Break Through Your Fitness Plateau With These Tips
Everyone reaches a plateau at some point in their training. You stop adding weights to the bar. You can’t break a certain milestone on your runs. Your weight loss goals start off well and then come to a grinding halt.
It’s not only frustrating, but it’s extremely demotivating and is a major reason people give up altogether.
Your body is a highly efficient machine, and your brain is a master at optimising performance. It doesn’t know that you want big muscles or that you’re trying to trim down. All it knows is that it needs to find ways to conserve energy and help the body adapt to the stresses it’s being put under.
We’re going to break apart the notion of this “Wall” that holds you back and demonstrate simple, actionable tactics you can use to push through to the next level.
What is a Plateau?
You’ve been consistent. Maybe you found a really great workout online and have changed literally nothing about your routine in the past three months. You kept with it because it was working, and now your gains have slowed to a crawl.
Don’t give up.
Most people start off well. If you’re losing weight, your initial losses are huge. If you’re a beginner runner, you’ll post faster and faster times each run. If you’re lifting weights, you have continuous increases the weight you can lift, making you feel like some invincible superhero.
This is the beginner’s bump.
Your plateau is not your limit. Your body has become bored, it has figured out your tricks and is no longer challenged by the stresses you put it through during your workouts. To break through this barrier you need to first learn how to recognise when you’ve reached the limits of your workout routine.
Recognizing Your Plateau
If you worked out harder than ever one week and are struggling to perform at the same level the next, this doesn’t mean you’ve plateaued. Your body is adapting, but you need to make sure that you’re adapting with it. Nutrition and rest are extremely important when you train.
Exercise plateaus will typically happen anywhere from 2-4 months of following the same training program. If
Assess Your Diet
“Eating Healthy” isn’t enough. Even if your goal is to lose weight, you need to eat enough food, and the proper proportions of your macronutrient needs.
After time, your metabolism increases, but you might still be eating the same number of calories. You might need to increase your caloric intake to meet the your body’s demands. If you’re not providing the fuel, your body stops progression as it recognizes there isn’t enough to go around.
This is a problem whether you want to bulk up or lose fat. Depriving your body of the fuel it needs to perform will result in weight loss, not fat loss - taking energy from anywhere it can, including breaking down that hard earned muscle mass.
Assess Your Goals
Are you realistic about your expectations? Maybe it feels like a plateau because you’ve been adding a kilo of muscle every week, but this week you can only add 0.5 kg. Beginners are naturally able to build muscle faster than people who have been training for years.
It’s time to be realistic about what you expect when you go to the gym because you might need to realign your expectation with your reality. If you’ve just slowed down your progress, it’s enough to accept that you’re still moving forward.
Assess Your Motivation
It could just be that you aren’t working as hard. Maybe you relax your form those last couple reps or just go home earlier because you weren’t “feeling it”.
Passion and drive ebb and flow. That’s how it is. If your plateau has more to do with your motivation and less to do with your momentum, re-evaluate how hard you work in the gym - and your reasons for working out. You need to pump up your mind.
Fixing The Plateau Problem
If you’re able to identify that you’ve hit a plateau, we have something to work with. You can make the adjustments you need to the problem areas to see if that solves any issues.
It’s always wise to start with an increase or improvement in your calorie consumption. Boosting your metabolism is not only about burning more calories - it’s about all the chemical reactions that happen within your body from added energy, to vitamin absorption, brain function and muscle growth.
Don’t worry too much about the number on the scale. You could gain a kilo of muscle and lose a kilo of fat and think you’ve hit a dead end.
If you don’t have specific goals already, it’s time to make solid decisions.
- I want to lose 2% body fat
- I want to gain 5 cm on my arms
- I want to bench 100kg
A renewed goal helps us focus on different, quantifiable results.
Staying motivated and positive will help you push past the hardest of barriers. You can focus on your improvement in endurance, or maybe how you don’t get tired doing 4 sets anymore and you have the capacity to handle 5. Or maybe your clothes start fitting better and your confidence has taken a boost.
Plateau Breaking Techniques
There are tried-and-tested methods to break through your plateau and start seeing results the way you once did. It’s starts with changing the challenge.
Reduce Your Weights
Yes, that’s correct. Take some weight off the bar.
When you get in a rut, try removing 10% of the weight you would normally lift. Push out more reps with the lower weight levels and you’ll notice your body springs back much easier with a reduced weight burden.
Vary Your Reps/Sets/Timing
There are infinite ways to vary up your routine. Your body will adjust to what you’ve always been doing, so shock the system by changing up the number of reps, sets, or timing of your lifts.
If you’ve been lifting 3 sets of 8 reps, try:
- 4 sets of 6 reps
- 45-second breaks between lifts rather than 60 seconds
- 8 reps on Monday, 6 reps on Tuesday and 10 reps on Wednesday.
Give your body no routine to adjust to, and your progress will resume.
Change Up Your Routine
As we mentioned in the beginning, the longer you stick with one workout routine, the better your body becomes at completing these workouts with less effort. It does so by either becoming accustomed to the stress of that workout and by engaging other muscles to assist you.
Especially if your goal is to gain muscle, you should always be pushing yourself to the point of muscle failure.
- Add weight, reduce reps
- Increase your intensity
- Find new exercises to target the same muscles
- Try a different workout style (Compound Exercise, Isolation Exercise, HIIT, etc)
- Change the order of your workout
Plan a Recovery Week
Don’t shoot the messenger, because many athletes would balk at the idea of taking extended time off. But you would be surprised at how effective an extended rest could be for your brain and body.
And after a week of solid rest, you might have fallen behind on your goals, but you’ll charge forward again with renewed momentum and passion to succeed. Never underestimate the power of recovery.
The main problem with a plateau is in your mind. As long as you can recognize that you’ve stalled out and that it’s temporary, you can continue to innovate your workout and know that you WILL eventually push through.
Sometimes, you just need to know that it’s possible - and it is.