We’ve all been there: out of breath, over it, and ready to throw in our gym towels and never look back. Oftentimes this happens because we’re not seeing progress with our workouts, at least not the kind we were expecting. What gives? To get to the bottom of what’s stalling our progress, we turned to personal trainer Austin Lopez, CSCS.
More often than not, it’s likely that the “overload principle” is being ignored, Austin told POPSUGAR. A basic tenet in training, the overload principle is easy to grasp and makes total sense. Put simply, we need to consistently be working harder to see change. “You have to push yourself more because the body is good at adapting to whatever you throw at it,” Austin said. If you want to see changes, you need to change it up — and often. But you don’t need to go into it blindly. In fact, there’s a ton of evidence on exactly where you should devote your efforts.
1. Time and Frequency
You don’t necessarily have to give up the classes you love or your sacred time on the treadmill; just do more of what you’re already doing. This can happen in a lot of ways, said Austin. For starters, add an extra class or gym session onto your schedule. If that’s not possible, try adding time to your existing workouts. Instead of a 45-minute TRX class, look for a 60-minute class; even challenging yourself to an extra 10 minutes on the treadmill can lead to results.
When it comes to cardio-based workouts like running, cycling, or time on the elliptical, challenge yourself to increase your overall pace. If you usually run an 11-minute mile, start to shave that down to a 10-minute mile by slowly increasing the speed of your runs. You can also work on speed by incorporating interval training into your cardio and strength workouts by alternating between a period of maxing out your efforts with a period of recovery. Think HIIT, Tabata, and tempo runs.
This type of increased intensity will also aid in weight loss, said Austin. “From an exercise perspective, interval training is the most effective way to get lean,” he said. “The more intense the workout, the more the body has to recover, which translates into more calories over time.” This is due to the afterburn effect (excess postexercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC), which helps to increase your metabolism, resulting in hundreds of extra calories to be burned throughout the day.
The easiest way to think about load is to equate it with weight. Essentially you’re “loading” the body up with more weight and challenging it to work harder. The next time you’re in a strength-training class or at the gym, choose a heavier weight than you’re used to. You may be surprised that you can actually manage more than you thought possible. If more weight seems daunting, start by doing shorter sets with fewer reps. “By going heavier, you’ll be breaking down muscle at a higher rate, making it stronger than it was before,” said Austin.
The Right Way to Incorporate Frequency, Speed, and Load
If you’ve hit a wall, there’s no better time than now to start upping your intensity in one of these areas. While Austin’s advice is to go “as intense as you can,” he added that this is all relative to the individual. “The more intense you make any workout, the more unsafe it can become,” he said. “Ease into it, and find out what’s possible for you.” While you are tasking yourself with going harder, you still want to make sure your form is on and you aren’t feeling lightheaded or dizzy while working out. “Push it little by little,” said Austin.
A good way to keep yourself safe is by focusing on only one of these areas at a time (frequency, speed, load). Besides preventing injury, “it’s also a great way to measure your success rate because it controls one variable.”