After a period of weeks or months of dedicated grinding in the gym you find all of a sudden that the law of diminishing returns has taken a stranglehold of your progress and you have all but completely plateaued. You press and press but each week the number of reps and the amount of weight on the bars doesn’t really improve. If anything, your motivation suffers after a period of fervent commitment yielding no results. It’s time to mix things up because your body has adapted and begun to cope with the challenges with which it has been presented.
In order to avoid plateauing, modify your routines over certain periods to present fresh challenges to your body and keep it adapting. This is called periodization training. There are numerous ways to adjust your workout, you don’t have to completely abandon your routine. The key is just every couple of weeks or months switch to a new style and maintain for a period.
You can adjust the number of sets you do, the number of reps you perform in each set, the speed of your reps, rest period between sets, the application of negatives in certain sets or on certain days, etc. The trick is really to just keep your routine from getting stale. The way you apply that is based primarily on the results you are pursuing.
Most commonly, periodization comes in the form of two simple labels: bulking periods and cutting periods. You are either packing on mass or cutting down fat for a period.
Putting on Mass
Let’s say you are trying to bulk up. You have been training and training and now you have hit a point where none of your maxes seem to want to budge any further. First take note of how long you have been repeating the same routine, that’s how fast your body can adapt to the form and reps it has been challenged with. This is important because this period (maybe a month or two) can give you an indicator of how quickly you’ll want to switch up to your next routine, or return to your old routine.
Now we have to introduce something new for a period of time that shakes up what you have been doing and present a new challenge for your body to overcome. When it comes to packing on mass and increasing strength, we recommend utilizing negatives for a period of time for increased hypertrophy or begin incorporating more compound body workouts.
When you do negatives you can increase microtrauma to the muscles by using heavy weights in your sets and doing fewer reps. Lock out your rep, squeeze, and count about four seconds as you return to the starting position. The increase in weight will call upon fast twitch muscle fibers which will cause your muscles to grow faster, while the heavy weights will promote hypertrophy with increased microtrauma.
Using isolation exercises is a great way to cut out specific muscle groups but too much may inhibit your progress in increasing your strength. The body is a machine that needs all its pieces to work and grow together and if you spend too much time focusing on one area you may be sacrificing overall strength. When your strength seems to be topping out, try getting your body to work as a complete machine to help it grow in proper proportion using deadlifts, squats, benchpress, and standing bent over rows more often.
When it comes to cutting down for a period, we recommend doing High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as well an increase in your cardio in general.
HIIT conditions your body to be agile, to be ready to produce intense bursts of energy, and to be a fat burning machine. If you feel like your regular cardio routine isn’t cutting it anymore, look to HIIT circuits and check into routines that involve sets of explosive and intense reps followed by short periods of rest. Maintain the intensity and keep your workouts around 30 minutes and burn the fat away.
If you already have been practicing HIIT steadily and you don’t seem to be seeing any new results then it’s time to switch to a period focusing on sustained effort. Perform more sustained cardio exercises like trying to run three miles at a steady pace. If you have been using HIIT your body is expecting a rest every couple minutes that won’t come. Introducing sustained activity for a period is a great way to shock your system and keep your body constantly adapting. If you have already been doing sustained activity for a period, then introduce a new run with hills or longer distance. Just remember to keep mixing it up every couple months and the possibilities, and your improvements, are endless.