Here's the scenario: You've been following one workout routine for weeks now-maybe even one of our awesome MF programs - and you've made great progress. But lately, something isn't right. You couldn't get all your reps on the bench press last week, so you had to lighten the weight. You don't look any bigger now than you did last month, and, perhaps worst of all, you're not even looking forward to going to the gym for your next session. You've done the same exercises so many times, they're just not fun anymore.
It's time to admit the inevitable: You've plateaued. Don't worry; it happens. But it can also leave you wondering, "Where do I go from here?" You know you need to change things up in your workouts to start making gains again, but where do you start? The good news is you don't have to start from scratch. In fact, abandoning a program you've been successful with for something very different can be counterproductive, causing you to lose the adaptations your body has already made. Instead, your best option is to take what's been working and tweak it, one step at a time. It's a process called "periodization," and strength coaches have used it for years to keep athletes making steady progress and avoiding plateaus. Read on, and we'll break down for you exactly how to keep your workouts alive-not forever, but for much longer periods-helping you adapt them to your evolving goals and needs.
Workout Extender #1:
Rearrange Your Reps
If you're like most guys, you're probably performing three to four sets of eight to 12 reps for each exercise, regardless of your goal. But did you ever stop to ask yourself why? Instead of three sets of eight, why not try eight sets of three, or five sets of five? Despite how different these combinations look (and feel to perform), all three are very effective for building muscle. Including each one in your program is a surefire way to reap maximum gains.
That's because the first workout variable your muscles adapt to is the number of reps you perform. You see, once your central nervous system has learned to recruit all the muscle fibers it needs to complete a given number of reps, it stops adding new muscle, because it can do the job you've asked of it with what it has. Therefore, if you train in just one rep range, such as the moderately heavy eight to 12, you'll improve in that range only up to a point, and then plateau.
Unless you train with lower reps-and therefore heavier weight - you'll never get very strong and you won't stimulate those stronger muscle fibers to grow. Conversely, if you don't alternate low - rep lifting with occasional bouts of higher reps, you won't build muscle endurance or stimulate the increase in the accumulation of fluid within your muscle cells (an adaptation to higher-rep training that also accounts for muscle size). By regularly changing the number of reps you perform, you train your body to recruit every possible muscle fiber during every lift, extending the life of your routine and allowing more gains in strength, size, and endurance.