‘This is too easy.’
‘Where are my muscles?’
‘I don’t look any different’
During the 1930s, Hans Selye, a Hungarian endocrinologist theorized that muscles needed continual stress to change. If you’re a fitness enthusiast this must be familiar. And if you're someone who's starting to workout, you’ll encounter this sooner or later.
There comes a point in our fitness lives where we notice that nothing seems to be improving. We're stuck with the same old routine. Like last year’s cardio playlist; playing the same song over and over.
For some this is no problem. In fact, this might mean that they have already achieved their fitness goals. At that point, the focus of their exercise routine shifts. Instead of building and pushing for more, they focus on maintenance.
But there are also those who crave for more. Those who crave a more challenging experience, a toner body, bigger muscles and higher workout intensity. To them, plateauing is a form of setback.
Why does ‘plateauing’ happen?
Plateauing is best explained by the principle of diminishing returns. It states that you're no longer receiving the same progress or growth from your workouts. In other words, your mind and body have already adapted to the difficulties and challenges of your current workout routine.
Engaging in a new workout program or trying a new exercise often feels uncomfortable. It is challenging. That is why you develop a feeling of accomplishment everytime you ‘own’ that workout.
Overtime, you get used to it. The feeling subsides. This is because of neural adaptations. It takes about 6-8 weeks for your mind to adapt to new workout routines. Past the 8 week mark, you undergo a process called structural adaptation. This is when your muscles finally adapt to the workout.
So don’t quit! Keep going. Seeing no results is just a sign that you’re ready for the next level.
Here is how you can overcome plateauing.
1. Progressive Overload
Progressive Overload simply means increasing the positive stress that you put on your body. In other words, leveling up your workout. Increasing your weights, your reps or your sets does the job.
When you’re in the gym, it’s easy to add more weights. But doing it at home can be quite challenging. Unlike the gym, a lot of us don't have access to the same equipment or heavier weights.
What you can do is adjust according to your body’s needs. If doing ten crunches is easy, do 13. Still too easy? Try doing 15 reps or add another set.
By doing so, you are progressively adding more positive stress to your exercise. Once you find yourself comfortable with this routine, add more. Remember, slow and steady wins the race.
Changing up your workout program also helps with breaking through the plateau. You can get comfortable with doing the same repetitions over and over. When your workouts get easy and comfortable, change it up.
If Tuesday is shoulder day, change it to Wednesday. If Thursday is legs day, make it Saturday. If Monday is chest day… well… Monday is international chest day. So...
2. Moderation is key
If you’re into sports you must be familiar with the names Jordan and Kobe. But I’m sure even to non-sports enthusiasts these names are very familiar. They’re iconic in the world of sports. These two athletes are often in the conversation of who is the greatest basketball player of all-time.
According to Tim Grover, who trained both athletes, the biggest difference between Kobe and Jordan was that Jordan knew how to listen to his body. At the age of 35, Jordan won his sixth championship and wasn’t showing any signs of aging. Meanwhile Kobe by that age was already starting to feel the stresses from all those years of hard work. At the age of 34, he tore his Achilles tendon. Three years later, he retired.
Rest is crucial. Listen to your body and how you feel. Take the necessary time to take a break and relax. Let your body recuperate. Remember, ‘moderation is key’.
Add a couple of rest days in your schedule. Take a day or two to recuperate. Eat healthy food and relax your body.
3. You are what you eat
It's no secret that one of the greatest keys to living a healthy, fit and active life is a balanced diet. You have to make sure that you get the right nutrition everyday.
My best friend who’s a personal trainer always says, 'you need to have a good relationship with food.’ He adds, ‘It's okay to eat McDonalds. But when you do, you have to make sure that you put in the work the next time you exercise.’
What he means is that it's okay to eat all kinds of food. May it be McDonalds, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream or even your in-law’s infamous Christmas casserole. The key is moderation. And knowing that eating in excess means that you have to exercise more.
Make sure you eat lots of vegetables. Vegetables are a good source of many nutrients including potassium, dietary fiber, folate (folic acid), vitamin A, and vitamin C.
Also make sure to satisfy your daily protein needs. When you workout, especially when you are strength training, you are using your muscles a lot. And your muscles love protein. For it to recover and build, you need a good amount of protein.
4. Keeping track
Tracking fitness levels is very underrated. By tracking your progress, you are able to see your improvements. This is a great way of finding out whether you are plateauing or not.
Experts recommend to have many ways of tracking your fitness level. For a lot of us we often rely on a weighing scale. But relying only on a weighing scale makes us more prone to plateauing.
For instance, muscle weighs more than fat. What if you have more muscle than fat? Weight gain is often associated with gaining fat. So you might think that instead of building more muscles, you are accumulating more fat. When in reality it is the opposite.
Listing down the details of your workout and nutrition is an easy way of tracking your progress. So that when you hit a wall, you’ll know exactly what part of your fitness routine needs changing.
5. Strong body, strong mind
To overcome plateauing, you have to keep chasing the uncomfortable, constantly challenge yourself and never settle for anything less. That is how you improve your results and achieve the fitness goals you set out for yourself.
Breakthrough that barrier. Often, you are the only one that sets your own limits. Unless you have medically diagnosed physical limitations. But even those that have, are able to push through and defy expectations.
Trischa Zorn is the most celebrated Paralympic athlete of all-time. She won 55 medals and participated in seven Paralympic games. She was the Michael Phelps of her generation. And she did all this while being blind.
Remember, when you don't think you can do 10 more reps, aim for 15. There is no limit to your capabilities. It is all in the mind. Don't let your mind control you, instead use your mind to control the results you want.