Hitting a plateau is incredibly frustrating, and it’s one of the main reasons why a lot of beginners quit exercising after a while. No one likes feeling stuck, especially after you’ve already made a lot of notorious progress, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll stay like that forever! We have a few tips for you so that you can break through your next plateau, as well as some indicators that you’ve hit one so that you can put those tips to the test and continue making progress with even more motivation than before. But first, let’s talk about your body a little bit more to really understand why plateaus usually happen.
When you stick to the same routine for a long time, your body gets adapted to it - the intensity, the movements, and the difficulty. Eventually, it gets easier for you to get through your routine, and your muscles don’t work as hard, resulting in a slowed progress that could even stop completely after a while - which is what we call plateauing. In weightlifting, you avoid this by doing something called progressive overload, which is basically increasing your workout volume or using heavier weights in order to make your muscles work harder. This trick applies to any kind of workout, whether you are strength training to increase your muscle mass, or to support your weight loss goals, gradually increasing the intensity of your workouts is key in order to keep your progress from stopping! We’ll explain more about this in a minute, as well as other causes and how to get over that seemingly gigantic wall that might have you feeling demotivated and wanting to quit your muscle-building or weight loss efforts once and for all, so stick with us!
Signs you've hit a plateau
Feeling stuck lately, as if you’re not getting anywhere? Well… You may have hit a training plateau. If you’re not sure, here are a few indicators that can help you identify if you’re stuck in one:
- You feel unmotivated
The first few weeks of a new training program are always exciting, and you feel incredibly motivated to crush that new workout routine at home or at the gym. But if you start feeling a decline in your motivation, or you just don’t feel like you want to do your routine anymore, that could mean that you’ve hit a plateau or burnt yourself out. Usually when motivation is high, people go all in on their health and fitness, but after a couple of weeks the body and mind are no longer motivated. It could be your body telling you that you’re overtraining, and that you need to stop and maybe try something different.
- You become irritable and moody
Just like with the lack of motivation, irritability can occur after a few weeks of doing the same program over and over without changing anything. Your body grows tired of doing the same thing and your mood shifts, making you feel more stressed when it’s time to exercise. When our bodies release the stress hormone cortisol, your muscles enter a prolonged tension state due to the high cortisol levels, hindering your efforts to build muscle. You may be irritable one day, or even a whole week if something is happening outside of your fitness life, but if everything else is under control and you still feel irritable when working out, then it’s best to listen to your body and try to do something about it!
- You’re not making any progress
When you’re just starting out a new program, progress usually happens very quickly. You start noticing different changes in your body and you feel like you can take on the whole world. After a few weeks have passed and you’ve burned a good portion of body fat, progress starts to slow down, but that’s completely normal - it’s just your body adapting to your regular training intensity. Keep in mind that slow progress is still progress. But if you notice that you’re not making any progress at all after a few days of doing your usual exercise routine, you may have hit a plateau.
- You lose your appetite
A good sign of a potential plateau is losing your appetite because it usually means that your body is overtrained and fatigued from your actual routine. This causes your muscle receptors to become fatigued as well, entering a state in which they’re not responsive to calories anymore and messing up your metabolism. Basically, a tired body does not work properly, so if you feel like you’ve lost your appetite and that your digestion is not as efficient as it usually is, it may be because you’ve hit a plateau!
Tips to overcome your training or weight loss plateau
Sometimes, plateaus are inevitable. We can be prepared most of the time, but they can also take us by surprise. But don’t worry, plateauing is only natural, and it happens to the best of us! So here are a few tips to follow when that happens in order to reach the next level of body composition and strength:
Increase the intensity of your workouts
After a few weeks of following a new training program, your body gets adjusted to those movements, making it easier for you to perform those given exercises, be it strength training or endurance training. So, if you’re lifting weights and are able to complete all of your sets and reps without much struggle then it’s time to increase the intensity. Ideally, you should finish your reps with a little bit of difficulty, that way you know that your muscles are still working hard to get the job done. But if you feel like you can breeze through your workouts without breaking a heavy sweat, then you know that your body is ready to take it one step further. Constantly increasing the intensity of your workouts as you make progress will ensure that you are helping your body level up and develop muscle or lose body fat at a healthy pace, but remember to always respect your limits. Don’t sacrifice proper form to push through one more rep, or don’t run that extra mile if your legs are giving in. You don’t have to increase the intensity by 10x, instead focus on making small changes every week. This could be mixing up the equipment that you usually use, like going from exercise machines to free weights like dumbbells, since the movements will be harder for you without the help of a machine. Or for those who do more cardio, try to go 5 minutes longer during your session, or if you’re using a cardio machine, slightly increase the resistance so it makes your muscles work harder. The key is to steadily increase the intensity of your workouts, and remember to listen to your body and take it one step at a time!
Add more variety to your workout routine
If you’ve hit a plateau, it may be because your body is tired of doing the same movements over and over again! Variety is key when it comes to working out in order to get your muscles to perform and adapt to different movements and to keep your routine from getting boring. So next time you’re working out, get creative! If your main goal is building muscle and strength and you’re only lifting weights, consider adding a little cardio into your routine! Cardio won’t eat up your muscle, as long as you know how to incorporate it into your current weightlifting routine. Try cardio workouts that work your muscles too, like doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Stair climbing or inclined walking is another great way to add cardio into your routine that will get your heart rate up and muscles working hard. You could also try new exercises to hit your muscles in different ways, like adding in isolation exercises at the end of your training to help grow a weaker muscle group. Variety also means taking a break from your usual routine, not only adding stuff to it, so for example if you’re used to doing regular squats for your glutes, maybe give that movement a break and instead try other squat variations like the Bulgarian split squats, or something else that’s equally beneficial like glute bridges!
This applies to those who only do cardio too! When weight loss is the main goal, most people place their main focus on doing endless amounts of cardio. Working on your cardiovascular health is not bad, but if you’re only doing cardio for weight-loss reasons, consider adding some light strength training into your routine. Strength training is highly effective at burning fat, so combining it with cardio can help you break through your weight loss plateau! A good place to start is by doing bodyweight exercises and using resistance bands before moving onto dumbbell training (here are more tips on how to combine cardio and strength training to maximize fat loss).
The point is, don’t be afraid to change things up! You don’t have to be too extreme, but make small changes to your routine that help take you out of your comfort zone and challenge you more.
Redefine your goals or set new ones
If your main goal is losing weight, that’s perfectly fine, but why not add something else to it? After a while of having only one focus, your body and mind can grow tired and bored, so adding new goals to crush is a great way to get out of a plateau! You could think of more specific goals like running 5k in under 30 minutes, hiking that 10 mile route you’ve been putting off, or even learning how to do pull-ups! Add other goals that are fun and challenging, but still help get you to your main goal. By working on developing new and different skills, you’ll find motivation and determination to achieve those goals while helping you break through the wall you’ve hit!
Get enough rest
Another reason why you may be plateauing is that you’re not letting your body rest adequately. This means, not taking enough rest days, or not getting enough good sleep - both are crucial for weight loss and to build muscle. Your body needs proper rest in order to recover and repair the muscles you’ve worked. Not letting your muscles rest in between workouts or not getting good sleep can lead to fatigue which can hinder your performance and progress.
Overworking your muscles will only hinder your progress, and it could even lead to injury, so try to include at least two rest days in your workout routine, whether it’s a total rest day or an active rest day in which you do light physical activity in order to stay active. Not only will your body thank you for it, but you’ll also start noticing that you’re making progress again.
Aside from rest days, make sure to get enough good sleep. Not getting proper rest at night hinders your body from being able to do all the work it’s supposed to do like regulate your hormone levels (your hunger and stress hormone), and repair and rebuild the muscles you’ve worked. In fact, we have some tips for those who struggle with sleeping at night, check them out if you want to start getting better sleep for better results!
Adjust your diet
Just like your muscles get adapted to your workouts, your body gets quite efficient with calories. As you start losing weight, your metabolism starts slowing down, and you may get to a point where the number of calories that you’re consuming is the same as the amount that you’re burning, which isn’t really taking you anywhere. If you’re already tracking your macros or calories, recalculate them at least once a month! This will help you make sure that your macros match your current stats and also that you’re eating enough, not too much or too little.
If you’re not tracking macros, consider starting! It will help you get a better understanding of what and how much nutrients your body needs to get you the results you want. With our macro calculator, you can find out how many daily calories you should be eating, as well as carbohydrates, fats, and protein - so start there! Based on the information you fill out, we will calculate your macros as accurately as possible. Once you start tracking your food, you may notice that maybe you were eating too much or even too little, both can hinder progress! This is why tracking macros is crucial, it can help you see what changes you need to make to your diet to achieve your goals.
Another thing, be honest with yourself. If you know you’ve been having too many treats at night, or too many drinks on the weekends, then re-adjust your diet and make the changes you need to make. There are so many ways to improve your diet like adding more fiber to your diet or prepping protein-rich snacks for the week, these small things can make the biggest difference.
Pay attention to your whole body, not just your weight
Progress can be seen outside the scale, so stop focusing on just your weight! When you first start a training program, you lose body fat very quickly, but that progress slows down eventually. You’re still burning, just at a slower pace than before. Don’t let this stop you or demotivate you, instead, track your progress in different ways besides just stepping on the scale, and remember that static weight or weight gain does not necessarily equal fat - it could be newly developed muscle! A great way to bring that motivation back is by taking your measurements in order to see exactly how your body is changing externally. Measure your arms, your legs, your belly… And pay special attention to those areas that you’re working out harder! If you have a goal set in mind to increase the size of your butt, for example, then try measuring it weekly in order to actually see the progress that you wouldn’t see as constantly otherwise. Another great option is taking pictures of your whole body in order to notice those little changes that make you want to keep going.
Keeping track of your body fat percentage is also very useful, because after some time you’ll start feeling like you’re not making any progress in that department when looking at yourself in the mirror, but seeing actual numbers and comparing them can make all the difference! And don’t forget about how you feel in general. Progress also comes in the form of wellness and health, so if you’re feeling significantly better and more energized as the days go by, then you’re definitely making progress, so keep that in mind!
The bottom line is: Plateaus happen to all of us, so don’t be so hard on yourself! Keep reinventing your workout routine and trying new things instead of just giving up. Hopefully, these tips will help you get over your next plateau gracefully in order to get back on track as soon as possible without losing that spark of motivation, whether you’re on a muscle-building or weight loss journey. And remember, we all have bad days, that does not mean that you’ve hit a plateau, just take care of yourself and listen to your body - it knows best!
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