Surviving Summit: Avoid the dreaded fitness plateau with a change of pace
To some extent we are all creatures of habit. Routine seems to be what is comfortable with many aspects of our lives, including diet, relationships and, of course, exercise. It’s easy to fall into a groove with a fast and familiar workout routine because, sometimes, that’s all we know and/or have time for. While a consistent workout is great, building variety into your fitness regimen will increase effectiveness and avoid the plateau effect from the same old routine.
One thing that seems to make the same exercises less effective and even boring is that repetitions are typically repeated at the same monotone pace. The key to unlocking the effectiveness of a basic exercise is very simple — all you have to do is change up the pace of your repetitions to keep your muscles guessing.
Muscles technically don’t have memory, but they do have structural and functional characteristics that define them. There are slow-twitch (type I), intermediate fast-twitch (type IIa) and fast-twitch (type IIb) muscles. We all have different variations of these in our skeletal muscles, and the effectiveness of these is influenced by our training, diet and genetics.
Incorporating varied speeds for repetitions will help target all of the different types of muscle fibers, as opposed to biasing just one type. Specific training speeds can also help improve the efficiency of the different energy systems that fuel our muscles. Slow-twitch muscles can be well conditioned for stamina and rapid recovery. Fast-twitch muscles can generate more power, but they tend to fatigue rapidly. The intermediate fast-twitch muscles are in between in terms of their power output and recovery rate. For the well-rounded, active individual, it is ideal to have both aerobic and anaerobic systems conditioned.
Pace, pulse and hold
To keep things fresh and fun, consider applying these simple principles to the exercises in your current workout regimen.
1. Change up the pace: Vary the speed of the exercise to incorporate slow, regular and fast-paced reps. To engage those slow-twitch muscle fibers, try using a three-to-five-count pace while focusing on control and form. When targeting your fast-twitch muscle fibers, make your movements explosive and powerful while still maintaining proper form.
2. Do some pulses: These are very short-range, fast reps. Find the most challenging range of your specific exercise and focus the pulses in that range to strengthen your weakest area.
3. Add some holds: Simply try holding different positions of your exercise. Think of a squat, where you can hold the squat position at various depths. Challenge yourself and hold the positions that are the most difficult.
Keeping things fresh and effective with exercise does not always require fancy equipment or complex exercises. Most often, the simplest of exercises are what we need, but they can become less effective and tedious if we do them at the same one-note pace. Use the different strategies to modify the speed of your repetitions and keep your exercise endeavors progressive and fun.
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