“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein’s famous statement also applies to exercising.
Think of all of the people who have been going to the gym 5, 6 and even 7 days a week for years. They show up like clockwork. They have been on the same cardio machines, lifting the same free weights, and using the same nautilus equipment since day one. They do each for the same amount of time, and always in the same order without fail.
Yet they don’t see any changes in their physique and they wonder why. Many people refer to this phenomenon as a result of muscle memory – your muscles are no longer responding to the stimuli because they are accustomed to it. Although the concept is correct, the terminology is not.
Muscle memory does occur when your muscles become familiar with a movement through repetition and over time. Examples are throwing a football, swinging a tennis racket, or kicking a soccer ball. When you practice one of these repeatedly, day after day, week after week, it becomes an automatic process. You no longer have to think about how to do it before you actually do it. However, the phrase “muscle memory” is accurately used when talking about athletes who have taken time off from exercise, possibly due to an injury, and then returned to their normal workouts. In this scenario, it means that they will regain their former muscle strength and shape quicker than if they had never worked out before and were trying to build muscle for the first time.
With this being said, and applying Einstein’s statement, for you to change your body, you need to periodically change your routine. There are different philosophies on how often to do this, although nearly everyone agrees that doing so is important to improve your health and fitness. Injecting variety in to your routine improves metabolism, increases motivation, and prevents boredom.
How do you accomplish this? Listen to your body and be honest with yourself.
The first step is to review your worksheets to see what you have been doing and for how many weeks. While some people switch routines as often as every 4 weeks, many fitness professionals suggest twelve week routines, followed by a week off for rest and recovery before starting your new twelve week routine. You want to identify the length of time where your body has adapted to the program but has not quite gotten used to it. It should be somewhere between four and sixteen weeks. This amount of time will become your new program cycle, chosen to enable you to continue to see results.
The second is to identify other activities you are interested in and realistically have access to. Examples could be participating in group fitness classes, replacing nautilus equipment with dumbbells or bands, and walking or running instead of using the elliptical machine, stationary bike, or rowing machine.
The third step is to change your strength training schedule. Vary the number of sets, repetitions per set, and amount of weight from one week to the next, while keeping in mind that you always want the last three repetitions of each set to be challenging. For instance, if you have traditionally performed 3 sets of 12 repetitions of barbell curls at 25 lb. each, then on your next bicep day, increase your repetitions to 16 per set and lower the weight to 20 lb. The following time you perform barbell curls, drop to 8 repetitions per set at 30 or 35 lb. The fourth time you perform curls, return to 3 sets of 12 repetitions. Start with 25 lb. but see if you can increase it to 30 lb. with proper form. Repeat this cycle until your 12 or 16 week program is finished.
To create a new and effective routine, it isn’t necessary to incorporate all of these changes at once. You can choose one or more to keep your body from getting acclimated to your workout and reaching a plateau.
The last step, and arguably the most important, is to plan your work and work your plan. Whatever you choose to do, write it down so you can track your fitness progress and help prepare yourself for the next day.