The human body is incredibly effective at adapting to change. This applies to all types of scenarios and situations, working out is no different. Following the same routine for a prolonged period of time will have nothing but toxic consequences to one's mind, spirit and progress.
What is a Plateau?
A plateau is literally the end result of a fitness rut that no one is immune to. The best way to get over a plateau is to look for signs of one. The most obvious of these signs is the inability to progress at one's goals, regardless of whether its weight loss, weight gain, muscle growth, or strength gains. Another sign is fatigue and low motivation. Both of these symptoms go hand in hand and are psychological responses by our bodies. They are a direct result of our inability to progress and to a lesser extent, are caused by overtraining.
How to Prevent and Eliminate a Plateau
If you're wanting to prevent a plateau or are trying to get over one, take a look at the following 9 steps to eliminate that plateau.
1. Take Adequate Rest
Rest and recovery is important for any gym-goer, but it's even more important for individuals who've plateaued. The last thing you probably want to do is take a break from the gym, but taking 7-10 days off from the gym can work wonders. You won't lose all your gains or your progress. In fact, you’ll come back feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to hit a killer workout.
This time off is not an excuse to plant your butt in front of the couch and eat whatever you want – go for walks, spend time with family, do some yoga, etc. Use this additional free time to do relaxing, enjoyable, and constructive activities.
Related: Getting Back Into the Gym: How to Plan Your Return
2. Eat Enough Quality Food
If you’ve plateaued, there is a possibility that you’re not eating enough calories. Your metabolism naturally rises as you increase your physical activity. In some cases, 3 square meals a day won’t cut it. Re-calculate your caloric needs, breakdown your macros, and make sure you’re eating quality, nutritious foods.
If you find that you are hungry in between meals or throughout the day, you are seeing a clear sign of inadequate food consumption. It is also important to make sure that you are meeting your daily protein requirements. If you are looking to pack on some heavy muscle, a rule of thumb is to eat about 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
3. Switch Up Your Routine
Many people have hesitations about changing up their routine, especially when things have worked in the past. When it comes to your gym routine, what gave you great results before doesn’t mean you’ll continue to see those results for years to come.
The body is a beautiful object that adapts easily to the stresses it is exposed to. This is great from a survival standpoint but not so great when you’re trying to gain muscle. You don’t have to completely overhaul your workout routine. All you have to do is take out one exercise for a particular workout and replace it with another exercise. For example, during your push workout, swap flat bench press for incline or decline. You can also change the order in which you perform exercises. A great way to continue to make progress is to change your routine every 4-6 weeks. Switch things up, have fun with it, and keep things interesting.
4. Stay F.I.T.
It is important to not only modify the exercises you do, but also change how you exercises. F.I.T. stands for frequency, intensity and time. These words are golden when it comes to breaking out of a plateau. They can be used to modify one's cardio and resistance training program. Lets run through them quickly:
- Frequency: increase or decrease how often you workout
- Intensity: increase or decrease the level at which you train
- Time: change the length of time you train for
Related: Strategic Variation for Maximum Muscle Growth
5. Get Enough Sleep
Working out and eating a healthy diet are very important when it comes to staying fit and building muscle, but they’re not your only concern. Your body regenerates and repairs muscle tissue the fastest when you’re sleeping. It is important to get an ample amount of sleep every night. The average adult should strive for 7 to 8 hours of sleep to ensure that the body is properly rested. The amount of sleep you get has a direct effect on your energy levels as well as how you train. This is very important when it comes to building muscle, so get those ZZZZZ’s!
6. Keep Workouts Under an Hour
The goal of weight training is to train your muscles to stimulate growth, not murder them. When we put intense pressure on our muscles for prolonged periods of time, our bodies go into a catabolic state (muscle breakdown). This will usually begin to happen if weight training is done for more than an hour and a half.
For prolonged periods, working out for more than an hour will result in overtraining. This will lead to the weakening of one's muscles. Studies have shown that the growth-assisting hormones the body releases peak within 30 mins of exercise, and decline shortly after. Always keep workouts under an hour, and if you must, never train more than an hour and fifteen minutes.
7. Challenge Yourself
Overloading muscles results in growth and strength, and to continue overloading your muscles, you need to challenge yourself. When you work out, keep track of the number of reps and sets you do for each exercise. Then, the next time you do that same workout, challenge yourself by:
- Keep the number of sets the same and increase the reps by 1 or 2
- Keep the reps the same and increase the sets by 1
- Keep the reps and sets the same but increase your weight
Related: 4 Ways to Achieve Progressive Overload
8. Don't Over Do It
The only time our muscles grow is when they rest. It is important to have ample rest before working the same muscle group again. If you did an intense workout you should leave a gap of 7 days before you work that muscle group again. If your muscles are not well-rested, they will become overworked and you will become weaker as a result.
9. When Building Muscle, Don't Go All Out on the Cardio
When we are training our muscles, we should be doing just that – training them. A common mistake people make when trying to build muscle is to burn fat at the same time. This unfortunately does not work. Keep your cardio limited to 20 to 30 minutes per session and limit yourself to 3 to 4 cardio sessions per week. Cardio sessions that are too long will negatively affect the body's muscle-building abilities. Studies have also shown that prolonged cardio sessions also reduce testosterone production.
A plateau is never an enjoyable experience. It can be frustrating and emotionally draining. By paying closer attention to our bodies and the things we do, we can limit or eliminate the potential for hitting a plateau. We all face challenges in this world, working out is no different. By staying motivated, listening to our bodies, and consistently pushing ourselves harder, we can accomplish anything!
Okay, so for the last month or more you have made no progress. Try this:
In your notebook or computer spread sheet list weights at 5 pound intervals like this, but depending on your strength for each particular exercise.
Start at the bottom where you can do say 10 or 12 reps max, and mark the number of reps on the chart.
In your next training session after 2 or more days, add 5 pounds and do as many reps as you can. Post it in your chart.
Next session add another 5 pounds, max out and chart it.
Continue on up to the top of your chart until you hit zero.
Then drop down to the bottom of your chart, and start over again. This time you should be able to do at least one more rep.
Keep working your way up your chart again until you hit zero and again start back down at the bottom.
With each weight lifting session, you should be able to add another number to the right in you triangle.
This will keep you excited as you can see improvement with each training session.
This will also keep your muscles from getting used to one weight, and failing to improve.
Wt. Reps: EXAMPLE:
60 8 9 etc. ...
55 9 10
50 10 11
Here a question, where it says "keep workouts under and hour"
I train back n triceps usually i train back for an hour and then triceps for 30-45mins depending on how busy the gym is ect.
But it says keep workouts under an hour, is this for entire workout or for a muscle group? so i can train back for an hour then perhaps have 10 mins rest and train triceps for 45 mins and that ok?
Or does it mean my entire workout has to be under an hour because i doubt id be able to do that.
Any answers i would greatly appreciate it.
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62 yr old woman. Workout 6 day a week for 6 months. At first saw trainer 2x per week. Dropped to 1 x per week this month. 30-45 cardio and 20-30 min core and light weights less cardio when I workout with trainer . Increased cardio intensity per recommendation of trainer. Lost 14 lbs. Have gained 4 back and increased body fat. Muscles are fatigued. Appetite increased. Am tired. Sleep 5-7 hrs per night. Workout a 5 a.m. Trainer feels I will be more successful working out with her 2x week. Its too expensive and I don't think its the answer. Is this a plateau and will a woman my age benefit from these suggestions? Need help. I am ready to give up. If I gain weight working out I'm afraid of what would happen if I quit
I'm 49 and I've been working out 4 days a week, over my lunch, for many, many years. I'm married with 3 boys, so time is limited. My goals are always very short term.... Make it to the gym 4 days this week while eating well and the results will eventually come. If you are training too frequently or too long and experiencing burnout, you've got to lighten your load and change your goals to something short term to keep yourself motivated enough to JUST GET TO THE GYM.
Im a runner at the same time i workout after i run. does it affect my muscle growth? i usually run 1:30mins a day after that i go to gym directly. any suggestions? food intake tips? and etc..
Doing cardio before strength building exercises has been proven to reduce the bodies growth hormone. That in turn means muscle loss because when you break down your muscle during lifting it will not be rebuilt by growth hormone. Do your run after you have lifted, and replenished your glucose by eating or drinking simple sugar. Make sure you eat complex carbs and protein in the morning for energy. After lifting and running, drink whey protein so your muscle doesn't use protein for energy. Whey is a faster protein and helps the body not use it's own muscle cells after a workout. If you take creatine do it after lifting and before running. It will help with endurance during your run. Slow protein like casein from milk and meats that contain fat for meals after your workout and run. Fatty breakfast will slow you down. Fat saturation in the blood lowers blood oxygen. Hopefully this helps.
Thank you, the information you provided seems do able. I've been frustrated for a few weeks, after losing 30 pounds with Zumba, Just Dance and walking, I'm now officially in a rut.
I wish I had read this information before attempting to train for a 5k...shin-splits. I suppose from over-working my muscles. Thursday my body just sort of gave out after doing back to back classes. I'm going to take a week off to see if that helps.
Thank you again,
Thank you very much for this info, it was very helpful! I can see it's time to take a break since I have all the sympthoms and start again with a new routine.
Playing basketball after working out would be considered too much cardio and diminish muscle growth??
If you start with a good routine, that last no more than two weeks before evaluating your progress, you won't have to worry about hitting a plateau. Make sure you get a good 10 to 15 minutes stretching time followed by a good workout–stick to your set program. At anytime when you feel like you cannot go on, take about 20 minutes break and stretch your muscles slow. At the end, you will feel like new and ready to continue with your workout. Set short- and-long time goals and use them to pace yourself. Expect more that you can physically attain will lead to a false impression that you have hit the plateau, thus frustrating your workout. Most important, take time to understand your body, and design your workout program with this in mind and you will do just fine.
Thanks for the info, big help!