I think we can all agree that plateaus are the worst. After all, when you’re working on your fitness (hi, Lizzo), the last thing you want is to hit a standstill. While wishing for better results is the idealistic way to overcome the stagnant state, the real answer is to understand why plateaus happen in the first place.
“Plateaus occur when your body has gotten used to what you’ve been putting it through,” says David Chun, a Muay Thai and kickboxing coach. Whether it’s running at a certain pace, consistently hitting the same cycling speed, or repetitively doing the same lift with the same weight, he says that once you feel like your gains have slowed, it’s time to re-think your routine. To help you decide how to do so, ahead you’ll find six ways to pull yourself out of a fitness plateau. Keep on scrolling to learn them all.
1. Switch up your routine
Nashville-based ACSM CPT Michael Laufman says it point blank: You have to make new adjustments in order to continue seeing new results. The trick is knowing when to do so.
“If you’ve been on the same plan or routine for roughly six months or more, it’s probably time to change things up,” suggests Blink Fitness program manager Phil Timmons. “You’re probably still getting benefits from your workouts internally; however, the visible external results will likely start to slow down or stop by this point.” Since your body will adapt to any workout over time, making it easier to both complete the exercise and recover from it, he says that diversifying your routine is necessary. “The great news is that it doesn’t need to be drastically different,” he explains. “Changing up the number of sets and reps or increasing the volume slightly can bring on more changes.”
Another way to switch things up is by changing your workout altogether. “Add some sort of variable into your current training routine to shake things up for your muscles,” says Andrea Dusel-Foil, a senior Lagree NY instructor, founder of ADF Fitness, and trainer for NEOU. “If you are used to performing quick, explosive movements, try a workout where you are focusing on more slow and controlled movements or add in isometric holds. Think small changes to get you out of autopilot in your workouts.”
2. Level up your workout by partnering up
Sometimes you just need a little extra encouragement to power through a workout and make way for change. “Partner up with someone for a few workouts and see if it helps you do more than you’re used to,” Timmons recommends. “Have them lead you to new places on the workout floor that you haven’t been to.” Plus, he notes that when you have a workout buddy you’ll hold yourself accountable to showing up because you have someone expecting you there and you don’t want to let them down.
3. Push yourself
Planet Fitness southeast trainers Joshua Menendez and Jovan DeBiasi chalk plateaus up to not pushing yourself hard enough. “It’s imperative that every exercise that we perform in the gym is done with maximum effort put into each set,” DeBiasi says. “This ensures that our bodies are tearing down muscle fibers in greater succession.”
4. Schedule workouts like meetings
“The number one reason for a fitness plateau that I see is a lack of time to get the workouts in,” Duesel-Foil says. “We all have changes in our schedules and workload, and it is very common for a pickup in workload or home life to make it challenging to keep up our fitness routine. Maybe time was allowing for three workouts a week, and a sudden change in schedule now only allows for one full workout a week. When this happens, it is also common to get discouraged and feel down about being what we perceive as being less active.”
Since time is the number one challenge for most people, she suggests setting aside time for workouts the same way you would for meetings and finding quick little ways to get more activity in. “My favorite fast and easy way to get moving is to take three to five rounds of squats (10 squats with a hold and 10 little pulses) alternating with three-to-five rounds of planks (either holds, shoulder taps, walk the planks, etc.),” she explains. “This is such a quick way to get moving, and can be done almost anywhere, it can allow us to possibly get even more activity in, just in shorter bursts.”
5. Aim to commit to all of your plan, not just 50 percent
Always be realistic about your workout plan. “If your plan is too much change for you right now, choose a more realistic plan that fits into your busy work and social calendar,” says Life Time group training specialist Marie Urban. “Just know that you will have days or weeks when you doubt yourself and your plan because of plateaus or other setbacks, but look to consult a fitness coach before you make changes to get yourself back on track.”
6. Take time to recover
If you’re always on the run, it’s time to slow your roll and remember that recovery makes a big difference.“I’m not going to tell you to back off entirely, as it’s great to keep working hard and accomplishing your goals,” Timmons says. “However, I am going to ask you to strategically look into the quality of your recovery and down time. Are you taking the time to listen to your body?” He says to look specifically at your quality and duration of sleep. If you’re missing seven or more hours of good quality sleep per week, he explains that your body is probably not recovering from your efforts and eventually your batteries are going to be stuck at low power or—yikes—no power. “This would be the number one place I’d start to investigate before anything else because if you’re not getting recharged from great sleep your body is going to fight you,” he says.
At the end of the day, Dusel-Foil wants you to remember: “Whatever the cause, I always suggest we remember that everything in life ebbs and flows. Be patient and kind to yourself, and the body will respond.”
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