At some point in everyone's exercise plan, there comes a dreaded phase in which progress slows, stagnates, or even begins to decrease slightly: the plateau. In the beginning, you work out with the intensity and motivation of a dedicated athlete. The first few weeks are great: you're getting over your mental barriers, you are starting to see progress, and exercising becomes part of your daily routine. However, after a few months, you begin to notice that you're working just as hard but not seeing the same results as you used to. Maybe you aren't lifting as much, or your speeds are slowing down, or you simply can't find the motivation to push harder. Whatever the problem is, you begin to get frustrated and start thinking that something is wrong with your fitness plan. While this is somewhat true, there are only a few things that need to be tweaked to make sure you never stay stagnant. Here are some tips:
After consistently working out with a certain regimen for a while, your body beings to adapt and get used to the exercise motions that you repeat every week. This is one of the largest contributors to reaching a plateau in a work out. To avoid this, change up the pace and the routine. Try doing different exercises. Challenge your muscles by switching the weight in between sets. Run a different route that has hills and varying terrain. All in all, you want to constantly be introducing new movements and workouts such that your muscles are being challenged in different ways.
This is one aspect of working out that many people take for granted. Resting properly is just as crucial as working out with proper form. While there are benefits to working out consistently and pushing yourself to the limit, it is extremely important to listen to your body and stop when you need to. By giving yourself one week of rest out of the month, you are allowing your body to rebuild its muscles and push towards the next benchmark. However, resting does not equate to not exercising at all. If you're injured, definitely stay off exercising for a bit. But if you're not, the “rest” week means sticking to your routine, but lighter.
As you probably have noticed by now, all of these tips are somehow related to one another. A good exercise routine along with resting well and eating right all contribute to helping you feel at your best. Just because you just got done with a really great work out, it does not mean that you can eat whatever you want and drink a bunch of alcohol at night. Eating and sleeping well are a part of the recovery process, and if these steps are taken for granted, then you are doing yourself a disservice and your workout is essentially being cancelled out.
Many times reaching your next fitness goal can be tough simply because you don't have the appropriate equipment. Having the right tools to support your body will contribute to proper form and can even prevent injury. For the heavy lifters, there will come a point in time where a weightlifting belt will be necessary. These not only support your back for proper lifting form, but you can also attach more weight to the belt for more resistance. Compression socks also help for those tough leg days by increasing circulation for higher endurance, as well as reducing lactic acid buildup for a speedy recovery.For runners, do not underestimate the importance of a good running shoe. Usually they are more expensive, but it is well worth the investment for protecting your feet and joints in the long run. In addition, running compression sleeves are great for promoting increased circulation, reducing shock and shin splints, and reducing lactic acid buildup.
Next time you encounter a plateau, just remember that it is a normal part of the exercise cycle. As long as you recognize it and take these steps to push past it, you will learn to slowly decrease the down time and increase your motivation. Think there’s something I missed? Share some of your best tips for getting past the plateau!