How To Break Through A Workout Plateau
Are you stuck in a fitness rut? Do you feel like you’ve stopped making progress? These workout tips can help you to get your groove back when you’ve reached a fitness plateau.
Don’t feel discouraged if you feel like you’ve hit a roadblock on your fitness journey — it happens to most people! Once you understand how your body adapts to training, you can make the changes to break through the plateau, continue making progress and start enjoying exercise again.
What is a workout plateau?
A workout plateau occurs when your body adjusts to the demands of your workouts. During a workout plateau, you can start to feel unmotivated, bored with your workouts, or find that you don’t feel like going to the gym. This is a sign that you may be ready to try a new training style.
Learn more: Which Training Style Is Right For You?
To keep seeing results, you need to progressively overload the body to keep it changing, adapting and getting stronger.
According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), this training principle is also known as muscular hypertrophy. A hypertrophy workout “consists of exercises utilising low to intermediate repetition ranges with progressive overload.” Sweat trainer Kelsey Wells uses hypertrophy training in her PWR programs, where you’ll gradually increase the weight and duration for each exercise over time to help to increase your overall strength and muscle.
It’s normal for your workouts to feel easier as you get stronger — that’s your cue to ramp up your training so that you can keep progressing!
NASM suggests you should advance your training every three to four weeks to see steady and consistent results.
Why does fitness plateau?
When you first start working out, you usually feel the results straight away, especially if you weren’t previously active. However, as time passes you may notice the results become less obvious.
The body is incredibly resilient, and this means that it adapts to the physical demands of your training. As your body adapts, exercises that were once challenging become easier.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) in the US says this change is known as “general adaptation syndrome” and is why you can hit a fitness plateau even when you are doing everything right!
While it’s easy to become comfortable with your routine once you get an exercise habit in place, changing up your training or increasing the intensity of your workouts can help to ensure you keep getting noticeable results.
According to ACE, another common cause of a plateau is overtraining. Getting proper rest and recovery is just as important for your fitness progress as hitting all of your workout goals.
Cleveland Clinic in the US says some of the signs you might be overtraining include fatigue, low energy levels, insomnia and some women can even experience a loss of their period. Other signs include muscle and joint pain and you may find that you get sick more easily. These symptoms are unsurprisingly often described as a fitness hangover.
It’s also important to pay attention to what you do between your workouts. You can stop making progress if you don’t get enough rest, don’t drink enough water or don’t eat the right foods to support your training.
What should you do if you hit a plateau?
What you do when you reach a workout plateau will depend on your goals.
For some, a plateau isn’t a problem. If you are happy with where you are currently, keep going with your exercise routine to maintain your fitness.
However, if you are frustrated with the lack of progress, there are actions you can take to overcome a fitness plateau.
How to overcome a workout plateau
Use these tips when you feel stuck on your fitness journey.
Make small changes to your routine
Small changes to your workouts can help prevent a plateau. When you increase the weight, sets, reps, intensity, the number of sessions completed each week, the amount of rest taken between sets or use variations of exercises, you encourage a “training response” to occur.
Making small changes regularly encourages your body to continue building strength using the same exercises.
Some examples of fitness progression include:
- Increase number of reps of an exercise — if you were doing 10 pushups, increase to 12 pushups
- Increasing the weight used in small increments
- Increasing the number of exercises completed in a given timeframe
Track your fitness progress
You can’t be sure you’ve hit a plateau unless you are tracking your progress. There are many ways to do this, and it’s best to use more than one method.
Here are some ways to track your fitness:
- Record your workouts in a journal — including the number of reps and weights used
- Use a fitness tracker
- Take progress photos
- Take a fitness challenge every 4-12 weeks
Tracking your fitness can help you identify whether you are experiencing a plateau and what you can change to overcome it — and using more than one method can help you see where you are still making progress!
For example, your weight can fluctuate dramatically over a day or a week due to various factors such as water and food intake and even where you’re at in your menstrual cycle. Weight loss is therefore not a reliable indicator of fitness improvement. Instead, you should consider whether you are able to lift heavier or do more reps of an exercise than you could before.
Incorporate strength training
A 2012 article on the “Effects of Strength Training on Health” published in the Current Sports Medicine Reports found that resistance training, or strength training, has a number of benefits on both mental and physical health.
It improves your strength, endurance and size of skeletal muscles while protecting your joints from injury during other activities. Building muscle can also help boost your metabolic rate.
Other benefits of resistance training include improving cardiovascular health, particularly when included in a well-rounded fitness program alongside cardio workouts, such as with high-intensity resistance training.
Strength training can also help you to achieve other goals such as running faster and feeling more confident.
Focus on nutrition
Nutrition plays an important role in your fitness progress, and to keep improving, you need a nutrition plan that supports your training. This means getting enough protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats and the micronutrients you need to build muscle and recover quickly.
Drink more water
Good hydration plays a critical role in muscle performance and recovery. According to an article published by The Association of UK Dietitians, water in the body also plays an essential role in your heart health and your digestive system. Mild dehydration can even cause headaches and poor concentration.
If you don’t drink enough water, there are other ways you can stay hydrated including drinking herbal tea, grabbing a green smoothie and including water-dense fruits and vegetables like cucumber, tomatoes and melon into your diet.
But the easiest way to make sure you’re hydrated is to drink two to three litres each day — or more if you’re physically active.
Make time for rest
Rest days allow you to take a break from training and allow your body to recover. During rest, ACE states that your body begins to replenish its energy stores and repairs the muscle tissue used during your workouts. This is an essential part of the process to help your muscles grow and become stronger.
All of the Sweat programs include a rest day each week. This isn’t something to feel guilty about — use it as an opportunity to catch up with friends, spend time with your family, read a book or watch tv — whatever you enjoy! You may find that after taking a rest day you have more energy for your next workout and your performance improves.
Getting enough sleep is also critical for your recovery. If you have interrupted sleep for any reason, it’s okay to back off your workout intensity until you can get some decent shut-eye.
Use progressive overload
As mentioned earlier, progressive overload is a training principle that means you gradually increase the stress placed on your body during your workouts so that your body has to keep adapting.
It’s important to use progressive overload in a safe way to avoid injury or overtraining, such as following one of the Sweat programs or a workout program designed by a personal trainer with expertise in getting the results you want.
You can avoid a workout plateau by choosing a workout style you enjoy!
Doing exercise that you enjoy is the key to a healthy lifestyle and long-term results!
When your exercise program fits your lifestyle, you’ll find it much easier to maintain — and knowing when it’s time to intensify your training will help you to keep seeing the results you're working hard for.
How have you overcome a workout plateau? Let us know in the comments below!
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.