Are you no longer reaping the rewards of your workout sessions? Perhaps, you’ve hit what is called a plateau. That’s normal. It’s more than normal, it’s positive. Your body is doing a good job of adjusting to your demands. Now, if you want to get out of that phase some levelling up may be required. Here are some game-changing hacks that can radically heighten your work outs. Pick the ones that work for you and prepare yourself to be challenged.
- Let’s start by stating the obvious
There are traditional ways to elevate your work-out. They’re not what we call radical, but we still think they’re worth mentioning here.
If you’re doing fitness or weightlifting, you can:
- increase your number of reps
- increase your weights (in small increments)
- increase the number of exercises you complete in a given time-frame
If you’re doing cardio, like running or cycling, you can:
- go longer
- go faster
- do intervals (a terrific way to work on cardiac strength).
Ok, now that we have that out of the way let’s focus on the radical stuff.
- Monitoring and internal logging for clarity
So, what’s happening? Back in the old days, to figure stuff out we’d bring to our work out a notebook with a pen and write down the exercises we completed, our time performance, the weather, heart rate, the lift of the day etc. Today, we can log it in an app, or wear a device that will sync our data to an app. Some people can’t train without it, others simply hate it. We understand both positions at True Tribe: on one hand the need for transparency, on the other the desire to train with the bare minimum.
That being said, if you’re currently experiencing a plateau taking a closer look at your info may help you get clarity. What exercises challenge the most your heart rate? Are you training long enough? How many miles/hour are you going? How quickly are you recovering?
Logging your info will help you tangibly see where you’re doing well and where you need to focus. It’ll give you personal accountability, which can be exactly what you need to level up.
- High altitude training: getting higher to achieve more
Altitude is a radical way to literally and figuratively elevate your work-out. In fact, high level athletes rely on altitude training to shave off precious seconds, and many of them live and/or train at high altitude locations such as Colorado Springs, Mamoth Lakes in the USA, Toluca in Mexico, Sierra Nevada in Spain, and Iten in Kenya among many other locations.
That’s because in high-altitude environments, the human body draws less oxygen per breath than it would at lower altitudes. This means each breath will deliver less oxygen to the muscles. This may sound counter-intuitive, but really it gets us used to breathing “thinner” air, which can enhance our athletic performance. It feels like putting in more effort to perform as well as closer to sea level.
This challenged metabolic state decreases the amount of oxygen being delivered to the muscles to burn fuel and create energy (hypoxia). But as you acclimate to high altitude, you acquire more red blood cells, which allows your blood to carry more oxygen. When you return to lower altitudes, you’ll get a natural boost to the muscles as additional oxygen is available. This blood expanding effect can enhance performance in elite athletes by 1 to 2 percent. That doesn’t sound like much, but it can be the difference when you’re competing for a medal and it can definitely help you progress faster and level up from your plateau.
If you want to go further, the most recent research has shown that the most effective way to use altitude to train is to follow what Dr. Stray-Gundersen calls the “live high, train low” program. The program consists in living and lightly training in high-altitude areas to acclimate one’s body to lower oxygen levels. But reserving harder training sessions in lower altitude areas, where the muscles can work harder with the maximal amount of oxygen available for aerobic performance.
- Music: a higher bpm to perform better, a slower bpm to recover
We’re not kidding, music can be radical so bring that underground party with your favorite DJ set to your workout session. You don’t believe us? A study conducted by Dr. Costas Karageorghis, deputy head of the School of Sport and Education at Brunel University, London, found that the fast, rhythmical bass of a dance track with many beats per minute is the perfect bench press soundtrack. He told BBC News that by inducing alpha brain wave activity, a fast dance number can trick you into being less tired. In fact, “the alpha brain wave activity is responsible for our dreams and rest states. This leads to a state known as 'flow,' which is an ultimate motivational state in which sportspeople are completely immersed in what they are doing and feel as if they are functioning on autopilot” he explains. Lyrics seem to matter as well, Karageorghis mentions how former world champion boxer, Chris Eubank, uses the Tina Turner track “Simply the Best” or how world record marathon runner, Paula Radcliffe, listens to Kanye West’s “Stronger” for the lyrics’ inspirational messages.
Conversely, another research found that listening to slow music after a workout helped recover faster. The study conducted by the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, found that music boosts the body’s levels of serotonin and dopamine, hormones that are known to foster recovery. So, try listening to a few of your favorite relaxing tracks as soon as you finish your workout to get your blood pressure and heart rate back to normal and quickly recover.
- Muscle confusion for more motivation
Are your muscles confused? No? Too bad because some confusion might be a solution. Here’s why: the plateau you’re experiencing is a consequence of your muscles building memory and your body adapting. Muscle memory explains how you master certain movements when done repeatedly, and thus they become less stressful on your body. The drawback is that sticking to the same workout over and over again may halter results.
Enters, muscle confusion. Simply put, confusing your muscles means shuffling your exercising routine all the time to avoid repetition. The physical advantages of the practice are still somewhat debatable because of lacking independent scientific study. However, from a mental perspective muscle confusion can make a big difference. One study, reported in the New York Times, tested two already well-trained groups in the U.S and Spain. One group completed the same exercises in the same order every day, just incrementing weights and reps as usual. The other group completed a different routine every single day. Both groups experienced noticeable progress at the same level. But at the end of the study, interestingly, the second group completing the ever-changing workouts reported feeling much more motivated to exercise than the other group. Indeed, Brad Schoenfeld, an associate professor of exercise science at Lehman College in New York and a co-author of the study pointed out that “the differences in motivation scores at the end were substantial,” suggesting that “from a purely motivational standpoint, variety matters”. Changing your workout every three weeks may help your body get more results, if not it will most probably help you feel more engaged and implicated in performing the changed routine and drill.
- Food & Hydration: give your body the fuel it deserves
Nutrition is a vast topic that requires ample space to be properly addressed, so we don’t want to delve too much into it here. But it goes without saying that what you eat and drink and when you eat it and drink it plays a pivotal part in your physical performance whether you’re doing cardio, HIIT, strength training, yoga, Pilates, ballet, boogie dancing, moonwalking, ghost catching, space invading etc. So, whatever it is your doing, make sure your diet is working for you, not against you.
- But wait a minute… What about rest?
In some cases, the solution is not more but less. So before trying one of these hacks, please consider this: have you been having enough rest? If you’ve been going too hard for too long, resting may be exactly what you need. Your muscles need recovery time to be ready for more. If you never rest, you will never reap the full rewards of your work and a plateau is bound to hit you. A day or two of rest each week can get you over a plateau and keep you healthy.