"If you only do what you have always done, then you will only get what you have always had"- Jeff Baird. In the exercise world, we mitigate training plateaus through a fundamental concept called progressive overload. Progressive overload is defined as, "a gradual increase in training stress for adaptation" (eg: strength, size, endurance, etc). It is, quite literally, our training outlet for physical change. The age old tale of Milo of Croton serves as the perfect model for progressive overload.
Milo was an ancient 6th century B.C. Cattle herder from Crotone, Italy. One of Milo's calves was born lame and could not walk. Milo's good heart and persistence ultimately lent him his strength, as he carried the calf everyday into its adult life. As the calf grew older and heavier, Milo grew bigger and stronger- not by coincidence. The bull's increasing weight progressively stimulated Milo’s muscles to grow, and boy did Milo grow! Milo went on to compete in and dominate the Olympic Games as an elite wrestler, and all because he loved his lame calf.
The concept is quite simple! By increasing your program's difficulty over time (relative to your goals), you force your body to change. Period! When we don't increase exercise difficultly, our bodies adapt and plateau. You see, the human body is a miraculously efficient machine. It only does "just enough" to get by unless, of course, it is given a reason to do more. If you lift heavier every day/ month/ year, then your body will respond by getting stronger. But if you always lift the same amount of weight, then your body has no reason to change. The same holds true with all muscle-bound training adaptations (ex: strength, growth, endurance, etc.). Creativity, effort, and consistency is key!
Progressive overload is a slow process that demands patience. If your goal is to increase strength, then add a few pounds to each of your lifts. If your goal is to put on mass, then increase your training volume load (weight x total repetitions) by a few hundred pounds each week. Start by choosing and implementing one of the following strategies. As your body adapts, pick another, and so on. Remember, slow and steady wins the race!
1. Lift the same load for more reps. This increases your overall training volume and improves your muscular endurance.
2. Lift heavier loads. This increases both your training volume load and muscular strength.
3. Lift the same load and volume with less rest time in between sets. This improves your muscular endurance.
4. Lift the same load faster. This will improve your power output.
5. Doing more sets with the same loads and reps. This increases your overall training volume.
6. Lift the same load and volume more often throughout the week (increased frequency). This increases your overall training volume.