Beginning exercisers often complain about muscle soreness or fatigue, but more advanced workout fanatics fear a much worse phenomenon: the dreaded “workout plateau,” when benefits suddenly grind to a halt and the body remains stuck at the same fitness level.
Experts sometimes disagree on the best method to transcend such plateaus, but their advice seems to usually boil down to basic principles: overload the muscle and/or confuse the muscle. Accomplishing these goals is perhaps easiest at a gym, but budget and time constraints preclude that option for many. Fortunately, the fitness industry provides many at-home alternatives to traditional gym memberships.
Products and Methods To Overload Muscles
The simplest way to overload or completely fatigue the muscles is to increase the weight lifted in each repetition or to increase the number of sets of a particular exercise. The majority of exercisers often continue to do the same routine long after it has become too easy for them; if the last repetition of a set can be done without effort, a change is long overdue.
Power circuits, where a series of exercises are performed one at a time and then combined into a rapid-fire integrated set, can help “jump start” the body to break through a plateau. Ratcheting up the difficulty level without increasing the weight or number of set is yet another effective strategy (substituting Arnold presses for ordinary shoulder presses, for instance), as long as good form is never compromised.
Jackie Warner’s “Personal Training With Jackie: Power Circuit Training” DVD offers five different power circuit workouts. One is 40 minutes in length; the others are about 15 minutes, including warm-up and stretch. They are fast-paced enough to get the heart rate up and contain enough variety to keep the exerciser interested. A few of the lower-body exercises would not work for anyone with knee problems, however.
Any of the Jari Love “Get Ripped” DVDs will assist in completely fatiguing particular muscle groups; some exercises are performed in repetitions of 90! These programs are for advanced exercisers, and would need to be seriously modified for those with lower skill levels.
Products That Help Confuse the Muscles
Cathe Friedrich’s DVDs are all tough enough to make even advanced exercisers feel like they’re kicking it up a notch. Her “Shock Training System” is designed to help body sculptors avoid plateaus by working out different sets of muscles with different-sized weights on different days. The complete Shock Training System costs over $300, but is one of the most intense and thorough workout methods on the market. It requires a good deal of equipment, including an inclined bench, to be performed properly.
One of the most popular systems utilizing muscle confusion principles is by Beachbody. Called P90X and costing about $120, it is for seriously dedicated exercisers who wish to see a big difference as quickly as possible. P90X uses many different types of workouts, including some yoga sessions, to make sure the muscles never “get complacent” and stop developing. There are three phases of workouts, followed by a week of “rest,” during which stretching and balance exercises are performed.
A somewhat less expensive method is simply to buy about four or five different types of workout DVDs and rotate the varied routines throughout the week.
Muscle Confusion Techniques Still Somewhat Controversial
Despite the fact that the idea of using muscle confusion has been around at least since Joe Wieder invented the resistance band, some experts do not agree with its primary goal of constantly keeping muscles developing by continually switching types of workouts. They point out that the proteins in muscles need recuperation time to gain mass after any strenuous workout, so going overboard on a consistently changing program that does not allow this to take place is counterproductive.
Some claim that altering the routine too frequently can even shrink the muscles, because they do not have enough time to build back up or increase in size before a new type of exercise is attempted. Nonetheless, many exercisers believe that muscle confusion has worked well for them.
Look at it this way: Many dermatologists swear that switching shampoos has no effect on hair manageability or condition, but most consumers notice that trying a new hair care product often considerably improves their hair’s appearance and behavior. With muscle confusion systems, it appears that much of the anecdotal evidence points in pretty much the same direction: No matter what science decrees, the body just keeps right on responding.