Embrace The Loop: Why Plateus Can Help You Live a Strong and Healthy Life
A fitness plateau – also known as the killer of hopes and dreams – is the moment when your body stops responding to the stresses put on by your training regimen and/or diet.
It’s usually a precursor to the many headaches that we face when trying to reach our fitness goals. And, unfortunately, it tends to strike at the worst possible moments.
For me, it was during a turmoil year filled with textbooks, video games and extremely long nights.
But yet, despite a hectic and chaotic college life, up untill that point, I had one thing going right for me: my fitness.
Between classes, you would find me grinding away at the campus gym. And for a kid who started out as Steve Rogers (pre-super soldier serum), the progress was amazing: Muscle was built, fat was burned, and personal records were broken. When it came to my health and physique, things couldn’t have been any better. That is…until…it all came to screeching halt.
My body had betrayed me!
I felt weaker. I felt fatter.
I was regressing and…It…felt…horrible.
But, it wasn’t the lack of progress that was frustrating. It was the fact that I was doing everything “right”.
My diet was on point. My workouts had always been effective. I hadn’t changed a thing, yet, all that had worked before seemed to be working against me.
That no-good, lousy, plateau had crept up on me and destroyed all that I had worked for.
But, it happens to us all.
At some point, despite all the hard work you put into working out, despite all the time spent selecting lean foods to eat, you hit a wall and your progress comes to a complete stop. All that’s left are feelings of frustration, misery, and depression.
For some of us, it happens immediately. For others, it occurs months into our training or diet.
Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, each action seems to lead you down an endless loop.
But yet…that’s not a bad thing.
Why You Should Embrace Your Plateau
By now, you should have an idea of what a plateau is and what it means to your fitness goals.
If you aren’t’ sure if you have hit a plateau, a few things to look out for are:
- Weight loss stops after several weeks of steady cardio or strength training
- Muscle grows stops or declines despite hitting the gym regularly
- Loss of strength and energy
- A steady dip in motivation
Now, while all the above may sound terrible – and they surely are – we should first ask ourselves: “have I really hit a plateau?”
To find out if your body is rebelling against you, here are three things to consider:
- Have I been sticking to my workout program all the way through?
- Am I keeping my diet in check? Do I avoid going through a food free-for-all more often than not?
- Am I getting enough rest?
If the answer to any one of these is “no”, then maybe, just maybe, all that you have to do is take a step back, re-evaluate your efforts, and spend some time working on the areas you might have slacked on.
But, if you’re sure that your body is working against you – that you’ve hit that dreaded thing called a plateau – then take this as an opportunity to bulletproof your fitness for years to come.
You see, plateaus are an excellent way to develop new strategies and habits. To overcome them requires that we shift the way we think about our training and diet.
As years go by, your body will respond differently to certain stimuli and stresses. Most likely, you will hit all new plateaus. So, knowing how to adapt yourself to different ways of exercising or eating will prepare you for the changes that you will need to make in the years to come.
With that said, let’s go ahead and bust through some plateaus.
Four Ways to Bust Through Your Plateau
So now that we have a clear understanding of the why plateaus can be beneficial for long-term results, let’s key in on a few ways that you can use them to your advantage.
1) Re-evaluate your goals
What is it that you want to do? Burn fat? Get stronger? Gain muscle? Build endurance?
Most of us have a clear understanding of what we want to accomplish. But sometimes, getting there requires that you take a detour.
For example: if you have put yourself on a strict caloric deficit and have lost 20 pounds by adjusting your food intake and hitting the treadmill each day, but yet, you cannot lose those last 10 pounds, then maybe the answer is to shift your focus towards a different type of training such as strength training.
Unlike cardio which burns both fat and calories while you are performing it, strength training keeps your metabolism elevated long after your workout is over.
But, this is just one example. There are many different directions which you can take when re-adjusting your goals. You can bulk, improve speed, build endurance, and the list goes on.
The point is to try something different and give your body a break from the same old routine.
2) Make small changes
The natural tendency is to continue doing what you’re currently doing, but more of it.
“If I’m stuck at point A, then the more I do of X, the quicker I’ll get to B. It’s got to work. Right?”
Well, not exactly.
When we do more, we expect to see faster results. Not meeting your expectations leads to frustration. Which can lead to abandoning your goals.
Forcing your way through a plateau is like forcing your way through quicksand. The more you do of the same, the more likely you are to die…I mean fail.
Instead, focus on the process and not the end goal.
Small changes allow you to achieve faster accomplishments because you are no longer shooting for the bigger picture. In time, the bigger picture – your goal – will be reached. But for now, you get to revel in the smaller victories and avoid the pain of not seeing any progress.
Here are a few ways to put in place small changes:
- Conventional deadlifts progress has stalled? Switch to sumo deadlifts.
- One hour treadmill walks not doing it for you? Hop onto the elliptical.
- Eating three meals a day isn’t causing your weight to drop? Try intermittent fasting.
- Instead of slow movements, ramp up on intensity.
Shake things up even further by throwing in supersets, complexes, HIIT or adjust your rep/set scheme. You can even add in a few drills that will help kick start your progress.
For example: let’s say you are stuck at squatting 180lbs for the past month. Why don’t you take a step back and focus on improving hip mobility or stability. It could be that you are lacking in these areas. After a few days of mobility/stability drills, get back under the bar and just focus on your form. Don’t go crazy adding weights; just make sure that your technique is on point.
Smaller changes also allow you to see if you are moving in the right direction, which is hard to do if you are just focused on one big goal. It will also allow you to identify what hasn’t been working for you so you can discard it and move on to the next.
3) Track everything
How will you know if you’re making progress if you don’t have anything to base it off? By logging every rep, set, amount of weight lifted, rest period, and what you put in your mouth, you will know if you are setting yourself up for success or failure.
With that said, don’t focus too much on just one specific metric. Many of us spend way too much time obsessing over scale numbers. This isn’t a great way to track progress. In fact, the scale can be deceiving. Instead, use other metrics such as body fat, tape measurements, or progress photos, to tell if you are progressing out of your plateau.
4) Take some time off
Yes, you read that correctly. Sometimes, all we need is a week off to recover. In fact, your body will reward you for it.
You see, unlike what most of us might believe, muscle growth does not take place during your workouts. The opposite actually occurs; muscle tissue is broken down (catabolism). It is while we rest and recover that muscle tissue is rebuilt. This is why most programs will have you taking a rest day between training days.
However, you don’t want to hinder the results you achieved pre-plateau. So don’t overdo your rest/recovery.
A Brand New Day
Instead of calling it quits, I had to re-evaluate my efforts. This required me to step out of my comfort zone and make simple changes that allowed my progress to resume. But yet, had I not fallen into that endless loop in the first place, my life wouldn’t have changed for the better.
So, while plateaus can be a real pain to deal with, they can also be the key to living a strong and healthy life.
Now it’s your turn. Are you currently stuck in a fitness plateau? Comment below and we’ll help you get back on track.
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