Workout stagnation is one of the biggest issues for people trying to lose weight or gain muscle mass and strength. The reason we plateau is simple: most traditional exercises focus on isolated muscles or muscle groups, which is not at all how our body would be getting worked out in nature.
The usual short-term solution to plateauing is to switch up your workout routine. Do different exercises that focus on a different set of muscles for a week or two, or bring in a new exercise that focuses the same muscle but is slightly different so it works it in a different way.
Although this is usually enough to get most people to a new level in their workout, it’s often not much of a leap, and they plateau again in a few weeks or months, and another switch up is required.
A good number of body builders and athletes fight a constant battle with their own bodies to keep them from plateauing. Our current set of traditional workout routines don’t treat the body holistically, and so the results don’t favor the entire body as a whole.
Natural Movements vs. Artificial Exercises
Most workouts we have developed to build muscle are very limited in scope, but are highly effective at what they do: work and tear individual muscles or muscle groups to encourage rebuilding, and thus greater muscle size and strength.
This is not how animals build their muscles, however. And if you have ever dealt with wild animals in any capacity, you know that they are almost all without question stronger than most human beings. Even small animals like rabbits and groundhogs can be extremely difficult for the average person to physically handle, because they have a raw strength in them that has built up through the continuous holistic use of their entire bodies from the time that they were born.
Humans on the other hand spend a great deal of time sitting on their asses and letting their muscles deteriorate, then go to the gym three hours a week working on isolated muscles like biceps and calves, and expect great results.
The truth is, these exercise routines don’t really work out our entire body, they only benefit certain parts of us in certain ways, which results in numerous shortcomings and unbalances, such as plateauing and joint stiffness.
If you want to take your workout to the next level, you’re going to have to think holistically.
Animals in the wild spend hours and hours every day working alongside nature. They are constantly running, pushing, pulling, climbing, having sex, fighting. Theirs is a visceral but rewarding life, that optimizes their body and creates true raw strength.
Certain forms of body mastery have been developed that work better than typical exercise routines for holistic body conditioning. Advanced yoga, tai chi, wing chun, qi gong, and kung fu come to mind.
Yoga for instance was developed specifically to harmonize the body and mind, by mimicking the visceral movements of animals in nature. Yoga and martial disciplines activate and work out several muscle groups that most traditional exercises don’t even touch at all, or touch very little.
Animals also engage in a great deal of natural stretching, which is crucial for muscle development.
Tearing and rebuilding muscle is only half of the story when it comes to a proper workout. If you are not also stretching these same muscles, you are slowly ruining your body.
Arguably, elastic, springy muscles are more useful than bulky, unyielding ones.
Strength rests in one’s ability to use the body as a tool to its best ability. A diminutive martial artist may not be able to bench 300 lbs., but in a moment of duress, can summon movements so quick and powerful that they easily outmatch the strikes and movements of much larger, “muscular” individuals.
Holistically speaking, large bulky muscles hold a person back, and anyone with a bit of speed and martial discipline can run circles around these kinds of people. They lack the ability to move like an animal, and it costs them, especially later in life when their ligaments and tendons begin to break down from lack of elasticity.
If you are not stretching your muscles with movement-based exercises, you are likely either already plateauing, or will soon be. This is because if a muscle is not properly stretched, its range of movement gets limited, and it begins to tense up in unnatural ways.
Think of how animals extend their bodies when they run. Now think of how compact, stiff, and robotic most people appear to be when they run or when they perform certain sports, like boxing.
Notice the difference?
We have been culturally geared to move in certain ways that simply aren’t natural.
Want to start overcoming your physical limits and avoid plateauing? Start moving naturally.
True Full-Body Workouts
Anyone who is into fitness and healthy living has certainly heard of “full-body workouts” before. The idea behind these exercises is to provide some contrast with isolated muscle exercises, by working several muscle groups at the same time.
Great examples of “full-body” exercises are pull-ups and weighted squats. It’s no coincidence that these are two of the most effective common exercises in general, because they test so many muscle groups at once.
However, even these aren’t quite at the level we need in order to truly conquer your workout. Most people who are serious about their workout routine are already doing pull-ups and squats regularly, and probably plateau all of the time.
In order to really get into the next gear, we need to take the plunge into yoga.
It doesn’t matter if you have never done any yoga before, and it doesn’t matter what you think about it.
Some weight lifters, for example, think most yoga is just simple aerobics that doesn’t really do much for you. The truth is, if you are a hardcore weight lifter, yoga is probably the single biggest thing you could do to improve your gains right now.
Here are some basic yoga poses that you should fit into your routine (and the muscle group that it will help you overcome your plateau on):
- Wide-legged Forward Bend (thighs, glutes)
- Downward Facing Dog (lower back, shoulders, core)
- Boat Pose (core)
- Warrior III (core, calves)
- Side Plank (triceps, shoulders, chest)
- Garland Pose (calves, core)
- Upward Plank Pose (chest)
- Upward Facing Dog (chest)
- Cow Pose (shoulders, biceps, back, hips)
- Lotus Pose (hips, core)
If you can’t do some of these poses in the beginning, just ease into them over time.
Once you are more familiar with them, learn how to chain them together. The goal is to start moving in a flow state rather than a jerky, isolated kind of state.
You want to be twisting with your core, stretching your hamstrings after a hard leg workout, stretching your arms and shoulders after a day of benching, learning balance and increasing muscle integrity by learning how to plank and master your own body weight.
If you find yourself regularly plateauing, take an entire day out of your week to focus solely on yoga or a similar holistic workout system. You need to start working the smaller, neglected muscles that you never touch by doing traditional workouts.
By placing weight on and stretching parts of your arms, legs, and core that you would otherwise never touch, you will strengthen everything around that area and enable your other muscles to grow properly.
Also note that performing these exercises often increases overall health, because they strengthen the diaphragm, which is vital for oxygenating the blood, and open the hips and keep the hamstrings supple, two extremely important parts of maintaining a healthy lower back as you age.
Muscle bulk is easy to build, relatively speaking, compared to elasticity. If you don’t stretch your muscles and get them back to a natural state early enough, you greatly increase your risk of degenerative issues as you get older, so the benefits go beyond your gains in the gym.
Just remember, the key to getting past your plateau isn’t “more weight” or “switching up your workout.” It’s treating your body mastery as an holistic experience and working your body like it was meant to be worked in nature. Yoga is one way of achieving this, but there are certainly others.
It’s up to you to realize that you’re lacking natural engagement with your body and that the path to correcting it a more natural approach to working out.
The founder of Digital Sages, Matt has an extensive background in self-mastery and has authored several books on the subject. His goal is to demystify important esoteric subjects and help people transform their lives through self-awareness and personal empowerment.