It happens to the best of us: You're steadily running faster, building endurance, or making gains at the gym, and then all of a sudden, your progress creeps to a halt and stalls. Say hello to the dreaded workout plateau. These dips and valleys are frustrating and challenging to say the least. However, a workout plateau is a normal and natural part of everyone's fitness journey. While you're likely to see the most progress when you first start a new activity or workout routine, your progress naturally slows over time as your body adapts to the challenge. Here are five reasons why you may have dipped into a workout plateau and what to do instead in order to avoid feeling derailed:
You Do the Same Strength Training Circuit Every Time You Hit the Gym
Our body is smart and tries to be as efficient as possible. That means that after a few weeks of working through the same strength training plan, your body will adapt and it won't take as much effort to complete the same reps and sets. In order for your body to continue to advance, you need to keep challenging it.
If you find that you're not making gains at the gym, it's time to mix things up. Swap your usual dumbbells or barbells for a suspension trainer or kettlebells. Perform the exercises using a stability ball, which will keep you off-balance and force your body to recruit more muscles to stay stable throughout each movement. You could also try changing up your rest intervals between sets.
You Do the Same Type of Exercise Day in and Day Out
They say that the best way to stick to an exercise routine is to find something you love. However, there can be too much of a good thing. For example, if you just run, your body will become more efficient at running, just like it adapts to the same strength training workout at the gym. Not to mention, the repetitive forward movement and pounding can start to take its toll. You may underutilize other muscles and movement patterns, and restrict your range of motion.
If your scale seems stuck or you're starting to skip workouts, switch up your go-to activities. If you're a runner, try adding a day or two of yoga or swimming to your schedule. Not only will this give your body and mind a break from running, but these activities are low-impact. You can also perform different movement patterns, which can help improve your mobility and range of motion—not to mention reduce your risk for injury.
You Work Out at the Same Intensity During Each Session
Do you hop on the elliptical and set it to the same resistance level every time? Or maybe you run at the same moderate pace each time you hit the pavement? If you want to run faster or jump-start your weight loss efforts, you need to increase the intensity of your workouts. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which consists of alternating quick, intense bursts of work and then recovery, has been shown to lead to greater fitness gain and increased muscle capacity. Not to mention that it leads to the "afterburn effect" where your body continues to burn fat and calories even after you've finished your workout.
You Don't Take a Day Off
It might seem counterintuitive but your workout plateau might be a result of working out too much. In order to reap the benefits of your diet and exercise plan, your body needs time to rest and recover. And while it's important to maintain a consistent exercise routine, be sure to schedule regular rest days every week. Use that time for mobility exercises or yoga. Take time to foam roll your muscles as well. Foam rolling acts like a self-massage for your soft tissues and promotes recovery by increasing blood and fluid flow to those areas.
Researchers from the University of Chicago also found that those who skimp on sleep lost less fat than those who got a full night of sleep. They also felt hungrier, too, which might derail your weight loss efforts.
You're Skimping on Your Diet and Hydration Needs
We've all done it. You cut back on calories because you want to shed more pounds. You may also treat your marathon-training long run as a license to eat too much. In either case, your diet may be the culprit behind your workout plateau.
Diet plays an important role in reaching your fitness goals. Just like your body needs rest in order to get stronger, you may also need to provide your body with the appropriate nutrition. For example, what you eat after exercising, especially protein, can influence muscle growth.
Plateaus happen for many reasons. They are a normal part of the fitness journey, so don't be discouraged. Track your workouts and diet, adjust your goals, or give yourself a brief break. Before you know it, you'll be back on track.