It’s easy to hit the gym when every curl has the effect of a foot-pump on a party balloon. But those halcyon first days in the gym, when the body is so unaccustomed to exercise that every squat, crunch and press seems to turn fat to muscle like magic, only last so long.
It’s tougher to forgo the pub and pull on compression leggings when it feels like no matter how hard you work, it doesn’t show in the mirror.
These plateaus are common. To swap stasis for strength, you need to take your training up a gear. This quartet of tips from personal trainer and founder of P4 Body, Dylan Jones, will stop your workouts stalling. And kickstart your motivation.
Gains are the body’s way of reacting to stress. You lift something heavy; it tears muscle fibres. Your body rebuilds the damage and adds more muscle, in case you decide to do something that stupid again. But if you stick to the same regime from your gym induction, the body adapts to suit it, but nothing more. So when those same moves stop working, mix things up.
“Start to work outside your comfort zone by picking the exercises you avoid,” says Jones. “They are the exercises that will give you the best response by creating a higher demand on the nervous system, which in turn makes you work harder.” If your session feels easy, then you may as well have stayed at home.
Unless You’re Working Too Hard
When lifting, your body gets damaged. When you rest, it rebuilds. If you only do the former, and never the latter, then muscles can’t fix what you’ve broken. “Don’t overdo it all the time,” says Jones. “Structure your plan and gradually build up intensity over several weeks, then drop it down for one week to allow the body to adapt.”
Don’t quit the gym entirely – instead, focus on the kind of low-impact work you normally ignore: stretching, mobility, stability. The body will recover and the time spent on ‘prehab’ will reduce the risk of injury when you do start shifting steel again. “You’ll come back stronger after you have given your body the extra recovery time to repair.”
As in the gym, so in the kitchen. The most stringent diet plan tends to lose rigour as life gets in the way. If you’re not seeing any movement on the scales, start from scratch. “Check your diet then strip it back,” says Jones. “Most individual goals, from getting lean to piling on the pounds, will involve keeping your diet in check. Take it right back to the basics and cut all sugars and ‘treats’.”
You’ll become mindful of your diet and can see how a lunchtime biscuit or a petrol station Twix add up. “After three days, start to reintroduce some of the foods,” says Jones. “This will give your body a chance to rest from all the food you have been eating and make you more aware of the extras that are sneaking their way in and slowing your results right down.”
Rethink Your Target
We have a tendency to think short-term. But each goal should be a step to the next. If that summer body is built, don’t head back to the pub – instead, think of a different challenge to keep you in the gym.
“Get a goal and record,” says Jones. “If you haven’t got a time-specific goal your motivation could be at stake. Not only will this help give you the drive to work hard and be stricter with your diet, but it will also help you plan correctly. By recording your weekly progress, you’ll constantly be raising the bar.”