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Bodypart Workouts

Change Up Your Reps to Bust Through Plateaus

Is your rep range in a rut? Break out with this innovative, research-based approach to training pecs.

Changing up your training fairly regularly is a proven tenet of success. Doing the same exact workouts over and over will eventually lead to a growth plateau, where your body adapts to that stimulus. To avoid that, you need to cycle different movements and strive to handle more weight more efficiently over time.

And that means if you’re muddled deep in a repetition rut, doing the same number of reps across the board, it’s time for a shake-up: an approach that tosses out that 10-rep tedium and varies your reps not just from workout to workout but also within a given training session.

To design a sample program that does just that, we tapped two experts from 24 Hour Fitness: Director of Group Personal Training Phil Timmons and Regional Fitness Educator Nikolaus Herold, who’s responsible for “training the trainers” at the worldwide fitness center chain.

They suggest a workout that alternates more traditional dumbbell moves done with a heavy weight and dynamic, functional push-up variations. “Training at multiple repetition [ranges] within the same workout can have great physiological benefits to progress, fitness and health,” Timmons explains. “Also, by training three-dimensionally — or taking an exercise for a specific muscle group and applying functional movement patterns — you can gain significant benefits, specifically to muscular recruitment, stability and muscular coordination.”

Three-dimensional, functional movements not only train the muscle but also impact the fascia, the dense connective tissue that surrounds muscles, Herold says. “On that front, recent research published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies has recommended that our fascia, or connective tissue — ligaments, tendons, joint capsules — be trained with variability in mind. Variability in direction, mass, speed, work and rest duration, and range of motion are key to keeping our fascia healthy and improving its tensile strength.”

In this chest workout, the three-dimensional functional movements — the windmill push-up, multiplanar push-up and Bosu crossover push-up — have a higher rep scheme, while the power- and strength-oriented linear movements have lower rep schemes to foster these positive changes. After a basic bench press to kick things off, the workout is broken into three Escalating Density Training (EDT) sets of two exercises apiece.

“In EDT sets, you perform alternating sets of two exercises within a given time frame; in this particular workout, we’ve suggested five to six minutes,” Timmons says. “Sets, reps per set and rest time are undefined. All that matters is that you perform the same number of sets of each exercise with as many reps as you can manage in each set before the time is up.

“The number of reps you manage will likely decrease with each set as you reach fatigue,” Timmons continues. “Add up the total number of reps you do and then, with every workout, your goal is to exceed your previous number of reps completed. When your total reps have increased by 10 to 20 percent, it’s time to add more weight to the first exercise in each set.”

Once you get the hang of this chest workout, you can try EDT with other bodyparts. It’s sure to help bust your rep rut and achieve 3-D results.

Dumbbell Windmill Push-Up: Get into push-up position, gripping two dumbbells instead of placing your hands on the floor. Perform a traditional push-up, but when you come to the top, elbows-straight position, twist your body to lift one dumbbell up and out to the side in an arc and perpendicular to the floor, then return it in the same arc to the floor. On the next rep, repeat the windmill motion with the opposite arm.

Multiplanar Push-Up: Start in a standard push-up position. After each rep, switch your hand position as if putting your hands on different numbers of a clock. For instance, begin with a standard push-up, then put your left hand on 11 and right hand on 4 and do a rep, then put your left hand on 8 and right hand on 2 and do a rep. Keep moving your hands until you’ve done as many reps as possible.

Bosu Crossover Push-Up: Get into push-up position with one hand on the floor and the other on a Bosu ball (or a low step). Do a standard push-up, then switch your hands to bring the one from the floor onto the Bosu and the one from the Bosu to the floor, where you’ll do another push-up. Continue this back-and-forth pattern for reps.