Anyone who trains regularly should understand there will eventually come a time when you experience a plateau. This is the phenomenon of your body fully adapting to your current training program, causing muscle gain to be minimised to the extreme.
The scientific name given to plateaus is homeostasis, which was discovered by Hans Selye. He came up with the theory of General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), which as Healthline states is “the three-stage process that describes the physiological changes the body goes through when under stress.” The three stages were termed Alarm, Resistance and Exhaustion.
Alarm is the initial reaction your body experiences to stress (all beginner weightlifters will experience this); Resistance refers to your body beginning to adapt to this new stress, a process that occurs over an extended period of time; and Exhaustion refers to the moment your body is no longer able to resist the stress and you can end up draining your physical, emotional and mental resources.
It’s also important to remember that nutrition plays a big role in determining how much muscle you gain or how much body fat you lose. To gain muscle, not only do you need to be training, but you need to be a caloric surplus. To lose fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit.
GAS isn’t applied solely to fitness, it should be known, but in response to any type of stressful event. With regard to fitness, however, when your body reaches the exhaustion stage, a good way to prevent it from happening or to minimise the effects, is to go through a rest or de-load week.
To help avoid your body from adapting to the training program you put it through on a regular basis, it’s always recommended to employ some variety and one of the most commonly preached methods is to change your workout program on a regular basis.
Fitness trainer Ron Jones has recently taken to TikTok to offer his two cents in relation to your workout split. He says for him, he has a “grab bag of different exercises to input all throughout the week.”
“Every 6 to 8 weeks, change the split completely. This is why the idea of optimal exercises is a terrible concept. All throughout each week I’m adding and taking away different exercises. The focus is the same for that day,” i.e. he will still perform a range of upper body exercises, or leg exercises, depending on his goal for that day, “but I’m doing it in a different way each time.”
“Every 6 to 8 weeks I change the split totally. That gives my body enough time to physiologically respond to that workout split.”
So, is changing your program every 6 to 8 weeks the best way to ‘shock’ the body and break through the plateau?
Best Ways To Program Your Workouts
DMARGE reached out to personal trainer and Myprotein Ambassador and Transformation Coach, Josh Williams, to find out the method(s) he thinks work best.
Off that bat, Josh tells us “It’s not so much about changing the exercises, but more so, how the resistance is being applied to these muscle groups. Whilst changing exercises can have its benefits, it’s not really the most practical nor sustainable way to train.”
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“At the end of the day, there are only so many new exercises you can perform, and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. The human body hasn’t changed in thousands of years and we already know the exercises that work best for muscle growth.”
With different fitness professionals having their different opinions and there being no hard and fast rule, what then, are people doing in the gym?
For Josh, he says “people aren’t changing their workout structures enough. Most people are finding a routine they enjoy, then sticking to that consecutively, week after week.”
“You get the odd person trying something new from some video they watched online, but for the most part, they’re not implementing any new training variables/protocols and therefore, not maximising their potential in the gym.”
When Josh refers to variables and protocols, he’s not just talking about changing your program, but highlighting the idea of things like progressive overload or time under tension. These are just a couple of new training methods you can employ to help boost your gains.
Josh explains this a bit further, adding, “Incorporating new exercises do have its benefits, contrarily, there are some fundamental exercises that you should never really be removed from a client’s program.” Here’s looking at you, deadlift, back squat and bench press.
“The notion that changing exercises periodically, comes from the fact that, with unique movements, the body is put under new stress that it’s not familiar with.”
“Theoretically, this is true as it then forces the body to grow. However, there is a much more sustainable, and practical way to confuse the body the same way without actually changing the exercises themselves.”
So, what does Josh suggest?
Progressive Overload Is Essential
“The human does not want to, nor does it care to grow. Human adaptation is a huge component when it comes to people hitting plateaus and not making progress.”
“You have to force the body to grow by confusing it, and the only way to achieve muscle growth consistently, is through progressive overload and we don’t need to necessarily change exercises to achieve this.”
“What we focus on with our clients at Limitless Warrior, is implementing new training protocols that stimulate muscle receptors by applying resistance in a unique way which thus, forces muscle growth.”
“A few examples of this are HVT (High Volume Training), GVT (German Volume Training), Tabata, TUT (Time Under Tension) training and many more. We do this every 4 weeks as some people will adapt faster than others, so we prefer to be on the safe side to achieve complete program optimisation.”
“This way we’re not overcomplicating things and running in equipment limitations, mobility hazards and can focus on injury prevention by keeping things safe and simple, yet effective.”
“Ultimately, you can easily achieve continued muscle growth by conducting the same exercises, they just need to be implemented in a unique way.”