If you’re no longer making gains from your regular workout, it’s time to change things up. That might mean training, eating, resting differently – but it’s only by identifying the issue that you can adapt and grow.
Ever done the same gym or cardio work for a few weeks, only to find that you no longer sweat, ache or seem to be getting any stronger? Welcome to the plateau – the point at which your body has adapted to your training schedule.
There comes a time when even the most strenuous training plan can cease to be effective and that’s because our bodies are great at recognising and getting used to external demand. If you’ve been following the same routine for a while, a plateau signals that it’s probably time to switch things up – but it can also a sign that other issues are happening to the body. If you’ve recently increased the intensity or frequency of your training and feel like you aren’t progressing, here are five other reasons that you might not be seeing results:
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If you’re seeing little-to-no progress, despite upping the number of workouts you do each week, you could be overtraining. Personal trainer Elle Linton explains that “one of the first signs of overtraining can be when you start to see no improvement or even a decline in your performance. Overtraining doesn’t always look as excessive as we might imagine – it’s simply down to you training more than your body can recover from.”
Elle goes on to say that it’s important to tune into your own body and what it needs, rather than following someone else’s lead. “When it comes to reducing your training, don’t be afraid to start from scratch to allow your body time to build back up to what you were once used to. In running, this could be starting the Couch to 5k programme; in strength training, perhaps that means going back to technique sessions with reduced weights.”
While you might increase the amount you exercise to break a plateau, you also run the risk of under-fuelling if you don’t change how you eat as well. Not only can that put your performance in jeopardy, but it can also impact how well you recover afterward.
“If you feel like you’re in a position where you’ve ‘tried everything’ but you’re still feeling lethargic when you train, the answer might be more simple than you think,” says Olimata Taal, associate registered nutritionist and personal trainer. “Consider looking at how well you’re fuelling yourself. When you exercise, your muscles use their glycogen stores for fuel; as a consequence, your muscles will have a partial depletion of glycogen. It’s important to remember that adequate fuel is an essential part of rebuilding these glycogen stores for muscle repair.”
You’re not recovering effectively
Recovery isn’t just limited to how much time you leave between sessions. It also includes your sleep and your general energy expenditure too.
GOsC registered osteopath, Rebecca Root, explains that when you push your body, “you have to allow adequate rest for it to recover and adapt to the load. This recovery and adaptation is how you improve.” If you have a sustained period of time with too much load and not enough rest, Rebecca warns that you’ll soon “notice your performance declining as your body isn’t able to keep up with the rate of adaptation you’re asking of it.”
“Make sure you account for other lifestyle factors that can affect you physically such as how active you are in your job. If you’re not feeling on top of the world and choose to miss a session, don’t feel guilty – there’s no need to ‘make up for’ the missed session”, adds Elle.
You’re working at the same intensity
We all want to try our best but if you’re always aiming for a PB every time you lace up your running shoes or start a workout, you might find that your efforts are being wasted. Changing up the intensity of your workouts doesn’t always mean going harder and longer; sometimes, it can mean relaxing a little.
“Keeping an eye on the intensity of your training is something to bear in mind”, says Elle. “The more ‘intense’ your workout, the more stress you will be placing on your body and the more recovery you will need.” Rather than performing back-to-back HIIT workouts, mix your week up by having the odd hardcore session, followed by a low-intensity day of walking or stretchy yoga.
Olimata agrees.“It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to give 110% all of the time. Our body is working for us so we need to show it the respect and self-care it deserves to prevent burnout. Try implementing some lower impact and/or more rest days into your routine if you feel like your body is working in overdrive.”
How to break a plateau quickly
Let’s be real for a moment: it might take a bit of time before you are seeing progress again, but a good place to start is listening to your body and learning how it responds to your routine.
“Consider keeping a training diary where you can keep a note of your nutrition, hydration and other factors such as stress, sleep, mood,” Elle recommends. “That way, you can keep an eye on how you are progressing and notice patterns, both for performance and underperformance.”
“Aside from following an appropriate program, monitor how you feel”, agrees Rebecca. “An elevated resting heart rate or a higher-than-usual heart rate during training can indicate overtraining, so monitoring this as well as your sleeping patterns can provide some insight into how well you’re recovering.”
And of course, if you’re always running or doing weight sessions, why not vow to try something new? Even if you can’t get to a gym, studio or class, there are plenty of options for changing how you move at home – whether that’s having a go at a barre class online, committing to 20 minutes of dancing in your kitchen, skateboarding, trying a totally different strength training routine or mixing up your running sessions to include long, tempo, easy, interval and fartlek training.
“If you feel like you’ve hit a mental plateau or are physically exhausted, switch it up!” Olimata suggests. “Allowing yourselves to change things up a bit, from intensity to activity, can be a great way to help you feel inspired again.”
5 ways to break your plateau now
- Keep a training diary to chart your workouts, mood, hydration and nutrition. Try to maintain the diary for two weeks to give you a good idea of how things are changing.
- Track your sleep to make sure that you’re getting enough shut-eye. Use your fitness tracker, phone app or good old pen and paper to chart how many nights you get eight hours’ sleep in a week.
- Try a different form of movement or switch up your training regime. If you don’t want to try a different exercise, see if there tweaks you can make to the way you train now.
- Reduce the intensity or load of your workouts. Schedule in days when you don’t try to give your workout everything you have. Keep some workouts short and low-intensity.
- Prioritise recovery by taking proper rest days and re-fuelling adequately. You need at least two days off a week and it’s on those days that you want to make sure that you’re eating enough to give your muscles a chance to recover and the stomach has a good opportunity to digest and distribute nutrients without the external pressure of high-intensity movement.
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