If you’re relatively new to strength training, you’ve probably seen some great results over the first few months of your program. But, if you’ve been at it for six months or so and have not made any updates to your program, you might notice that you’re not making the progress that you’d want to.
The reason for this is that people enter what we call a ‘plateau’ stage. But there are ways that you can move past that and progress to reach your fitness goals. Ask yourself these three questions and follow some simple tips to raise the bar.
Are you performing the same number of repetitions with the same amount of weight?
In order to progress and to continue to see the results that you want, begin
by increasing the number of repetitions that you’re completing. For example, if your goal is general muscle fitness and you’re currently completing eight repetitions of each exercise, then try to complete 10 repetitions, and then 12, 15 and so on.
Once you can complete 15 repetitions with ease and proper form, increase the resistance by 5 percent and repeat. This double-progressive training protocol is effective for strength development and also helps to reduce the risk of doing too much too soon. It is especially important for those who are new to resistance training.
Are you doing the same exercises in the same order from one workout to the next?
Making even small changes to your resistance training program can help in a big way. To keep your muscles challenged, try changing the order in which you perform exercises or consider incorporating new pieces of equipment for the exercises you are already doing, such as using free weights instead of a machine.
Once you are able to perform exercises with proper form you can progress to the next level by changing some of the variables such as directional changes to the lunge or consider replacing some or all of the exercises you’re currently doing with newer exercises that work the same muscle groups. For example, instead of the chest press on a machine, try push-ups instead.
Do you focus solely on your workouts?
While what you do inside the gym is crucial to maximize the impact of your training, it’s important to also consider what you do before and after your workout.
For optimal muscle growth, allow for a minimum of 48 hours of rest between training sessions for the same body parts or same movements, as muscles grow during the recovery phase.
Sleep is another important factor to consider as hormones that are produced during sleep help to promote muscle growth. So aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
Proper fueling also plays a critical role in the development of lean muscle. Research has shown that a combined intake of carbohydrates and proteins pre-exercise in approximately a 4:1 ratio aids in the rate of muscle recovery post-exercise. Examples of pre-workout snacks can include low-fat yogurt and a banana or low-fat string cheese and a serving of whole grain crackers.
Post the workout, research has suggested that an approximate of 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio be consumed within 45 minutes in order to maximize gains in both muscle strength and endurance. Examples of post-workout meals include one or two poached eggs on whole wheat toast or stir-fried chicken and vegetables over brown rice.
Keep in mind that these are just some general tips to help you get over the strength training plateau phenomenon. Your exact approach will vary depending on your unique fitness goals, so you may want to consider the services of a personal trainer which you can find at your nearest gym or fitness center.