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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Breaking through Plateau's

We are changing things up and doing something a little different today.  I recently received the below email and I thought there were some great questions in it worth discussing and sharing with all of you.  Please read the email and then read my responses below.

"Dear Jesse,
I recently returned to the gym after a long layoff (about 8 years).  I must say I am absolutely loving it and can't believe that I let 8 years without the gym slip by me.  A friend of mine from school has also recently returned to the gym and I was asking him how it was going.  He said that he had hit a plateu and struggling to find motivation to keep going.  The next day when I was at the gym I was thinking about this as I was exercising.  The thoughts led me to memories of the principal at my old high school.  When I was a freshman and sophmore I would go to the gym every day after school.  Every day the principal would be working out.  I remember watching him as he would do forward latteral raises for shoulders.  Every time he did those exercises he always used a 35 pound dumbbell.  For two years I watched him do those exercises and always he had a 35 pound dumbbell.  I remember being young and thinking, I hope my body doesn't max out like that.  This leads me to the reason that I am writting you.  The last few weeks I have been wondering, why do our bodies plateau?  Why does a young man like my friend hit a point where his body and muscles stop growing.  Why did the principal always have those same weights? He was a strong guy and put out a lot of effort but the amount of reps and the weight he used never changed.  This also makes me think of you.   You have been working out and encouraging others to do the same for over a decade.  Have you reached the limits of what your body can do? Why or why not? Is there a limit? I remember reading about Ronnie Coleman adding five pounds of muscle every year while he was Mr. Olympia. Could he have continued this for the rest of his life? At what point would his body have said no more? In closing, why do our bodies plateau, can we avoid the plateau, and is there a maximum plateau?
Thank you very much,

Hey Jason,

These are some great observations and questions you have here.  While we are talking about muscles and exercising, my answers can be applied to any aspect of life - Relationships, financial, personal growth and development, etc...

Why do our bodies plateau?  

When we hit a plateau, it is because we have arrived at a temporary roadblock, meaning that we need to change something if we want to improve because we have hit the maximum benefit of doing things the way we have been doing.  In the example you mentioned your principal kept doing the same thing over and over and over and over and over again.  What would have happened if he would have changed the exercises, change the order, changed the weights, the reps, the tempo, or any of the other 100+ variables.  What would have happened then?  

When we hit plateau's in life, unfortunately to many people give up and quit doing what they have been doing, or accept that they have hit their maximum potential.  Those are the two worst things you can do.  If you want to break through the plateau you MUST mix things up, You MUST challenge yourself to learn, to grow, to evolve in a way you have not done before.

Who hasn't taken up a new hobby, a new activity, and been overjoyed with learning it and how rapidly they have picked it up.  Then a few months down the road they get frustrated and quit because they stopped improving at the rapid rate when they began.  They gave up rather than challenging themselves to approach the problem from a different angle.

Remember the quote: "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting to get a different result."  

If you or anyone else want different results then you/they must be willing to change things up and do things differently.

No, I do not believe I have reached the limits of what my body can do, nor do I ever think I will.  

As I have gotten older I have evolved with the pursuit of my passion (weight lifting) when I was in my early 20's it was all about being as big as possible.  Then it was about being stronger than certain people.  Now it is about using better technique and mastering more challenging exercises while I grow stronger on more traditional exercises.  In another 5 or 10 years my focus will no doubt change again.  The cool thing is that every time I change I learn more about myself and my body.

We all have an un-ending opportunity to learn and grow (metaphorically and physically).  I enjoy reading, so to maximize it I am learning how to speed read.  If I did not challenge my brain and my eyes this way I would be left to read a page every 2 minutes which cuts down dramatically the number of books I can enjoy and the amount I can learn each year.  Now I can read a page in about 45 seconds.  Meaning that I have more than doubled my reading speed, which means I have also doubled the amount I can read and have the potential to learn in a year.

If I had never challenged myself to change things up when I hit a plateau, I would still be stuck reading and learning at the pace I was before.

Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman (for those who do not know who this is click the link here to watch a quick video that sums him up)  who knows how much mass he could have continued to pack on.  Remember for his sport he wanted to be big, but also maintain symmetry and aesthetic appeal.  I think he would have been limited by those two things for the sake of his sport before size.  

So why do we plateau and can we avoid them?

I encourage you to look at a "plateau" like this:  A plateau is your body's or life's way of telling you that you have done really well and now you have reached a fork in the road AND if you want to continue to improve it is time to change things up and start on a new path.  

Embrace plateau's they are the ultimate compass on the path to success.  Each one arises to tell you that you are headed in the right direction!!

Thanks for writing.

Carpe Diem,


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