Ways To Keep Workouts Challenging To Avoid Plateaus

how to avoid body building plateaus

By Derrick Johnson

When you begin working out, it can take a couple weeks for you to start seeing results. And then it’s grand, as you’re looking better, feeling better, losing weight and perhaps starting to get the first signs of a six-pack. But then something happens.

That burn you’re feeling cools down to a slight warming sensation. You stop losing weight, and while you aren’t gaining weight, you feel like you have to run just to stay still, fitness-wise. Working out is starting to feel less like an amazing challenge and more like, well, work. Lift that, run there, blah, blah, the magic is gone.

Meanwhile, a friend of yours, who started at a lower fitness level and isn’t working as hard as you are, is losing weight with no signs of stopping. You’re starting to think this fitness thing is a crock. What happened?

Your body and brain hit a plateau. Your body and brain are highly efficient, and quickly find ways to do the same tasks with less effort. Consider learning to type. You used to have to find each key, press it, then remember what word you were typing, find the next key, press it, and so on.

Now you type at much faster speeds, as your brain and body have stored enough information to figure out how to type a word without all that movement and thought. But to continue to lose weight and gain strength, your body can’t go into cruise control- it needs to be in that mode where it’s learning new things constantly. Mentally, you also get used to the same routines, and they are less thrilling after a while.

But keeping your workout new and exciting doesn’t require you to become a pentathlete. Adding slight variations can push your muscles harder than ever before, and if you’re bored, you can add variety without a lot of expense or fancy equipment.

Increase Reps or Weight

This is the simplest way to push yourself harder. Increase the number of reps in each set, or the number of sets to help build endurance. Increase the weight you lift, or add resistance to a body weight workout, to help you increase strength.

You will want to do this gradually, and not combine the two right away- doubling the weight and reps suddenly will likely injure you, and that’s not the variety you need. Try increasing the weight by no more than 10%, or the number of reps by no more than 50%  to ramp it up without messing you up.

Add new moves

So the machines at the gym are so often used by you that the seats are practically molded to your backside.

That means that it’s time to give them a rest.

If you use mostly machines, throw in some work with free weights or vice versa. If the machine offers more than one type of movement, alternate between the types to challenge your mind and your body. If you’ve never looked twice at the medicine ball, the jump rope, or always head for the track instead of the treadmill, it’s time to give them a shot.

Ask a trainer or follow videos to perfect your technique, but you can challenge yourself with subtle changes to your routine, as the muscles will be used in new ways, you will use different muscles for moves that may seem the same at first, and your mind will perk up at the thought of a new task.

Want Instant Variety? Just Add Water

Water aerobics is especially good for those who have had injuries or recent surgeries that require low-impact exercise. That doesn’t means you can’t get a good workout with water exercise. The skill needed to move your body through water is rather different from what’s needed on land, and the same moves that were boring on land become an entirely new challenge in the pool. Many gyms offer water exercise classes for all ages.

Use Intervals for Exercise Excellence

Interval training uses short bursts of activity to boost your calorie-burning, muscle building power. You will go between stations where you will perform an activity for a few seconds to a minute and a half each, then switch to a very different activity. These often alternate cardio with resistance training, and offer so much variety, that you can get a head to toe workout in 30 minutes.

If your fitness goals involve losing a lot of weight or building a great deal of muscle, this may be too little to do alone, but if you include interval training with weight training and cardio as a full workout routine, you can shake your muscles out of the routine they’ve settled into.

Whether you exercise at home, at the gym, or a mix of the two, you should provide some variety to your workout about once every six weeks. If you’re a gym member, ask the staff about classes that can add variety to your routine. You may have reached a plateau, but this isn’t the end of your journey to fitness.