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Train Your Body To Respond To New Challenges

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Here's what they didn't tell you when you signed up for your fat-blasting, bingo wing-busting mega program with New Year member bonus and free sweat towel: at some point your progress is going to stall like a learner driver with a stick shift. And that initial sense of mastery and virtue will turn to puzzlement and, perhaps, despair.

And that initial sense of mastery and virtue will turn to puzzlement and, perhaps, despair.

And that initial sense of mastery and virtue wwill turn to puzzlement and, perhaps, despair.

Internet forums are brimming with perplexed fitness newcomers, who have stopped losing weight, gaining strength, or increasing speed. This, friends, is what they mean when they say 'plateau'. And flat lining isn't the worst of it, some people actually see their vital stats going backwards.

But while it's logical to guess that you need to up the ante, you can't out- run a plateau. (Heck, even elite athletes find their PBs bottoming out, so save yourself the masochistic experiment.) Re-activating results instead demands a shake-up.

Think of your body like a teenager. At first, half a can of UDL leads to a night on the ceramic telephone. A few Facebook parties later, necking half a bottle of scotch merely makes her tipsy. This incremental tolerance, as the body adapts to the way you're treating it, is directly transferable to fitness. While any new behavior will make your body sit up, take notice and go about making arrangements to accommodate the changes, novelty quickly becomes the new normal. And once your body's cottoned on to what's coming, and set itself up to deal, it basically kicks back with a coldie. "It's imperative to understand that training adaptations don't necessarily occur in a linear progression," says Brad Taylor, exercise physiologist at Melbourne Exercise Physiology Group. "There will certainly be phases within a training program where everybody feels like they are working hard for little or no gain." In the gym, that may mean you gain or stop losing - weight, or stop seeing gains in speed, strength or flexibility. But deep breaths; this isn't the end of the world, or your fitness dream. That is, unless you decide to pack up your gym bag and go home or this is equally unhelpful go harder. The logic of adding more sets, or hours, or intervals to overcome a plateau is flawed, says exercise physiologist Greta Collier, of Fit & Healthy. "Inappropriate progressive overload and poor training technique will always produce poor gains in terms of aerobic and anaerobic fitness," she warns. The good news is that the plateau phenomenon is among the most studied areas of fitness, so there are proven solutions no matter what your favored training type.

That is, unless you decide to pack up your gym bag and go home or this is equally unhelpful go harder.

That is, unless you decide to pack up your gym bag and go home or this is equally unhelpful go harder.

Plateau-buster: cardio

If cardio is your thing, try new classes, get outdoors and give interval training a shot. It's going to do wonders for your cardiovascular fitness, as well as your fat-burning potential. If you found a fantastic workout five months ago and figured it was a keeper, no          wonder you've hit a wall! While you've been having fun and shaking that Zumba booty, at a cellular level your body has been eyeing off a comfortable rest. Poorly designed training programs or monotonous routines are a breeding ground for plateaus and an easy way to waste years of well-intentioned exercise. If you won't listen to our experts, how about Albert Einstein? Einstein's definition of insanity was 'doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result'. You can't do the same exercises over and over and expect your body to experience miraculous transformations, either! Long-term improvements and changes in muscle tone and body shape as well as muscular strength, endurance and cardiovascular fitness can only come about if you train your body to respond to new challenges.

If cardio is your thing, try new classes, get outdoors and give interval training a shot

If cardio is your thing, try new classes, get outdoors and give interval training a shot

Plateau-buster: weights

If toning and building muscle strength is your goal, the secret to consistent results through resistance training is to carefully tweak the exercises and progressively overload your routine; you might do this by increasing the angle of the movement, concentrating on the eccentric range of the motion instead of the concentric, adjusting the weight, altering your repetitions or sets or mixing up the tempo of the movement. Consider a weekly split workout where different muscle groups are targeted on different days. Just note, before you rush ahead and change everything in one mad moment, stick to the rules and only change one of these training stimuli at a time. This will allow your body to focus on that specific adaptation and pave the way for greater range of improvement in the future.

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