Trying to bust through a training plateau? Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us.
Here, exercise physiologist, sports scientist and 12RND Fitness ambassador Drew Harrisberg shares his expert intel.
1. Periodise. Periodise. Periodise.
Raise your hand if you show up to the gym each week and do the same handful of workouts over and over again. Have you ever wondered why you haven’t made any significant progress for a while? I see this all the time in the gym and I’m occasionally guilty of it myself. We stick to certain exercises, focus on our strengths, neglect our weaknesses, and get paralysed in our comfort zone. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. It’s like building a house. Different jobs require different tools. If you keep trying to drill a nail that requires a hammer, you’re not going to achieve the desired outcome. Choose the right tool for the right job.
For example, many guys get overly focussed on hypertrophy training and neglect strength training, plyometrics, power, and endurance training. There are a number of different stimuli for muscle growth, therefore an optimal program should incorporate all of them. A program that I personally like to follow is a Daily Undulating Periodisation (DUP) program. In other words, each workout will have a specific objective. Each day will have different rep range, intensity, and loading parameters and these will fluctuate in micro and macro training cycles.
On strength days, the objective is to produce force i.e move heavyweights to create mechanical tension and muscle damage. Focus on low rep, heavyweight, in the 4-6 rep range.
On hypertrophy days, the objective is to get a really good pump i.e fill your muscles with blood and metabolic substrates which have an anabolic growth effect via cellular swelling. Focus on moderate reps, moderate weight, in the 8-12 rep range.
On endurance days, the objective is to feel a burn i.e create a metabolic stimulus for growth. Focus on higher reps, lighter weights, in the 15+ rep range. Use supersets, drop-sets, sets to failure etc.
Also make sure you vary your exercise selection and the order in which you perform them. One of the reasons why I love 12RND fitness is because you can show up any time within opening hours and be guaranteed a full-body circuit made up of compound lifts (12x 3-min rounds). Every workout is different and the program is periodised by the trainers so that it includes strength phases, power phases, and endurance phases.
2. Master the compound lifts
Compound exercises are movement patterns that require activation of numerous large muscle groups and joints. They are far more taxing on the nervous system and require a higher level of skill than isolation exercises. Sure, some guys can simply look at a dumbbell or cable machine and get bigger, but most guys do much better by focusing on getting strong and proficient at the main compound lifts in both the vertical and horizontal planes such as bench press, pull-ups, rows, overhead press, dips, squats, deadlifts, and lunges (or other unilateral leg variations). These should be the foundation of any good program. Perform these movement patterns at the beginning of your workout when you’re fresh and energised, then move on to the isolated, single joint, accessory work such as bicep curls, tricep extension, later raises, calf raises, cables and machines etc.