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Prevent Fitness Plateaus for Continued Growth

Prevent Fitness Plateaus for Continued Growth

Why do people stop their fitness program?  There are many different reasons, but one of the most common is because they stopped seeing progress.  Nothing is more motivating that starting a new program, staying with it, and then seeing your body and performance grow.  Nothing is more disappointing than training and not seeing any changes.  

When you are working hard and not seeing results, it is easy to walk away.  Why does this happen?  In this blog we’ll talk about how you can prevent fitness plateaus for continued growth.

New Growth vs. Continued Change

New growth comes rather quickly when you are starting a program.  This is for a number of different reasons, but it all comes down to the fact that your body adapts to the S.A.I.D principle: Specific Adaptations to Implied Demands.  In other words, whatever you continue to tell your body to do, your body will learn to do and adjust accordingly.  This holds one of the keys to how you can prevent plateaus for continued growth.  

CNS, Motor Neurons, and HMS

Your Central Nervous System (CNS) consists of your spine and your brain.  They are the dispatching center for many different e

ssential functions.  The Human Movement System (HMS) is comprised of the anatomic structures and physiological functions that cooperate to produce movement.  These two have to work in tandem in order for you to perform.  However, there is a third element that holds them all together.

Motor neurons

are nerve cells that are in the spinal cord and extend their fibers from the spinal cord to muscle fibers. They either directly or indire

ctly control muscles.  These motor neurons send the information to or from your CNS to your HMS by gathering and receiving information about what you are doing, how you are doing, and send that information back.  Motor

neurons can reprocess the information and decide how

to act, creating two-way communication.  So, when you start a fitness program, you are requiring this communication to start.  This in turn creates stronger pathways and patterns between you CNS and your HMS.

Complex vs Basic Communication

The communication that occurs through your motor neurons is established based on your training and programming.  If you are running a lot, they communicate in that fashion.  If you are jumping a lot they will communicate by those means, and so on.  When you are training with very basic movements, you are teaching your body to learn basic communication.  Basic communication comes from movements that use or are:

1)             Single joint

2)             Single plane of motion

3)             Seated or lying

4)             Use Stable Implements

5)             Excessively Repetitive

An example of a movement that affirms basic communication is a seated bicep curl. This isolates a single muscle using elbow flexion, works only in a single plane, limits the need to stabilize your body, and applies a load that is consistent.


When you are training with complexity, you are training your body to learn complex communication.  Complex communication in your training comes from movements that use or are:

1)             Multi-Joint

2)             Mutli-planular

3)             Upright, Altered or Unstable Positioning

4)             Irregular Implements

5)             Selective

An example of a movement that affirms complex communication is the Ultimate Sandbag™ Rotational Squat to Overhead Press. This incorporates nearly all joints within your body, works in the saggital and transverse planes, requires you to stabilize your posture throughout the movement and uses a modality that provides controlled variability (adjustment to the shifting sand within the bag, and selectively limiting repetitions performed).  View the Ultimate Sandbag™ Rotational Squat to Overhead Press here:

Keeping Adaptations

As firefighters we are expected to perform during critical events with complex movements that are not reflected in a basic movement like the seated bicep curl. With the S.A.I.D principle, you will adapt to whatever it is that you are doing regardless of whether it is complex or simple.  When you start the communication between your CNS and your HMS you are creating new pathways that help develop new patterning and programming to help you replicate those new changes.


3 Tips to Prevent Fitness Plateaus for Continued Growth

  1. Keep it fresh!  Starting a training program begins new communication, but maintaining the same one for long durations halts the spur of new growth.  Prevent this by changing things up every 4-6 weeks. Not only will it keep communication happening between your CNS and your HMS, but it will keep you engaged and entertained in your programming!
  2. Progress in multiple ways. The opposite of plateau is progress, and for that you need to make your programming require your body to do more than it has done in the past.   First, be sure that you are ready for the change with healthy technique and execution.  But understand that progress is more than lifting heavier. It’s also about adding more complex movements.  Have you been doing kettlebell swings a lot?  Add in kettlebell cleans!  Have you been doing TRX Chest Presses for a while?  Add in TRX chest press to chest flys!  
  3. Proper rest.  The exhaustion phase is categorized by overreaching and over-training both of which are enemies of progress.  Some side-effects of the exhaustion phase include:
  • Muscle Strains
  • Joint Pain
  • Extreme Fatigue
  • Emotional Drain


In order to prevent exhaustion, avoid progressing too quickly and allow ample time for recovery between training sessions.  Appropriate recovery prescriptions are dependent on a number of individualized factors but healthy recovery can be dictated by how challenging your training session has been, but general guidelines are:

Light Day = 0-1 day of rest

Moderate Day = 1-2 day(s) of rest

Heavy Day = 2 days of rest


If you are interested in how to keep the communication to prevent plateaus and continue growth, contact me at or  I’ll look at your personal programming and make recommendations using the F.I.T.T.E acronym and your individualized needs. As always, know that I am here to help!

This article was written by The First Twenty Firefighter Functional Training Panel member Captain Jordan Ponder. Ponder is a Captain with the Milwaukee (WI) Fire Department assigned to Engine 30. As an NASM and ACE certified trainer, he is the lead peer fitness trainer for the MFD holding multiple functional fitness certifications. Along with being a professional bodybuilder for the WNBF, he is the director of FIREFIGHTER DYNAMIC PERFORMANCE TRAINING which trains health improving safety with workshops, certifications and consultations. If you are interested in conducting a movement assessment virtually, email for more information, and check out

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