is a sticking point, and regardless of the words you use, it all sucks. Everyoneís had this wonderful experience of making great progress in the gym and then, as if running into a glass ceiling, all forward motion ceases. Many times, itís the plateau that leads to people giving up on the gym.
The reason for this is that most people who start a diet and exercise program make the greatest gains in the first six to eight weeks. If youíve never been serious about working out, your body doesnít have the ability to make quick adjustments to the systemic stress caused by strength and cardio training. But the body will catch up quickly, and thereís a hell of a backlash. The body is the most efficient engine ever built, and will adjust as quickly as possible to minimize its energy output in response to stress. The initial gains people make in the gym isnít the result of new muscle growth, but rather, the body maximizing the output of the existing muscle. Thatís the reason why gains seems so quick in the beginning.
Muscle contraction is a result of the stress placed on it, and involves both the muscle fiber and the nerve ending attached to it. If youíre a couch potato who works a desk job, odds are, the only muscles you work are in your ass when you use them to adjust it in your chair. When you start working out, youíre working muscles you havenít used in quite some time. Hence, youíre simply activating muscle fibers through neurological stimulation. Youíre ďwaking upĒ your body, and it usually only takes about a month to two months to do it. Thatís why the progress is so quick in the beginning. Itís after everything is woken up that the problems begin. And by problems, I mean the stagnation and eventual sticking point. Now that all the muscle fibers and nerve endings are awake, you move into the phase of actually building the muscle.
Some people invest money in personal trainers, some people buy tons of supplements, and some people get caught up in different diet fads. Now some of these things may, in fact, work and are never a bad idea to explore. However, there are simple things you can do during every workout to stave off stagnation and help you through sticking points. Like I wrote before, your body is very efficient at adjusting to stress to minimize energy use, so itís important to always keep it guessing and a little confused. And itís never a bad idea to make slight adjustments each time you work a particular muscle group. Here are some variations on common exercises that will give you some of the subtle variations needed to stress your muscles in different ways.
Military press: A great exercise for the entire shoulder muscle group. Whether you use a barbell or dumbbells, a great variation on either is to do it with a palms up grip. Pretend youíre a waiter holding a tray and simply press the weight. Youíll probably have to lighten the load as the range of motion wonít be directly over your head, but itíll provide great stress on the front delts.
Barbell curls: Probably the best exercise for overall biceps growth. Try it with your hands in close and your elbows held tight against the side of your body. This will increase the amount of stress on the medial head of the biceps, which comprises a larger portion of the biceps. You can also move your hands out wider with your elbows still held against your sides.
Bench press: Everyone loves this for numerical bragging rights, but consider using dumbbells with a neutral (palms facing one another) grip. Itíll require more balance and incorporation of stabilizer muscles, but will blast your pecs from a different angle and hit more of the inner chest.
Bent over rows: Try this one with an underhand grip. Row the barbell to your upper abs, with your elbows flared as wide as you would normally. The underhand grip is going to stress your biceps a little harder as a secondary mover, but should allow you to get a few more reps and stress the lower lats a little harder.
Close grip bench: This is a great overall mass builder for the triceps, but an awesome variation is to do it with a palms up grip. Similar to the palms up grip variation on the military press, youíll probably have to drop weight, but itís a great way to move a bit more stress on the lateral head of the triceps.
Leg extensions: Any good leg workout should always start, or at least include, this exercise. Typically, people do this with toes pointing up to take stress off of the knees. Consider pointing your toes in or out to stress the quads differently. You may also want to consider doing it one leg at a time with this variation, which will allow you to focus more on the contraction of the quads at the top end of the range-of-motion.
Calf raises: Some people will point their heels in or out to stress the calves differently. Instead of actually moving your heels in different position, and risk stress on your knee, simply focus on rolling the weight over either the balls of your feet or the outside of your feet.
Cardio: Contrary to popular belief, you donít necessarily have to do marathon sessions to get the fat loss results you want. Try shorter sessions, alternating between high stress and low stress. An example would be to alternate between thirty seconds of running and a minute of walking on the treadmill, and following that regime for a total of fifteen minutes. Shorter period of time, with a greater amount of calories burned.
These are only a few variations, but key ones in all the muscle groups of the body. As you work more with these slight variations, consider everything about each exercise you do: the grip, the range of motion, the rep scheme, and the speed of the rep. Any area in which you can create variety will help. The point is that you donít have to completely overhaul your entire workout to break through plateaus. Stick with the same exercises if you like, but create change within each exercise.
These variations can be made from workout to workout, but always take care to use weight you can handle. Changing the way you perform an exercise will either employ more or less of the muscle group being worked, and the last thing you want to do is hurt yourself. And above all, regardless of the speed of progress you make, never give up. Quitting only guarantees you stagnation and having to start over from the beginning.
Train hard. Train smart.