Muscle Adaptation and Plateaus: Why Changing Your Workout is Important

overcoming weight lifting strength building plateaus strategiesIf you find yourself stuck in the same routine, losing interest in exercise, and experiencing mediocre training outcomes, consider changing your workout program. Perhaps you religiously perform the same exercise for the same number of sets on the same day, week in and week out.  Maybe you want to increase your muscle endurance, and so you limit yourself to repetitions above twelve. As a creature of habit, you may be enslaved to the sameness, and believe that even minor changes in your regimen will hinder your progress. Whatever the case, it is crucial to understand that more of the same is not always better, and monotony can keep you from making any progress at all. 

The Body’s Response to Exercise

Exercise induces changes in the human body. When you perform resistance exercise, body systems compensate accordingly by changing structurally and functionally.  For example, if you perform incline bench at 135 pounds for 3 sets and 10 repetitions, your pectoral muscles adapt by creating muscle fibers in your upper chest and repairing those already existing.  

New exercises place very specific demands on muscles, forcing them to adapt and compensate.  Changes accelerate when new movements are performed but slow down as muscles adjust. For instance, a routine of three sets of incline bench every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday may bring impressive changes at first, but months without variation will stunt muscle development and growth. Periodic modifications are necessary for muscles to be exposed to new challenges.

Prolonged periods of sameness in one’s exercise program can lead to overtraining, disinterest, and fatigue. As your body changes to adapt to your workout, modify your workout to keep your body challenged.

Ideas for Varying Your Workout

Change should be a constant in your exercise program. Basic movements such as the bench press and squat should always be pillars of your routine, but your body responds most when it is challenged. Here are some ideas for switching things up:

  • Incorporate new exercises into your routine. Keep the basic movements, such as bench press, squats, and pull-ups, as staples. But if you are limiting yourself to one exercise per muscle group, try adding another exercise to your routine. If you exclusively do barbell flat bench for your chest muscle group, try incline bench, decline bench, flat flys, incline flys, or cable crossovers. If you enjoy working your core with set after set of orthodox sit-ups, consider adding planks, crunches, or twists to your regimen. For legs, incorporate back and front squats, leg extensions, forward lunges, and leg curls. Keep the fundamentals, but add one or two other exercises.
  • Add weight to challenge your muscles. This is typically called the principle of overload.* Increasing the weight you lift augments the intensity of your workout, amplifying the stress placed on the muscle. If you have been doing 3 sets of 8 on the flat bench with 135 pounds, try doing the same number of sets and repetitions with 145 pounds.
  • Try supersets. Alternate sets from two exercises from differing muscle groups, and eliminate the rest period between sets. An example would be to do a set of pushups, immediately followed by pull-ups, followed by pushups, and so on.

*Earle, Roger and Baechle, Thomas. NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training. 2004.

Originally posted 2013-08-06 16:47:48.

One Reply to “Muscle Adaptation and Plateaus: Why Changing Your Workout is Important”

Leave a Reply