Are you no longer seeing results after working week after week at the gym? Is your eating still on track but the scale hasn’t budged? You could be hitting a fitness plateau.
About a month ago, I started getting frustrated with my progress on my fitness goals. I wasn’t really seeing any changes in my body, my arm strength wasn’t increasing as far as I could tell, and my body just didn’t look to me to be changing like I’d hoped. I still couldn’t do 20 perfect push ups, even though that was my goal for months.
I was starting to get discouraged. What was I doing wrong? Was my diet bad? No, I was eating pretty darn well. Was I slacking on my workouts? No, I was still pushing hard in the gym. So what was the issue? I was feeling super frustrated that I was busting my butt, only to feel and look the same as I had for the last few months.
It was then that I realized I’d hit a plateau.
What is a fitness plateau?
A plateau is when your body no longer responds to your diet and exercise routine. The progress you were making comes to an abrupt halt, and your body stops changing. There are two types of plateaus: One is a weight loss plateau where you are no longer seeing the number on the scale change. The other is a muscular plateau where your body is no longer gaining muscle and/or your your strength isn’t increasing.
Why we hit plateaus
The main reason we hit plateaus is that our bodies have adapted to our fitness routine. Our bodies are incredibly adaptable, and when we hit a plateau, they have adapted to the stress we have been repeatedly been putting them under. This happens more often than not when we stick to the same workout routine day after day, month after month. At some point, our bodies adapt and it’s time for us to do something to jump start our fitness journey again.
Here are a few things you can do to help break through a fitness plateau.
Track your food
I cannot emphasize enough how important diet is to overall health and fitness. If you’ve hit a plateau, the first thing I’d recommend doing is tracking your food for a week or two. Sometimes we think we’re doing a great job with our diet, but in reality we’re licking the peanut butter spoon a few too many times, or we gave into a weakness for high calorie coffee multiple times over the last month. It could be a number of things, but more times than not, hitting a plateau can be traced to diet.
For example, I remember back when Kellen and I were working out in preparation for our wedding. We were hitting the gym HARD! But my diet wasn’t on point. I was having a latte every day, eating refined carbs and not being strict about what I put into my body. I got in good shape yes, but I could have worked half as hard, or been in even better shape had I really focused in on what I was eating.
Also, if you are trying to build muscle, make sure you’re taking in enough calories! As women, we sometimes think we need to be eating less calories, but if our goal is to build muscle, we need adequate calorie intake to help build muscle. Less calories isn’t always better.
Mix it up
As a lover of HIIT, I try to take my own advice; it can be tough when you find something you love and enjoy doing. But sometimes it’s important to switch things up. If you feel like you’re stuck and not making any progress, your workout may be too routine for you now. I know that when I’ve been doing the same routine for months on end, I get bored. I slack, or cut out that last set. Mixing it up can help give you a newfound excitement for working out again.
This also goes back to what I mentioned above about our bodies adapting to the stress we put them under. During a workout we’re putting our bodies under a lot of stress. During recovery, our bodies are basically working to recover our muscles and manage the stress we just put them under. The human body is very adaptable, so if we continue to put it under the same stress each day, it’s going to know exactly how to recover quickly. This means no more drastic change in our weight loss or muscle growth.
In reality, in order to see changes, you need to add more reps, weight, change your routine, or do something to keep your body guessing. This may look like extra weight on your bench press, an extra round of HIIT, trying out a group fitness class or adding sprint intervals to your daily 3 mile runs. Also, if we’re bored with our routines, we’re less likely to work hard, thus no more results. Keep things fresh and exciting for your workouts to help break through a fitness plateau.
Readjust your goals
You’ve consistently met your goals over the last few months, but suddenly the scale isn’t budging, or you aren’t seeing any of that ab definition you’ve been working so hard for (this would be my current situation). It may be time to readjust your goals.
Sometimes shifting our goals to another area of focus can help relieve the pressure we were putting on ourselves. If you’re a runner, try setting a muscle building goal and vice versa. Goal setting is important for fitness, but sometimes we need to make sure our goals are keeping us challenged and motivated.
Let your body rest
Plain and simple: Our bodies need rest. If you’ve been hitting the gym hard 5-6 days a week for a few months, try taking a few days, or a week, off. Giving your body time to reset itself may be just what you need.
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
Many people don’t realize how important sleep is to fitness. If you continually get less than 7 hours of sleep a night, you may be causing your body undue stress; not to mention less time to recover and build muscle. Watch your sleep patterns over a two week period to see if sleep could be a cause of your fitness plateau.
Something to keep in mind
Linear fitness cannot continue indefinitely. At some point, we reach a peak where we can no longer lift any more weight or run any faster. Or, our progress slows down tremendously and we may not realize it. I can’t continue to add 5 pounds to my bench press every week. If I did, I’d eventually be benching 200 pounds, and that is just not feasible for someone like me. So even though you may think you’ve hit a plateau, you may have hit a point where your progress has slowed.
Keep pushing! Track the tiniest wins! They may be small but they are still showing you that you are making progress.
Remember when I said above that I still wasn’t able to do 20 perfect push ups, even though that had been a goal of mine for a while? Well, it took me a few weeks but I realized that I’d been able to do 5 more perfect push ups than I had two months prior. That’s a big win! Sometimes we just need to change our outlook and really focus on those small wins to stay motivated and keep moving forward.
Even though you may have hit a fitness plateau, there’s no reason to give up. Take some time to really look at what could be the cause. Track your diet, change up your routine, make sure you’re getting enough sleep and like I always say, drink enough water. A few small changes could jump start your fitness program again and help you break through that fitness plateau.