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Plateau no more! 3 Ways to Keep Your Workouts Working for You!

Jun 09, 2019
Ashley Lawrie

Author: Riley Pearce
Social Media Director
Personal Trainer – Byward Market

One of the greatest things about strength training is just how much you can change the workouts over time. You can periodize over weeks, months, and even years! Changing your workouts from all barbell to all bodyweight can even lead to useful adaptations!

If you find that your workouts are feeling a little “blah”, maybe it is time to change something up. The good news is it doesn’t take a great deal of effort or knowledge of training to add some new excitement to your workouts and reignite that fire and motivation!

Switch Up the Tempo

The standard tempo exercises are performed at is a 2:0:2:0 meaning 2-second count to initiate the eccentric contraction (lengthening of the muscle) followed by 0 seconds between that and the concentric portion of the movement (shortening of the muscle), pause for 0 seconds at the greatest contraction then proceed to the next rep. The  image below shows a slow eccentric tempo.

Altering any point of this tempo model can create a new kind of stimulus for the muscles and therefore encourage adaptations to occur. So you can make the concentric contraction longer, drawing out the time it takes to shorten the muscle and forcing you to really focus on the feeling of the muscle working.

There is also benefit to lengthening the time it takes to complete the eccentric contraction, or the lengthening of the muscle. This is typically the weaker part of the movement. Think about doing a bicep curl. On the way up the movement is simple and seems to get easier as you progress through the contraction. On the way down it feels uncomfortable and many of us just let gravity take over. By intentionally slowing down this movement you actually strengthen the weakest part of the movement, thereby making the overall strength of the muscle more balanced and robust.

A few things should be known before trying this out.

  1. If you are going for reps, tempo is not ideal. In a study published in The Journal of Human Kinetics in 2018, Wilk et. al found that incorporating tempo into a working set resulted in fewer reps being completed in comparison to the standard tempo.
  2. If you are doing volume training, tempo is a great idea! The same study by Wilk et. al found that although you perform fewer reps, the muscles time-under-tension was increased. Research has observed that the greater time the muscle spends under tension, the greater the hypertrophic adaptations (gains) are achieved.

Leave It All to the Drop Set

Drop sets are exactly what they sound like – a set where something drops, in this case it is the weight. To make the most of the drop set scheme you should start with a very heavy weight – around the weight that you can do for 8-12 reps for that exercise. Perform your reps and then drop the weight to something lighter. Perform another set of reps with very little rest between sets. Keep doing this until you have dropped the weight to about 30% of your predicted 1 rep max.

What are the benefits of this style of programming? For starters it takes much less time to achieve the same benefit as a straight set of an exercise with rest intervals between each set. So if you are pressed for time but want to make sure you get a good workout in, a drop set could be an efficient way to achieve that.

Drop sets have also been shown to increase cross-sectional area, strength, and endurance of the muscles. Your volume is high, but so are your reps, so you are able to increase many aspects of you training by doing the exercise in a drop set.

Try A New Piece of Equipment

Believe it or not doing the same exercise with a different piece of equipment will make it seem like a whole new stimulus to the body. A barbell will shift the body’s center of gravity in a different way than a dumbbell, or even doing the exercise with no equipment.

If you’ve noticed a plateau in your training, try switching up the equipment for a week and your workout will feel like brand new!

Strength training is so easy to vary, you just need to know the little tips and tricks to keep your workouts new and exciting, so you can continue to benefit from the workouts.

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