How Often Should You Change Your Exercises for a Plateau?

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If you're putting in the same effort day after day, but seeing diminishing results, you may be in an exercise plateau. Your muscles become accustomed to doing the same repetitive workouts, whether it's cardio or strength training. Change up your routine every one to three months to avoid a plateau and maximize your fitness.

Why Plateaus Happen

  • Your body changes in response to the stress of exercise. For example, when you lift weights you create tiny tears in the muscles that then stimulate the muscle fibers to grow back thicker and stronger. When you continually use the same weight, your muscles that have grown stronger are no longer as stressed and your results plateau. During cardio activity, you burn a lot of calories when you start a new activity because your body is not familiar with the particular muscle action. When you repeatedly do the same movements at the same intensity, your body becomes more efficient at the action and conserves energy -- so again, you reach a plateau.

When to Change

  • The American Council on Exercise says the body physiologically adapts to a specific exercise in six to eight weeks, which means it is then time to make a change. You may prefer to change your routine monthly, because it gives you a clear starting and stopping date for your programs. A change can be as simple as switching to a new form of cardio -- say running instead of cycling -- or adding intervals of jogging to your walking program. In weight training, you can change your routine in a myriad of ways. Examples include switching the order of the exercises, adding 5 to 10 percent more weight to each movement or increasing the number of sets and repetitions you do.

Additional Benefits

  • Changing your routine keeps your body and your mind from becoming stale. If your exercise routine never changes, you may grow bored and frustrated because you've reached a plateau and aren't seeing results. A 2000 study from the University of Florida showed that exercisers who varied their workout routine regularly expressed greater satisfaction and enjoyment with their exercise and had a higher rate of adherence.

Avoid Too Much Change

  • Changing your routine too often, especially when you're just starting out, can be overwhelming. Stick to at least some of the same exercises for two to four weeks so your body can adapt and grow in response to the stress. If you are always changing, you'll also have trouble mastering proper form, which is crucial to prevent injury and maximize results.

References

  • Photo Credit Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images
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