Seasonal Training / Preventing Fitness Plateaus

Those of you who have been taking my Spinning classes for a while (especially those of you who have been with me for the 15+ years I’ve been teaching) know that the seasonal training program we’re on works!

If you have not taken my class or are not familiar with the terms “seasonal” or “periodized” training, then let me back up.  I am a huge proponent for what my old boxing coach called “shuffling the deck” or surprising your body.  You’ve probably heard that doing the same routine day in and day out, year after year is a good way to maintain the status quo, but not a good way to improve your fitness level.  For those of you who have a set routine you follow, (i.e. – 3 mile jog 5 times a week, followed by 100 crunches and 25 push ups), you should be commended for you discipline!  However, you are not doing your body a favor if you have been doing the same routine for several years.   The upside of course is that it gets nice and easy to do once you’ve been at it for a while, making sticking to your workout a habit – and that’s good!  But the down side is after a while you may actually lose fitness.  As crazy as that sounds, it’s true!  Just like your body builds tolerance to drugs, like antibiotics, your body also builds total tolerance to a workout routine.  When that happens, you will stop seeing results, meaning you have plateaued.  If you think of what a plateau looks like, you know at the end of it, there’s only one way to go…. down.   That is what happens to your fitness level.  It actually starts to decrease! 

If you have a trainer, your trainer should be varying your workout.  If you don’t, then it’s time for you to start spicing things up.  You can find a new toy – try getting into a cool new exercise machine at the gym.  Personally I’ve got a jones for the new elliptical machine at Sports Club/LA – the Precor 100i – because it requires more coordination than other elliptical trainers with arms.  On the 100i, (I’m not being paid for this by the way!),  you can simulate an easy jog or run against resistance going full throttle!   Anyway, back to the point – start by varying your intensity levels if you are especially partial to activities like walking, jogging, swimming or cycling.   This means don’t stay at the same intensity level for you whole workout.

Here’s an example of how to add interval training to your Cardio routine:  Mons./Weds./Fris. do your regular routine. On Tues. and / or Sats. perform intervals where you walk, jog, swim or cycle at a comfortable intensity for 5 minutes, then go hard for 1 – 2 minutes (you should feel some muscle burn and get a bit winded).  Keep doing this cycle for whatever amount of time you typically exercise (the 5 min. “off” and 1 – 2  min. “on” format can be varied to whatever feels like a good challenge for you, but not so hard that you feel defeated when it’s done).   Then on Thurs. go extra easy for a longer amount of time than your typical session.  

That is just one example of a standard cardio interval training program.  If you do a resistance training routine, then you can shake off the dust by learning new exercises that are more dynamic (incorporating more muscles groups at once doing  or more complex movements).   It can also be as simple as moving up in weights, adding more reps, “super setting” a few of the exercises into one set or switching the order of the exercises.  For example, if you typically do “Military Presses” for shoulders, then “Skull Crushers” for triceps , reverse the order and you will see that suddenly you can use heavier weights or do more reps for your triceps and that the shoulder presses will now feel harder!

If you have trained with me before, or take my Boot Camp class, then you know we never do the same routine twice.  We may do the same exercise or super set a few weeks in a row, but not in the same order.  It’s not just because I’m a little ADD!   Hey, when it comes to designing work outs, having a little ADD can be a benefit.

If you take my Spinning classes, you may be aware that I do “Seasonal” training.  Meaning, every 9 weeks we change our overall focus.  One season is about building strength and the endurance to climb hills at a slow pace for a long time.  Another season is focused on maintaining and sustaining a certain speed for longer and longer periods of time.  Of course we also do a pure “interval” season, and that’s coming up fast…. we start the last Sunday of March!!  It all comes together in the summer for “racing” season.  That’s when we really shuffle the deck!  Each class is a surprise to keep your body guessing.  Why do I do this seasonal training with Spinning in particular?  Because for those of us who have been doing it for years and years, it prevents us from reaching the dreaded plateau!

As a member of the American Council on Exercise and a certified ACE instructor and trainer, you can read more about “Periodized Training” in an article from their Fit Facts archives by following this link (provided by permission):

http://www.acefitness.org/fitfacts/fitfacts_display.aspx?itemid=2624

Enjoy it…. and fit will happen!

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