How to Overcome a Plateau

You know the feeling: 4 weeks into a new training regime you start to see results, 8 weeks in you are feeling great and seeing physical improvements, 12 weeks in you are killing it and then – you hit a point where your progress starts to stall. Hitting a plateau can happen when you are trying to lose weight, gain speed or build muscle and it can leave you feeling unmotivated and unsure about how to proceed towards your goals. Below we set out how to overcome a plateau, and in particular, how to mix up your training sessions so that you continue to build strength and fitness.

What is a plateau?

A plateau occurs when progress stalls despite regular training and eating well as part of a routine that has, until now, allowed you to see improvements in your physique and fitness. If weight loss is your goal, a plateau occurs when you have been consistently losing weight until the scales start showing you the same number no matter what you do!

There is debate as to whether plateaus really exist, or if they are the result of not paying enough attention to detail as you improve in your health and fitness journey. When you first start a new training regime or diet, the changes in your body will be drastic as your body reacts to improvements in your fitness and metabolism.  Your weight may drop and your strength will improve, but as your body adapts to these changes in your lifestyle, the pace at which you improve will slow down, as there is less room for improvement. When you hit a plateau, training can start to feel like a law of diminishing returns because as you improve, it becomes harder to improve!

When you are working hard, watching what you eat and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone – it is so frustrating if you do not see results. Read on to see how you can bust through a plateau so you don’t lose your motivation from a lack of progress!

How to Break Through a Plateau

The key to overcoming a plateau is to change things up – you need to shock your body for it to respond to your training. You can do this through changing your routine, your nutritional plan and the type of training you are doing. When you have reached a plateau you need to consider the following elements of your lifestyle:

  • Nutrition – check in with your nutritional plan and weight or strength goals to ensure that they align, and then be honest with yourself: are you sneaking extra calories in before bed more often than not? Are you eating enough to feed a town, or barely enough to feed a mouse – both outcomes can stall weight loss and muscle growth.

  • Sleep – it is important to get around 8 hours of sleep every night for your body to fully recover from training, for the muscle fibres to repair, and to reset your hormones so that your body will reduce its cortisol levels allowing you to burn fat more effectively.

  • Hydration –you need to drink a lot of water every day, not just to make up for whatever you may be sweating out when you train, but also because dehydration can lead to food cravings when your body confuses thirst with hunger. Water consumption will also flush out toxins from the body and avoid bloating due to water retention.

  • Exercise – you should try and mix up your workout routine every 12 weeks or so in order to keep your body guessing. If you continue the same routine every week for months on end, your will stop challenging your body as your muscles adapt and adjust to the same training. You need to push your body outside of its comfort zone in every session to see results.  You know what they say, if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you!

How to Mix up your Training Session

There are a variety of training techniques that can be used to alter your workouts which will avoid your body getting comfortable (or lazy) as it adapts to the various types of stress you place it under in training. This also keeps exercise interesting, so that you want to work out because it’s exciting and varied.

Training Frequency

Depending on your goals, you should aim to train 3 to 5 days per week, provided that allows your muscles enough time to recover between sessions. To mix things up, changing training days or frequency of training can keep the body guessing – allowing it longer periods for recovery after very intense workouts, or shorter periods after more targeted workouts. You can alternate the focus of your training each week ,for example in Week 1, you may complete 3-4 full body workouts which are either focussed on weight-training all muscle groups or HIIT training, and on Week 2 you could instead complete split workouts, focusing each day on a different muscle group and training that muscle to exhaustion. Or you could of course, combine both of these techniques each week.

The order in which you complete your exercises can also affect the progress you see as a result. For example, focusing on smaller muscle groups first and then larger muscle groups later in the workout means you may not be able to lift as heavy with your larger muscle groups because you will inevitably fatigue the muscles in a different way. Supersets, or combining 2 or more different exercises that target the same muscle group in each set, is a great way to shock and fatigue the muscles to build strength.  

Sets/Reps

Changing the volume and set/rep structure of your weight training is a beneficial way to add variety to any routine, as every set/rep routine is beneficial provided the muscles are overloaded. To continuously see improvements in strength, the muscles need to be overloaded on a consistent basis and to maintain this, your workouts need to increase in intensity as you gain strength and fitness.

If you have hit a plateau, change up your rep scheme. You can do this by using a slightly lighter weight than you normally would to enable you to complete a high number of reps each set. A heavier weight with a lower number of reps will build strength, but a slightly lighter weight with a high number of reps will build strength endurance. Incorporating both will create constant challenges for the muscles.

Speed and Timing

As well as mixing up the rep/set structure of your training, you can also play around with the timing of your reps, but ensure that you maintain good technique. Slowing down each repetition will increase intensity, making the muscle work even harder by requiring more muscle fibres to be recruited. In contrast, speeding up your reps will increase your heart rate and strength endurance.  

Type of Equipment

Mixing up the type of equipment you use in each session is a great way to challenge the body. It can be as simple as focussing on free weights such as dumb bells or a bar one day, and incorporating machines with plate loading the next.  By changing the shape or curve of a particular movement, the muscles are stimulated in a different way. Using just dumb bells all the time will limit the weight you can use to the strength of the weakest point in each set. To add variety, some machines will allow you to engage smaller muscle groupings and increase the range of motion of an exercise.

Change is a necessary part of strength training to force your body to keep adapting to the challenges you provide it with and to keep your training fun and enjoyable! If you have hit a plateau and think that your training needs a bit of variety, gain some workout inspiration from our latest Flex deals!


Category: Motivation

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