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Moving to the Next Level

After a few weeks of regular exercise, your body starts to adapt. If you continue to do the same exercises at the same frequency, intensity, and duration, you will reach a fitness plateau and you will stop improving. Keep reading to find out how to change your routine for optimal results. Always remember to progress gradually to minimize risk for injury.

Resistance/Strength Exercise

Use the 2-for-2 rule to guide changes for resistance exercises like those in Power Up in 10:

If you can successfully complete two or more repetitions in the last set in two consecutive workouts for any given exercise, it is time to increase the load or the number of repetitions. If you are new to working out, you may be able to increase resistance by 5% – 10%. If you are more advanced, 2% – 5% may be more appropriate. This usually amounts to 2.5 – 5 pounds for smaller muscle groups and 5 – 10 pounds for larger muscle groups.

For example, if you normally perform 3 sets of arm curls and 8 repetitions per set with 10.5 ounce soup cans, try to do 10 repetitions on the 3rd set. If you successfully complete 10 repetitions on Friday and again on Monday, your muscles are ready for a bigger challenge. Try completing 3 sets and 8 repetitions per set with 12 ounce soda cans or water bottles or 3 sets and 10 repetitions with the original soup cans.

You can also increase the difficulty of your resistance training workout by incorporating the following exercise modifications:

1. The Squat

  • Hold a full water bottle or a milk jug with both hands out in front of you. See Household Items as Weights for details.
  • Hold the “down” position for 5-10 seconds on each repetition before returning to the standing position

2. The Push-up

  • Lift 1 leg up for half of the set and then switch legs for the other half of the set
  • Hold the “down” position for a few seconds on each repetition before pushing back up

3. The Back Row

  • Hold a water bottle in each hand
  • Hold a milk jug or laundry detergent bottle in each hand

Having fun together

4. The Hip Lift

  • Complete the hip lift on one leg. Make sure to keep the thigh of the leg that is lifted parallel to the thigh of the leg that is on the ground.
  • Hold the “up” position for 5-10 seconds on each repetition

5. The Crunch

  • Twist your torso at the top of the exercise
  • Place a bag of beans or rice on your chest

6. The Lunge

  • Place your back foot on a chair or bench to perform a one-legged lunge
  • Hold a milk jug or laundry detergent bottle on in each hand at your sides

7. The Arm Raise

  • Hold water bottles, soup cans, or other household weights in each hand
  • Superset with another Power Up in 10 exercise

Aerobic/Cardiovascular Exercise

Use the 10% Rule to guide changes in Aerobic Exercise:

In general, you should increase either duration OR intensity by 10% every week if you perform exercise on a regular basis.

For example, if you can perform 20 minutes of continual exercise at a speed of 3 miles per hour (mph) in week 1, use the guidelines below to progress:

• increase to 22 minutes at 3mph in week 2 and 24.5 minutes at 3mph in week 3


• increase to 20 minutes at 3.3mph in week 2 and 20 minutes at 3.6mph in week 3

In order to continue seeing adaptations in cardiorespiratory fitness, your heart rate (HR) should be within a training HR zone equivalent to 50 – 85% heart rate reserve, which is equal to 12 – 16 on the Borg rating of perceived exertion (RPE) scale.

At the beginning of an exercise program, the goal is to perform aerobic exercise 3 to 4 times per week at 50-60% HRR for 25 to 30 min. After a couple of months, increase aerobic exercise to 3 to 5 times per week at 70-85% HRR for 35-40 minutes.

Heart Rate Reserve (HRR):

• Your heart rate offers an objective look at exercise intensity. In general, the higher your heart rate during physical activity, the higher the exercise intensity. Exercise heart rate can be increased with an increase in resistance (e.g. walk at an incline instead of flat ground, increase the gear on your bicycle) or an increase in speed.

• To calculate %HRR, use the following equation: %HRR = (HRmaxHRrest)* %intensity + HRrest

Resting Heart Rate (HRrest) can be determined by placing your index and middle fingers on your throat just to the side of the Adam’s apple and count the number of beats in one minute. HRrest should be measured in the morning right after you wake up.

Max Heart Rate (HRmax) = 220 – age.

• % intensity = 0.50 for the lower end of the training HR zone and 0.85 for the higher end of the training HR zone

• Here is an example for calculating target HR zone

Step 1: Measure Resting HR (HRrest)
Step 2: Calculate Max HR (HRmax)
Step 3: Put values from steps 1 and 2 into the %HRR equation

Age: 45
Resting HR: 65
Max HR: 220-45= 175

Heart rate should not be below: (175 – 65) *0.50 + 65 = 120 beats per minute
Heart rate should not be above: (175 – 65) *0.85 + 65 = 159 beats per minute

• Keep in mind that caffeine or stress from work can artificially increase exercise HR. If you drink coffee before exercise, you may be working at a lower intensity than the intensity estimated by your heart rate.

Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE):


• If you find it difficult to measure HR during exercise and you do not own a HR monitor, try estimating intensity with RPE

• RPE is a subjective measure of exercise intensity. It is an indication of how hard physical activity feels to you while you are doing it. Your perceived level of exertion may be different from what someone else feels doing the same exercise. For example, what feels to you like an easy run can feel like a hard workout to someone who is less fit.

• Use the following scale to determine your RPE

  • 0 – Nothing at all
    0.5 – Just noticeable
    1 – Very light
    2 – Light
    3 – Moderate
    4 – Somewhat heavy
    5 – Heavy
    7 – Very heavy
    10 – Very, very heavy

Overexerting yourself:

Beware of pushing yourself too hard too often. If you are short of breath, in pain or can’t work out as long as you had planned, your exercise intensity is probably higher than your fitness level allows. Back off a bit and build intensity gradually.

Overcoming Workout Plateaus:

1. Consistency is Key

When trying to overcome a workout plateau, it is important to be consistent. To reach a certain fitness goal, make daily physical activity a habit. For example, schedule physical activity into your daily routine. This time should be a priority just like making dinner or going to work. We could all cut time spent in sedentary behaviors like watching TV or surfing the web and dedicate that time for exercise instead!

2. You are what you Eat

Although you might be exercising daily, you won’t be able to see progress unless you are eating healthy. Look for restaurants with healthier food options and opt for fruits and vegetables rather than chips and soda.

3. New is Better

According to ACSM, “one of the best ways to break fitness plateaus is to try something new”. For example, change your walking scene; choose a different route that may include more or steeper hills; consider swimming or biking instead of walking. You can also change the order of your workout. Try upper-body exercises before lower-body exercises and vice versa.

4. Train for an Event

Training for a charity walk, 5k or even a 10k can help overcome plateaus. Find a local walking/running group to provide social support during your training.

5. Strengthen the weakest link of your body’s kinetic chain

Your body is a series of interconnected parts that work together to help you move (AKA: kinetic chain). Determine a weakness, focus on it and turn it into a strength. If you know that your legs are particularly weak, make it a priority and perform leg exercises such as squats and lunges first.

Chertok G. Breaking Bad Habits. ACSM Fit Society Page. 2013; 15(2): 1 – 7.
Garber CE. et al. Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011; 43(7): 1334-1359.

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