Recognizing and Busting Through a Fitness Plateau

“I’ve been working hard over the last few months.  I think I’ve been eating pretty good.  I had great results at the beginning of my routine and was super motivated but now the results have stopped and I feel unmotivated, burnt out, and frustrated!”

Do any of these statements sound familiar?  If so, then chances are you have hit the inevitable fitness plateau.

Over the past 10 years of personal training and helping people achieve their fitness goals, I have seen this happen time and time again and have even experienced it myself.  It happens to everyone and with this post, I want to help you recognize the signs of a fitness plateau and how to bust through it and get you back on your way to feeling great and progressing towards your fitness goals.

First of all, let’s look at the signs that you have hit a plateau.  The most obvious sign is the inability to progress at one’s goals whether it is weight loss, weight gain, strength gains or muscle growth.  Another sign is lack of motivation and fatigue which are psychological responses resulting from your inability to progress and to a lesser degree from over training.

So how do you get past this plateau and back on track to reaching your goals?

  1. Rest!  Sometimes your body just needs a break.  You’ve been working hard for months day in and day out and this can wear your mind and body down after a while.  Try taking a week off of your routine to refresh your mind and body.  This doesn’t mean just sit around on the couch all week eating junk food!  Do something different.  Going for walks, a swim, and yoga are a few examples of active resting that will keep you moving but are much less stressful on your mind and body.  When you start back in to a more rigorous routine, you will be refreshed and ready to get back on track.
  2. Change up your routine.  If you have been doing the same workouts with the same weights and repetitions for the last 6 to 8 weeks then your body has most likely adapted to the stress you are putting on it.  The human body is very good at adapting to the stresses it is exposed to so by changing what you are doing, your body will have to change to adapt to these new stresses.  It doesn’t have to be complicated either.  You can change the number of reps and the amount of weight you are doing.  You can try adding some plyometrics in to your routine which are explosive movements that usually involve jumping.  You can also choose a different exercise for the muscle group you are working or even split your workouts to an upper/lower body split if you are doing full body workouts.  The possibilities are endless and if you aren’t sure what to do then seek out some advice and tips from a fitness professional.
  3. Check your eating habits.  If you have been on a strict low calorie diet for a while now, your body might be in starvation mode where it believes it needs to store the food you’ve eaten as body fat in order to function and give you the energy you need.  You can trick your body back in to fat burning mode by adding one high calorie cheat day during the week.  Doing this will kind of reset your metabolism and tell your body that it’s ok to burn the food you’re eating for energy.  On the other hand though, you might just be eating too many high calorie and processed sugary foods during the week which will stop your weight loss as well.  A good rule of thumb is to eat small meals every few hours that are packed with protein.  This will help you build some muscle which in turn will increase your metabolism and you’ll be burning more calories throughout the day.
  4. Keep your workout time to an hour or less.  The purpose of any workout routine is to challenge your body enough to stimulate change.  You don’t need to annihilate your muscles!  When you put your muscles through intense exercise for a prolonged period of time, your body goes in to a state of catabolism which is muscle breakdown.  This usually happens after an hour and a half of training and if this is done consistently it will result in over-training.  Over-training leads to muscle weakness, fatigue and lack of motivation, a weakened immune system and an overall lack of results.  Studies have shown that the growth assisting hormones the body releases during exercise peak within 30 minutes and decline shortly after.  So try to keep your workout time around 45 minutes to an hour and never more than 1 hour and 15 minutes.
  5. Proper rest between workouts.  In the beginning of your new workout routine you are highly motivated and you want to do whatever it takes to get to your goal.  This is great but sometimes people have a tendency to do too much, thinking this will get them to their goal faster.  Your body needs time to rest and recover between workouts so make sure you are giving your body that much needed rest otherwise you’ll be getting in to the over-training situation again.  If you are doing full body resistance workouts you should try to have at least a day of rest in between each workout.  A couple of full body workouts back to back once in a while is ok but if you are doing that all the time it will have a negative effect on you over time.  If you enjoy resistance training and would like to do it more often then try splitting up the muscle groups.  You could do an upper body workout one day and then a lower body workout the next day for example.
  6. Sleep. The 5 steps mentioned previously will definitely help you break through your fitness plateau but sleep is a big factor in your progress as well!  Your body regenerates and repairs muscle tissue the fastest when you are sleeping so it is important that you are getting plenty of sleep each night.  You should strive to get 7 or 8 hours of good quality sleep each night to ensure that your body is properly rested.  The amount of sleep you get has a direct effect on your energy levels as well as your training performance which is very important when it comes to seeing results.  I struggle with getting enough sleep myself sometimes and it’s easy to get caught up in things but you have to try and do whatever it takes to get that much needed sleep.  Your body will thank you for it!

So there you have 6 steps to help you bust through your fitness plateau and I want to mention one final thought on the subject to help you reach your goals.  Above all else, your mindset is the biggest factor pushing you forward or holding you back.  Be persistent and determined, have a clear goal in mind and hold on to that at all times, don’t let the inevitable setbacks and plateaus stop you, listen to your body and pay attention to your emotions, choose to be happy now instead of waiting for your results to be happy, relax, have fun, enjoy the journey and know that by taking care of your mind, body, and spirit you will be rewarded for your efforts!