by Kathy Smith
Far too many of us have thrown ourselves into a diet and exercise program, only to burn out and lose our motivation all too quickly. After a week or two of noticeable changes, those exciting results seem to have slowed down – and with them, our motivation. The problem? Plateaus. A plateau, simply put, is “a state of little or no change after a time of activity or progress.” Not exactly what we had in mind when we starting setting those new fitness and weight loss goals.
Here’s the great thing about plateaus: With the right game-plan, they can be overcome. plateaus aren’t a brick walls – they’re really just hurdles. And here are 6 simple steps to make sure you can glide right over them.
Plateaus are a normal part of any health journey. Your body adapts to training and learns to meet the challenges you’ve provided in your workouts. That requires you to work harder, or differently, to accomplish the results you’ve experienced in the past.
Plateaus happen. Your job is to be ready for them. The better you understand the way your body works, the better you can bust through the plateau, and achieve the ultimate level of fitness you crave.
Why Do We Plateau?
So, why do we face the frustration of plateaus? What’s going on anyway?
The human body is constantly fighting to adapt. The harder you workout, the harder your body works to change. Let’s say, just for an easy example, that you’ve been walking one mile every day. At first, it’s hard to make it a mile. You get breathless. Your legs are sore. After a month or so, you’re fine. You may be a bit tired, but not exhausted. You’re not as sore as you once were.
Over those four weeks of daily walking, your body has undergone a gradual transformation. It has successfully adapted to the daily routine. Each day, your muscle fiber responded to the motion, your blood vessels strengthened, your oxygen uptake increased, and even your bone density improved. What’s even more amazing is that your neural pathways have adjusted to the daily walk, too. Everything about you — cells, bones, blood vessels, neurons, lungs, muscles —has changed to adapt to your healthy habit.
Your body is doing what it’s supposed to do. This process is known as homeostasis. Basically, your body is trying to find stability or equilibrium. When a daily walk becomes the norm, your body adapts to the new normal. This new normal, homeostasis, is a healthier you. If you keep at it, doing the same thing day after day, you’ll stay healthy, but you won’t keep progressing like you were previously. Your body has achieved equilibrium. In other words, you’ve hit the plateau.
Plateaus are a natural response of the body. You don’t need to blame yourself for the slowdown. Instead, you can use your knowledge of the human body to overcome its tendency to settle down and get comfortable. Here are some solid methods, backed by science, which will help you kick through the plateau phase, and gain major progress. As you fight through it, stay positive. A plateau isn’t the end of a healthy body; it’s the beginning of a healthier one.
If you’re starting a new weight-loss plan and want to steer clear of getting stuck in a rut—or you’re in a plateau right now and are looking for a way out, try these 7 strategies for moving the needle the right direction again.
1. Introduce Variety and Increase Intensity
The core idea to breaking through the plateau is a simple one: Variety and intensity. Since muscles adapt, they need constant variety in order to change. So in order to keep losing weight, you can change up your routine by introducing some variety or increasing your intensity levels.
2. Interval training
The concept of interval or “burst” training is simple. During a workout, particularly aerobic workouts, you ramp up the intensity of your workout in a short aggressive burst. Doing this several times during the course of a workout, in intervals, will improve your results. For example, if you’re performing a jump rope exercise, you can start with a steady build for 30 seconds, followed by a 30-second burst, where you’re moving at a much higher intensity, really challenging yourself. This is a more effective approach to exercise than steady state training alone – not to mention it’s a great way to break up the monotony.
3. Turn your schedule upside down
Another way to break the plateau is to shake up your schedule. Circadian rhythms — the time of day you do certain things — and workout plateaus are close friends. You can shock the plateau away by changing the time, frequency, or regularity of your workout. If you’re accustomed to a Monday-Wednesday-Friday routine, try a Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday schedule instead. If you’re a right-after-work exerciser, go for a morning routine and watch the plateau disappear..
4. Try a new workout
Since your body has hit equilibrium, it’s up to you to introduce disequilibrium, to throw your body into a new phase of adaptation, training, and improvement. You need new, you need different, you need variety. Once you’ve followed the same workout calendar for a few weeks, try substituting your workouts for something new. Maybe you can join the yoga class you’ve always wanted, start training for the 5K, pick up a new sport, explore TRX Training, try Pilates, or learn kickboxing. Change doesn’t need to be huge; it just needs to be change.
And variety in your workouts isn’t just about breaking through plateaus. Variety also keeps the mind fresh, opening up new neural pathways and creating a natural mental buzz. Plus, variety improves motivation. Giving your body something different to do heightens the anticipation and excitement of your routine. Exercising can be fun again.
5. Remember to keep looking at the big picture
It’s easy to get hung up on the little things — looking at life in terms of calories consumed, ounces gained, and minutes spent on our workout. Rather than this micro view, adopt a macro perspective. Rather than freak out over a down week, look over your shoulder at the landscape behind you. You’ve made some progress, right? Be encouraged.
6. Keep consistent
Change is great, but neglect isn’t. Maintain your workouts, and you’ll develop the consistency that leads to results for the long haul.
7. Have fun!
If working out becomes the bogeyman of your life, you know something has gone wrong. Try to introduce fun into the equation, whether it’s by rewarding yourself with some healthy treats, getting some rest, recruiting an exercise buddy, or joining a new class. Keep your workout appealing and you’ll keep overcoming those plateaus, long after you've completed this program.