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Why training stops working and how you can solve this problem

Warum Training aufhört zu funktionieren und wie Sie dieses Problem lösen können

Why training stops working and how you can solve this problem

Here's what you need to know...

  1. If you're training hard without seeing improvements in strength, muscle mass or leanness, then you've become desensitized to your workouts.
  2. You can prevent desensitization by going through periods of de-sensitization. There are three types of this: Intensity unloading phases, volume unloading phases and frequency unloading phases.
  3. To make a body that no longer responds to training more sensitive to training again, you can focus on one muscle group or exercise, switch to a completely different type of training or take a break from training.

Training hard without results

You train harder than most. Whether you're sick, injured or pressed for time, you always find a way. You do everything right, but you don't make any further progress.

You don't build muscle. You don't get stronger or leaner. And you're frustrated.

What is your problem?

You are no longer responding to your training

You've been desensitized and are now immune to your workouts. This is what happens to stimulus junkies: those who work out more often, longer and harder than anyone else.

Training stimulus addicts are emotionally driven and their instinctive reaction to lack of progress is to train more, longer and harder. This is the downside of being a truly passionate exerciser - you become your own worst enemy.

Restlessness and adaptation

Building muscle mass and strength is the body's way of protecting itself. Physical work stresses the body, the body experiences a state of restlessness or disruption and then adapts to deal with this in the future.

However, once it has adapted, the same volume and intensity will no longer throw your body off balance. At a certain point, you get used to the workload and you have to maintain it just to maintain the existing strength and muscle mass.

And it's not a question of recovery. Don't think that you can just keep adding more work and recover from it. Even if you do recover from more stimulation, this is only a short-term solution until your body adapts to the new workload.

Here's the bad news: if you don't change the way you do things, you'll continue to work hard without making progress.

Here's the good news: if you are willing to change the way you do things and do things that you will find emotionally difficult to cope with, then you will quickly start to make progress again.

Is it more important for you to feel good because you are training hard, or is it more important for you to achieve maximum results?

How to get your body to respond to exercise again

There are several different ways to combat desensitization. Preventative strategies keep the body sensitive to stimulation, but they can't cure desensitization to exercise.

If you're already showing signs of this - you're not making progress, you feel stuck in a routine, you're no longer getting a good pump - other strategies can help correct this.

Preventative tools

Unloading means that you reduce the amount of training stress for a short period of time (5 to 10 days). The three most commonly used unloading strategies include intensity, volume and frequency.

1. intensity unloading phase

Intensity in training is the level of effort relative< to your maximum effort. No matter what type of athlete you are, an intensity unloading phase means that you do not train as hard as usual during your sets. The volume and frequency of your training will remain more or less the same compared to your regular training.

Powerlifting and strength

Use a percentage of your 1RM weight to define the intensity of your workout. Since intensity is planned via percentages, it's easy to play with these percentages for an unload phase.

For powerlifters, an intensity unload phase means reducing the amount of weight you use for your sets (without increasing the volume).

Use 10 to 15% less than during the previous week. If you performed 5 x 5 with 80% of your 1RM, now perform 5 x 5 with 65 to 70% of your 1RN weight. A greater reduction is neither necessary nor effective.

Bodybuilding and hypertrophy

If you do not use planned percentages in your training, then the "intensity" is the maximum exhaustion you can tolerate in a set.

Finishing a set just before reaching muscle failure is less intense than using maximum pumps, extended sets, descending sets, forced repetitions and negative repetitions. Even if you use more weight, ending the set just before reaching muscle failure still means that the intensity will be lower.

If you are doing a bodybuilding workout, intensity is more subjective. If you normally go to muscle failure, then end your sets during the unload phase 1 to 2 repetitions before reaching muscle failure. If you normally finish your sets 1 to 2 repetitions before reaching muscle failure, then finish your sets even earlier during the unload phase.

Note: Intensity unloading phases are best for those who perform bodybuilding workouts. Perform an unloading phase every fourth week.

2. volume unloading phase

If you are training for strength, then a volume unloading phase is the best choice. Reduce the training volume by 40 to 50% but keep the intensity/effort the same. You can either reduce the number of repetitions per set, the sets per exercise or the number of exercises.

Let's say your normal training session looks like this:

  • Bench press 5 x 5 a 130 kg
  • Bench press with close grip 4 x 8 a 90 kg
  • Dumbbell incline bench press 4 x 8 a 60 kg (30 kg per hand)
  • Dumbbell tricep press lying 4 x 12 a 30 kg (15 kg per hand)

You can achieve a volume unloading phase by reducing the repetitions:

  • Use 5 x 3 instead of 5 x 5.
  • Use 4 x 5 instead of 4 x 8.
  • Use 4 x 6 instead of 4 x 12.

The weight would remain the same for all exercises.

You can also reduce the number of sets instead of the number of repetitions:

While using the same exercises and the same weights, simply perform 2 to 3 sets less per exercise.

Alternatively, you can also omit exercises:

The number of sets and repetitions remain the same, but you only use 2 exercises:

  • Bench press 5 x 5 a 130 kg
  • Bench press with close grip 4 x 8 a 90 kg

In all three cases, you reduce the volume by 40 to 50%, thereby preventing you from getting used to a certain workload.

Notes: Strength athletes need to stay in contact with heavy weights even during an unloading phase to keep the nervous system active. You resensitize your body by reducing the amount of work you do. Unload every fourth week.

3. frequency unloading phase

If you use high frequency training - you train an exercise or muscle group three times a week or more - then reduce the frequency with which you train certain exercises or muscle groups. Reduce the frequency every 4 to 5 weeks.

Yes, high frequency training works. But what makes you efficient quickly can also desensitize you quickly. It will become increasingly difficult to generate an overload.

Reduce frequency by 50% or more for two weeks during the unloading phase.

  • If you train a specific exercise 6 days per week, reduce the frequency to 3 days per week.
  • If you train a specific exercise 5 or 6 days per week, reduce the frequency to 2 days per week.
  • If you train a specific exercise 3 days per week, reduce the frequency to one day per week.

Do not reduce the volume as much as you would during a volume unloading phase. It can be 75 to 80% of your normal training volume per week. The aim is to prevent desensitization to the training frequency and not to achieve supercompensation by reducing the volume

Frequency unloading phase option 2:

If you exercise consistently 5 to 7 days per week, then it is possible that you will become acclimated to the weekly physical stress. Even if you change exercises and target muscles every day, desensitization may still occur.

Reducing the overall frequency after 8 or 12 weeks of intensive training is a good solution to prevent desensitization. Halve the training frequency. In other words, train only two to three times a week for 2 weeks.

Opposite training

This is the most commonly used approach to prevent training desensitization. This approach is simply based on changing the training program you perform. And when it comes to preventing desensitization, the greater the change, the better.

You can change the following:

  • Total training frequency (training days per week)
  • Frequency per muscle group or exercise per week
  • Number and type of exercises
  • Sets per muscle group
  • Average number of repetitions per set or load pattern
  • Method of performing repetitions (explosive, constant tension, slow eccentric repetitions, etc.)
  • Intensity techniques (supersets, descending sets, rest-pause, etc.)

If you stick with fairly similar parameters for most categories - for example, if you use a similar training split, similar numbers of sets and reps, and a similar repetition type, and just swap out the exercises - then you won't really change the nature of the training stress.

So if you use this approach, you should switch to a training program that is different in many ways from your previous program. I refer to this as opposite training.

Do you mainly train with higher repetitions? Then switch to lower reps with heavier exercises. Are you doing 3 sets of 5 exercises per muscle group? Try 6 sets of 2 exercises per muscle group. Are you training with constant tension and slow repetitions? Train explosively.

It is not important that you use a training approach that is 100% specific to your goal because you are using this modification to keep your body receptive to your main training plan.

Note: You should not change exercises so often that you never master the basics.

But if you do use this prevention technique, then you need to train in a way that is the complete opposite of your normal training. The further you move away from your regular workout, the more effective it will be.

It may not necessarily be the best way to get closer to your goal, but it is better than not exercising to make your body more sensitive to your training again and you may well progress again simply because of the new stimulus.

How you can correct desensitization

1. specialization training

The more advanced you are, the greater the training stress needs to be to stimulate further change. As you become more advanced, your body will become better adapted to the physical stress.

The beauty of this specific system is that it allows you to make certain muscles more sensitive to your training again, while accelerating the growth of other muscles. If you drastically reduce the training volume for the muscle groups you are not currently specializing in, you will make these muscles more sensitive again for the future.

Choose one or two muscle groups (or a strength exercise) to focus on for the duration of the 4 week training block. Train this three days a week.

If you choose two muscle groups, then train both muscle groups on the same day. The rest of the body is trained at the maintenance level and split over two other training days.

Maintenance training is the key. Training stimulus junkies will find it hard to reduce the amount of work for the rest of the body, but this is essential to the success of this approach.

You only have a certain amount of training currency that you can invest each week. If you choose to invest more in certain muscle groups, then you will need to reduce the amount you invest elsewhere.

Hints: Training specialization gives new life to your training. If you focus heavily on one thing, then you will attack a weak point with everything you have.

And while you're re-sensitizing the rest of the body, you'll still get the feeling of training as hard as you can.

The biggest disadvantage of this approach is that the vast majority of exercisers do too much work on the muscle groups or exercises they don't specialize in. The goal is to re-sensitize these muscles. You should do a minimal amount of work - just 2 to 3 sets of work - for these muscles. The whole thing would work even if you didn't train these muscles at all.

When it comes to sensitizing the body, the less work you do, the better it will work.

2 - Drastic blitz training

Take a change in your training to a whole new level. Do something completely different that belongs in a completely different area of fitness. Stop training with weights for two weeks and only do sprints, jumps, throws and bodyweight exercises. Or take part in a team sport.

Use this extreme approach if you haven't made any progress at all for months. If nothing is working, you need to take a step back. Doing something completely different will allow your body to re-sensitize and progress when you go back to your regular workout.

Don't worry, you won't lose muscle mass in two weeks - especially if you stay relatively active. And you will develop a few other physical qualities during this time.

You may feel leaner, but this is simply because your muscles are less inflamed and have stored a little less glycogen. And even if you were to lose 1 or 2 pounds of muscle mass, but gain 7 to 10 pounds of muscle after a few months of no progress, that's not a bad deal.

There's also a psychological benefit. If you run into a wall and make no further progress, your training 7 days a week for 24 hours will occupy your mind. That kind of thing is frustrating.

Doing something else will rekindle your passion and motivation for training with weights, which will increase the quality of your workouts when you get back to your usual training.

Notes: Only use this extreme approach if you have tried opposite training and specialization training and find that you are still not making progress. This is not the first option for a system restart.

Not training with weights is emotionally hard - especially if you're addicted to the iron. But ask yourself if it's better to stay away from the gym for two weeks or stop making progress altogether.

3 - Planned de-conditioning

This is also known as strategic deconditioning. At the end of each 6 to 8 week training cycle, take 9 to 12 non-training days.

This time without training is not for recovery or supercompensation. Both will happen, of course, but that's not the real goal. Sure, after 6 to 8 weeks of training, you may think you still feel fresh, which is why taking a break from training would be useless. But the goal of the time off is to keep your body sensitive and responsive.

The duration of the unloading phase is important. For up to 7 days you will not lose any adaptations. So if you only gave yourself 5 to 7 days off, this would not be enough to keep the body sensitive to training - at least it would not be optimal. And after more than 2 weeks without training, you will start to lose some of your gains.

So 9 to 12 days of rest is the best duration to keep your body sensitive to the effects of training without losing gains.

For strength athletes, one benefit of a non-training phase is the conversion of IIa muscle fibers into IIb fibers. Both are fast-contracting fibers and both have a high degree of force production, but your IIb fibers have a contraction rate up to twice as fast as type IIa fibers.

Any form of training - even training with heavy weights and explosive training - will initiate a conversion of IIb fibers into IIa fibers. Why? Because type IIa muscle fibers are basically "reserve fibers".

During an unloading phase, IIa fibers will initiate a conversion to a IIb profile, which will increase your potential for strength and power.

When athletes take a 2 to 3 week break from training, their strength is just as high - or even higher - than it was before, but their work capacity decreases. You'll be really strong for 1 or 2 high-intensity work sets, after which strength drops off dramatically, whereas before the break you could do 5 or 6 heavy sets.

A detraining phase at the end of each very hard training cycle can help keep your body responsive to training and performing at a high level.

4 - Extreme detraining

Not only will you stop training with weights for almost two weeks, but you won't do any physical training at all. This is an extreme solution for cases of serious desensitization.

For most, not exercising with weights for two weeks and staying physically active (sprinting, jumping, throwing and playing sports) will be enough. But if you feel your situation is more serious, any form of intense physical activity could prevent you from becoming more sensitive to exercise again.

This is tough, but worth the effort. Not exercising at all for two weeks and making progress for the rest of the year is a worthwhile investment.

Note: There is another stage of this: an extended period of no exercise. We are talking about one to three months. This will result in loss of gains, but you will quickly work your way back up and make new progress after you become sensitive to your training again. This is better than being stuck for a year, but can be very hard.

If you ever reach a point where you need one to three months off, it's because you've made some really bad decisions about your training. Few people will ever need this strategy.

As long as you're not a professional athlete training 20 to 30 hours a week, you probably won't find yourself in a situation where you need to take an extended break from training.

Make smart choices and keep your body sensitive to the effects of your training.

By Christian Thibaudeau | 06/03/15


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