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by on April 13, 2013

“I’ve made so much progress, but these last ten pounds are still sticking to me…”

“I cut my 5K rowing time down a full minute, but I still need to be fifteen seconds faster to hit my goal…”

“I just need to get my max up that last 20 pounds…”

Those of you who work out anywhere from “every day” to “all the time, I never leave the gym” know what it’s like to hit a plateau. You’re following your routine, seeing desired improvements, dropping the weight or speeding up the run…

And then you hit the wall.

Nothing seems to change. You’re not getting any worse, but you’re not getting any better, even though you throw yourself into the workout every day.

Muscles are sneaky; they adapt to the challenges presented to them. Initially, they get torn up and rebuilt to increase strength and endurance, but eventually, the same or similar workout routine becomes too easy.

“Oh, that again, with the rowing and the squats and the push-ups and the lunges. Sure, let’s do this.” *Yawn*

When you hit those moments, you need a kick-start – “to start or restart rapidly or forcefully; to impart fresh or renewed energy to: energize.”

That doesn’t mean “Just push yourself harder.” You’re probably working hard already. Pushing harder risks injury.

Instead, kick-starting can be trying something completely different. Your muscles weep when you surprise them with an unfamiliar activity, like the first few times I did circuits. My arms were so sore, I felt like I had tyrannosaurus rex hands and could barely drive.

It can be safely increasing intensity by changing goals or workout type. Instead of the usual long run, do some interval sprints or run on stairs (or try a Spin class). Instead of the same weight routine, add in some tabata work and push yourself in a different way than usual.

Go for a swim if you don’t normally do so. I remember a trip to Yokota Air Base in Japan where my temporary room was right near a gym with an indoor pool. I had been working out regularly and was in decent shape, so I thought, “I’ll try a few laps.” I was appalled by how difficult lap swimming proved to be, and my muscles were unprepared for the destruction that came upon them.

In other words, it was great.

I’m not saying abandon programs that are working well for you or that are designed to achieve your particular goals. If you’re working on a running progression to get ready for a marathon (or half-marathon, or any other distance), of course you want to keep up with that. If you have a well-planned muscle building routine mapped out, I’m not suggesting you throw it away. But if it’s getting stale, you might need to take a day or two to refocus by changing what you’re doing. A brief time away may help you return with fresh perspective and motivation.


From → Take a Breather

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