Plateaus are often part of the process when it comes to a fitness training routine. Sometimes it’s the body hitting a strength plateau, getting stuck in the middle of a weight loss goal, or not being able to break through a distance or time barrier on a run.
The human body has an amazing way of adapting to stress (in this case, exercise) quite fast. And once you adapt, the progress suddenly stops.
If you’ve hit a plateau in your training program, look at the bright side. . . it means you’ve been working consistently enough that your body is stronger and able to handle the workouts that you’re throwing at it. Congratulations!
On the other hand, it also means it’s time to take a look at what you’re doing and make some adjustments to get yourself back on track.
While there are many variables to consider when it comes to tweaking-up and adjusting a fitness program, today I’m going to focus on mixing up your weights and reps to help kick-start some strength and muscle building gains.
Why Do We Need Variety?
When you lift weights or perform other types of resistance training, you’re teaching your muscles how to become stronger. For muscles to grow, however, we need to continually challenge them with a bit more than they can typically handle. This is most commonly referred to as muscle-overload and is one of the more important principles of resistance training and the backbone of any good strength routine.
When someone initially starts a resistance training program, nearly everything they do is new and a challenge to the body. So it’s pretty easy to see that it doesn’t take much to create the necessary overload to see some results.
Once the body starts to figure out what’s going on, however, that’s where it will start to adapt to the training program and results can come to a quick halt.
Change Your Weights and Reps
If you’ve ever looked over a basic strength program, many will have a simple pattern of 3 sets of 10 reps for a given number of exercises.
While that’s a pretty decent baseline, doing that time and time again will greatly limit what your body can accomplish from a strength and muscle building standpoint.
For instance, if you’ve been doing 3 sets of 10 at 35 pounds on the dumbbell bench press, you can easily see how your body will quickly adapt to that same weight at the same rep & set range.
It’s time to change up your rep range a bit while also adding a bit more weight to your exercises to try and “confuse” your muscles and initiate some new growth.
6 Week Plan
Here’s a simple 6 week plan that will help you bust through a plateau and hopefully kick-start some strength and muscle growth.
- Weeks 1 & 2: Focus on a total body strength program doing each exercise for 10 reps with a moderate weight that will be a little bit of a challenge by the 8th-10th
- Week 3: Increase your weights by 5-12% and reduce your reps to 8.
- Week 4: Keep the same weights as week 3, but now jump back up to 10 reps.
- Week 5: Keep the same weight as weeks 3 & 4, but now increase the reps to 12
- Week 6: Increase the weight another 5-12% and drop back down to 8 reps.
The above is just a basic example of how you can easily tweak your reps and weights, but be sure to base your changes on your own program and what makes the most sense for you and your goals. Any change, no matter how small, can make a positive difference.
Another example would be to progressively add weight to certain exercises while dropping your reps. A 4 week cycle might look something like this:
- Week 1: 10-12 reps for each exercise
- Week 2: 8-10 reps for each exercise with a bump in weight
- Week 3: 6-8 reps for each exercise with a bump in weight
- Week 4: 4-6 reps for each exercise with a bump in weight
It all comes down to your goals and what you want to accomplish. If you want to add strength and increase the size of your muscles, you MUST mix things up with your reps and weights.
Use a daily workout journal to track your workouts and be sure to add notes on how each lift felt. Once you see a pattern develop you’ll become an expert at knowing when to change up your routine and get yourself on a path to better results.
About the writer: Ken Grall is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and owns and operates an Edge Fitness in Madison, Wisconsin.
Learn more about Ken.