No matter what you do, everyone hits it eventually; the dreaded glass ceiling.
You come to the gym almost every day and you’re eating well, but your body seems to have plateaued. Nothing you do seems to help you shed that last kilo, and that stubborn bit of belly fat just refuses to go away. It’s discouraging and it’s beginning to seep over into your motivation and training intensity.
But why has your progress seemingly vanished overnight if nothing has changed? Well, that’s the problem.
You see, the muscles in your body are smart and are quick to pick up on routine. They see that you’ve arrived at the gym from the moment your legs start moving the bike pedals. They know what you’re doing next before you do. Squats to start? They know. Your leg muscles are already primed for your usual three by ten routine. Push-ups next? Again, they’re ready; they’ve been able to track your movements from following the same routine over and over again.
So what can you do?
To answer this, we have to first look at two principles of training: progressive overload and variation.
Let’s tackle progressive overload first. This theory states that you should gradually increase the intensity, duration, reps, sets and/or number of exercises as the muscles develops. So, in other words, you are always pushing yourself harder than the previous session to allow for growth.
Variation simply means we need to be changing elements of our workout over time so that we can confuse the muscles into breaking down more efficiently which will promote growth and subsequent fat loss.
These two elements play a vital role in any program, and we can now see how they interact with one another. Ideally you should follow a structured program for four to eight weeks to allow for optimal results. Within this period you would stick to a set of exercises allowing for slight variation, with an emphasis on progressively overloading the muscles each week, by increasing either the weight, number of reps or by adding an extra set.
For example, week one you may do:
- Squats: 3 sets of 10 at 30kg
- Deadlifts: 3 sets of 10 at 35kg
- Push-ups: 3 sets of 10
- Plank: 30 seconds
Then week two may look like:
- Squats: 3 sets of 12 at 30kg
- Deadlifts: 3 sets of 12 at 35kg
- Push-ups: 4 sets of 10
- Plank: 2 sets of 30 seconds
Not every exercise will progress every week, but by focusing on improving your training intensity you will be able to work towards optimal results.
However, come the end of this four to eight week cycle, your muscles have begun to catch up and have figured out all your new tricks despite the progressive overload. This is where variety comes into play. To fight of plateauing from your muscles we have to incorporate new ways to shock the muscles. These three techniques will do just that and will offer you a way of spicing up your training, making it more fun for you, and most importantly will help fast track your results in no time.
Pyramid training is a gruelling test of strength, but for those brave enough to try it, pyramids will offer an unmatched means of shocking the muscle and tricking the body into blasting away fat.
How it works: Pick an exercise, and start with one rep, choose a weight that makes this difficult. Then proceed to strip off weight so you can perform two reps. Repeat until you’ve reached the top of the mountain performing ten reps! Think you’re done? Not by a long way! It’s now time to work our way back down to one.
If you’re not comfortable lifting heavier weights, here are some bodyweight alternatives that are fantastic ways of cutting belly fat.
Sit-ups, crunches, leg raises etc. 1, 2 … 10, then back down to 1.
Planks: 10 sec, 20 sec… 60 sec, then back down to 10 seconds.
Negative training is a fantastic way of improving functional strength, and can be a way of training for movements that are not quite in your range just yet. For example: chin-ups. If you can’t yet perform a chin-up, negative training is a great regression that will lay the foundations for you to build upon.
How it works: Jump to the top of the bar and hold yourself up. Slowly release, performing the downwards part of the movement. The same principle can be applied to heavier movements. Have your partner help with the upwards phase, i.e. bench press, chest fly, leg curl, and work the negative phase of the movement.
We live in a faced paced world, and for many of us it’s easy to view our thirty or forty-five minutes in the gym as a sprint. Tempo training flips this philosophy on its head and offers one of the most gruelling training principles known to man. Our natural instinct when feeling a burn from lifting is to go faster to fight through the pain, with tempo training it’s all about slowing it down.
How it works: You lower the number of repetitions, but increase the time spent under tension for each movement. Take leg extensions for example. Perform the concentric (upwards) phase of the movement for three to five seconds, emphasising the squeeze of the target muscles, then do the same for the lowering stage, releasing for three to five seconds.
Make sure to give one of these three training principles in your next session. You’re guaranteed to break the plateau and smash your results.
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