When you first begin exercising or a new training program you don’t really have to worry too much about progressions or how to get out of a training plateau. The first six weeks of exercise most of us will experience gains in strength and fitness. However these gains are all related to coordination and getting better at technique, one reason why learning proper technique from the beginning is so important. So what happens after that? Well then strength gains come from an actual increase in the size of the muscle being worked. The bigger the muscle the more force it can generate (for the most part). In the beginning of an exercise program generally people who are beginners will do 3 sets of 10 reps. Everyone else does that so why not right? And it’s not wrong to begin that way. Like I said you will experience improvements with that protocol. But what do you do when those 3 sets of 10 begin to become too easy? You don’t feel any muscle soreness (ps…some muscle soreness is good and needed and I will explain more later on this) you don’t feel any type of muscle fatigue and you notice that you are getting bored. Let’s go over some ways to change things up and help you progress your training so you don’t get bored.
- Increase the load that you’re working with. Generally a good rule of thumb is to add five pounds to all upper body lifts and ten pounds to lower body lifts. This small addition will help overload muscle and make it them work a little harder than before and will increase strength. Stick with this for 2-3 weeks before making any other adjustments.
- Add Volume. Increase the amount of times you are lifting the load. You could add a set and go to 4 sets rather than 3 or you could add reps and go to 12 or 15 reps. Either way its always a good idea to look at total volume. For example, if you bench press and do 3 sets of 10 thats 30 total reps. If you add a set then it would be 40 total reps.
- Decrease your rest periods. One of the biggest influencers of training outcomes is rest but its also the most underutilized. Start adding in rest periods to keep them consistent. Start with 90 seconds and as that gets easier lower down to 1 minute of rest (the higher the reps and lower the load the lower amount of rest you can take).
- Move away from machines. Start to add in free weights and functional movements. This can be intimidating at first but if you’ve built a solid base with machines then you are more than ready to move onto the free weights and functional movements. A good rule of thumb is to begin low with your weights because free weight training is more unstable and will challenge you a lot more. Once you add in free weights you can then go back through the above progressions.
- Add circuits of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). Pick anywhere from 5-10 exercises and move from one to the other with no or very minimal rest periods. Start with 1-2 rounds then add a third once you are able. You can choose to do these lifts for reps or for time. Try both and mix it up. If you want to try for time do a movement for 30 seconds then rest for 30 seconds before going to the next movement or lift.
- Add load. Rather than sets of 10, lower that down to 8 and increase your weight. Then after a couple weeks move down to 6 reps and increase weight again. With the increase in weight you’ll want to take longer rest periods. So rather than 90 second take 2 minutes of rest or 2.5 mins as you continue to increase your loads.
- Add volume AGAIN. Once you’re body has got used to heavier loads and you’ve noticed a decrease in muscle soreness or any of the other things from bullet point 1 then add another set. Same recommendations I told you about in #2.
- EMOM. What the heck is this? It is one of my favorite ways to build in rest periods. Its an acronym for Every Minute On The Minute. For example you could perform 5 Back squats EMOM for 4 rounds and get your work done in 5 minutes. Moving load faster with shorter rest periods will for sure shake things up hahah. The heavier the load then add time. So you could do E2M or every two minutes.
There are many more ways to change up your routine but these eight are a great start. The above will get you through about 20-24 weeks of training depending on a few other variables.
More than anything always focus on proper mechanics before ever adding load (weight). It is also always a good idea to give your self proper recovery. Eat well, get proper sleep and take days off. Like I mentioned above some muscle soreness is ok and needed. 24-48 hours after exercise is “normal”. The soreness you feel is actually little tears to the muscle. The muscle then will repair its self with proper recovery. That is how the muscle grows and gets stronger.
If you ever need any help with any of the above please ask a fitness professional. That’s what we are here for.
Thank you for reading!