You go to the gym nearly every day and give it your all, with the hopes of getting fit. In the beginning you saw some great results, but now, even though you have been doing the same things all along, you have plateaued. How can you jump-start your exercise program and start seeing impressive results again? The answer is muscle confusion. One way to achieve muscle confusion is through periodization.
The Basics of Periodization
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When a muscle gets exposed to a stress for the first time, it goes through an alarm reaction. You experience a temporary weakness. As you continue to expose your muscle to the same stressor, it grows stronger in order to overcome the stress. If you keep applying the same stress to the same muscle, it can enter a stage of exhaustion, and further gains are thwarted. This is called general adaptation syndrome. In other words, nothing works forever. You need to change up your routine frequently in order to continue to see improvement.
Many people believe that a weight resistance program should be done by starting with a lower weight and increasing the weight over time, while maintaining the same number of repetitions. This lack of variation in your routine trains your muscles to adapt to the exercises you are doing, and you begin to plateau. Undulating periodization is when you fluctuate the weight and the number of reps, but not in the traditional manner. For instance, you might do 10 reps of 20 pounds one session, and then do 12 reps of 25 pounds the next session. This may be followed by eight reps of 15 pounds the next time.
Stepwise periodization is a variation of traditional periodization. You start with a set weight and number of reps, and slowly increase the weight and decrease the reps during a set amount of time, say two to four weeks. You may reduce your reps from eight to five, and then five to three, while increasing the weight over a specified time period. After this cycle, you return to the original weight and number of reps over a period of time.
Periodization is just one way to switch up your routine and avoid plateaus. Changing other aspects of your workout are helpful and will also stave off plateaus. These include types of exercises, the order in which you do your exercises, the number of sets per exercise, the number of exercises for each muscle group, the rest periods between sets, the rest periods between exercise sessions and your nutritional intake. With all these choices, you keep your muscles guessing, and you should never get bored.
Suzanne Albrecht is a doctorate-holding pharmacist with more than five years experience writing medical/health articles. In addition to her pharmacy degree Dr. Albrecht holds a Master of Library and Information Science. Her articles have been published in "US Pharmacist" and on various websites.