So you’ve been training for a while and seeing awesome results then BAM, a plateau smacks you right in the face. Either your weight loss has fallen off and hit a stagnation period or your strength gains haven’t gone up. It happens to everyone. From beginners to the most experienced lifters, plateaus happen often. The key is how you react to it and get through it.
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”
Charles R Swindoll
Your first instinct might be just to keep on chugging along and hope that you break out of the little slump that you are in. However, that may not be the best option for you. There are several routes you can take to bust through your plateau.
Change Up Your Program
Making a change in your routine can be a great first step. You may have been doing the same thing over and over again each week, and by now your body has adapted to it. The body is amazing at adapting to stressors like exercise programs. That’s why it is important to alter your program every once in a while. Now this doesn’t mean that every day or every week has to be this radical change, but small changes can make a big difference and you’ll bust past this plateau.
If you’ve been solely sticking to cardio, your body gets really efficient at conserving energy, so it will find pathways to use the least amount of energy possible. So that 30 minute run that you were doing a few weeks ago, is going to result in a less calorie burn than before. Try switching up to a HIIT routine or if you want to keep your 30 minute run, try small intervals of 1-2 minutes of an increased pace with 2-4 minutes of a more normal pace.
The same is true for weight lifting. There are many ways in which you can alter your weight training. There are four variables you can pick from. Altering the reps, the number of sets, tempo, and exercise selection can provide a big shift in training. If you’ve been relying on higher rep schemes, then it’s time to switch to a program with lower reps and therefore a higher intensity (heavier weight).
Are you doing the same exercises week in and week out? Then it’s time to put some variety in your program. It is important to still follow some of the basic movement patterns, but instead of the back squat, switch to a variation like a front squat or goblet squat. This way the movement stays intact, but the stimulus to your body changes slightly.
Additionally, within your exercise selections, vary the tempo. Including a slowed down movement or pauses will without a doubt give your program a change.
Take Time Off
Rest is an important part of seeing results. In order to see results, in order for your body to get stronger, recovery strategies are going to be just as important as your training program, maybe more so. This is quite often overlooked and underutilized. The common thinking is that when you’re in a rut or plateau, you want to add more exercise, because more is better. However, that is not always the answer.
A few strategies to implement or to take a look at is how well and for how long you are sleeping. If you’re not getting the requisite sleep your body needs, then your body, your muscles, and your nervous system aren’t fully recovering day to day. Over time, this can take its toll, hence the plateau.
This is why I’m amazed by people that say they exercise every day. Either one of two things are happening. They are either not training hard enough to get a stimulus or adaptation, or they are overworking their body and are constantly tired.
I had to take stock of my recovery strategies a few weeks ago as I hit a point in my training where I wasn’t getting stronger, and in fact my numbers were going down. I had minimal energy for my training and it seemed like my body just wanted no part of any workout. The best decision I made was to take a week off and solely focus on resting and recovery work. I will say it was really hard to not do anything other than rest as I’ve always been active. But I knew my body needed it.
Want to know what has happened since?
I’m pretty much back to where I was before my week off. My strength is getting back to where I would expect it to be and my program is progressing smoothly. Sometimes all it takes is a little step back to go two steps forward.
Plateaus are going to happen. What is important, is that you take stock of what you’ve been doing and make adjustments. Sometimes it’s a matter of your body telling you to slow down. Sometimes it’s a matter of changing up what you’ve been doing. Remember, the body is incredible at adapting to everything we throw at it.
It is also important to note that changing a million things at once will result in chaos. Now that I have you looking at sets and reps and tempo and exercise selection and sleeping, I want you to pick one or two adjustments in your routine. Avoid changing too much at once and avoid overthinking. If you implement one thing that you’ve learned from this, you’ll be sure to bust through the plateau you’ve been in.