Fitness Articles

Plateau Busters - Part 3

Add Variety to Your Workouts

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Add Variety to Your Workouts

Incorporate variation into each workout. Variety is critical because your muscles become very efficient at the exercises they are accustomed to doing. Switching things up or doing something radically different during each workout session is more challenging to your muscles. This concept should be applied to both aerobic exercise and strength training.

An individual who always does the same exercises will usually plateau sooner than someone who continually makes changes. If you don’t feel comfortable doing a different workout each time you hit the gym, try to change your exercise routine at least every 6-8 weeks. Changing your routine is crucial to keeping your body/muscles surprised. They'll have to work harder, you'll be challenged, and you'll burn more calories and build more lean muscle in the process.
  1. Change your cardio activity:
    • Change the type of exercise you usually do. The possibilities of aerobic exercise are endless. If you walk, try cycling. If you take kickboxing, try the elliptical. Consider adding some of these possibilities to your routine: running, jogging, walking, elliptical machine, swimming, cycling, indoor exercise, outdoor exercise, hiking, fitness videos/DVDS, group fitness classes like kickboxing, aerobics, spinning, stair steppers, etc.—anything, just change it up!
       
    • Change the duration of your workouts. Try to increase your minutes as you become fitter, and occasionally, try a shorter (but more intense) workout.
       
    • Change the intensity of your workouts. This is something you can play with on a daily basis. This includes working at an incline or harder level, sprint work, distance work, maintaining intensity, or interval work (shifting between fast/hard and easy/recovery intervals).
  2. Change your Strength Training Routine:
    • Change the mode of exercise. If you are using machines, move to free weights. If you are using body weight, try resistance bands. If you are doing free weights, add a stability element like a BOSU ball or stability ball. Try doing exercises while balancing on one foot or switch between any and all of these.
       
    • Change the exercises you actually do. If you have been doing chest press, change to a chest fly or use the pec deck machine. Think of an alternative exercise for each muscle group and you’ll have an entirely new workout! Check out SparkPeople's Exercise Demonstrations for more ideas.
       
    • Change your resistance level and/or number of repetitions. Be sure to increase your weight regularly. Make sure you are lifting to fatigue with each set. If you typically lift 12-15 reps, try doing 8-10 (with a higher weight) or vice versa. Play with your weight and reps in each set. Try lifting (as an example) 25 pounds for 15 reps, then 30 pounds for 12, then 35 pounds for 10 reps on your third set. You can also do it backwards, starting with high weight/low reps and working the weight down. Continued ›
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
Nicole was named "America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch" in 2011. A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, she loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Her DVDs "Total Body Sculpting" and "28 Day Boot Camp" (a best seller) are available online and in stores nationwide. Read Nicole's full bio and blog posts.

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Member Comments

  • I hope that some of these tips will help me get past the plateau I have reached. I have started varying my exercise routine quite a bit and increased reps and weights on my strength training. Going to look for other things I can do as well. - 9/4/2010 8:09:00 PM
  • It was hitting a plateau that brought me to Sparkpeople in the first place. I had lost a "quick" twenty pounds within two months of starting a diet/exercise program, and then everything ground to a halt. Finding resources and support like this is exactly what I had hoped when I signed up here. - 9/1/2010 4:50:13 PM
  • TERIANA, losing ten pounds in one month is terrific! Whatever you are doing, it seems to be the right thing. Keep it up! - 8/2/2010 7:13:18 PM
  • Okay, one month into SP and I have already hit my first plateau. Now this is when it gets scary for me because typically this is when I give up. I don't have a lot of options for working out because I live in a rural area, but I will get an exercise DVD and try that instead of walking. However, I doubt my body could have "grown accustomed" to walking in just a few weeks. I am feeling a bit discouraged today but I will not give up. - 7/4/2010 2:19:41 PM
  • I came cross this article just at the right time. I have been in a kinda rut for the past month, not knowing why, now I am willing to try out these tips given by Nicole. - 8/1/2009 1:41:10 AM
  • It should be understood that if you have tried all or some of the plateau suggestions and it doesn't work, then perhaps you do need other methods or need to see a nutritionist or endocrinologist. Basically these articles are offered to help those that it can help. My mom hit a plateau and I gave her the tips, she followed through and started losing weight again. - 7/18/2009 8:49:28 PM
  • ALEATHA35
    I agree with the most recent statement. I was 140 3 years ago and managed to gain 35 lbs within 2 years. I was working out 5-6 times per week 1-2 hours per day and still continued to gain weight. I eat well and watch my sugar, fat, and salt intake. The articles focusing on plateaus I've read on SparksPeople have been less than useful. I am hoping that there would be something for people who have tried everything and what they could do next. Something outside of the box, like seeing a nutritionist, or endocrinologist, looking at current health challenges and seeing if those would affect your weight. Also determing if medications are a cause and looking at alternative medicines. Please look into providing a more broad range of information for those of us who have gone through the usual steps of getting past a plateau. I plan on looking at other means of meeting my weight loss goals. - 5/27/2009 8:18:54 PM
  • While I am glad to hear that so many people have found Coach Nicole's series on plateau busting useful, I was actually hoping for something a bit more nuanced. The information presented on nutrition, exercise, rest, and water consumption are all things we typically hear about in everyday discussions regarding weight loss. Thus presenting them as crucial pillars for plateau busting is less than useful in that it is routine and repetitive. As someone who has reached a plateau after losing more than 30 pounds and who has varied both workout routines and nutrition intake, consumes close to 3 liters of water a day and gets 7-8 hours of sleep a night-- I am looking for creative solutions that break out of the normal confines of what we are typically told about plateaus. I appreciate Coach Nicole's attempts to tackle this topic knowing that plateaus are unique to individuals, but I honestly believe there must be more innovative solutions and practices available to people to help break through a plateau. Best of luck to those who are facing a plateau! Keep on Going! - 5/23/2009 5:02:55 AM
  • This article came to me at the right time.
    Thank you so much for helping me find a way to break through this rut that I am in. - 5/22/2009 11:49:52 AM
  • Coach Nicole, you have helped me regain momentum to overcome the plateau where I have been sitting for over two months. I will explore Exercise TV on demand to find something new to try this week. Thank you so much! - 4/20/2009 6:24:11 AM
  • Very encoraging article. It was perfect timing that I read this article. I never get enough sleep. I'm always up until 1:00am and 2:00am, knowing I have to be at work at 7:00am. I was also getting too comfortable with my regular exercises and was thinking of only doing the two I felt best about. I didn't know that might cause me to plateau. I will be sure to change it up and try to get more rest. - 1/12/2009 3:49:46 PM
  • wow i cant believe how helpful that article was!! i found myself nodding my head while reading!! i am defenitly in a bit if plateau right now but i am not giving up i know just how to get out of it now

    thanks so much!!! - 12/10/2008 10:10:01 PM
  • I think I have hit a plateau so I have been considering buying a Tae bo tape just to add something different to my workout and maybe adding some reps to my strength training workout. - 10/1/2008 10:56:19 AM
  • BAREFOOTMOMLADY
    Thanks for this article, because I REALLY needed to read that! I've heard that you're supposed to change your workout every so often, but I never heard WHY. Finding out that my muscles get ver efficient at doing the same exercises over and over is exactly what I needed to know! - 9/3/2008 8:58:18 AM
  • This was a great reminder of what is needed to overcome a plateau. I'm saving it for future reference! - 7/12/2008 3:26:10 PM
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