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Busting Through A Strength Training Plateau

Plateaus are a common obstacle in strength training. In fact, unless you continuously re-evaluate and update your fitness program, it is likely that you will hit a plateau after about six months, once the strength gains you’ve achieved in the first few months of training begin to level off. The good news is, with a little bit of effort, you can overcome, or even prevent yourself from hitting a strength training plateau in the first place.

They say that variety is the spice of life. It is also the key ingredient to overcoming or avoiding a plateau. After performing the same exercise routine for several months, your muscles become efficient at performing those movements, and you no longer continue to progress as you did when you first began your workout regimen.

Varying the intensity of your workout by making your muscles work harder, as opposed to longer, is one of the most effective ways to break through a strength plateau. If you’re able to do 10-15 reps at your current weight using proper form, try increasing the weight by 5 to 10%. You may need to decrease the number of reps at first and work up to a full set.

Another way to add variety to your workout is to cross-train. Cross-training will not only help to keep your workout interesting, but will also work your muscles in a different way. If you usually use weight machines at the gym, try using free weights or resistance tubing. You can also combine exercises, such as using free weights while doing squats.

Changing the sequence of exercises in your existing routine can also help to add variety to your workout. Additionally, it will cause your muscles to fatigue in a different order, forcing them to adapt to the change and allow for a variation in your strength gains.

Though sometimes it may be enough to simply change the sequence of exercises in your fitness routine, it’s a good idea to periodically re-evaluate your routine. You may find that you need to replace some or all of the exercises, particularly those that you’ve outgrown or that are redundant. Look at the muscle group being used in each exercise, and replace it with an exercise that targets the same muscles.

Some final thoughts:

  • Sometimes hitting a plateau may be a result of overtraining, which may also make you more susceptible to injury. Make sure that you give your muscles an adequate amount of time to recover between workouts. During the recovery period, your body adapts to the training you are engaging in, making rest an essential factor in your progress.
  • Good nutrition is key to a successful fitness program; the nutrients you consume will help to fuel your workouts and to help your muscles recover afterwards. (Check out our article, Foods To Keep You Energized and Motivated to learn more.)




Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.

How To Relieve a Side Stitch

The side stitch, also referred to as exercise related transient abdominal pain (ETAP), is a common condition experienced at one time or another by most people who regularly engage in sports or exercise.

Characterized by a sharp, stabbing pain just beneath the ribcage, this frustrating cramp occurs most frequently during vigorous activity that involves a lot of up and down movement, such as running or jumping. The pain is caused by a spasm of the diaphragm muscle when the ligaments extending from the diaphragm to the internal organs (particularly the liver) are stretched.

Though it can occur on either side of the abdomen, the side stitch occurs much more frequently on the right side. Why is that? When you inhale, your lungs fill with air, and your diaphragm is forced downward. When you exhale, your lungs contract and your diaphragm rises. While running, approximately 70% of people exhale as their left foot hits the ground with only about 30% of people exhaling as their right foot hits the ground. The latter group is more likely to experience side stitches. As the right foot hits the ground, gravity pulls your internal organs, including the liver, downward. If you are exhaling at the same time, then your diaphragm rises as your lungs contract, resulting in stretching of the diaphragm. This repeated stretching can lead to spasms in the diaphragm.

To treat a side stitch, it is best to stop, or at least reduce the intensity of, the activity that caused the stitch. Take deep, even breaths until the pain subsides. Applying manual pressure to the painful area can also help to alleviate the pain. If you tend to exhale as your right foot touches the ground, try to adjust your stride so that your left foot hits the ground as you exhale.

There are also steps you can take to prevent side stitches from occurring in the first place:

  • Stretch thoroughly before exercising, focusing on the lower back and abdominals.
  • Avoid eating for one to two hours before a workout, because food in the stomach can create more force on the ligaments and increase cramping.
  • When running, make sure to take deep, even breaths, as shallow breathing leaves the diaphragm consistently raised, not allowing the ligaments to lower far enough to relax.
  • Drink more fluids to avoid dehydration, which can increase muscle cramps.

When Is the Best Time to Exercise?

There are many theories out there concerning when the best time to exercise is. But the first question to ask is what is your goal? Because for some people, “the best time” means the time when we are strongest or burn the most calories; for others it’s the time that fits into our schedules or makes it most likely that we’ll stick to a routine long-term. Or it could even be the time that whatever event you’re training for is starting, like an early morning marathon.

Let’s take the first scenario—you want to find out when your body is most ready for exertion. We’ll assume that you’ve tried a few different times of day and can’t determine which is working best for you (because if you already know your body well enough and know when you workout most efficiently, you can stop reading now).

The human body follows circadian rhythms, which result from the firing of neurons originating in the hypothalamus region of the brain. These rhythms are set according to the 24-hour cycle of darkness and light and regulate things like your body temperature, metabolism and blood pressure (that’s why you feel awful when your sleep schedule gets out of whack).

You’ll probably have a more productive workout when your body temperature is at its highest because your muscles are warm and more flexible. Studies show you have more power, quicker reaction time and resting heart rate and blood pressure are low. For most people, body temperature is highest during the late afternoon (it’s usually lowest about one to three hours before you wake up in the morning).

All this doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have time to exercise in the afternoon or can’t realistically commit to a long-term routine of working out at this time. If you know you’re more likely to stick to working out if you do it in the morning, then that’s the most important thing to concentrate on.

If you’re training for a specific event like a morning marathon or afternoon event then it may be best for you to train at the time that you will be performing. You’ll get a better sense of how your body can perform at that time of day and you’ll get into a habit of exerting energy at that time.

How to choose a personal trainer

If you’ve decided to start working out with a personal trainer but don’t know how to be smart about finding one, read on.

You may have heard about specific trainers from friends, or seen trainers at your gym. No matter where you find them, the first thing to consider is your safety. You should be sure to work with someone who has a current certification accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Don’t train with someone who is not knowledgeable about the human body and who could put your safety at risk. It’s a good idea to ask to see the person’s certification and to make sure it’s current. You can also call the NCCA to look someone up in their system or to make sure their status is current.

The next step is to ask for references. You may not need this if the trainer comes personally recommended by someone you know very well, but it may still be a good idea. Try to speak with people who are at the same fitness level as you or have the same goals (like training for an event or just trying to get a little more fit).

Once you’ve narrowed down the list, speak with your potential trainer(s). See if you feel comfortable in your interactions and make sure you are able to communicate well and freely with each other. Be sure to bring up any health conditions, pre-existing injuries, goals or concerns and see if the trainer responds in a way that makes you feel confident about his or her knowledge and interest in training you.

Next, it’s time to talk money—find out what the trainer charges for sessions. Many factors can come into play, such as the trainer’s experience and credentials or whether he or she needs to travel to come to you or if you will meet at your gym. Go over the cancellation policy and billing procedure; if you’re not totally clear on these processes you may end up incurring extra fees.

If your trainer is not an employee of a fitness facility you should find out if he or she carries professional liability insurance.

Your final steps should be to make sure that your schedules are compatible, you can both easily get to the location where you’ll be working, and any other miscellaneous concerns that may come up.

If you have additional questions or concerns, consider calling the NCCA or visiting their Web site.



*Mention of specific companies or brand names does not imply any affiliation, connection, association, sponsorship, or endorsement between such company and this material or Twinlab, including its affiliates, and further, nothing should be construed as implying that this material or the goods of Twinlab originate with or have the sponsorship or approval of such company.

How to buy an elliptical trainer

Because of the convenience and cost effectiveness of having exercise equipment right in your home versus going to a gym, many people are choosing to buy elliptical trainers for low-impact cardio exercise.

A quick search online will give you an idea of the top brands, and many websites feature reviews from people who have already made purchases. Read through those and look for trends in satisfaction or dissatisfaction with different brands. You also want to find brands that offer a warranty and servicing or calibrating (if you choose a model that requires calibration).

Another thing to consider is whether or not you want a motorized model. If you opt for a motorized machine, make sure you have an adequate power supply in your home—and that you want to pay a higher electrical bill.

Before you head to the store, find out how much space you have available for the trainer and take those dimensions with you. You don’t want to bring it home and find out there’s not enough room for it. You need to consider the space above your head, as well, since you’ll be elevated above the floor when you’re on the machine. You should also consider whether or not you’ll be storing the machine between uses, and if so, make sure you have enough storage space.

Once you get to the store, try out the models you’re considering. Check for noise levels, stability and sturdiness, format of the control panel and ease of use. When you’re on the machine, make sure your posture doesn’t feel strained and your range of motion is not cramped or limited. Obviously, you want to be sure your feet fit the pedals.

Pro bodybuilder, Todd Jewell, explains that it’s also important to take your weight into consideration. “I am a large man weighing in at around 300 pounds in the off-season, so I have to make sure that the equipment I use will hold up to that amount of weight over a long period of time,” he says. In other words, don’t be stingy, spend the extra money if it means you’ll be safer and the machine will last longer.

Finally, before you start using your trainer, be sure that you know where all the controls are and if you have a motorized model, that you know where the emergency off-switch is.

Workout Ideas for Couples

Hectic schedules can sometimes make it difficult to set aside enough time to dedicate to your fitness regimen and also spend enough quality time with your significant other. Relationships, much like fitness regimens, require lots of time and commitment, and at times it may seem hard to balance both. But these two priorities don't need to come in conflict - working out together can help you both achieve your fitness goals while spending quality time together.

Working out as a couple has several physical as well as emotional benefits. Men and women tend to focus on different types of exercise when working out; Men usually favor strength training, while women typically focus on cardio. Exercising together can help to balance out each of your workout programs to incorporate both cardio and strength training. Partners can also help to watch each other's form and serve as a spotter during difficult exercises. In addition, exercising as a couple gives you a common interest and allows partners to give each other motivation and support, which can help deepen your bond.

It can be tricky to start working out with a partner, particularly if you are at different fitness levels. Below are some suggestions that will help you get a good workout together.

  • Join a class together. Pick an activity you're both interested in trying; from kickboxing to yoga to swing dancing, the possibilities are virtually limitless.
  • When using cardio machines at the gym, work on machines that are next to each other. This will allow each of you to work at your own intensity level while still being close to each other.
  • Challenge your significant other to a high-energy game of basketball. Rouse up a little friendly competition and start burning calories!
  • Go for a power walk or jog outside. Walking at a brisk pace can be great exercise, plus you'll get to enjoy the scenery and outdoors together. Adding intervals to your walk or jog will help to accommodate both your fitness levels.
  • Stretch it out. Assisted stretching has been shown to help improve flexibility and feels good, so give your partner a gentle tug or push, just be careful and go slowly to ensure you don't overdo it.
  • Go play outside. Remember as a kid how you would spend endless hours playing outside? Recreate those childhood memories with your partner - play a game of tag, jump rope, or go for a bike ride.

The "Core" Essentials

Over the last few years, core training has become a staple of exercise routines, though it has been the focus of ancient practices such as yoga and tai chi for centuries. Yet many people don't have a good understanding of what exactly the core is, and the importance of core strength not only in your workout, but even in everyday activities such as walking or lifting groceries.

Many people mistakenly interchange the terms core and abs. Actually, your core runs the entire length of your body's trunk and torso, and includes the muscles in your back, abdomen, pelvis and hips. These muscles form the foundation for all your body's movement, your posture and your balance by helping to stabilize your spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle. If your core is strong, you are more stable during movements, your posture is better, and you have greater strength and power during your activities. A weak core can result in poor posture, injury, and lower back pain.

So now that you understand the importance of a strong and stable core, how do you incorporate core training into your workout? A good core training program should target all the muscle groups that stabilize the spine and pelvis. Though there are several pieces of equipment such as stability balls, balance boards and kettle balls that can help with core training, you can build core strength without any equipment. The strength required to hold a pose, coupled with the gravitational pull of your body weight are enough to effectively work your core muscles. Push ups, squats, lunges and crunches are basic exercises that can help you get started on building core strength; pilates, yoga and tai chi classes also focus on exercises that develop your core, or consult with a trainer, who can help you develop a personalized core strengthening regimen.

Successful Weight Management

Having a weight management strategy benefits pretty much everyone-whether your goal is to maintain your weight or get better muscle definition. Make a plan and remember it's always a good idea to speak with your doctor about your weight goals and before making any significant changes in your diet or exercise routine. Here are some tips that may help you get a plan together.

We know the basics-to manage your weight you need to burn more calories than you're taking in and if you're eating more than you're burning you'll gain weight. The secret to making the jump from knowing how to change your weight to actually getting results is to make a commitment to a lifestyle that supports your goals. It may sound like a full time job, and there's no doubt that when you're starting out with a new plan, it takes a while to find what works for you.

When you're figuring out your strategy you should always keep a few questions in mind:

  • will your diet include plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains, lean protein and foods from the other major food groups?
  • whatever the idea behind the diet, does it feature foods that you can afford and can find easily?
  • will you be eating foods that you like and will commit to eating for the long term, not just a set amount of time?
  • do you have the time to prepare these foods?
  • will you get enough nutrients and calories on this plan?

That takes care of the food, but you also have to be balancing your diet with exercise. If you have a personal trainer, ask what kinds of exercises are right for your body and your goals. Always speak with an expert before trying new techniques so as to avoid injuries.

Remember, though, that research shows whatever kind of exercising you're doing, it should be done regularly.

Drop Pounds By Making Smart Choices

Little things mean a lot—whether you're trying to sculpt and tone or improve your health, making small changes in your day can help you drop a few pounds with very little extra effort. Take a look at the tips below for some ideas.

1. Cut out the empty calories. Find some empty calories in your daily routine that you can eliminate. For example, if you cut out one can of cola a day, you'll knock off about 136 calories per day.

2. Drink water. It may help you eat less and burn more calories. Drinking a glass or two of water before a meal will fill you up and can help you eat less. And researchers are now reporting that water consumption may increase the rate at which people burn calories.

3. Lighten up your omelet. It's an easy way to cut out over 100 calories a serving. By using ½ cup of egg whites in your omelets instead of ½ cup of whole eggs, you can cut out 120 calories.

4. Team up. People who exercise together are more likely to stay motivated. Find a friend and put together a realistic exercise plan, even if it's just a 20 minute walk during your lunch time.

5. Slim down your poultry. Thinking of using chicken thighs? Think again. By switching to white meat and removing the skin, you take an eight ounce serving from 560 calories to 375 calories and cut out 24 grams of fat.

6. Get your Z's. Sleep deprivation may be packing pounds onto your waistline. Research shows that a lack of sleep may make weight loss and weight control more of a challenge because it alters metabolism by increasing the production of cortisol (a stress hormone). Also, you're more likely to eat more if you're feeling fatigued.

7. Only have 15 minutes? You don't have to commit hours a day to make a difference. Add a brisk 15 minute walk to your day and burn extra calories. If you want to challenge yourself and pick up the pace - switch to a 15 minute run and burn even more calories.

8. Get portions under control. Cut your poultry or meat portion from eight ounces to five ounces just once a day and you'll eliminate around 138 calories.

9. Eat several small meals a day. Frequent, small meals will actually increase your metabolism. Eating small meals every few hours during the day can help keep your metabolism revved up and that means you'll burn more calories overall.

10. Choose whole grain products. This is an easy way to reduce your caloric intake significantly. A small muffin made with white flour contains about 259 calories. If you were to replace it with an oat bran muffin of the same size, you'd cut out about 81 calories.