If you’ve been working out consistently but have stopped seeing results, you may have reached a fitness plateau. This article will explain what fitness plateaus are and why they happen, and more importantly, how to break through a plateau and work toward your fitness goals.
What Is a Fitness Plateau?
A fitness plateau happens when the progress you’ve been making with your exercise routine stalls or stops. Depending on your individual fitness goals, a workout plateau could take many forms:
- Weight loss. You’re trying to lose weight, but the scale hasn’t budged for a couple of weeks.
- Endurance. You want to run, cycle, or swim longer distances but struggle to add that extra lap or mile.
- Speed. You want to improve a race time, but you’re not able to increase your pace.
- Strength. You want to get stronger, but you’re stuck lifting the same weight for the same number of sets and reps.
- Muscle-building. You’re trying to add more muscle mass, but your tried-and-true routine isn’t working anymore.
Why Does Your Fitness Plateau?
Fitness plateaus could happen for many reasons. If you’ve stopped seeing results from your exercise program, one or more of the following factors could be to blame:
- Stale routine. Generally, plateaus happen when your body gets used to your workout routine, explains the American Council on Exercise (ACE). A routine could get stale in just six to eight weeks.
- Overtraining. Working out without allowing your body adequate time to rest and recover could stall your results.
- Psychological rut. When you start feeling bored or disinterested at the gym, you may not push yourself as hard as you usually do.
- Inadequate fuel. Food is fuel for your workouts, and if you’re not meeting your nutritional needs, you could face a plateau.
- Lack of sleep. Your body works to repair itself while you’re sleeping, and a lack of sleep could show up as a plateau.
How to Overcome a Fitness Plateau
No matter what type of fitness plateau you’re experiencing, taking some simple steps could help you break through the plateau.
Make Changes in Your Routine
Your body may adapt to exercise routines fairly quickly, ACE notes. To continue making progress, it’s important to keep your body guessing with varied workouts. Consider making major changes every 6 to 8 weeks to keep your workout routine from getting stale.
Changing your routine could be as simple as dialing up your intensity. This could mean lifting heavier weights or incorporating interval training into your routine. Carving out time for cross-training could also help you mix things up. For instance, if you’ve hit a running plateau, you might swap one of your weekly runs for an indoor cycling class.
Track Your Fitness Goals
If you’re feeling bored at the gym, reassessing your fitness goals might help you break through your plateau. Whether you want to complete a marathon, shave two minutes off your 5K time, or add muscle for a bodybuilding competition, working toward a goal could help you get motivated. A small study published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis reported that setting short- and long-term goals helped runners increase their mileage.
When it comes to fitness goals, there are many ways to track your progress. Some people may prefer to track their workouts with pen and paper in a training log. Others may prefer digital options, such as fitness watches or smartphone apps.
Focus on Nutrition
To break through your plateau, take a closer look at what you’re eating. Food is fuel for your workouts, and eating the right foods in the right quantities could help support your fitness goals. Nutrition needs may vary depending on your sport and your goals.
No matter what type of plateau you’re experiencing, ACE recommends focusing on eating nutritious whole foods and limiting processed foods and sugar. For those who are trying to put on muscle, adequate protein is a must. Don’t forget to consider your caloric needs. The National Association of Sports Medicine explains that endurance athletes often don’t take in enough calories to fuel their workouts, which could compromise performance. On the other hand, taking in too many calories could be the cause of a weight loss plateau.
Drink More Water
Sometimes, surpassing a fitness plateau may be as simple as getting hydrated. Drinking enough water helps your body perform at its best. That’s why trainers emphasize drinking more water — it’s the most important nutrient for athletes.
A study conducted by researchers at Missouri Western State University examined the effects of hydration on strength training performance. Compared to well-hydrated participants, dehydrated lifters did fewer reps and perceived the exercises as more difficult.
When it comes to reaching fitness goals, ACE reminds athletes that proper recovery sessions are just as important as exercise sessions. Recovery helps your muscles, tendons, and ligaments rebuild themselves after strenuous exercise. It may also provide a mental break and help you de-stress. This is important because a small study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reported that chronic mental stress impaired recovery after strenuous resistance exercise.
Stretching and mobility exercises, ice baths, foam rolling, myofascial release, and post-workout massages are a few of the effective strategies to consider, explains the American College of Sports Medicine. Cold therapy, which could be as easy as hopping into a cold shower, has also been shown to help with muscle recovery.
Upgrade Your Recovery with Ice Baths
Prioritizing your physical and mental recovery sessions could help you break through a plateau. If you enjoy taking cold showers after workouts, it’s time to upgrade your routine with a purpose-built cold therapy tool like the Ice Barrel. The Ice Barrel makes it easy to take an ice bath — just fill with water and ice, then hop in!
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