Everyone wants to burn fat, build lean muscle and improve their fitness, but every now and then, despite your best efforts, you find yourself struggling to make improvements. Your progress is stuck, you aren’t running faster and your workouts seem to feel harder.
These are called “plateaus,” and while they’re common, they don’t have to be. In fact, if you structure your fitness training correctly, you can ensure you’ll almost always make consistent progress so you can see results from your hard work.
The first thing you need to understand is your body is designed to adapt to an incredible amount of physical demands, but you have to train it correctly.
DON’T TRY TO IMPROVE EVERYTHING AT ONCE
The main areas of fitness and athleticism most people want to improve are: speed, strength, power, aerobic endurance, anaerobic endurance, muscle size, etc. It’s nearly impossible to improve all these things at once because increasing any one of these things comes at the expense of something else. So if you try to improve everything, you’ll ultimately improve nothing.
Instead, focus on one area (or two, at the very most) and dedicate most of your training to improve it. For example, if you want to boost your strength, you can follow a powerlifting program and spend a little time each week to maintain your conditioning and endurance.
DIVIDE YOUR TRAINING INTO “BLOCKS”
Once you decide what to focus on, you have to figure out how to structure your workouts and for how long. Blocks are a good approach because if you want to improve one area of your fitness (e.g., conditioning), it takes several weeks for your body to adapt and improve. So by dedicating an adequate amount of time to conditioning — instead of concentrating on something different every workout or every week — you’ll find yourself getting better and better by the week.
Start by dividing your training into “blocks,” with each block lasting about 4–6 weeks. The first block can target conditioning, the next block can target strength and the last block can target power.
FOCUS ON PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD
After you divide your training into the blocks, it’s important to squeeze the most results out of your block. Gradually make your training harder and more intense — whether that means using more weight, more reps, longer durations or shorter rest. (Progressively increasing your training is called “progressive overload.”) By giving your body more and more stimulus, you’ll enjoy more and more results.
MAKE SMALL, STEADY INCREASES
Aim to increase your training by the smallest amount that gives you improvements. As a rule of thumb, you should only increase your training by about 10% per week. Otherwise, if you increase your training by too much too fast, you’ll be vulnerable to plateaus, “burn out” and even injuries.
TRAIN HARD, RECOVER HARDER
You don’t grow when you train; you grow when you recover. That’s why, no matter how hard you exercise, if you can’t recover from your training, you will not get consistent results. Worse, you could push yourself into “overtraining” or even sustain injuries due to the all the stress and fatigue.
Within your training block, take time during the week to do easy things to help your body recover and feel its best — foam roll, stretch, perform breathing exercises, meditate, take a relaxing walk, eat nutritious food, etc. It might not seem like much, but it will make a huge difference in your training (and life).
SCHEDULE “DELOAD” WEEKS
Despite your best efforts to recover, by the end of a block, you will get more fatigued depending on how much you’ve increased your training load and your initial level of fitness.
That’s why, before you jump into a different block with a different focus, take a week to go easier on your body so it can repair itself, grow and lock in those gains. You should still train, but try decreasing your training by about 30% for that week.