Are you going to the gym a lot, eating a healthy diet and still find yourself unable to tone up? Maybe you made a bunch of progress early on, but now it’s just not happening. This is called plateauing, when you’re putting in the same amount of effort before but just not making the progress. It can be caused by a number of factors, individually or combined, and is often the cause of people losing motivation in the gym.
Here are a few of the ways you can avoid for plateauing, or kick-start progress again. Of course, everyone is different, so it’s worth taking a long, hard look at your training plan to see why your progress isn’t what you hoped.
Progressive overload is the technique of making your workouts harder each session. If you’re lifting weights this means instead of doing 12 reps of 50kg squats every week, you increase the weight you’re squatting by a small amount every session. Obviously this can’t continue forever, but it ensures your body doesn’t get used to the same session without growth. Workouts have to be challenging to encourage growth, and once your body adapts, they are no longer encouraging the progress you’re looking for. If you’re a runner doing intervals (just as another example), reduce rest time between intervals, or increase the speed at which you aim to do each interval. The best way to ensure constant overload is to track your workouts closely – if you’re serious about progress, record your lifts/time each session and aim to improve on this. The number of girls with notepads in the gym recording their sessions now a) makes me very happy and b) shows me that they are taking their fitness and progress very seriously.
For similar reasons as above, if you’re doing the same workouts day in day out, your body is going to get used to it and stop developing. After a while doing the same thing will do nothing to change your physique, and can cause burnout. Why not try cross training – incorporating other workouts into your routine – to kick-start progress again? If you’re into lifting weights, try some form of cardio (trust me, you just need to find the right one!), or join classes at your gym for new exercises. If you lift light, lift heavy (with fewer reps). If you lift heavy, try lifting lighter but more reps. Hell, try reformer pilates – if you’re used to being strong, this will definitely give you something to work on! The idea is just to mix it up. It’ll likely restart progress, stop you getting bored and reduce the chance of injury too! It’s a win win (win). Read why cross training is so important here.
Have you been steadily increasing the number of hours you exercise for per week in an attempt to continue your progress? When progress slows it can be tempting to eat into your rest days, chasing progress. However, this can actually harm your progress. Not giving your body enough time to rest can prevent muscle fibres from rebuilding after sessions, and cuase the sort of fatigue that’ll mean you can’t workout as hard as you could before. So instead of working out 4h a week really hard, you end up doing 7h of half-arsed work, exhausting yourself in the process. In this way, rest can improve your progress if you’re trying to kill it in the gym day in day out. In addition, the stress of working out everyday when you’re not ready for it can increase levels of the hormone cortisol (the stress hormone), causing water retention, cravings and a widening waistline. The number of rest days you should take totally depends on your body, your training style, your goals and other factors in your life (sleep/work!), but take a read of my post on rest days to try to figure it out.
If you’re trying to make quick changes to your body it can be really (really) tempting to reduce your calories as low as possible. However, the lower your calories, the lower your calorie burn. This is not to say that we should all be stuffing our faces, but for some reason people often equate health to eating as few calories a day as possible, and really that can be very counterproductive. I started my fitness journey on a very unhealthy diet of between 800 and 1200 calories a day, thinking that everything I ate had to be burned off. Sure, I was fit, but my body wasn’t nearly as toned or strong as it is now. The lack of food also caused me to crash half way through workouts, meaning that I was working far less than I could have been, and burning fewer calories in the mean time. My fitness and physique didn’t progress until I doubled my calories – I now eat between 2200 and 3000 calories a day, approximately, which fuels even the heaviest of my sessions, and provides my muscles with plenty of building blocks for growth after I workout. If you’re into calorie counting, that’s fine, but if you can eat intuitively to give your body everything it needs, even better. If you listen to your body you’ll be able to tell if you’re eating enough. The chances are, a lot of you probably aren’t!
One thing to make sure is that your goals are realistic – when you first get into exercise you tend to make much more progress than later on, especially if you were overweight or unfit to begin with. This progress can’t continue forever, and sometimes plateauing is a sign of your body getting to its ‘happy place’ in regards to muscle mass and fitness levels. Don’t be disheartened when your progress slows. If you’ve followed all the steps above, there’s a chance your body is content with where it is, and there’s not much you can do to change that (healthily). Have you experienced plateaus in training? How did you resolve it? Comment on my Instagram and have a look round here for more health and fitness tips.
This post was originally written for Xen-do martial arts.