Never Hit a Plateau Again
by Shawn C. Lebrun
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Your workouts should be very demanding. They should be intense and very focused. With this intensity comes the need to rest to allow your muscles to fully recuperate from the demand that you have placed on them.
Muscle growth is achieved by progressively overloading the muscles and forcing them to adapt by adding new muscle to handle future demands. However, if you never allow your muscles to fully recuperate, they will not be able to handle any new demands placed upon them. They will start getting weaker from less rest. That is how plateaus happen.
We are going to take necessary steps to combat this problem. We are going to systematically wipe out long-lasting plateaus, forever. We do this by training smarter, not just harder.
Proper rest and recovery from working out is so important, it literally is the deciding force behind results and no results. We need an in-depth look as to how to fully recuperate and ensure max recovery.
Here are some steps you can use immediately to avoid over training and hitting a plateau.
1. Keep workouts short and sweet. Your weight training should be just that, training with weights and not mixing cardio with it. Workouts do not need to be long to be effective, in fact, if they are too long, they are counter- productive. The goal of weight training is to go into the gym and stimulate muscle growth, not to annihilate the muscles. By stimulating them with progressive overload, you are forcing them to respond and adapt to this progressive overload. Anything more is futile over training.
2. Do not turn your weight training workouts into endurance events. Do not try to "burn fat" while weight training because you will not achieve it. Do not make your workouts longer thinking that more time equals more results. Keep your weight training brief and focused. Complete your workout in less than 45 minutes. This short time period will ensure you do not over do it, it will ensure intensity. Itís much easier to focus for 30-45 minutes than it is an hour. The growth-assisting hormones secreted in your body actually peak after about 30 minutes of weight training and then begin to decline rapidly. So keep it quick and intense. No total body workout. Choose one or two muscle groups, train them well, and leave under 45 minutes.
3. Keep a lower rep range. If you can lift a weight more than six or seven times on the last set or two of an exercise, the weight is too light and is not producing overload for your muscles. However, if you cannot get at least three or four, the weight is too heavy and you may not be benefiting from it. Keep your range between four and six reps give or take a rep. This low range will ensure maximum overload and increased intensity. Four to six reps get the job done efficiently and more effectively than higher reps with lower weight. Remember, overload (weight) builds muscle, not reps. Keeping reps low ensures more overload and it is also easier to intensely focus on four to six reps than it is for more than ten.
4. Keep a low number of sets. Again, weight training is no marathon. You only need one to two heavy sets of an exercise to stimulate muscle growth. Less may not be enough stimulation and more may lead to over training. If you feel that you did not work a muscle sufficiently after your two heavy sets, I question the amount of weight or your intensity on those sets. You should feel as though you probably couldnít do another set as effectively as your last one. Remember, its not the quantity of sets that matter, itís the quality. You will achieve better results with two fabulous, hard-working sets than would you with three or four less-intense sets. Believe me, there is a very fine line between doing too many sets and not enough. The line seems to be around one to two heavy sets. There is no law that states if you double the amount of sets, you double your results. More isnít better, better is better.
5. Rest enough between your sets. Rest at least a minute between your warm-up sets and at least two minutes between your heavy sets. You need to recuperate enough to handle the demand the next set is going to place upon your muscles. You cannot expend maximum energy on an exercise if you are still fatigued from the last set. You will not be able to lift as much weight or as many reps if you are not rested enough. There is no set amount of time to rest, just feel rested enough so that you can meet or exceed the efforts of your previous set. If you performed a 250-pound bench press for six reps, you need to rest enough so that you can meet or exceed that set. Think of it as a high point that you must reach each and every time you do a set. Without adequate rest, that high point cannot be reached. If the high point isnít reached again, that set was a waste of time.
6. Get adequate rest before working the same muscle group again. Heavy and intense weight training produces microscopic fiber damage to the muscles. It is this damage and rebuilding which causes a muscle to get bigger and stronger. Without proper rest between workouts of the same muscle group, you will not recover sufficiently to handle placing more overload on that muscle group. Again, if your muscles cannot handle the overload, results are diminished. You should wait at least five to seven days between working the same muscle group. If you train biceps on Monday, wait until the following Monday to ensure they are rested enough. Training them prior may create an over training environment. Remember that they will get worked while performing other exercises, so they actually are not fully resting all week. One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to start "listening" to how your body feels. Learn to gauge your recovery time and start training more on how you feel rather than on a schedule set in stone. For example, if you train your biceps Monday and then come next Monday, for whatever reason, they are still aching sore, give them another day's rest. Do you truly feel you will be able to lift with maximum overload and intensity with overly sore biceps? You are lifting for progress, not just for the act of lifting some weight. If a muscle group is still very sore, there is still some fiber damage creating that soreness that needs to heal. Training with sore muscles is like trying to shovel your way out of a hole. You get nowhere. Taking an extra day off to rest will ensure the next day's workout produce results. If increasing muscle strength and size is a goal, you need to create an environment where they are able to perform at their maximum, not when they are sore.
7. Take a break after two months of training. After every two months of intense, solid training, take an entire week off from weight training and cardio. Two months of constant training likely will take a toll on your musclesí ability to recover. You must allow them to recover by having them take a break. Do not allow the alleged psychological barrier of taking a week off stand in your way. You may be thinking you will lose ground by taking time off, but nothing can be further from the truth.
8. To avoid over training and hitting a plateau in the weight room, do not over do your cardio workout. Keep your cardio at three to four sessions per week, 20-30 minutes a session. Too many cardio days or too long of a cardio session negatively impacts our muscle-building efforts. Cardio actually reduces the bodyís production of testosterone, the main hormone responsible for building lean muscle. Too much cardio will cause you to be sore more often. Again, learn to listen to your body. This week will allow your body to rest and heal and come back stronger and more energetic. You will be more focused and intense. During this week off, continue proper nutrition for it is during this week that you need to ensure your muscles are getting fed properly. This week off is where much of your muscle growth takes place. You are letting your body recover from the previous cumulative weeks of working out and it is time for them to recharge. I was skeptical about taking a week off the first time I tried it. When I came back to the gym after the week off, I was more energetic and stronger. My bench press increased by over five pounds my first day back. I am no longer a skeptic.
If you feel you have hit a plateau, immediately take a week off. You may just need some rest. Use this time to heal and continue to eat properly. Make sure your protein level is high for this is the time your muscles need the building blocks to work with. This rest and proper nutrition will be very anabolic (muscle building) to your body. It may be all you need to bust through that plateau.
One way not to overcome a plateau is by trying to work through it. You cannot make something better by doing what it was that caused it in the first place!
These are a few things you can do to avoid over training and hitting a plateau. Stick with low reps, short workouts, plenty of rest between heavy sets, and take time off every 2 months of training. Keep setting high standards and strive to reach them each time you step into the gym. Do not talk yourself into a plateau.
This article was taken from "12 Simple Steps to Get Huge and Shredded" written by personal trainer and bodybuilder
Shawn LeBrun. Visit http://www.shawnlebrunfitness.com/getshredded.html for more.