Author: Dr. Payton Busker, PT, DPT
Picture this: You’ve been working out consistently for about 12 weeks. You had been progressively increasing your weight over that time period, feeling stronger as the weeks went on. But now you’re here and you’re feeling muscle aches you haven’t felt or you’re missing that satisfying muscle burn you’ve come to crave in class.
You feel like you’re hitting a plateau.
Let’s talk about what you might have done in the past when you’ve reached this point and why we should avoid these tendencies now.
What people mistakenly do when they reach a plateau.
- Mix up their routines
- Increase the volume of their workouts
- Add in more cardio or faster movements
Mixing up your routine.
Oftentimes this feels like the right call. You mix up your lifts or exercises and then experience soreness the next day. However, soreness is not a good indicator of effective muscle activation. More often, soreness occurs with novelty of movement + learning a new skill.
When your brain is learning a new skill, it has to focus very hard. If your brain is busy focusing on coordinating your movements, it won’t be as focused on producing force from your muscles, and you won’t be able to load your muscles as much or as effectively. The outcome might be that you are better at a movement, but it might not result in optimal “stimulus” to your muscle tissue.
Increasing the volume of your workout.
Although increasing repetitions is one parameter that can be adapted when strength training, we caution against turning to this first when you reach a plateau.
Adding in more cardio or faster movements.
CAUTION, CAUTION: Just because something feels faster and harder, doesn’t mean it’s more effective. Yes, we want to challenge ourselves in our workouts, but with specific focus. Specific muscle fatigue >> systemic fatigue every time!
If you are just adding cardio to ramp up intensity, but aren’t intentionally loading your muscles, this could further dampen the effects of your workouts.
If mixing up your routine, increasing volume, or adding more cardio isn’t the answer, WHAT IS?
IT MAY BE TIME TO TAKE A RESET WEEK!
Signs that it may be time for a Reset Week.
- You are not feeling connected to your muscles in class
- You are having difficulty increasing the load or repetitions of an exercise despite months with the same weight
- Your joints start to ache
- You’re feeling tighter than usual
You are not feeling connected to your muscles in class.
If a lift that normally makes you feel that specific muscle burn begins to feel “disconnected”, take note. As inflammation builds in the musculoskeletal system, it can dampen the brain-body connection between that muscle and your central nervous system.
You are having difficulty increasing the load or repetitions of an exercise despite months with the same weight.
This is a big indicator that it may be time to step away for a week. Progressive overload is essential to muscle hypertrophy.
Your joints start to ache.
This could be a sign that your muscles aren’t firing adequately in your lifts to keep your joints protected. This could also be a sign of lingering inflammation in the joints themselves.
You’re feeling tighter than usual.
When your body is inflamed, potentially due to not enough rest to counter the stimulus that is exercise, your nervous system may tighten tissues around your joints in order to keep you safe.
The solution isn’t to stretch more and potentially open yourself up to ranges of motion that your muscular system can’t control. The solution is to look into WHY you’re tight. In this case, it could be because your body needs extra time to build up your muscles and tendons and to clear out lingering inflammatory markers.
What is a reset week?
A reset week is 4-7 consecutive days of non-strenuous exercise. Strenuous exercise includes challenging cardiovascular work (running, hard bike rides, HIIT).
We know that taking a reset week can be challenging mentally. No one wants to lose the amazing progress they’ve been making! But, studies show that taking this time off of strenuous exercise yields similar results to continuous strength training.
Why not allow your system the time to reset in order to show back up to your workouts feeling more connected?
What to do during your reset week.
- Gentle, consistent movement
- Mobility/stability classes
- Evlo Reset Week Program
- Focus on nutrition
Gentle, consistent movement.
What activities do you love to do? Leisurely bike rides around your neighborhood? Go for it! Walks on your favorite trail? YES! Gentle Yoga flows or mobility classes? Absolutely!
Use your reset week to get outside if possible. And move for the sake of movement! Motion is lotion. We want the benefits of movement like improved cognition, blood flow, mood-boosting, without the stress to your nervous and musculoskeletal systems.
Reset Week Program: Evlo members have exclusive access to a week’s worth of gentle classes to guide you through your reset week. These classes are an amazing option if weather does not permit getting outside for your daily movement. Click here to check it out!
Meditation can aid in recovery during your reset week. It is known to assist with activation of the parasympathetic nervous system- our rest, digest, recover system. A 5-10 minute, daily meditation can set the tone for your week. Bonus points if you continue with this practice when you resume your regular routine!
Focus on nutrition.
Evlo members can utilize the nutrition modules from Functional Registered Dietitian Katherine Andrew for nutritional guidance.
Your body recovers the most when you sleep. If you aren’t getting deep sleep, you may not be fully recovering. Commit to 7 days of 8 or more hours of sleep and note any differences in your day to day!
Happy Reset Week!
Muscle hypertrophy study: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00421-012-2511-9