Adjust what's necessary

HARARE - The dreaded plateau is the bane of every avid gym goer and more often than not, the single most common reason why so many people quite simply quit and never return to training.

You experience a sense of euphoria and bravado and machismo and excitement and confidence at the first signs of gains in your training, only to have it wiped right from under your feet when all of a sudden those gains stagnate.

You just stay where you are, no progressions, no improvements, zero gains. Sometimes you begin to worsen and regress!

Not good for the mind, who as far as I am concerned will always be your toughest opponent and your biggest stumbling block.

Those top two inches will forever drive your success or failure.

Too often I have seen the efforts of dedicated people go to waste simply because they are still following the same programme and training systems they have been doing for year upon year and their margins of improvement become significantly less. Your body gets bored!

Simple. It is designed to survive, be challenged, taken out of its comfort zone and tested. It needs to have stresses applied on it in order for adaptation to occur, and as a result of adaptation you begin to progress.

This is not only basic science but it is how humans respond physically, physiologically and psychologically.

A very useful acronym to guide you on your programming is F.I.N.D.E These are all simple variables (which we often forget about) that can be manipulated and adjusted accordingly in order to help you break through restrictive plateaus and assist in continually stressing your body to achieve appropriate levels of adaptation.

FREQUENCY: This simply refers to how often you are scheduled to train. The recommended minimum amount of sessions per week is 3 medium intensity sessions in order to achieve marginal benefits in health.

INTENSITY: Intensity is measured in simplest terms by how hard or light you are training. Your heart rate is often a good determinant of your level of intensity but it is not always the way to go. Rating of Perceived Exertion is a more useful method as it allows you to honestly gauge your own intensity levels rated against a scale of 1 (absolutely fine) to 10 (near death experience).

NATURE: The types of exercises you chose to perform refers to Nature. If you consistently repeat the same exercise over and over again without any variables being adjusted, you literally stimulate the onset of a performance plateau.

By no means do you change it up every session, but rather aim to achieve sufficient levels of adaptation and then change.

DURATION: The choice of sets and reps, time under tension and recovery periods will determine the Duration of your training session. On average most people train anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour at moderate levels of intensity.

ENJOYMENT: Where the mind goes the body will follow. If you cannot find any level of enjoyment in your training then look to find ways to add it in. Keep your mind excited and energised and your body will follow.

It is advisable to note that you cannot increase the Intensity of a session as well as increase the Duration of a session without achieving a performance drop off.

Imagine completing a 20 minutes High Intensity Interval session on the rowing ergometer at about 75 percent of your maximal effort.

Now that you have an idea of what that feels like, think of whether or not you would be capable of performing at the same intensity but for 60 minutes. Exactly! High Intensity sessions are generally much shorter in Duration and vice versa.

Increasing the Intensity, the Duration and the Frequency is a guaranteed path to achieving Overtraining Syndrome and injuries, so for your own sake avoid this at all costs.

Avoid long term performance plateau’s by adjusting the variables appropriately, and when you do, do it to suit the needs and objectives of your program.

*Ex-Zimbabwe rugby international Mitchell is High Performance Director at Innovate High Performance Centre in Harare and a top strength and conditioning coach. Twitter: @InnovateHPC, website:

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