You should strive to get the highest possible benefit from every workout. Hopefully you always have this mindset when you are working on your fitness goals. The word “plateau” is thrown around a lot in the fitness world. You hear warnings about preventing a plateau when you exercise or lift weights, but what does that actually mean? The most common use of the word is seen in reference to mixing up your workouts and causing “muscle confusion” to avoid any sort of lull or leveling-out of your strength gains. There is truth to the notion of causing muscle confusion and keeping your workouts new and fresh, but keep in mind that your muscles are not your brain.
If a muscle is going to plateau, thus needing to be “confused” in order to continue getting stronger, it’s going to happen because you aren’t taking the necessary steps to continue the upward trend of muscle gain (or calorie burn, or miles run, etc.). A muscle doesn’t just plateau on it’s own, simply because you are performing the same exercises. There is plenty of room for improvement doing the same exercises, but your rep range may need a little tweaking. For instance, if you have a chest press routine, whether you are using dumbbells, a machine, or a barbell, and that routine has you performing 3 sets of 12 reps, as long as you are increasing your resistance as you reach a point when 12 reps is easy, your muscles are not going to plateau.
However, if you allow yourself to continue lifting with the same weight, or running the same distance, without increasing that weight or running longer, you will absolutely plateau or level out. You won’t be getting stronger anymore; you will simply be maintaining your current level.
Changing up your rep range for every workout is a good way to confuse your muscles and prevent a strength halt. It’s OK to continue performing 12 reps each time you do a particular exercise, as long as you are increasing the weight on a regular basis. To really ramp up any exercise, try either the Linear Periodization Model or the Undulating Periodization Model.
With the Linear Periodization Model, each 2 week span will have a different weight and rep criteria to follow.
– For the first 2 weeks (3-4 days per week), find a weight that allows you to perform 12 reps, with the last 2-3 reps remaining challenging enough to feel a good burn, but not challenging to the point of losing perfect form.
– During the next 2 week cycle, your reps will drop to 8 reps, while your weight increases to meet the same criteria laid out in Weeks 1-2 (challenging enough to feel a good burn, but not challenging to the point of losing perfect form).
– Weeks 5-6 call for only 4 reps, with added weight.
– The next set (3) of 2 week cycles will have the same rep range for each week, but the weight will be increased because of your new strength gains, and the Model stays the same. Now when you perform 12 reps, your starting weight should be much higher than the 1st week when you did 12 reps.
With the Undulating Periodization Model, the weight range will be the same as the Linear Periodization Model, however the rep range will be different.
– For the first 2 weeks, you will alternate between 12, 8, and 4 reps. For instance, Monday will be 12 reps, Wednesday 8 reps, Friday 4 reps. The rules stay the same for choosing a weight: challenging enough to feel a good burn, but not challenging to the point of losing perfect form.
– Do three microcycles of 2 weeks each (for a total of 6 weeks), and at the start of Week 7, increase the weight and follow the Model again for another set of three 2-week cycles.
Whichever Model you choose to follow, it will take you roughly 3 months to finish each cycle, but your strength gains will be tremendous. Changing up the rep range from workout to workout will really confuse your muscles, and more importantly you will have a good mix of building muscle for endurance and strength.