Getting Out of That Training Rut – Make Your Own Training Plan

Contributed by Yongdan Tang, PhD
We all like to see this to happen: You follow a training and nutrition plan without much need to adjust. Fitness level keeps going up day by day, you see positive changes in the mirror. And you are getting stronger in the gym, ALL THE TIME. Sounds nice right? If only growth comes linearly like this in real life.

The fact is, all of us get hit by ups and downs at certain points of life. The fitness journey is mostly never linear, except at the start when you can enjoy the newbie gains and hormonal advantage at a younger age. Thereafter, work, stress, life commitment and emotional matters all compete for our limited energy pool. And it’s not uncommon that you seem to follow what the trainer is asking you to do but progress stalls.

  • Make the plan work for you rather than follow a cookie cutter program blindly

This is probably what differentiates a seasoned lifter and a regular “recreational” lifter. A recreational lifter trains hard but hardly spend the time to figure out what works and what does not, why so and how to adjust. And many have the mentality of card punching that as long as showing up in the gym for a given amount of time, progress magically will happen. Hardly any systematic tracking of nutrition and training either, hence they have very limited sense or experience how to make the informed decision on their fitness journey. Some, after “gymming” for 10 years, still can’t perform some exercise with good form and have the muscle-mind connection. I used to be one such person too. And the powerful marketing force within the fitness industry is one cause for that. It amplifies our desire to get the result “quick and easy” by advocating pill-popping. Just take this, viola. 

 
The fitness journey is an uphill battle, gains become harder and harder as our training age increases. In order to continue progressive overload, the following need to occur: 
  • Exercise with good form to induce the right stimuli
It’s understandable about the excitement when you start to train and notice gains in the beginning. The variety of equipment and variations of exercise you see people performing in the gym are enticing to try. Hence many just break a sweat or imitate what others do in the gym without much idea what they are doing. If this is still an issue, please engage a professional trainer.
  • Hit the required volume and intensity (frequency is used as a tool to achieve volume and intensity)

The more work you can do, the stronger you are. Training should always be reasonably hard so adaptation will be forced to happen. Another mistake is ego lifting by going for a weight that you can’t handle every time. When the form is bad, the actual stress applied on target muscle is actually less. Or mistakenly count weight as the most important variable than volume. For intermediate lifters, de-load and variation may be necessary. Deload can keep stress checked so overtraining will not occur. Variation helps to hit different parts of muscle where the weak link may be. There’s a saying that “you should train the exercise which you hate the most”. This definitely has its reason. On top of that, accessory work that adds to the total volume definitely makes a difference in the long run. 

  • Recover properly from training

Effort spent in the gym accounts only for 30% of the success. The nutritional foundation needs to be solid. And ample rest is required to ensure recovery. There are more: manage stress, simplify life choices so that long-term compliance and sustainability can be achieved. Sounds easy? We all only have 24 hours a day. That might well mean some choices need to be made, between fitness goals, social life, commitment, and work. This is also the time we are required to be honest with ourselves whether the fitness goal is truly something high on our priority list.

  • Add cardio to improve work capacity
Yes, cardio. Greg Nuckols has an excellent article on slow state cardio for work capacity improvement so I’m going to save my breath here. As our muscle grows, our circulation system also needs to catch up on the capacity to supply nutrients and oxygen and to take away metabolic waste. The key is to just do enough but not to overdo it to confuse the body with mixed adaptation signals.
Allow me to end this blog with this quote I saw online. A fit physique is expensive not because money can buy it, but rather because of the countless effort and time spent to build it.
“A fit physique is the ultimate status symbol. No money can buy it, you cannot inherit it, you cannot steal it, you cannot borrow it. You cannot hold onto it without constant work. It shows patience, passion, and discipline. It is true wealth.”