Nutrition | Strength Training | Training Tips | Weight Loss

Breaking Through Those Workout Plateaus

Breaking Through Those Workout Plateaus

We’ve all received the following advice at some point in our lives: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

That’s a memorable way of saying that if something we’re doing has proven to be effective, why even consider trying something else? In the fitness world, the answer comes in the form of a single word: plateaus.

Reaching a plateau is defined as coming to level or flat point. That’s bad enough when the goal is to get stronger or lose weight, but in this instance, it also can mean going backward. Read on for advice on avoiding those dreaded workout plateaus for you and your clients.

Keep Your Training Fresh

From an exercise perspective, plateaus occur when the body begins to adjust to the demands of a regular exercise routine, be it strength training, weight loss, or any other goal. Once the human body becomes accustomed to the stress placed upon it, it needs a periodic jolt to the system to get things back on track.

Hitting Plateaus When Strength Training

One of the easiest ways to overcome plateaus is to lift heavier rather than longer. If your client is seeing a dip in progress, switch their program to one with a higher amount of weight and lower reps rather than one with a lighter weight and high reps.

Another way to overcome a plateau is to change the order in which your clients perform their exercises. The various muscles will be in different stages of fatigue than normal, which will lead to them responding in a different way. Additionally, there are a number of ways to change things up in a workout with high-intensity interval training (HIIT). The change will keep the mind and body stimulated while targeting different muscle groups.

It’s important that workouts are periodized. In periodization, training is broken down into time periods called macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles. These cycles relate to how muscles respond to stress and fatigue. Macrocycles are long-term training periods that last from six months to a year; mesocycles can last anywhere from two weeks to a few months; microcycles are usually a week in length. The purpose, of course, is to challenge the body in different ways, at different times, and at different intervals.

Hitting Plateaus While Losing Weight

There are a number of reasons why a client can hit a plateau when trying to lose weight. Diet, of course, plays a major role in weight loss, and anyone who reaches a plateau during weight loss should first take a closer look at whether they are eating the right blend of protein, healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, and carbs.

Eating more protein can help in breaking through a plateau. A diet higher in protein will burn more calories during digestion. Protein also contains an amino acid, leucine, that is a catalyst for burning fat.

Plateaus usually occur after a stretch of success, which in this case means being able to lose some weight. So, the solution could be adjusting caloric intake. The magic number for calories consumed that made it possible to lose the weight does not remain constant. At some point it will mean consuming fewer calories to get more results.

The first 10 pounds are always going to be the easiest to lose, so there will be a natural slowdown when it comes to the average amount of weight lost in a week. Perseverance will pay off, especially when you take care to do all you can to avoid a plateau.

Plateaus During Endurance Training

Plateaus also can occur when doing endurance training or any other training. Again, the best preventative measure or response is to vary the workout in length, order, and level of intensity. A long-distance runner can cut the miles in half while striving for a quicker pace. Cyclists can do the same. Better yet, substitute a completely different type of activity for a week or two. Cross training is an effective way to keep your clients’ body and mind from getting bored and hitting a plateau.

Make Time for Recovery

The one common denominator for strength trainers and those trying to lose weight is that proper rest plays a key role in overcoming or preventing plateaus. That means more than getting a good night’s sleep. Sometimes the best thing to do is to take a day—or a week—off to enable the body to recharge.

Without throwing the body these occasional curveballs and making time to recover, the possibility of overtraining or overreaching also come into play. The body simply can’t keep up with demands. Signs of overtraining, which can have a long-term effect, include muscle and joint pain, fatigue, and a lack of energy. Overreaching involves the accumulation of stress that can lead to a short-term negative effect on performance.

So, to sum it all up: Keep your workouts fresh, consider cross training, and schedule time for recovery. Your clients will continue making progress toward their goals without slipping backward or overworking their bodies.


Interested in learning more about ways to maximize strength training and eating healthy? Check out ISSA’s personal trainer course online to learn about the science behind health and fitness.

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