OVERCOMING
FITNESS PLATEAUS
Apply the F.I.T.T.E technique to revamp when your fitness progress is stuck. Here are the basic principles but we'll take it a few steps beyond.

By John Destacamento, December 23rd, 2020


You’ve been working out for weeks but now you are stuck. You haven’t seen any significant weight loss change and your strength progress seems stagnant. What should you do? Most people will choose to increase frequency by exercising more often but that’s just a corner piece of the larger puzzle. Our brain and bodies were given this great ability, the ability to learn and adapt quickly. Repetitive movements become easier based on these constant neural receptor connections from the brain to the muscles. As muscles becomes stronger it allows performance to become more efficient. We can refer to this as muscle movement at full adaptation, in other words you’ve reached a plateau.

In order to break these barriers, the logical answer is to develop new neural connections by confusing your muscles to think that the exercise effort is still new. In most personal training certifications, we learn how to implement a standard process called F.I.T.T. (Waehner, 2020) and F.I.T.T.E. I found this process useful but it still lacked true substance. With that said, I will discuss how we can take this process a few steps further.

WHAT IS F.I.T.T.

  1. Frequency – Add an extra workout day. Consider scheduling the extra session with a trainer. This becomes an obligation and it holds you accountable to show up. The additional weekly volume may assist with fat loss and advancing strength progress.

  2. Intensity – Lift heavier amounts of less reps or lift lighter with more reps, add more sets, shorten rests in between sets. Change cardio routine to a more elevated heart rate. There are many combinations to consider. When increasing load, it is important to use a gradual technique to avoid risks of injury.

  3. Time of Day – If your workouts are usually at night, try switching to the morning. Morning is usually better for fat loss because it elevates your heart rate in the beginning of the day. From my experience training clients, I found that each individual has a peak moment of each day. This peak moment whether it is 5am 4pm or 7pm, is where the individual will perform their best.

  4. Type of training or exercise – One of the most common mistakes I see at the gym is repetition of the same routine too often. Remember our bodies learn to adapt to specific movements quite easily. Some of the popular change-ups are: changing the type of exercise, high intensity interval training and circuit training. I will elaborate on this topic below.

    Those four are the basic principles however educational institutions such as NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) extended this principle by adding an E for Enjoyment.

  5. Enjoyment – Add to your program a recreational sport that you enjoy. It doesn’t need to be strenuous, just fun enough so you'll continue regularly. One hour to a few times per week is ideal. Some suuggestions are cycling, running, hiking, swimming and just about any recreational sport you consider enjoyable.

    NOW IT'S F.I.T.T.E.



stopwatch Shortening rests between sets is a method used to improve endurance
snowboarding Add fun outdoor recreation to enhance physical abilities

DIGGING DEEPER INTO FITTE

Type (number four) is most commonly used by personal trainers. If you’ve had personal training in the past you may have noticed that your coach provides a lot of variety of movements. For chest muscles, you might be performing an Incline Press one day and the following week it’s Push Ups as an alternative. Deciding what to change and how to change it is more effective if your coach has some knowledge of kinesiology and joint movements. Although switching from a Barbell Bench Press to a Dumbbell Incline Bench Press seems typical, the kinetic movement and paths of limb direction are still fairly similar.
I prefer to change the type of movements in a more dramatic fashion by using different levers, tempo and sometimes speed. I don’t mean just speeding up repetitions, I mean incorporating reactive training such as plyometrics and explosive movements. Although these movements are geared towards athletic performance, down-scaling these exercises for the recreational exerciser usually lead to bigger benefits. Ballistic movements and activating fast-twitch (Penney, 2018) fibers will open up the use of more motor units and proprioception (Aman,2015) exercising. More developed fast-twitch fibers usually lead to better bench presses, more push-ups, more powerful squats and higher leaps. But, I am still unsure if fast-twitch fibers play an important role on pulling movements. Someone please enlighten me?
clean Photo: Cindy Wilson.

EXAMPLES OF BALLISTIC MOVEMENTS

  • Plyometrics : Jumps, Hops, Skaters, Sprinting
  • Weightlifting: Clean, Snatch, Push press,
  • Medicine Ball Passes
Frequency (one) and Time of Day (three) are usually suggestions not easily feasible for clients to commit to. Asking a client who exercises twice per week may commit to an additional day to three, but only enthusiasts will most likely want to go to four days per week. What happens when clients exercise four days per week but still remain stagnant with progress? Go to five then six then maybe twice per day? Some coaches appreciate this effort, but most coaches today may consider this overtraining. It really depends on the intensity of each workout. This type of frequency can be effective if you are talking enhancement supplements but that's a separate topic for discussion.

Intensity (two) is a technique that should be used a lot more often. Yet, most fitness professionals have a vague definition of intensity and see it just this way.
  • Occasionally increase load of exercises
  • Add more repetitions or sets
  • More exercises within the workout

TRACK VOLUME IN WORKOUTS

Although the above change-ups may seem great, utilizing these methods incorrectly may veer into another direction or path which is not relevant to you or the client’s goals. This is when to consider measuring workout volume (Destacamento, 2020) in two different forms. An application such as EfitX has this ability to distinguish the difference between endurance versus strength routines. As workouts become longer due to more exercises and more repetitions, the routine leans cardio vascular endurance. If those are the main intentions, great. However referring to the title of this article overcoming a plateau, the “adding more” technique may eventually build a new barrier on advancing your progress. If goals are to increase strength and speed up metabolism for fat loss, although adding more repetitions sometimes work, it’s probably not the most effective route. When it comes to intensity, my preference is to load heavier amounts, add more sets along with adding sufficient rest periods. Occasionally, at times I do emphasize more exercises to shock muscles back into growth.


clean Photo: Monica Rea.

WHEN F.I.T.T.E. IS NOT ENOUGH

I mentioned above that most clients usually cannot commit to increase workout frequency and have trouble exercising a different time of the day they are use to. So we might as well change this article to just I.T.E. (Intensity, Type and Enjoyment) right!? Only three of the five tools within the traditional F.I.T.T.E. are feasible in today’s society. How about we add more alternatives?
clean

F.I.T.T.E.N.D.


Let's add Nutrition and Duration as two more elements to implement on assisting with "unstucking" yourself.

Nutrition – Changing the way you eat, reducing or increasing calories can assist with breaking these plateaus. If your goal is to lose weight and you’ve been stuck, the trend seems to be eat less. Although this is a wide-spread trend, eating less has several disadvantages. If you eat considerable less than before and prefer not to use supplementation, this won't help on building muscle thus won’t speed up your metabolism. No change in metabolism means eventually you will regain fat after you return to a normal nutrition plan. Nevertheless you can change the foods you eat and change the schedule on when you eat. I discuss this topic in another article called, “Using Your Food.” If your client wants to gain strength or muscle size, then eating more calories is an easy solution to break a plateau. Women are more skeptic about this and worry about bulking up and belly fat. If programmed correctly such as periodically, then this should not be something to worry too much about. See my article: “Lifting Heavy to Lose.” (Destacamento, 2020)

Duration – Extending a workout from 60 to 90 minutes is another adjustment to consider. This is not to be misunderstood with frequency. As discussed earlier, trying to cram more repetitions or more types of exercises within an hour workout may alter the bigger goal. For breaking a strength goal, longer workouts with appropriate rest periods seem to be more appropriate. Just be sure you are completing a significant amount of more strength volume than your previous 60 minute workout. The key word here is “strength volume” not endurance volume.

When you haven’t made much progress after 6 consecutive workouts, take some time to review the entire program and see what may be missing. Repair all the broken parts first before deciding to add new parts. Then you can apply some of these methods to re-accelerate your fitness progress. Keep in mind when dramatic changes are made to your fitness program, getting advice from our physician is always highly recommended. Overcoming obstacles is a regular part of life so don't give up too easily!

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References

Waehner, 2020, The F.I.T.T. Principle for an Effective Workout, Verywellfit.com
https://verywellfit.com

NASM, 2020. Nasm.org
https://nasm.org

Penney, 2018., FAST-TWITCH VS. SLOW-TWITCH MUSCLE FIBER TYPES + TRAINING TIPS, Blog.Nasm.org
https://blog.nasm.org/fitness/fast-twitch-vs-slow-twitch

Aman, 2015, The effectiveness of proprioceptive training for improving motor function: a systematic review, NCBI
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4309156/

Destacamento, 2020., Increase Value with Online Coaching, EfitX
https://efitx.com/increase-value-with-online-coaching.php

Destacamento, 2020., Lifting Heavy to Lose Fat, EfitX
https://efitx.com/lifting-heavy-to-lose.php