Bust Through a Plateau!

So you’ve been training for a while and seeing awesome results then BAM, a plateau smacks you right in the face. Either your weight loss has fallen off and hit a stagnation period or your strength gains haven’t gone up.  It happens to everyone. From beginners to the most experienced lifters, plateaus happen often. The key is how you react to it and get through it.

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”

Charles R Swindoll

Your first instinct might be just to keep on chugging along and hope that you break out of the little slump that you are in.  However, that may not be the best option for you.  There are several routes you can take to bust through your plateau.

Change Up Your Program

Making a change in your routine can be a great first step.  You may have been doing the same thing over and over again each week, and by now your body has adapted to it.  The body is amazing at adapting to stressors like exercise programs.  That’s why it is important to alter your program every once in a while.  Now this doesn’t mean that every day or every week has to be this radical change, but small changes can make a big difference and you’ll bust past this plateau.

If you’ve been solely sticking to cardio, your body gets really efficient at conserving energy, so it will find pathways to use the least amount of  energy possible.  So that 30 minute run that you were doing a few weeks ago, is going to result in a less calorie burn than before.  Try switching up to a HIIT routine or if you want to keep your 30 minute run, try small intervals of 1-2 minutes of an increased pace with 2-4 minutes of a more normal pace.

The same is true for weight lifting.  There are many ways in which you can alter your weight training.  There are four variables you can pick from.  Altering the reps, the number of sets, tempo, and exercise selection can provide a big shift in training.  If you’ve been relying on higher rep schemes, then it’s time to switch to a program with lower reps and therefore a higher intensity (heavier weight).

Are you doing the same exercises week in and week out?  Then it’s time to put some variety in your program.  It is important to still follow some of the basic movement patterns, but instead of the back squat, switch to a variation like a front squat or goblet squat.  This way the movement stays intact, but the stimulus to your body changes slightly.

Additionally, within your exercise selections, vary the tempo.  Including a slowed down movement or pauses will without a doubt give your program a change.

Take Time Off

Rest is an important part of seeing results.  In order to see results, in order for your body to get stronger, recovery strategies are going to be just as important as your training program, maybe more so. This is quite often overlooked and underutilized. The common thinking is that when you’re in a rut or plateau, you want to add more exercise, because more is better.  However, that is not always the answer.

A few strategies to implement or to take a look at is how well and for how long you are sleeping.  If you’re not getting the requisite sleep your body needs, then your body, your muscles, and your nervous system aren’t fully recovering day to day.  Over time, this can take its toll, hence the plateau.

This is why I’m amazed by people that say they exercise every day.  Either one of two things are happening. They are either not training hard enough to get a stimulus or adaptation, or they are overworking their body and are constantly tired.

I had to take stock of my recovery strategies a few weeks ago as I hit a point in my training where I wasn’t getting stronger, and in fact my numbers were going down.  I had minimal energy for my training and it seemed like my body just wanted no part of any workout.  The best decision I made was to take a week off and solely focus on resting and recovery work.  I will say it was really hard to not do anything other than rest as I’ve always been active.  But I knew my body needed it.

Want to know what has happened since?

I’m pretty much back to where I was before my week off.  My strength is getting back to where I would expect it to be and my program is progressing smoothly.  Sometimes all it takes is a little step back to go two steps forward.

Takeaway

Plateaus are going to happen.  What is important, is that you take stock of what you’ve been doing and make adjustments.  Sometimes it’s a matter of your body telling you to slow down.  Sometimes it’s a matter of changing up what you’ve been doing.  Remember, the body is incredible at adapting to everything we throw at it.

It is also important to note that changing a million things at once will result in chaos.  Now that I have you looking at sets and reps and tempo and exercise selection and sleeping, I want you to pick one or two adjustments in your routine.  Avoid changing too much at once and avoid overthinking.  If you implement one thing that you’ve learned from this, you’ll be sure to bust through the plateau you’ve been in.


Play

There comes a moment where it seems like we’re just not allowed to play anymore.  Like, one day we woke up and decided, “playing is for kids, I’m a big boy/girl.”
As kids, play time or recess was an important aspect to developing our social skills, our brains, becoming resilient, as well as just time to explore movement and have fun.

However, as we became adults, we lost sight of the idea of play.  The idea of voluntarily doing something just do for doings sake, seems silly and childish.

George Bernard Shaw said it best. “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

It seems that every part of our lives is dictated by a schedule now.  We go from one appointment to another, from work to home, to sleep.  All to do it over again.  This, over time, ages us.  We move less, we have fun less, in essence, we become Jack from The Shining.

Play lets us connect with others, it keeps our minds sharp, and can jump start our problem solving abilities.
Plus it’s just fun.  And in a world where every moment is scheduled and we just hop from one appointment to another, we could use some time that is 100% voluntary fun.  But how?

Think back to when you were 10 years old.  What did you like to do for fun?

Maybe it was running around, playing tag or swinging from the monkey bars.   Maybe it was building Lego’s, or board games or puzzles. It doesn’t matter.  Let’s tap into that mindset of playfulness.

Remember, we don’t want to become Jack.  We want to avoid a life of all work and no play.  And we certainly want to avoid become dull.

So, how will you play today?


Strength Training for Speed

There’s a saying in sports that “speed kills.” It kills anyone who doesn’t have it. This holds true for any athletic event, whether its sprinting in a 100m dash, a defensive end getting off the line, or an outfielder tracking down a fly ball. Adding even the slightest bit of speed can be the difference between first and last place, getting to the quarterback or catching that fly ball. However, that extra pep in your step doesn’t come easy. It is important to remember that training for speed is a process, and takes dedication. Strength is part of the game. The second part of it comes down to technique.

Speed Runner

Improving speed requires:

  • Increased Stride Length
  • Increased Stride Frequency
  • Increased Power Output

One of the best ways to accomplish those three things is training for speed with a solid strength program. Why strength? Because increased strength leads to producing more force you can put into the ground with each step. This leads to longer stride lengths and power output. We’ve covered two of the main points to speed development. The other—frequency—is a matter of technique. As an added benefit, your body should become more resilient to injury.

However, there seems to be a predisposition to using things like agility ladders, parachutes and fast feet drills to increase speed. While this may appear to be fast, it’s likely not increasing true speed. Unfortunately, these kinds of drills are rising in popularity. But nothing builds speed quite like strength training.

What is Speed?

Speed refers to the rate at which someone or something moves. Seems pretty simple. How about covering more ground in the shortest time possible? That seems more applicable to sports and training.

Movements

For any training program, we want to include the fundamental movement patterns:

  • Hip Hinge
  • Squat
  • Push
  • Pull
  • Single Leg

We can also include core exercises among those as the core is going to play a big role in speed development.

Hip Hinge

The typical hip hinge exercise we look at is the Deadlift. It is a strong developer of the posterior muscles of the body. Glutes, hamstrings and the upper back see improved strength gains from Deadlifts. However, not everyone needs to deadlift with a barbell. There are other options, like using kettlebells or trap bars.

Second to the Deadlift is the Hip Thrust, which is another great glute developer. It’s said that the glutes are the powerhouse of the body, especially when it comes to anything athletic. So why not use exercises that will make them stronger.

Squat

Rear Squat

Adding Squats to your training will develop the ability to put more force into the ground. There’s a reason why many strength coaches use it as the ideal way to build speed. Squatting uses a lot of the large muscles of the lower body. However, just as there are variations with the Deadlift, Squats can be done in a myriad of ways.

The standard in most weight rooms is the Back Squat, but you can also implement Front Squats and Goblet Squats, along with a multitude of specialty bars like the safety squat bar.

Push/Pull

When using strength training for speed, the upper body tends to get lost in the mix because no one really thinks about the upper body’s contribution to moving faster. However, building strength in the upper body helps with the arm drive necessary to pull the legs along.

While sprinting and athletic movements related to it look like mostly a lower-body driven activity, the upper body and arms really drive the body. The legs will only go as fast as the arms can move.

Push movements include the Bench Press or Overhead Press, both with a barbell or dumbbells, and Push-Ups. Our pulling exercises would include Pull-Ups and different row variations with body weight, dumbbells or barbells.

Single Leg

Single-leg movements are ideal for speed development as sprinting essentially is a bunch of single-leg movements. Therefore, increasing our single-leg strength can have a lot of carryover into our sport.

Single-leg movements to incorporate into your strength training for speed program are Split Squats, Step-Ups, Single-Leg Deadlifts and Lunge variations.

Hamstrings

For speed development, the hamstrings might be the most important muscle in the body. When they are weak, they tend to get strained often, and they have a huge role in deceleration. If we want to stay on the field and also stay fast, strengthen your hamstrings, especially using eccentric training.

Exercises like Slide Disc Curls, Nordic Curls and Glute-Ham Raises will provide a lot of benefit to strengthening your hamstrings.

Core

plank

As far as our core is concerned, you want to include movements, or should I say “anti” movements. The core needs to be able to resist movement; it needs to keep the spine stable. That’s why you want to use exercises like Deadbugs, Side Planks, Pallof Presses and multiple loaded carry variations.

Strength training for speed doesn’t have to be fancy or flashy. In fact, sometimes the flashy doesn’t take us anywhere. Stick to the basics and master them.


#nodaysoff

#NoDaysOff
It the calling card of those that say you have to work hard every single day to get to your goals.  It implies that if you take days off, you’re not fully committed.  It’s almost as if it’s a badge of honor to hashtag “nodaysoff.”  That showing how tired you are, but you’re still going at it is something to be admired.  I’m gonna call BS on that one.  8.-Well-Take-No-Days-Off-Done

 

No Days Off creates this unrealistic ideal where you constantly have to go all out, lest you be seen as lazy, or weak, or unmotivated, or that you just don’t want your goal enough. What this leads to is all kinds of negative self talk, which we need to avoid.  It serves no purpose. And I hear it all the time.

How many times during the last month have you gave yourself negative self talk?

That mindset, it’s not going to get you anywhere.  Except overtired, frustrated, and hungry.

You may see the solution as “I gotta do more” but then you’re just missing the point of exercise and training.  We’re human, we need rest, we need time off.  This also applies to life.  If we just grind all the time, eventually we wear ourselves down. We need breaks from training, work, school, life to keep ourselves sane and happy.

Yes. consistency and commitment are important, but not at the expense of recovery.  More is not better, #nodaysoff is bs, and rest is important.


The Barbell Isn’t For Everyone

Just because there’s a barbell in front of you, doesn’t mean you have to lift it.  If there’s one tool in the gym that has gotten more attention than any other, it’s the barbell.  And for good reason as you can load it with considerable amounts of weight.  Far more than you’d be able to do with something like dumbbells or kettlebells.  However, for many of us hitting the gym, it may be the wrong choice.

IMG_3482

One of the drawbacks, depending on the exercise, is that you can be locked into a certain range of motion or joint motion/angle. This can be potentially hazardous for those who don’t necessarily fit that mold of that position. It’s unnecessary to put yourself through that stress when there are so many other ways and tools to reach your goals.

“Just because something has always been done a certain way,

doesn’t mean that YOU have to do it that way.”  

But people tend to be dogmatic in their approach to fitness.  It’s either one way or nothing, and it’s hard to convince them of anything else. People will argue that it’s the ONLY tool suited for exercise, no matter what. Everyone must deadlift with a barbell from the floor or it doesn’t count, which ignores a myriad of variables that are suited for another article. It’s time to wake up and realize is that the tool is only as good as the user. If the user is unable to manage the tool effectively and safely, then how effective is it going to be?

 

What can you use instead of a barbell?

  • Dumbbells
  • Bands
  • Cables
  • Kettlebells

Each of these tools can be substituted for just about any exercise, and when it comes to our fundamental movements of push, pull, squat, hinge, and single leg movements, we can easily adjust to accommodate a different tool.

Push

Typically we thing the bench press or overhead press, which requires a barbell for either lift.  However, like we mentioned earlier, you get locked into a certain movement pattern, especaially at the shoulder joint.  And we want to avoid cranky shoulders where ever we can. Enter any of the tools previously listed.  More freedom to move which can mean less probability of injury.

Pull

The most common barbell pull is a bent over row, but again it can put some people in a compromising position.  This is especially true for anyone that has ever suffered from low back pain.  Enter the dumbbell, where you can perform just about any variation of row you can think of.

Squat

Everyone can squat, it’s just a matter of finding the right variation that suits your needs and abilities. Squatting with a barbell, whether front or back, presents some challenges in terms of mechanics that some are just unable to achieve. So why force it? Because it looks cool in the weight room when you have the bar loaded with plates?

Pick a variation, like a goblet squat and hammer away at that.

Hinge

The hinge or its most associated exercise example, the deadlift, can be one of scariest exercises to do.  More to do with images of guys picking up 100’s of pounds on a barbell, than the actual exercise itself.  But it can be an easy swap to use a kettlebell and learn in that capacity to keep you safe.

Training comes down to producing enough of a stimulus to elicit change in the body, whether the goal is more strength, more muscle, or less fat. However we need to be able to train smarter, which sometimes means steering ourselves from tools like the barbell that may not be a great choice for us now, to ones that are more manageable, like dumbbells.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t challenge yourself, but to do it smarter to avoid injury.

 

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