A couple of weeks ago, we received the following question in our Suggestion Box from a Super Ninja:
“I’ve been with MFF for about 3 years taking classes 3 times a week. I feel like my body is plateauing. Any advice?”
Well, Super Ninja, let me just say that we at the MFF Clubhouse have damn sure enjoyed this romantic relationship that has blossomed over the past three years.
Three years of consistently showing up to your mat – to this relationship – day in and day out, even on those sh*tty days when you didn’t necessarily feel like it.
Given how much we’ve grown and matured together during this three-year journey, at this point in our relationship, it might also be time for a #DTR conversation. (Which means “define the relationship,” for those of you who are not in the know. 😉
You see, there comes a point in every relationship where a conversation needs to take place about what happens next. But please, since I’m single AF, take the following words with a grain of salt… maybe several grains of salt… or just the whole f*ckin saltshaker, dammit.
Oftentimes, the gist of this #DTR conversation is that things have been going really well – or not so well – for a while now, and a decision needs to be made about taking the relationship to the next level.
It’s Not You, It’s Me
You are a different person than the person who walked into these Clubhouse doors three years ago. A brand new Ninja who is regularly partaking in a structured workout routine for the first time will respond very differently to said workout routine compared to a Super Ninja like yourself who has been at it for a while now.
The new Ninja will experience lots of rapid progress, because basically everything is a brand new stimulus. The technical term for this is “newbie gainz.” Given enough time, however, these new Ninjas adapt accordingly and the newbie gainz start to slow down.
And, Super Ninja, because we love you so goddamn much, we are committed to taking this relationship to the next level and seeing you flourish and reach new heights.
To that end, let’s go on a hot date to #ScienceLand. But first, a brief pit stop.
A pit stop to where, you ask? Great question. We are going to #Basicville.
Welcome to #Basicville
Getting really great at the basics cannot be overstated. There’s nothing groundbreaking about the things I’m going to mention here, but they’re important nonetheless.
Before we even consider other things related to training and how they relate to plateaus, let’s make sure we’re crushing all of these things. Remember, there’s a difference between simply knowing the basics, and actually practicing them.
- Nutrition: Are you getting adequate protein and veggies and staying properly hydrated? Are your meals composed of mostly whole foods that are nutrient-dense? Are your macros reflective of the goals that you’re trying to achieve?
- Sleep: Are you getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night? Is your room as dark as it can possibly be to allow for the deepest rest possible? Are you shutting off electronics before bed to allow your brain some time to chill out? Do you have a pre-sleep ritual that signals to your brain and body that it’s time to downshift and rest?
Stress: How are you managing the various stressors in your life? Do you have practices in place that help you keep your cool and stay mindful and engaged when stress inevitably shows up? Physical therapist (and really brilliant guy) Bill Hartman talks about the concept of a finite “stress bucket” that we all have, and letting stress run amok drains this bucket, thus draining us of the ability to truly get the most out of our workouts.
Date Night in #ScienceLand
Whew, we made it. So you’re nailing the basics. Great. Now let’s talk about our bodies for a sec.
You see, expending physical resources, the type of resources necessary for making some serious #healthandhotness changes, is a costly thing from a biological perspective. Your brain and body’s #1 priority is to ensure your survival and the passing of your DNA to your offspring. DAS IT. Anything beyond that seems pretty superfluous.
When our bodies are in a state of homeostasis (a state in which our various physiological systems are in a stable equilibrium with each other and all is well in the world), our bodies are happy. Homeostasis = happy place. No, not that type of happy place, damn it. Get your mind out of the gutter.
When we are in that happy place, there is simply no reason for our bodies to change. Why would they? Things are fine and dandy just the way they are.
But here’s where things get interesting. A stressor is a stimulus that disturbs our equilibrium, threatening that happy place and therefore requiring some sort of physiological response to deal with that stressor.
Back to the #DTR
Beloved Ninja, I am so glad that you asked!
After three years of taking classes consistently like the rockstar that you are, it is very likely that while classes remain challenging, they no longer challenge you to the same degree that initially elicited drastic changes in your body like they did when you first started.
Again, you are a different person than the Ninja who walked into the door three years ago, and the newbie gainz have waned. The stresses of classes no longer disturb your body’s equilibrium to the same degree that they used to.
Hence, we need to overload and threaten our system enough – the right amount and the right type of stress, applied intelligently – to disturb equilibrium and make our bodies say, “OH SH*T! Houston, we have a problem! We better make some changes up in here so that this same stressor doesn’t disturb us next time we come across it. These stressors will not win today. NOT TODAY, MOTHAF*CKAS!”
You Can Still Be Classy, But…
But while new class cycles every month will keep you on your toes and provide some much needed variation (still beneficial!), if you really want to take your body to the next level, semi-privates – or at the very least, lifting heavier sh*t elsewhere – will be the way to go.
Takeaway: Your brain and body are happy right where they are, and they need a damn good reason to change. The stimulus or stressor that you impose on your body going forward must be greater than what it’s accustomed to, because your body will make changes if it is convinced that those changes are necessary for survival.
What got you here won’t necessarily get you there. #AdaptOrDie, yo!
Volume and Intensity
- Volume = refers to how much work is done in a given workout and is expressed in sets and reps
- Intensity = refers to how heavy a given weight is and is often expressed in %1RM (meaning the percentage of a weight that someone can maximally lift for one rep, i.e. a one-rep max)
During a plateau, adjusting one of these two for a focused period of time can be the game changer that gets you moving once again in the direction that you want to go.
The way that volume and intensity are specifically manipulated will depend on whatever goal you are trying to achieve, and there are many ways to do this. Is the goal fat loss? Hypertrophy (which is a fancy-ass name for muscle growth)? Something performance-based, like increasing one’s maximal strength or running a race?
While volume and intensity are the big ones, adjusting other factors can be helpful as well. These can include, but are not limited to:
- Exercise selection
- Exercise order in the workout
- Workout frequency
- Training splits
- Rest periods
Furthermore, when talking about applying a stressor to the system, the magic is in the dose. It’s crucial to apply just the right amount of stress to get us the adaptations we want without applying so much that our ability to recover and bounce back from said stressor is impeded.
The beautiful thing is that if you are in semi-privates, those variables will be taken care of for you by our brilliant AF program design Sherpas, who do a great job of giving people the programs they need to get hot. All you need to do is #showup and do the work!
(And while doing the work isn’t necessarily easy, it’s a hell of a lot easier than doing the work and trying to plan out how all of this should fit together!)
With that said, you can also play around with similar concepts during class, although the degree to which you can do that will be a bit more limited than if you were in semi-privates or in the weight room at another gym lifting some heavier sh*t.
For example, in Ninja Essentials, you can…
- Play with weights that are closer to what you can maximally lift within the work set. (Go much heavier on those deadlifts!)
- Use lighter weights for more reps to increase your time under tension and get a good pump.
- Really slow down the tempo on those reps. This is another way that you can increase time under tension, which is great for a goal like hypertrophy.
Bottom Line: 3 Steps to Busting Through the Plateau
- Double check that you are truly nailing the basics. Does your current nutrition support your goals? Are getting adequate and quality sleep? Are you able to manage the stressors in your life outside of the gym?
- If you have been taking classes consistently for three years, consider introducing heavier weights into the equation via semi-private training.
- Introduce some different variables in class to mix it up, depending on your goal. Go heavier, do more reps, or slow it down.
Let me reiterate: what got you here won’t necessarily get you to where you want to go.
Let’s take this relationship to the next level 😉
Haven’t yet found a fitness home to help you bust through your plateaus? Schedule a Strategy Session at Mark Fisher Fitness and we’ll show you how!