When someone first begins working out, pretty much anything they do can and likely will bring results. That's why it's not uncommon for newbies, or those who spend most of their time training them, to have a wide variety of go-to strategies that “work.” Though most any strategy can obtain perceived results short term, in order to maintain results, you'd have to be consistently working out, even after you've gotten the desired results. To the untrained eye, it would seem that doing more of the exact thing that first brought the results would be the key to maintaining them. But this is where our newbie gains tend to lead us astray.
After the first year or so of doing the same workouts, your body starts to adapt, and you hit the inevitable plateau. Unless you train with some form of periodization.
Periodization takes plateaus into account beforehand, and plans accordingly to prevent them. This means that instead of doing the same workout plan/DVD/class day in and out, you are switching “phases” (endurance, hypertrophy, strength/power) every 4-6 weeks or so (depending on your training goals).
Endurance: as the name implies, builds endurance of the muscles. This allows you to lift heavier weight for longer periods of time. You typically know you need to work on endurance when you go to perform a heavy lift (say, a barbell row), but your smaller muscles won't allow you to go as heavy as you know you could (forearms or grip strength give out). If you or someone you love were falling off of a building or cliff, you'd better pray that one of you has enough endurance to hold on. This is also the phase that enables you to carry all your grocery bags, by the handles, in one shot (for the less dramatic). The endurance phase is pretty much anything over 12 reps, with less than 30 seconds rest between exercises. Most workout DVDs fall into this category (more on that here).
Hypertrophy: This phase is where you add size to the muscle. This phase gives the “pump” that lets you actually see the muscles (the fave phase of bodybuilders). The hypertrophy phase can be anywhere from 7-12 reps, with 30-60 seconds rest between sets.
Strength: As it's name implies is meant to build your strength. This is the phase that helps you to actually function in life. Being able to stand from a sitting position, push yourself out of bed, pick up your child, help a friend push their car, or pack a moving truck. This phase just may save your life (after all, in the cliffhanger above — the endurance may help you hold on, but strength will PULL the person up!) This phase may typically require a bit more food, as strength is derived from how you fuel your body. It's incredibly hard to gain true strength while eating in a deficit once you leave the newbie gain period. (All you have to do is eat a bit more during ONE strength phase to truly understand that statement.) The Strength phase is typically anything in the 1-7 rep range.
As you can see, all phases (even the ones you despise) are beneficial, and serve a purpose at the time. Funny that even the two at opposite ends of the spectrum, “complete” one another. This is why many of the 90-day systems like P90X, Chalean Extreme, and STS are so popular. They typically include some form of built in periodization that, when repeated consistently, tend to give better results than what a person may come up with on their own. (Side note: Cathe's STS program is the only one of the above mentioned that include all three of the above phases, which is why its so highly praised by EM2WL.)
Rather than simply treating each workout as a punishment for your body not looking a certain way, try periodization to prevent plateaus. Having a periodized focus gives you purpose in your workouts, multiple short-term (ie “monthly”) fitness goals to strive for, and a bonus: a confidence boost from actually achieving them!
What you'll typically find is that because of your new attitude and willingness to workout with purpose, you'll continue to see more benefits and improvements (mentally and physically). The mental aspect of getting stronger and doing things you couldn't physically do before is addicting. And when you're focused on those things – even more physique improvements tend to happen as a byproduct. Which makes it even more addicting. Fitness goals for the win!
Do you plan your workouts in phases? Or do you prefer to go with the flow/stick with your fave workouts?