How to Break Plateaus and Progress: A Scientific Approach

Anyone can get a gym membership, start training with numerous sets and reps, and probably get some sort of results. But chances are this form of success won’t last forever, and along the way, they’ll end up wasting a lot of energy and time.

The truth is we are all different, and there simply is no one-size-fits-all program. Each person requires a unique way of training that will lead them to the best outcome. Alright, if we all respond differently then how do we find what works best for each one of us?

We find out the way people have always found out something – Experimentation.

Experiment- The Scientific Method

I know you may be thinking about a complicated process right now, but don’t worry, we’ll be looking at a fairly easy method you can implement with ease.

You probably heard about the scientific method before, at least vaguely. If you’re not quite sure what it is, it’s basically a series of steps that scientists use to make observations and conduct experiments. We can apply this form of thinking to our training, diet, or any other aspect of our life. Doing so we are going to better organize our lifestyle and overall wellbeing (1) (2).

Here is a brief walkthrough of the scientific method:

  • You make an observation – “I am not gaining muscle”

  • Research – “What can lead to slow muscle gains”?

  • You create a hypothesis – “I believe my diet may be off, I need more protein”

  • Test the hypothesis – Increase protein intake

  • Measure results – Muscular development has improved

  • Make a conclusion – Hypothesis confirmed – protein indeed supports muscle growth

Putting the Scientific Method into Practice

1. Observation

Every “experiment” starts with an observation. For many, the observation is as simples as “I’m not getting stronger” or “I can’t burn fat”. So you’re looking to form the question around a certain aspect of your training or diet in which you’re having trouble with.

Observations serve as a starting point for change by referring to what isn’t working and what needs to be fixed.

2. Research

Do some research on the observation you made previously. Try to find anything you can about your issue. See if there are any other people with a similar problem, maybe they have the solution. This will help you tremendously in the next step in which a hypothesis is formed.

3. Hypothesis

Once you’ve made an observation and did some research, the next step is to ask yourself why? Why is this observation happening, what may be the issue?

  • Observation: I’m not losing weight

  • Why can’t I lose weight?

  • Hypothesis: Maybe I’m not losing weight because I miscalculated my calories.

Now, a hypothesis is only an educated guess. It’s a guess because you don’t know the answer. So you may actually make the wrong guess the first couple of times, but it is important to think clearly and to be honest.

4. Test the Hypothesis

This is the time where you act. To determine whether your hypothesis is correct you have to test it. During this phase, you change a certain aspect of your lifestyle and measure the results later on.

For instance, if you’re not losing weight and you guess it may be related to your calorie intake, you can cut your meals back by an additional 10-20%.

When testing, be sure to only change one variable at a time. If you reduce the portion sizes but start adding butter or sugar to your meals, it will make it harder to see which action caused a change.

Also it is very important that you leave enough time for changes to occur. In the case mention

previously, a minimum of 2 weeks may be needed in order to see if the intervention is working or not. Changes in your training regime may take even longer to produce results. So be patient and don’t rush things.

5. Analyze the Results

This is the final step that determines if your hypothesis was right or wrong. A proper analysis of your results will provide real tangible feedback to what’s going on.

Aim to analyze your results as precise as possible. Use the tools which are available to you, such as the weight scale, mirror, calorie tracking apps, lifting journal, etc.

Now let’s say, you noticed some changes but are not quite sure if your hypothesis was correct or not. Here you can extend your testing phase and repeat the experiment.

Even if your experiment fails and you don’t notice any progress, time was not lost! You’ve gained valuable experience which can help you in the long run.

Conclusion

Over a training lifetime, you will complete lots of big and small experiments. And as said, you will learn from each one of them. Along the journey, you are also going to notice patterns and learn what works best for your body type. So, the most crucial takeaway from this article is to simply think about your training and lifestyle choices like a scientist.

Carefully observe changes, take proper action, and measure the results. And remember, progress comes with patience and perseverance!

References:

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5390631/

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK234526/

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