It's a deal we strike with our bodies, and by all accounts it's a fair one: "I eat healthfully and exercise; my body improves its shape." Unfortunately, our bodies don't always hold up their end of the bargain. Have you ever experienced a time during which, no matter how much you exercised or how impeccably you ate, the scale didn't budge an ounce? If that scenario sounds all too familiar, you may have been experiencing what is known as a "plateau" — and it can completely undercut your motivation. "I'd say 20–40 percent of people on programs at our fitness center drop out because they get frustrated when they hit a plateau," says Sara Bousfield, a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise and the group exercise program director at TimeOut Fitness Center in San Jose, Calif. "The key is to keep a positive mind-set and hang in there." Here's how.
TIP: Spice things up
You know that a consistent exercise routine nets better health, a clearer mind and a more beautiful body, but if exercise becomes too much of a routine— the same StairMaster workout day in and day out, for example — you'll likely hit a plateau. "The human body is wonderfully adaptive," says Todd Weitzenberg, M.D., a sports-medicine specialist at Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Hospital in California. However, that adaptability also can be our nemesis: "If you place the same exercise stress on the body on a daily basis, it won't be as inclined to change its shape," Weitzenberg adds. A plateau is a sign that your body has, in essence, grown wise to your routine.
Try this Write down three activities such as tennis, kayaking or yoga you will do over the next month that you've never tried before. Those activities will alter the positive stresses on your body and help you break free from a rut. Or simply vary your current routine; for example, do your exercises in a different order — or do different exercises altogether — each time you train, or every few workouts. "Breakthrough workouts" are another effective countermeasure to plateaus; these sessions are either longer or more intense than you are accustomed to and serve to "break through" your plateau.