“Should I change up my workout?”

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How often should you change your workout routine to avoid hitting plateaus? – Erica

Expert: Irene Lewis-McCormick, MS, CSCS, author of A Woman’s Guide to Muscle and Strength.

The human body is designed to seek the path of least resistance, and although this is a terrific genetic adaptation for survival, it’s not a very effective way of achieving consistent increases in muscle strength and fat loss. The good news is that periodization can help you to avoid plateaus by adding necessary variety to your training, as well as significantly decreasing your risk of overuse injuries.

It works like this: focus on one particular goal for a time frame (for example, six to eight weeks). Try having a specific goal, like increasing overall strength, focusing on enhancing functional capacity (in this case, the arms and legs work together), or increasing lean muscle mass and losing body fat. Once you have reached that particular goal, make changes to your training routine, along with changes to your particular goal. For example, beginners should start out with easy-to-perform exercises – like a squat or biceps curl – with lighter loads to aid them in learning the mechanics of each movement. As they become accustomed to the exercises and the weight loads, they should change the routine by making the exercises more complex (perhaps by performing the squat and biceps curl at the same time), and eventually take on a heavier weight load.

There are many ways to use periodization training. My latest book, A Woman’s Guide to Muscle and Strength (Human Kinetics, 2012) outlines 24 months of training programs for both beginners and the advanced, including strength training for those women who train primarily through cardio activities like running or cycling, with little consistent resistance training.

Not only should you make changes in your training program regularly, you should also be aware of how you feel daily and weekly. Not every workout should be about crushing, overwhelming intensity. Listen to your body and realize that some days will allow for harder workouts, versus other days where moderate intensity might be more appropriate, depending on your previous workouts, hydration levels, sleep patterns, etc. Recovery is good! Don’t feel guilty about taking a day off on a regular basis.