9 Steps to Eliminating a Plateau

Do you hit the gym week after week, only to see the same physique? You may just have hit a plateau! Check out these 9 steps to help you kick that plateau to the curb.

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.

Three food containers with rice, corn, tomatoes, cucumber, black olives, and lentils.

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!

Woman preparing to perform a deadlift.

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!