I have seen it before you know. that look in your eyes. So interested in training, almost obsessed with it… Good you can use that, however you are going to have to be smart about it. Think of training as getting a tan, at first if you can stay in the sun 20-30 minutes a day and get in a great tan, but if you move to an hour, you will burn up, your skin will flake off and possibly be permanently damaged. Weight training is similar in that regard, if you push too much too soon you will know it. Your body will develop little aches that you will probably ignore because you love the training; however, eventually those tiny aches turn into real pains, which move into injuries.
A shame isn’t it? Trust me I felt the same way, when I started I could train all day everyday and sometimes I did. My bench went from 100 to 300 pounds in 9 months, I lived training and still do, and that is the gym rat in me. Nevertheless, the trainer in me knows better, to train more you must first be ready to move on.
Even in the first few short weeks of training, you feel a surge of strength, your confidence goes up, and you check the mirror more. Exercises that seemed complex or difficult are now easy, heck you are adding more and more weight. Months pass and your muscles feel bigger and harder. You are amazed at how far you have come and hope the rise to the top never ends. But it does, you have been stuck at the same bodyweight and bench max for a while now, your buddies may still even be going up. Therefore, you think,” I need to train harder that’s what it is” and add on another 30 minutes of tough training on top of your 45 that has helped you so much so far. Sadly that is all it takes for most, the aches get more frequent , you may get sick due to a lowered immune system from overstressing and you still do not gain any muscle mass or increase your strength.
Welcome to your first Plateau.
No it is not a time to move up your total training time 30 minutes, it is a time to sit down strap in and work harder. My first plateau was at 170 bench, starting from 100 I already gained 70 pounds until it all stopped. Luckily, for me though my coach knew better then to let me just train more, he taught me to train smarter. I swapped the program a bit, “shocked my muscles”, and kept getting stronger …..175lbs….185lbs…195lbs and onward.
The next plateau I faced was at 220 bench, at the time still working out the same amount of time as when I first got 105. However, this was different, 225 seemed like a huge step, TWO PLATES, I never needed to go higher (which is funny since now I have done 225 23 reps). However, then I was stuck, so my coach told me to start incorporating negatives into my training and I did. After a few workouts with heavy (235-255lb) negatives, I planned to do a 225 negative just to know how that exact weight felt. Well I did the negative all right, and the positive, just as smooth as 105 I benched the 225 without my spotter ever reaching down.
But enough with my story, I am here to make sure YOUR story is easier, less painful and takes you far. As you can see from my examples there will be plenty of times when your training reaches a standstill, whether you are trying to gain muscle, lose fat or get 405 bench. This does not automatically mean it is time to LENGHTEN your workout, or add more sets. However, it is an indicator you need to change your training up becuase your body is used to plain training so congratulations; you are becoming “Intermediate “.
Simply doing bench press 4 sets of 12 , incline flys 4 sets of 8 and chest dips 4 sets of 8 will not help you as much as before . You are likely going to have to step up the intensity through Advanced Principles such as Drop Sets, Pyramid Sets, Extended Sets, Supersets, and Tri Sets. I recommend you incorporate these one at a time, master it completely, and see how it affects you before moving onto the next strategy. Which is why I have published whole articles on styles of advanced training principles I feel work best.
Instead of lengthening your workouts to seek continued progression, look at them directly and adapt them for your weaknesses. Add more intensity into the workout itself, not by just dragging it out. Think of a world-class sprinter vs. a marathon runner. Although both amazing athletes, one works to improve the amount of work done in a short amount of time while the other in an essence adds more and more time.
Although perhaps an extreme example, you get the idea. Do not fear though, soon you will get advanced enough where you can constructively add more time if you want, just never rush it and don’t forget the little things.
Brad Kelly writes a weekly article every Tuesday. He is a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer, Performance Enhancement Specialist, and Corrective Exercise Specialist out of Panama City, Florida. Driven by a passion to help others he not only trains locals, but also performs online personal training and writes fitness articles to reach as many fellow fitness enthusiasts as possible.