Changing up how you train is an important component in preventing plateaus and continuing to make progress towards your goals.
In order to accomplish this in a structured way many trainers organize how they progress their clients through ‘training phases,’ each of which has its own ranges of sets/reps/and intensity (percentage of one rep max) meant to achieve a specific purpose. Each phase and its respective goals lead into and help you progress towards the next. Every different trainer/ certification program has their own subdivided phases.
The primary phases of training that I use include:
- Stabilization (muscle endurance, balance, joint stability)
- Hypertrophy (gaining muscle size, building strength, some muscle endurance)
- Max Strength (explosive strength, increasing the maximum you can lift in one rep)
- Conditioning (power, fat loss)
Changing up training should be approached carefully as you are (by its nature) putting a different type of strain on your body, and thus there can be a risk of injury. Here are a few guidelines to help.
1) Begin conservatively! You aren’t responsible to numbers. If, for example, the phase you are in has you lifting 65-80% of your 1 rep max, start off on the 65% end of this range and work your way up from there. If this feels easy the first day, give it a workout or so to see how your body responds and then increase.
2) Take rest breaks and days off as you need them (aka, listen to your body). Remember that even if you’ve been working out for some time (months, years, etc) changing your training places new stresses on the body and it might take a few days to acclimate.
3) Record your workouts including the weight/resistance you use for each exercise. This will help you track your progress and give you a good starting point the next time you perform that particular lift. For example, if I lifted 4 sets of 10 reps with 50 lbs last week, this week I might go for 4 sets of 12 or increase the weight by 5lbs.
4) Be patient to see change. It takes the body about four week to make visually noticeable changes. Don’t let yourself get caught up in measuring or comparing your physique everyday/ every lift. Instead set regular check in periods at the end of each phase or once a month. This will keep you accountable but prevent being disappointed because you can’t see a difference in your day to day.
This is my recent check in (about 4 weeks apart) and it was a huge motivator for me to compare these two photos.
5) Talk is cheap. Actually change your training! There are a lot of people who say that they are sick of plateaus; and yet they enjoy knowing exactly what they will do in the gym. “Bench at 135, then incline at _____, then triceps.” The idea of changing how they train and making gains sounds good, but its hard to break out of our comfort zones. When you get to the end of your cycle measure the change you made, review your previous workouts, and then move the f– on. If you stay in the gym consistently, your favorite phase will come right back around in a few months, and chances are good that you’ll perform even better the next time.
I hope you found this helpful and please reach out if you have any questions.
Nicole Mims. PT, DPT