You work out religiously. You use excellent form for every lift on the resistance side and do every scheduled aerobic session no matter how tired you may be. But you're still not making gains.
So, here are the first two questions you need to ask yourself: how long have you been training consistently? And how long have you been doing the same routines?
Whether you're trying to build an awesome beach body or become a stronger and more powerful athlete, there's one rule that applies to every kind of workout: to progress in your appearance or athletic ability, you must have at least a basic knowledge of physiology and be able to put it to use.
Here's the science. Those who are new to conditioning and consistent workout programs have a grace period, usually between six months and a year, when they will make gains no matter what exercises they do.
Regular physical stimulus for a newbie or for someone who's been inactive for a few years causes the body to change all the way down to the cellular level.
The cells will learn to store more energy, the respiratory system will learn to carry more oxygen and the heart will begin to function more efficiently. Once these positive changes happen inside the body, it's no longer as easy to make continuous gains. This is what you need to know next: the human body is basically lazy. When you do a new exercise or conditioning program, your body will build up the extra strength and energy to do it. At the start of the new stimulus, the body will put out more energy than actually needed, because there's no physical way to "know" in advance how much energy the new routine will require.
But once the body gets used to the routine, it knows exactly how much energy and effort are required. It adapts to the program.
You stop getting stronger. You stop being able to run faster and faster. You may maintain what you have but you won't progress.
The adaptation period is different for each person and is also affected by the current level of fitness. A well-developed athlete has already pushed personal boundaries, so getting more strength and power will be harder and take more time.
A less-fit person usually has plenty of room for improvement, and that improvement will come faster when workouts are done regularly. Regardless, it's essential to know your body.
Only you can sense and see the minute improvements of progression; and then only if you have a thorough knowledge of your body's physiology.
The same goes for the process of adaptation, when you stop progressing. To overcome adaptation, all you have to do is change the physical stimulus.
There is always more than one way to do a particular exercise. You may have been working your chest with bench presses for months but now it might be time to switch to rows. You may have been doing heavy leg presses to build your quads but you'll start making gains again by switching to weighted squats on the Smith machine.
Study an anatomy chart to find muscles you might not be exercising. Change the amount of weight lifted, and change the number of reps or sets.
Create a whole new program with heavy and light days for resistance and aerobic work.
When the physical load placed on the body changes even slightly, the body will change as well. Remember that fact and you'll keep making gains – even if small ones – for as long as you wish.
Los Angeles Times
Wina Sturgeon is the editor of Adventure Sports Weekly.
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