Keeping Things Fresh for the Adaptable Body

Posted by Kai Giese on December 25, 2019

Would you like to bring in the New Year with a fresh dynamic to your wellness picture, or are you too comfortable in the same old routine?

Those who have lapsed out of a consistent exercise plan know how difficult it can be to be able to get started again. For those who have accomplished establishing a new routine, or those long term exercisers who do the same thing month after month, it can also be challenging to know what to do next. How do you find the right new ways to change up your workout and continually challenge the adaptable human body to avoid plateaus?

Avoiding plateaus or breaking though plateaus can be sneakily challenging. By using the right methods you can be far more successful. I would like to introduce you to some of these methods including: ipsilateral vs contralateral exercises, unilateral vs bilateral exercises, periodization and various physiologic methods of training, such as high intensity interval training or endurance training.

What do contralateral, ipsilateral, unilateral and bilateral exercises consist of and how do they help keep an exercise plan intriguing and challenging?

Contralateral exercises incorporate opposite sides of the body. An example of a contralateral exercise is a single-leg Romanian deadlift with the weight in the hand opposite the planted foot. This challenges both sides of the body and also increases the demand for core strength and balance coordination.

Ipsilateral exercises occur on the same side of the body. An example of this would be a single-leg Romanian deadlift with the weight on the same side as the planted foot.

Unilateral exercises are one-sided exercises. An example would be a single arm row or single arm dumbbell bench press. Unilateral exercises allow for greater range of motion and muscle specificity.

Bilateral exercises entail even work on both sides of the body such as a squat, traditional bench press or push-up. Bilateral exercises allow for heavier loading for overall greater strength increase.

Changing movement patterns helps to challenge the cognitive aspect of an exercise plan and keeps your workouts engaging and interesting. An example of different movement patterns to incorporate with a workout would be unilateral exercises vs. a bilateral exercise. New movement patterns can also help strengthen the brain to muscle (neuromuscular) connection which impacts control and amount of individual muscle fibers that can be engaged. Incorporating a variety of the above exercise types will not only keep things fresh, but will also help prevent plateaus in health gains.

What does periodization mean and how do we implement that into an exercise plan?

Periods are a specified timeframe of workout plans which include three main components: microcycles, mesocycles and macrocycles. Microcycles typically consist of a one week exercise plan, mesocycles range from three to four weeks, and macrocycles plan for up to one year of workout plans. These three cycles can be incorporated with different phases (or styles) of training which include endurance, hypertrophy (gain in muscle fiber size), strength and power.

Here is a quick example of how these phases progress: For an inexperienced or unpracticed individual the endurance phase of resistance training is an excellent starting point. After mastering the movement patterns in the endurance phase, hypertrophy is the next phase, followed by the strength phase, and finally, the power phase.

The chart below illustrates guidelines for all the different phase types (Power, Strength, etc.) and includes a final column listing the exercise order (starting from top to bottom) with which a workout should be constructed. Note that the first option in the final column “Plyo, explosive movements” may not apply to beginning workouts.

Modality chart

Chart: Valasquez, Jarod. “The Weight Training Spectrum.” Amplified Athletics, 2016

Physiologic Considerations

Physiology can be defined as the metabolic process in which our body creates energy to move and function. Physiology in exercise routines can be its own book but, to keep it simple, the endurance phase trains the aerobic systems. The other training phases, especially power and strength, focus more on the anaerobic energy system.

Focusing workouts on different modalities can be useful for tailoring to physical appearance preferences as well as functional uses for everyday life. Power and strength training may make it seem easier to move heavier objects around the house or at work, while endurance training may help with cardiovascular health and increase the ability to perform everyday tasks. An organized combination of training styles is preferred over sticking to the same modality so that the body has to continue adapting.

Create Your Plan

Overall there can be many methods used to maintain a challenging and interesting exercise plan. The key word is “plan”. Without a plan there is often little to no consistent advancement in wellness. Incorporating bilateral, unilateral, ipsilateral and contralateral movement patterns into exercise sessions is an excellent way to avoid plateaus and less effective workouts. Encouraging the process of progression and adaptation is key to training the ever-adapting human body.

Kai Giese

Kai Giese

Kai has an Exercise Science degree through Winona State University and has attained a NETA Certification in personal training. He likes to kayak, hike, ride bike and fish during warm weather. During the cold months Kai likes to snowboard, play hockey and spend time with friends and family.

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