Plateau-Busting Strategies to Start Seeing Results at the Gym
You've been in the gym every day, lifting and running. But lately you're not seeing many changes when it comes to fitness. In fact, you haven't set a PR in weeks. It's safe to say you may have hit a plateau.
"Yes, most people that continuously do the same type of workout with the same type of repetitions, resistance, and rate will eventually become accustomed to that workout and not make any more advances," says Dr. John Gallucci, owner of JAG Physical Therapy. But there are other reasons, maybe less obvious, that could be keeping you from making gains. And the answer isn't always lift more or more cardio. "The 'more is better' approach leads to injury, de-motivation, or both," says Dr. John Sullivan, clinical sport psychologist and sport scientist at Clinical and Sports Consulting Services. "Plateaus are a normal part of training, and it is how you learning and react to them that matters."
To make sure your training produces results, watch out for these sneaky obstacles. (Trying to lose weight? Here are 3 Rules for Busting Through a Weight-Loss Plateau.)
1. You're Not Assessing What You're Doing
Think for a second: Where did you get your fitness program? "Often, training is not realistic or does not match to the person's capabilities," says Dr. Sullivan. If this could be you, Dr. Sullivan suggests considering asking an exercise professional to look over your training program or devise one for you.
2. You're Not Eating Enough
Pushing yourself to your max without fueling correctly can definitely be the cause of a plateau. It could even force you to go backwards, explains Dr. Michele Olson, exercise physiologist at Auburn University Montgomery. "Your muscles are fighting back on you and quitting on you because they're not getting proper recovery time or enough energy for them to rebuild to become leaner," she says. "If you don't eat enough, your body will hold onto fat, or even regain fat in the effort to protect your heart and body organs with a supply of needed calories." If you're not getting enough fuel, pushing yourself may be the worst thing you could do. Instead, reevaluate your nutrition plan and make sure it correlates to your training.
3. You're Not Doing What Will Help You Reach Your Goals
If you're looking to build up your strength, be sure your training focuses on that. There can be a downside to adding in days of running or biking just because you think you need to. When it comes to resistance training, it can cause a plateau, explains Dr. Brad Schoenfeld, assistant professor in exercise science at Lehman College. "This is called the 'chronic interference hypothesis,' where concurrent training of cardio and weights performed frequently on a weekly basis have negative effects on strength and muscle development," he explains. If your focusing on strength gains, stick to that and have your program cater to that.
4. You're Not Getting Enough Shut-Eye
"One of the most overlooked things that can cause a plateau disaster is not getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night, which puts you in a state of stress, which can cause belly fat gain," says Dr. Olson. It's important for your muscles to recover so that they can grow and become stronger over time. "Often, taking a week off from exercise can help you to bust a plateau so that your sleep patterns 'recover' and normalize," Dr. Olson explains. Once they do, you'll be sure to feel a difference in the gym. (Can't sleep? Try one of these Science-Backed Strategies on How to Sleep Better to snooze soundly.)
5. You're Not Tracking Your Progress
The best way to notice an issue or a gain is to keep track of your progress week after week. "Patterns can be found in almost everything we do, and these can be useful for identifying our readiness for training," says Dr. Sullivan. "You can begin by tracking things like resting heart rate, sleep, and mood, using even your smartphone. If your numbers indicate low, elevated, or inconsistent patterns, it may be time to adjust training intensity or duration."
6. You're Not Hydrating Enough
You know it's good to drink water, but not doing it could actually be the cause of your plateau. "The most common cause of peaking during workouts is not being fully hydrated," says Dr. Olson. "As you change your exercise program to break out of a plateau, the changes you make in your workout routine won't be fully realized unless you feed your cells with water, water, water-plus, good carbs," she says. Be sure to drink and hydrate before, during, and after training. (And don't forget to do these 7 Essential Strategies for Post-Workout Recovery.)