In the past week alone, I came across a large number of people, who have been going through what is popular in the fitness jargon, as the ‘plateau’, and which in lay man terms is - reaching a stage where the progress stagnates and results are not coherent with the efforts invested, with respect to exercise! The most common experience is when you lose weight consistently during the initial few months after beginning an exercise routine, and then seem to stay on a constant weight without any further progress!
Dreaded by many fitness enthusiasts, a plateau is common after –
* Performing the same exercise, repeatedly without any progression for more than three to four months
* Changing exercises frequently even before the body begins to respond to it
* Exercising heavily (long durations, many times a day) and without adequate rest, often leading to overtraining
* Exercising without any periodization or planning thereby leaving little scope for progression
The human body adapts to any stress in about 4-6 weeks time. Therefore, any exercise movement performed repeatedly, without any progression (in the form of changing the number of repetitions, form, weight used etc.) leads to no additional challenge on the body, in order for the body to develop additional muscular or cardiovascular strength and endurance to deal with it. So, it may seem like our regularity and dedication to our fitness routine is not bearing the desired results and may de-motivate or frustrate many!
However, at this stage it becomes necessary to understand that instead of working harder, we need to work smarter. Working smarter may need a complete paradigm shift – try telling someone who is thinking on working out twice a day, to break the plateau – that he/she needs to instead take a break from working out completely and rest, and you will be lucky if you can escape with just a shocked look!
There are however, some measures that one can take to break the plateau like –
Take complete rest – Our body, responds and develops the strength and endurance, that we are working for, only when the body is resting. Rest can mean many things – from getting adequate sleep at night, taking a complete break from any exercise activity to changing the activity to something entirely different from the present one. Sleep is an important factor, since the growth hormones are secreted at night, when we are sleeping and help build our body. Not indulging in any activity can be termed as ‘passive rest’ and may not be very useful in the long run. A better alternative is to take ‘active rest’ – which may range from leisure walks, to Yoga or any activity that is less intense and different from the present activity.
Over a period of time, it is not uncommon to observe a plateau in the results of your workout, despite putting in the same or even extra effort! And as observed, it usually happens due to the amazing ability of the human body to adapt to any stress placed on it, in a month’s time. Other reasons include overtraining, lack of rest, no overload or performing repetitive exercises.
Some ways to break beyond the plateau are –
Vary the Training – Instead of weight training every day, as a part of your routine, cut down the volume by doing it 3-4 times a week, and on the other days, take active rest through walks, other cardio exercises, dance, yoga or some sports activities etc. Another option could be to do circuit training, with low weights on one or two days of the week.
Get lots of sleep – A good sleep of 7-8 hours, at night is essential for the body to recover and develop itself against the stress. The human growth hormones are in action only during night, when we sleep, and hence a good night’s rest is essential. Taking power naps during the day is also a good option!
Check your diet – Usually, a very good way to break out of the plateau is to check your diet routine or modify it, or even start one in case of some of us who believe more in exercising and less in managing our diets! It is important to note, that diet, does not mean – as is commonly known to be – cutting down food intake or not eating at all, but more of finding healthier alternatives for your usual high calorie options. For example, a mid-day snack could be a bowl of sprouts or raw veggies instead of something high in calories like chips or biscuits.
A very important case here, could also be that you are not eating enough, and your calorie intake needs to be increased, ofcourse through healthy options. An expert nutritionist or dietician could be helpful at this time.