When you first start in the gym you will often see pretty noticeable changes in your strength, fitness and body composition.
This feels great and is very motivating regardless of your starting point, but after maybe a year or two of consistent progress you will notice that the "newbie" gains have begun to slow down and your progress seems to slow too.
There a number of reasons that this can happen and in this blog, we’ll give some explanation as to what’s happening to your body in response to exercise.
Firstly, the reason you respond so well at the beginning is that you are giving your body a completely new stimulus, whether it be through strength training, cardiovascular training or whatever mode of training you have chosen to partake in. In order for your body to deal with these new stresses put on it, it must adapt by growing or becoming more physiologically efficient at the activity.
The key to keep improving as your "training age" matures is to constantly review what’s called the The FITT Principle (or formula). The acronym FITT outlines the key components of an effective exercise program, and the initials F, I, T, T, stand for: Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type.
A common mistake which people make is continuing to do the same exercise or programme that worked for them in the beginning and failing to adjust their regime with respect to the FITT principle.
For example, if you start off by going to the gym twice a week it could be a case that you need to commit to 3/4 days a week to keep on the "gain train". If you have already upped your frequency then it could be a case that you need to up your intensity within the sessions, this could be through increasing weight on the bar whilst strength training or by pushing that bit little bit harder in your cardio efforts.
The Myzone system is good for keeping an eye on this and ensuring you hit the yellow and red zones more and therefore gaining more "MEPS" in your sessions. Time is an important variable when it comes to breaking those plateaus so rather than simply looking to increase the lengths of your sessions which may be counterproductive, you could make those intervals more difficult by decreasing your rest periods for example or using supersets whereby you do two or three exercises back to back without any rest.
Lastly, with respect the FITT principle it could be time for you to change the type of the exercise, this does not mean you have to come away from your basic movement patterns of push, pull, squat, hinge and carry but it may mean changing from a goblet squat to a barbell back squat or changing up the angle or grip on a bench press so that your body has to adapt to slightly new stimulus.
If however, you have tried all of these and you would now consider yourself an advanced lifter then the stall in progress could be due to overtraining. Your body is failing to recover from session to session and you are trying to absolutely cane it every time you are in the gym and have done so without any sort of de-load for a prolonged period then this is quite likely the case.
Overtraining stems from your central nervous system being over stimulated and not being given time to recover before being stressed again. Simple signs that this could be affecting you is that you notice your grip strength is not what it was when doing deadlifts or pull-ups, other indicators may be feelings of severe fatigue, lack of motivation, insomnia, accumulation of niggling injuries and a decrease in immunity.
You may even experience a loss of power or strength, this is where it is essential to decrease either volume or load for up to a week with a focus on good nutrition, rest and good sleeping habits.
It's also important to take other life factors into consideration, poor nutritional habits, stress and long hours at work will not mix well with adding more stress through intense exercise.
So if you find your progress has hit a road block it may be of benefit to have a word with the professionals and explain your concerns and they will be able to suggest the correct solution for you and keep things fresh whilst hopefully getting you on the path to smashing through those plateaus!