When experiencing a plateau while performing your muscular strength training program, the tendency is to increase the external resistance (i.e. increase the weight you are lifting). However, everyone reaches a point when they are no longer able to lift more external load either due to their current strength level or perhaps physical limitations which prohibit safely lifting more load. So, how do you break through the plateaus?
There are many “other” methods of increasing intensity aimed at breaking through plateaus and increasing muscular strength levels, and this week we will feature three of those methods. The focus will be specifically on external resistance and not body weight training which we will cover at another time. As always, prior to beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.
Slow Down the Tempo of your Repetitions
There has been a great deal of research on very slow tempo training and while there is value in that type of training, what we are referring to is simply slowing down the tempo of the training.
So, while power training where explosive exertion is expected, slower tempo training concentrates on building muscular strength by applying a principle known as “time under tension”.
Keeping the muscle group under tension longer, may provide a safer environment for training as there is additional time allotted for proper form and technique, but it may also increase muscular strength levels by requiring the muscle to remain under tension longer which may physiologically “change” the muscle.
An example would be to take four counts to perform a standing triceps pushdown exercise at the functional station of a multi-gym (i.e. cable/pulley system) and four counts to return to the beginning position. Or, if you would like to emphasize the eccentric aspect of the contraction, push down for two counts and take six counts to return to the beginning position.
Change your Body Position
Where your body is in relationship to gravity is critical when training with external resistance (i.e. free weights, plate loaded equipment, cable/pulley functional stations and in most cases, resistive tubing).
Therefore, changing your body position when performing muscular strength training exercises may increase the intensity due to a different stress/adaptation component.
If you are accustomed to performing lunges holding dumbbells or with a barbell from the shoulders, from the floor, try doing so from an elevated platform, placing the front foot on an 8 inch step/bench with the back leg trailing and back heel elevated throughout. Or, attempt the lunge with the trailing leg elevated and the front foot on the floor.
You may need to decrease the amount of external resistance initially to enable the body to stabilize from the new position, but over time, you may be able to progress, gradually adding back in the original external resistance and perform the exercise from the new position.
Change the Equipment
If you are a die-hard free weight enthusiast, think out of that box and perform your classic strength training exercises with different equipment such as resistive tubing, kettlebells, cable/pulley systems, Smith Machines, and medicine balls.
Not only may this increase the intensity, but it may help keep you firmly on your fitness journey providing variety and continued increases in intensity leading to muscular strength gains. And, as I always remind my clientele, there is no downside to becoming stronger!