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How to Change Your Strength Training Workouts

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Updated June 26, 2009

If you've ever lifted weights, you've probably heard of the dreaded plateau - that is, the moment your body stops getting stronger or losing fat because it's adapted so well to your workouts.

Adaptation is a good thing - after all, it means you've been working consistently enough that you're body is stronger and able to handle your workouts. The bad side is that you're likely to hit a plateau, a situation you can avoid by changing your workouts regularly.

That sounds simple, but how do you decide what to change? It all starts with knowing a little more about how your body responds to exercise.

Why You Need Variety

When you lift weights, what you’re actually doing is teaching your muscles how to be stronger. For your muscles to grow, however, you have to challenge them with more than they can handle. This idea of overloading your muscles is one of the most important principles of strength training and the guiding force behind any good routine.

When you start lifting weights, everything you do is new and challenging, so it doesn’t take many exercises or much resistance to create overload. Once the honeymoon is over, however, your body adapts and it's time to go back to the drawing board to create more challenge.

Because there are so many components to a strength program – how often you lift, what exercises you do, how much weight you use – there are endless ways you can change your workouts. Below you'll find ideas for exactly how to do that.

1. Change Your Frequency

How often you lift weights depends on the type of training you’re doing. If you’re following a total body program, you’ll need at least a day of rest between workouts. For that reason, you may lift 2 or 3 times a week. If you’re following a split routine and lifting for different muscles on alternate days, you may lift 4 or more times a week.

Changing how often you exercise will change the format of your workouts, pushing you past your plateau. Some ideas:

  • Try a split routine. Changing from total body training to split workouts will allow you to do more exercises and focus more on each muscle group. Some examples include:
  • Try a total body program. If you’ve been doing a split routine, going back to total body training can be refreshing and a great way to lighten up on your training schedule for a week or two.
  • Mix it up. You don't have to do one or the other. Try a total body workout one day and then an upper body workout and a lower body workout later in the week to keep things interesting.

Remember that you don’t want to work the same muscles two days in a row, so set up your schedule so that you always include at least one day of rest.

Next Page: How to Change Your Exercises and Sets

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