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Reached a Plateau?


"I don’t get it. I was doing so well, and all of a sudden, I stopped improving." This is a familiar refrain from exercisers who believe their program has failed them. In reality, they have maximized what their workout was designed to achieve.

“I don’t get it. I was doing so well, and all of a sudden, I stopped improving.” This is a familiar refrain from exercisers who believe their program has failed them. In reality, they have maximized what their workout was designed to achieve.

A common scenario: You’ve started a personalized fitness program. You follow the program with great success, lose weight, and feel your body changing. You are motivated and excited to continue the program. By the time you enter your ninth week, however, you find your strength is no longer increasing, you cannot get past level six on the cross-trainer, and your weight loss has stagnated. In simple terms, you’ve maxed out–or reached a plateau.

What is a Plateau?

A workout plateau occurs when you reach a certain level of performance and stay there, rather than rising or falling. There are two main causes for this:

  1. Your body may have become accustomed to the workouts, which means you may need to bump up the intensity or change things.
  2. Your body has fatigued and needs time to recover between workouts.

Breaking Through

Our bodies are engineered to strive for maximum efficiency. This explains why a plateau often occurs in both resistance and cardiovascular training programs. The best remedy to break through a resistance training plateau is to constantly update your workout routine and follow the steps below.

Plan the Routine in Advance

You do not need to be a personal trainer to plan a resistance training routine. Planning is all about looking into the future and slightly modifying one or two components in your program every week.

Work in five-week blocks so that you consistently challenge yourself for those weeks. Plan a recovery week with little or no resistance training, before bumping up the intensity again.

Every program consists of exercises, repetitions, sets, rest intervals (rest time between sets), and of course, weight used. Every week modify one of the variables to keep your body guessing.

  • week 2: increase repetitions performed (by two to four reps)
  • week 3: increase the sets (by one set)
  • week 4: decrease the rest interval (by 15 to 30 seconds)
  • week 5: increase the weight used per exercise (5 percent small-muscle groups and 8 to 10 percent large-muscle groups)

Once finished this five-week block, take a week off or simply perform some light exercises, stretching, or cardio activity. Once refreshed, start the process again with a five-week block of new exercises.

Add Some Protein to Your Workout

What you do outside of your workouts can also help you break through a plateau. For example, you can change how you eat or simply add protein to your diet at the appropriate times.

Studies show that high-intensity strength and cardio workouts break down muscle tissue that needs to be re-synthesized. If your body is not getting the right kind of nutrition with enough of the essential building blocks, progress can be halted. Consuming a protein shake or smoothie immediately following your workout will help kick-start your metabolism so that your body stops breaking down muscle and instead starts rebuilding it.

As a general rule, eat 0.8 g to 1.2 g of protein per 1 kg of body weight each day.

Try Something New

Aside from the physical setbacks that can lead to plateaus, mental fatigue may also be a factor. If you have been doing the same thing for months or years, and modifying the workout routine just doesn’t seem to help you break through, it may be time to try something new:

  • Learn a new method of resistance training that utilizes resistance bands or body weight exercises.
  • Design a circuit training program that places more emphasis on cardio training than weights.
  • Try an alternative form of training such as yoga, Pilates, tai chi, or some form of aerobic power dance.
  • Whichever you choose, the primary message is to give your body a break from the old routine.

Remember that hitting a plateau does not mean that you have failed your workout. Rather, it is time to spice things up and introduce your body to something new and more
challenging. The main message is to have fun!



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Leah PayneLeah Payne