First, how do you know when you have reached a plateau?
No apparent physical change
if you are seeking fat loss from your training and nutrition, it is as simple as seeing no change in body composition. Notice, I said composition. Not weight. If you haven't seen your bathroom scale budge over the 20 times you checked in a week, you need to do just one thing -- take a hammer to that damn scale! Now, if you are looking to the shed belly fat that is making buttoning up your jeans difficult, the remaining bulge is precisely that -- lack of apparent physical change.
Loss in strength
If you are struggling with weights that used to be easy, this is a tell tale sign that muscle recovery is not being prioritized. I am not talking about being stuck at a specific squat or bench press weight. I am talking about a loss to what you were previously able to move, press or pull. Unfortunately, when this happens there is a good chance that some muscle damage has already occurred.
Lack of motivation
This is a tough one. A number of personal factors may get in the way of finding the excitement you once had for your workouts. A lot of seasoned endurance athletes I've worked with are notorious for "pushing through" where the drive has left them. Thing is, our bodies are smarter than that. The depressing slump you may hit may very well be a signal from your body that you are pushing too hard and need a break. While your instinct may be to push harder, this may be the very last thing you need.
When training and nutrition are on point, the digestive fires are stoked and the appetite can be, at times, voracious. This is a sign your body is rapidly assimilating nutrients and recovering between workouts. When your appetite takes a nose dive, this may be a signal that your muscle receptors are too "tired" from over-training that they can no longer keep pace.
Varied heart rate
This happens to two sides of the spectrum. For endurance athletes, a plateau is signalled by a drop in heart rate. This reduction makes it difficult fto hit the level of intensity and speed previously demonstrated. On the other side of the coin, high intensity exercisers will experience elevated heart rates, so high they hit their maximum in less time and effort and are subsequently unable to complete a bout or interval previousy completed. Either are signs of over-training.
No progress in at least 2 weeks
At the Club, each day of the week the training focus is a little varied. Some speed, some power, some strength. But over the month, the workout is the same. Why? Because I want to see students progressing in each of those categories. If there is no progress in 2 weeks in any, it is a good sign that the student has hit a plateau and will need to address it.
How to address a plateau? Here are my favourite ways to deal.
1) Enlist the support of a workout buddy
This is one of my favourite ways. Hardly a surprise coming from someone who thrives in small group training, right? But truly, when you have the love and support of a friend or family member that is holding you accountable, encouraging your progress, and there to spot or buddy up with you through a killer interval, the odds for success are increased eight fold. No really, there is actual scientific research to support that. If they aren't a member at your gym, get them a free trial and see if you might just be able to twist their arm.
2) Switch up your routine
It is easy to fall into a pattern and simply go through the motions. But like our taste buds grow bored of the same dish every day, our bodies grow tired of the same movements. Always weight training? Incorporate more cardio. Always doing yoga? Try your hand at small group training and tackling some interval work. Always working at low to moderate intensity? Kick it up a notch by dipping into a high intensity training session. Always training at high intensity? Try out a vigorous yoga class to get your taste of intensity in a different form. Always training after a long day at work? Set your alarm for an earlier workout and get it done before heading to the office. Grab that workout buddy of yours and head out for that new class format on the schedule. There are so many ways to switch things up if you just sit down with your planner and how some tweaks can be made.
3) Shock your diet
Keep a food diary for a few days and see for yourself. How often are you indulging a sweet tooth "just this one time" or justifying extra slices of pizza because you worked so hard at the gym? But aside from all the unhealthy food options, look at your calorie intake. Is it actually enough? Often, students show me food diaries that illustrate they are chronically undereating. Well, hello! If we want to keep a metabolic fire burning, it's going to need some material for stoking. Increase your healthy fats (e.g. coconut oil, avocado) and protein (e.g. chicken breast, fish) for a few days and see how you get on.
4) Change your timing
If all your reps look the same, you may need to vary the tempo as much as you are varying your weights. It's a struggle in a day and age where more is more, faster is better, to slow the f*** down, but truly, there is merit to pausing at the bottom of your squat or adding a small pulse to the lower half of a bench press. No clue how to incorporate this? Take the guess work out and check out our barbells class. We do it a lot. And with every single body part!
5) Plan a recovery week
What is happening when we are training isn't the toning of fatty tissue. We are effectively building muscle. While it seems counter to rest in order to build muscle, the truth is, your body doesn't assimilate new muscle while you are working out. It's actually the exact opposite. Your body catabolises muscle tissue (breaks down muscle). It is once you rest and refuel that your body builds new tissue in its place. A rest week can be a complete hiatus from the gym, but I prefer to use the time off to do stuff that is proven to aid in recovery. A gentle yoga class can help restore the central nervous system to promote better sleep and reduce stress. A massage with a qualified specialist can help work out the kinks of an overloaded training schedule. How often do you take a rambling walk without any desination or route planned? How many times a week are you walking just for the pure enjoyment of getting outdoors and enjoying some fresh air? Go on, do it! I give you permission to SKIP your workout in favor of this, instead. As I think that is what we are looking for when it comes to rest -- permission. You don't need to earn rest. You deserve it.
6) Hire a professional
Devising a fitness plan requires knowledge of science and physiology. Plans should be designed around training goals, current deficiencies and personal abilities. Writing training programs without proper knowledge is like trying to fix your car when you know nothing about auto mechanics. Hire a reputable coach to design a program specific to your needs. Not only does the monetary investment make you more accountable, you can trust the program will work.
Disclaimer: Fit Club is not a medical doctor and the information contained herein should not be taken as medical advice. These are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any health problem. Recommendations by Fit Club are not intended to replace the advice of a physician or health professional. Please consult your physician or a health professional before beginning any diet or exercise program.