Your fitness journey is a bit like running hills – sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down…and sometimes you hit a plateau. While plateaus are an expected part of fitness, they can be incredibly frustrating, especially when the reason for stagnation isn’t 100-percent clear. Maybe you’ve faithfully performed every workout routine, but you can’t seem to shake those last few pounds. Or, maybe you’ve been busting your booty to improve running times, but setting a new PR has proven elusive. Well, put the past behind you – it’s time to bust through those exercise plateaus and achieve renewed success.
Brandon Henry, an NASM and CrossFit certified trainer with a B.A. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the owner of South Pasadena’s Performance Strength & Conditioning puts it this way, “There is no simple answer why people plateau, which is why I advocate taking a few days to examine all the factors before making changes. Often, simple factors such as sleep, nutrition or stress cause major shifts in how you feel, look and perform in your chosen sport.” So, before changing up your workout routine, do a quick self-check on the following day-to-day lifestyle factors:
- Am I getting at least seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night? The hours you spend sleeping are the hours that your body rejuvenates and repairs itself. If you’re experiencing limited or interrupted sleep, it could significantly affect your recovery time and your ability to perform. Come up with a gameplan for improving your nighttime routine and ensuring a more restful night of sleep.
- Am I sabotaging my workout efforts in the kitchen? The type and quantity of food you consume can significantly affect your fitness goals. Failing to consume enough high-quality protein can prevent your body from effectively repairing exercise-induced cell damage. Failing to consume enough high-quality carbohydrates can slow recovery time and impact energy. Eating too many processed foods, too much food or too little food can affect hormones, metabolism and stagnate weight loss. It sounds confusing, but the solution is pretty simple: take an honest, three-day food diary covering at least one weekday and one weekend day to get a good picture of your dietary habits. Don’t cheat – write it all down! Then, when the three days are done, decide if there are any simple changes you can make to enhance your nutrition. If you don’t know where to start, set up an appointment with a Registered Dietician to get some assistance.
- What stressors am I currently dealing with? Are they short-term or long-term? Stress is a fact of life, but if you’re dealing with something that’s causing significant stress, or something that will cause lasting stress over the long-term, you could be looking at the root of your plateau problem. Stress hormones affect everything from metabolism and sleep patterns to hunger. Unless the end of your stress is immediately in site (and even if it is), consider incorporating stress-reducing exercises into your regular routine. Yoga, meditation and Tai Chi are great options, but even a 10 minute walk in the middle of the day can do wonders for reducing stress.
- Am I regularly laughing and enjoying life? This may seem like an odd question to ask, but it’s an extension of the question about stress. Experiencing happiness, laughter and enjoyment all help relieve stress (and stress-related hormones) and release feel-good endorphins into your body. When you’re “in a good place” and consistently feeling happy and fulfilled, your body is going to be firing on all cylinders, enabling it to function in a way that will support your fitness goals. If you’re not regularly laughing and having fun, ask yourself how you can add enjoyment to your weekly schedule. You may be surprised at the gains you end up experiencing physically when you’re feeling great mentally and emotionally.
- Am I really giving it my all during my workout routines? No one likes to admit they’ve been slacking, but sometimes stagnation is the result of good, old-fashioned laziness. Sure, that 30 minute run at six miles per hour left you gasping for breath six months ago, but chances are it feels pretty easy now. If you’re not continuing to push yourself during your workouts, it’s unlikely that you’ll continue to see results.
- Am I pushing myself too hard? Many people underestimate the affects of overtraining. If you’re working out too long, increasing the intensity of your routine too quickly or failing to allow yourself rest days each week, you could be subject to the negative affects of overtraining. Signs of overtraining include persistent muscle soreness, persistent fatigue, elevated resting heart rate, greater susceptibility to illness and injury, irritability, decreased performance, decreased strength, insomnia and delayed recovery…just to name a few. If, after you assess all the other factors that could contribute to a fitness plateau, and there are no other answers, ask yourself if a few days rest from your workout routine could actually be the jump-start your body needs to propel yourself further.
True fitness is more than just your weight or your ability to perform pushups – true fitness occurs when your body, mind and spirit are able to function properly and work together to accomplish your goals. Failing to address an exercise plateau with a whole-health approach will ultimately take longer and cause more frustration than if you take the time to assess all the contributing factors. Once you have a good idea of where you stand, then you can look for ways to change up your workout and lifestyle to achieve true success…and blow your old triathlon PR out of the water!