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How often should I change my exercise program?
The short answer? When it stops working.
But it’s not that simple. The human body adapts very, very quickly. The time required for your body to adapt varies from person to person based on several factors, but, a good rule of thumb for adaptation would be about four weeks. Once your body adapts you are going to see gains drop or stop altogether.
That doesn’t mean completely scrap you program every four weeks. It means don’t leave everything in your program the same for too long. Every program should be for a minimum of 12-16 weeks. Don’t quit on any program too early or you stand a good chance of missing the bulk of the benefits of a good program. You’ll likely have a few plateaus along the way. But that’s common. You need to vary things a bit but don’t give up the whole program.
I’ve seen people use the same program for years! Using the same exercises, the same weight, the same set/rep scheme. When they are asked why, the answer is usually some variation of “I’m comfortable with it and it worked fine for a while”. Fitness is not about being comfortable!
If you have faiths in your program stick with it but add some variations to combat plateaus, stagnation and adaptation:
· Use weight progression. When you can meet your set/rep scheme it’s time to add weight.
· Increase you set/rep scheme-Increase the number of sets or reps or both
· Slow the tempo of each rep. Slow the rate at which you lift the weight, lower the weight or both. But do it consistently on every rep.
· Shorten the rest time between sets
· Add in a “Drop Set”. When you finish your last set of an exercise, drop the weight by 10%-20% and immediately do another set AMAP (As many as possible). This works best on machines or cables where you don’t have to stop to remove plates.
· Add in a “Rest-Pause set”. When you finish your last set of an exercise, rest only 10-15 seconds and do AMAP with the same weight. This works well for free weights.
· Alter your grip or foot position. Do the same exercises with a more narrow or a wider grip or foot position.
· Pyramid the weight. Instead of doing 3 sets with the same weight do 3 sets steadily increasing the weight. (85%-90%-110% of your normal load, for example) Or reverse the pyramid (110% 90%-85%)
· Instead of doing 3 sets of 8 reps try doing 24 total reps is the shortest time possible. You might get 15 on the first set, 7 on the second and 3 on the third, for example. But in the end you’ve done the same volume of work.
There are many more variations but you get the idea.
A side note: The main purpose of many (not all) of the methods outlined above is to increase “Time Under Tension” (TUT for short). We’ll go into TUT in more detail another time. But for now let’s just say TUT is a major contributor to muscle growth.
Do foam rollers actually work?
Foam rolling is done with hard foam rollers of a variety of densities (hardness). They come mostly in one foot and 3 foot lengths with a diameter of about 5.5 inches. Some are smooth on their surface and some have “knobs” or “ribs” molded on their surface.
Using foam rollers is technically called Self- Myofascial Release .
Fascia is connective tissue that surrounds muscle tissue. You could think of it as similar to a thick connective sausage casing that incases muscle tissue groups that also helps the muscles slide across each other during movement. Myofacial pain can be caused by stress, injury, fatigue or overuse. Though not a scientific explanation, you might think of it as this connective tissue “knotting up”. It can cause, not only muscle pain, but headaches, stiffness, or cramps. Or all of the above.
Myofascial release involves the active physical manipulation of the affected areas. (Think a very specialized form of massage). Myofasical pain usually requires knowledge of the condition’s trigger points.
Self-Myofascial Release could be thought of as the d-i-y version.
The use of foam rollers is reportedly effective for self-myofiscial release. One would typically use one’s own body weight to apply pressure to the affected areas via the foam roller.
I am not able to refer you to any major scientific studies proving or disproving the effectiveness of foam rollers. I have read one study, though limited that indicates foam rolling is effective in relieving muscle stiffness in trained athletes and that foam rolling plus static stretching appear to be cumulative in relieving muscle stiffness. (Both together work better than using only one technique)
A recent review of over 400 articles and studies was performed by the Sports Medicine Research Laboratory at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Their findings showed no statistically significant effect on force production and no statistically significant effect on muscle activation from the use of foam rollers. They did, however, find a statistically significant effect on range of motion. Thus allowing for more efficient movement patterns which should decrease the chance of injury and result in better performance. But I have not been able to read the entire study review.
I have personally used foam rollers to help relieve muscle stiffness, soreness and as an aid for stiffness in my spine caused you my slight spinal scoliosis. Foam rollers may or may not perform for myofascial release but they are definitely useful tools to have.
Foam rollers range in price from about $9 to about $30. They usually come with some instructions and there are numerous web-sites for instructions.
Foam Rollers are available at all of these merchants. Just click on any of the links on the right.
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