– by Farah Merani –
The other day I took a fitness class at a new gym I was trying out for the first time. They have a unique approach to the common training philosophy of alternating between intervals of high and low intensity. The combination of strength training circuits and cardio intervals is not new to me. It’s how I learned to train when I first started working at a boutique gym in London, England several years ago. What did strike me as a novel idea was the coach’s approach to what we would normally consider as the dreaded “plateau.”
Anyone who has spent enough time dieting or training and working out, whether it be for athletic or general fitness purposes, knows the concept of plateauing. It refers to a period of time when your body no longer responds to the stimulation in the same way it used to, namely through fitness and diet. Simply put, your body isn’t changing because it’s hit a sweet spot of ability. This can be terribly frustrating and dispiriting after all the work you’ve put in towards reaching your fitness or weight loss goals.
A Novel Approach
During this eye-opening coaching experience, as the moment of inevitable fatigue was about to kick in, rather than immediately pushing us further as I was expecting her to, she brought us all back down to a walking pace, slowing our heart rate down and literally letting us catch our breath. But only for an instant. After about 30 seconds, she then made us haul ass, sprinting at speeds and inclines I thought were nearly impossible, given we’d been running/jogging for over 45 minutes. It was the way she described the walking break as a snap back to base camp that struck me and stayed.
In this coach’s analogy, if we consider our comfort zone as our base, then anything requiring a different kind of effort is work causing change. When we’re at our base, we’re working but we’re not changing. When we hit a plateau, we’re establishing a new kind of comfort zone and so the only way to break through it is to work beyond it differently. Changing things up will encourage different muscles groups to activate in ways they may not be used to. It’s more than just cross-training. It’s a mental exercise in reconfiguring your approach to that change. Alternating between heavy weights with low reps one week and light weights with higher reps the next is one thing. Knowing when to get off that treadmill and try a boxing class instead is another thing entirely.
By breaking your routine, not only will your body be challenged in new ways but you’ll keep yourself mentally engaged. Exercising is equally an activity for the mind as the body and you can achieve great things when both are being stimulated in the right way.