In all aspects of life — including the hours you log at the gym — there are peaks and valleys. But conventional wisdom and inspirational Instagram memes rarely mention plateaus, which are just as common (and possibly more frustrating) than the day-to-day roller coaster.
Whether you’re looking to lose weight, gain muscle or set a new PR, that desolate stretch of fitness flatness can crush your confidence and erode your drive. But training plateaus come with the territory and they’re often your body’s way of telling you that it’s time for a change. So listen up. Check out these five ways to bust through a plateau and get back on the roller coaster for the ride of your life.
1. REDUCE YOUR PORTIONS
There you are, happily chugging along toward your weight-loss goal, watching the digits on the scale drop steadily each week. But one day a number settles in and sets up shop, regardless of your eat-clean efforts and consistent training protocol. This kind of stasis can make you want to throw in the towel (and order a pizza), but don’t give in to Domino’s yet: If you’ve experienced a fairly significant weight loss (10 pounds or more), your daily calorie requirement may actually be lower than it was previously. Try reducing your portions by a couple hundred calories a day, or see a registered dietitian who can test your resting metabolic rate and provide you with specific guidelines on your daily caloric intake. Check back in with your bod in a few weeks and see how you fared.
2. INCREASE YOUR PORTIONS
If you’re not seeing appropriate gains in muscle size, then you may not be eating enough calories. Intense training without appropriate food intake might make you catabolic — you’re gobbling up your own muscle tissue for fuel. Obviously protein is required to build muscle, so boost your intake per meal by an ounce or two, or add a protein shake postworkout and/or before bed to deliver those aminos to muscles that need repairing and rebuilding. Also ditch the notion that carbs and fats are “bad” — carbohydrates sustain your workouts and refuel your muscles after a serious sweat session, and fats are the ultimate energy source, providing more than twice the calories per gram to power your training, helping you lift heavier and consequently build more muscle. Choose carbs on the lower end of the glycemic index, including cherries, oatmeal and sweet potatoes, as well as healthy fats such as avocados, olive oil and raw nuts, to help you fill up and fill out.
3. TAKE THE ROUTINE OUT OF YOUR ROUTINE
Go the same distance at the same speed every day, and your body will become an incredibly efficient 30- minute jogging machine. This is when the trouble begins: Your body stops needing to adapt, you stop seeing progress. Keep your muscles guessing by changing things up constantly. Implement intervals during your longer cardio sessions, swap powerlifting for a day of kettlebell and functional training, or abandon the iron completely for a day of bodyweight training. The more you can keep your body on its toes the better your results will be.
4. AMP UP THE INTENSITY
If you can follow an episode of Game of Thrones, read a book or catch Pokemon during a workout, you’re clearly not working hard enough. Increase your intensity on two out of every three workouts by implementing some all-out sprints on the bike or rower, lifting until failure or adding metabolic conditioning or as many reps as possible into your protocol. However, be sure to take rest days and lighten your workload on that third day, when you’re not doing MetCons or AMRAPs, to avoid injury and overtraining.
5. ADD A BURNER
The fitness equivalent of an encore, a burner is a quick-and-dirty way to stress your body and stimulate change. After the meat of your workout is done, challenge yourself to one last quick, high-intensity bout of activity, such as a tabata — eight rounds of 20 seconds of intense work, followed by 10 seconds of rest. Slam a medicine ball, swing a kettlebell or crank out a bunch of sit-ups for those four short (yet eternally long) minutes, focusing on high, consistent intensity for all eight rounds.