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Overcoming Plateaus in Fitness Training

The human body is a remarkable, adaptable thing that can give us cause for great hope and aspirations regarding our fitness regimes and improving our overall strength and physiques. However, that ability to adjust to the new ‘normal’ quickly and efficiently can also lead to another less satisfying side effect once we start exercising and improving ourselves in earnest. That phenomenon is sometimes called a ‘plateau’, and professional athletes, budding amateurs, and complete beginners alike can all expect to encounter it once they start working out regularly. This article examines the issue of workout plateaus, why they happen, and what to do about them.

What is a workout plateau, and why does it happen?

A workout plateau occurs when you have an exercise routine or activity that changes very little for some time. That period varies depending on the existing fitness levels of the individual, and counter-intuitively, it is much more likely for fitter, more athletic individuals to meet that point rapidly. When you start from square one, there is a great deal of progress to be made, and bodies change and adapt rapidly. Typically we see vast improvements and adaptations to new exercise routines for the first 12 months. As you near the peak performance of your existing musculature and stamina, those improvements become harder to achieve and can stall altogether. 

Over time, your body grows accustomed to the new demands you put onto it and adapts to meet them. Whether this is evidenced by increased stamina and the ability to perform aerobic exercise for longer without getting out of breath or being able to lift an ever-increasing amount of weight, the principle is the same. Your body changes to perform the new movements, creating muscle fibre and enhancing the cardiovascular system as it does so.

Overcoming a workout plateau

Once a workout plateau is reached, the same routines that once saw you puffing your cheeks out and waking up with aching muscles feel easy and don’t hurt. Although joint and other forms of pain are not what we’re looking for, if your muscles don’t ache the day after a vigorous workout, you have been operating within their existing capacity and not pushing them to grow further. The growth is in the pain; we’ve all heard the phrase ‘No pain, no gain’. It is a term used to motivate people to push themselves further each time that happens to be based on scientific fact and not just bravado. This phenomenon is typically called delayed onset muscle soreness. (DOMS) Which usually kicks in about 24-48 hours after your session and may last for a few days.

A change is as good as a rest

Repeating insufficiently challenging workouts is a recipe for workout plateaus and their associated frustrations and sapping of motivation. The amount and intensity of the workout itself are not the issue. Instead, the lack of change and fresh demands causes the body to relax into a given routine and cease to progress visibly. It bears remembering that, although you may stop noticing the physical changes you experienced at the start of your journey, your body is in a much better position if it has adapted to your exercise regime. That, in itself, is something to take pride in; it’s just that you have to step up your game if you want to get off your current plateau and work towards the next one. Some tactics and techniques to try include:

  • Intensify your workouts
  • Introduce speed and interval training
  • Try something new, a group class or sport
  • Use different equipment
  • Randomise your routine
  • Overload your muscles
  • Train with a professional

Final thoughts

Hitting a workout plateau can be frustrating and de-motivating, but remember that you’ve only hit a plateau because you’ve been putting the work in. If you spent long periods in the past doing no exercise whatsoever, you were already on a plateau. At least the new one is a significant improvement over that, and it is imperative not to let it deflate your enthusiasm and allow you to slide backwards. Change things up, push hard, and never accept defeat. Picture those incredible Olympians training for thousands of extra hours to improve their time by a fraction of a second. Accept that once drastic, noticeable improvement is over, you must dig deep, change things, and stay at it. 

Contact us

Movewell Health Services are dedicated to helping those over 35 change their lives through guided, researched exercise that almost always leads to improved:

  • Movement
  • Flexibility
  • Strength
  • Confidence
  • Pain-reduction

If you have any questions or comments, please get in touch, and we will gladly address them and offer any advice and guidance required. 

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