Routine weightlifting is never a bad thing: Whether you’re trimming the waistline, toning up or simply want to maintain a healthy lifestyle, consistency is key.
Barrier-Jumping from the Fitness Plateau
If you’re like most gym-goers, though, you might hit a plateau now and again. It happens—but it happens for great reasons: We eventually become adapted to the workouts we once found rigorous.
So adapted, in fact, that our muscles need to be confused to start growing again. Likewise, hours of cardio, more often than not, eventually result in lower numbers on the scale—but your body can wise up to jogs, sprints, and pool laps all the same.
So take the challenge with pride—as it really is something to be proud of. Plateaus are temporary, of course, even if they seem to last forever. The key to knocking them out, every time, is to dial in your fitness routine’s every angle. Leave no stone unturned, because even minor diet inconsistencies can hamper a person’s progress.
The Myth of Male and Female Muscle
Naturally, it’s also important to play to your strengths. Age, sports experience, available workout hours—it all contributes. At the end of the day, male and female muscle is the same: It’s all muscle, it’s all maintainable and it’s packed with potential.
But don’t we all hear the same, old story about female muscle building?
About how it’s generally a slower process than male muscle building?
Yikes: It really is a common saying—wherein some might think major, inherent differences might bar one gender from matching up—progress-rate-wise. Fortunately, though, the stories are indeed myths. While biological differences do play a role in terms of maximum strength and muscular shape, male and female muscle growth rates—yup—are pretty even.
One would think men gain muscle at a faster rate, you know?
They develop muscles at an earlier age, have plenty of testosterone and tend to have size on their side.
The reason both genders share similar muscular growth rates—differing here and there, of course—is pretty interesting. More than a few health and fitness experts have weighed in on the subject, backed by plenty of science which posits a really neat tidbit of information:
Normal physiological testosterone levels drive base-level muscle mass—but they don’t drive relative gains. Here’s the thing: Estrogen, like testosterone, is anabolic within muscle tissue. Because women have plenty of estrogens—you guessed it—they get the same growth-rate benefits as men.
Female muscle builders have some advantages over their biological counterparts, too.
The biggest benefit is recovery, as the female muscle heals from strenuous exercise faster than male muscle. Even cooler is the overall relative load-hauling comparison—because women pull ahead here, too. Because women carry a higher percentage of fat, their bodies metabolize carbohydrates and fat better in general. They’re metabolically suited for, well, just about anything when it comes to different types of exercise.
The Best Plateau-Busting Workout Strategy: Women’s Edition
The best way to break through a plateau, in most cases, is to optimize your workouts for maximum growth. To do this, you can play the above-mentioned cards to your advantage. Adopting a more diversified workout routine might leave some familiar weights and machines behind—but it’ll unlock the most potential.
If you’re ready to take the plunge—check out the tips below.
Tip One: Lift Heavy
This rule of thumb is widespread among male lifters, but it isn’t off-limits to women in the slightest. To stimulate muscle growth, muscles must face resistance. The tougher the resistance—the tougher the muscle.
While it’s possible to score a ‘net gain’ in terms of iron pounds moved overall with volume training, most experts agree that lifting heavier weights yields much quicker results. But it isn’t necessarily because direct-hitting, hefty loads do all of the muscle-building legwork, so to speak.
Rather, it’s because heavy lifting goes hand-in-hand with progressive overload training. More or less, progressive overload training is just adding more weight to your lifts—as you get stronger, of course. The key, though, is that low-rep exercises of higher weights have harder-hitting progressive overload gains. You can still prioritize progressive overload at low-rep ranges, but it’ll be tougher to manage.
Tip Two: Rest the Right Way
Sometimes, overtraining can cause a plateau. Even the most skilled athletes need recovery time—even if they’re more than capable of going full-throttle every day of the week. One of the most important aspects of fitness is consistency—but this includes consistent recovery periods, too.
Try to aim for four to five exercise days per week—and log your routines, progressive overload goals, diet, and gym-time whenever possible. Even if this seems a little silly, at first, it’s totally a key component of plateau-busting fitness strategies. It’s possible to have good exercise intentions, lifting heavy, but still miss out on potential fitness gains. Aside from your body’s need for physical recovery time, it also needs some mental rest and relaxation.
The mind-body connection is real—and it results in the very same muscle memory which causes those plateaus, in the first place.
Tip Three: Squats and Deadlifts
Among all exercises, two reign supreme due to their capacity for muscle growth, stamina, and overall wellness: squats and deadlifts. Both exercises engage the quadriceps, hamstrings, lower back, glutes, laterals, and then some. They’re often called ‘full-body workouts’ for this reason: By hitting many muscles within a single exercise, you’ll put yourself on the fast track to better fitness results —zooming past any current plateaus.
Make sure you’re getting ample rest between your squat and deadlift days, however, as more muscles mean more recovery time. If you’re new to these exercises, try taking two days off between both. Squats and deadlifts also engage a number of auxiliary muscles—or smaller, ‘supporting’ muscles—to move big weights.
As such, it’s surprisingly easy to wear these muscles down without realizing it. If you hit the gym while these muscles are fried, it might detract from your current fitness goals.
Tip Four: Pack on the Protein
That’s right: Even if you’re aiming for weight loss, you can actually eat more too, ultimately, have less fat. This is because muscle mass burns calories—even at rest. So, the more muscle mass you have, the more fat-burning potential you’ll have. This goes for both before and after your workout routine. Naturally, having a little less weight can also help you achieve new workout goals, too—melting off even more calories.
Another reason why extra protein can result in fat loss is that it helps you recover faster—a lot faster. With fresh muscles, you can double down on your following workouts—thus securing more muscle growth.
It seems like a bit of a resource-balancing game, what with gauging your body’s growth potential with “calories in; calories out,” but your body tends to ‘automate’ this process naturally.
In a majority of cases, simply being able to exercise harder, longer and with well-rested muscles will burn more calories—which is the golden ticket to fat loss. As an aside: You needn’t worry about ‘bulking up’ in a way that ruins your figure.
This is a common fear among seasoned gymgoers and newcomers alike—if they’re mostly interested in staying lean. Unfortunately, this might even stop them from lifting heavier weights—and hitting the progressive overload numbers needed to get leaner, paradoxically.
Let’s amend that: It isn’t really paradoxical if you think about it:
If accidentally bulking up on muscle were a common thing, people wouldn’t spend years trying to bulk up on muscle in the first place—you know?
Tip Five: Set Up the Workout Plan
Once you’ve ironed out your diet—nail it down with a weekly planner. Much like your workout routines, logging every bit of information counts.
If you’ve recently changed gears to drive through that stubborn plateau, this is double true: Sometimes, experienced gym-goers accidentally mismanage their workout routines, fall back into old habits, and get stuck on the same plateau. It’s more common that one might think, too, because those who’re already in shape have already passed the introductory motivation hurdles—those which we’ve all faced, at one point or another.
By being hasty in this assumption, though, they accidentally fall into the exact same pitfall: Their plateau, by nature, is a stubborn barrier that gets stronger in familiar environments. In this type of case, those who’ve reinforced the same exercises, weekly schedules, and diets have some hidden barrier-to-entry hurdles of their own.
Getting the Most Out of Your Muscles
At the end of the day, bigger lifts will put you in better shape. A lot of full-body exercises, like squats and deadlifts, can even be a one-size-fits-all solution to long-standing plateaus. Sometimes, a simple diet change is all that’s needed. A simple calorie and macro-tracking app really can make all the difference in the world, if it’s used diligently.
Plateaus are a mystery—no doubt about it. For every novice exerciser, there’s a professional powerlifter struggling with a plateau of their own. Everyone’s routine gets a little stale, at some point or another, but identifying these things is half the battle.
We’re all in this together, whether we’re building male or female muscle. In every regard, your body is just as biologically fit to achieve goals as any other. If you’re new to exercise, don’t hesitate to contact your local fitness center. Not only can they walk you through some basics—but they can even offer some free, personalized advice depending on your immediate fitness, wellness, and lifestyle goals.
If you’ve been working out for a while, take charge of new exercise hobbies. Sports, aerobics and personal training are great places to start—especially if you’re trying to end a plateau. The options are limitless, and the future is packed with potential—before and after a plateau, alike.