How to Break Exercise Plateau

How to Break Exercise Plateau

By Dan Rockvoan, BMI, CPT-CI, CPT-NASM, CES-NASM, Northshore LIVING WELL Magazine

Are you stuck in a plateau? When progress towards building cardio, muscle, or weight loss stops, it is called a plateau. A plateau occurs when there is too much repetitive exercise. Because our bodies adapt quickly to the same exercise routines, variables must be changed periodically to keep the body in a state of motion and muscle confusion, thus resulting in continued progress.

The SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) applies here. Adapting your exercise program with more challenging demands ensures that progress toward your fitness goals will continue. Exercise variables are tools keeping the body in a state of change, i.e. reps, sets, weight, intensity, frequency, rest, duration and tempo.

Reps (repetitions) are the number of times an exercise is performed, usually 10-12 reps. Sets are grouped by the number of reps performed in each. For example, you might perform a particular movement for three sets of 10 repetitions. Weight is the amount pushed, pulled or lifted for a given number of reps and sets.

Intensity is a percentage of a one rep maximal push, pull, or lift. It is also possible to use a percentage of your own body weight for determining optimal intensity. For example, if you are capable of bench chest pressing 150 pounds only once, your one rep max for a bench chest press is 150 pounds. Take 70-80% of 150 (105 – 120 lbs.) and do 8-12 reps for one to three sets.  Let’s say you can do a bicep curl with 30 lbs. only one time. Estimate 70-80% of 30 (21 – 24 lbs.) and perform 8-12 reps for one to three sets.

Frequency is the number of days a program is performed, usually two to four times weekly. Duration is how long an exercise or program is worked, usually two to four weeks. Rest is the length of time between sets, usually 30-60 seconds. Tempo is the speed at which muscle and joints move against and with gravity. An example of stabilization tempo (4-2-1), which is read and performed right to left, means you would push the weight for 1 second, hold weight (stabilize) for 2 seconds, and then resist the weight with downward motion for 4 seconds while returning to the starting position.

Multi-joint motions are also great plateau busters. Squats, front lunges and side lunges can be performed with bicep curls, shoulder presses, tricep extensions, chest pushes, or back rows with  alternate and single arm using dumbbells with a weight that can elicit good posture and form.

Additional plateau busters include stability ball exercise, body weight exercise, medicine ball routines, plyometric exercise, kettle bell exercise, dumbbell and bar exercise, various classes, exercise tubes, and any number of exercise machines.

Another way to change a dull, boring routine is to perform a given exercise with two arms, alternate arms, and single arm. The same can be done with leg movements – two legs, alternate leg and single leg balance routines.

In addition to minimizing progress plateaus, varying your exercise routine will keep them both interesting and challenging. Enjoy your workout!

Dan has been in the fitness industry for over 20 years. He is a board certified personal trainer with the world renowned Cooper Clinic and a board certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Dan’s clients range in ages fro 11 to 80+. Dan is a master trainer in both regular fitness training and post rehab. Dan resides in Tangipahoa Parish. For interest in gym or home training, contact Dan Rockvoan, BMT, CPT-CI, CPT-NASM, CES-NASM at 504-236-1117 or