It happens to all of us eventually, we are training hard, consistently, effectively and experiencing excellent results and benefits due to this diligent training regimen. We feel great and continue performing our program weekly; however, we begin to notice that our progress has either slowed down or we have begun to reach the dreaded “fitness plateau”! Symptoms include body weight creeping back on, strength/power level seems to be diminishing and the goals we set and our rock solid resolve begin to dwindle.
Are fitness plateaus inevitable? And, if so, how do we bust through these fitness plateaus? Check out the following answers and suggestions for managing this challenging time to keep you on the fitness track. As always, prior to beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.
First, our bodies will eventually reach plateaus. And, while we need to understand this is part of the fitness journey, recognizing a plateau and how to bust through it, is critical to ensure a lifetime of fitness. Our bodies handle the stress and adaptation concept of S.A.I.D. (i.e. specific adaptation to imposed demands), very well when we are training safely and effectively. However, our bodies also need time to process adaptation and recover adequately, so well designed exercise programs that take this into account are essential for anticipating and busting through plateaus.
This may include any or all of the following:
Periodically, plan on modifying your program to offset plateaus. Periodization is most effective when planned and consistent. However, the primary component of periodization is simply to modify your program often enough to stress the body in various ways requiring it to adapt to a new stressor. The body adapts surprisingly quickly, and some exercisers are more genetically predisposed to adaptation than others, so avoid comparing yourself to anyone else.
While variety is useful within the periodization component, it also helps to prevent boredom leading to plateaus and subsequently resulting in poor exercise adherence.
Create challenges for your body that push it beyond your comfort zone—where the magic happens! Of course, this must be done safely and effectively, but when we push out of that comfort zone, even if very briefly, our body begins to experience a new level of stress. This level may take quite a while to adapt to, so be patient.
An example of pushing out of the comfort zone would be to include high intensity interval training into your predominately steady state exercise program. Gradually, add a five-minute high intensity interval training interval which would include a 30-second sprint, all out, with a 30-second active recovery interval. Repeat this series five times and then return to your steady state program. Over time, you may be able to perform five of the 30/30 HIIT intervals in sequence followed by five minutes of steady state training and then repeat the HIIT series.
Where muscular strength training is concerned, adding a 2.5 percent increase in external resistance (i.e. load) is a good rule of thumb when attempting to bust through muscular strength plateaus. You will naturally reach that stage where your body, structurally will be unable to handle more load. At this time, to avoid plateaus in strength, it is time for a program modification, challenging those same muscle groups in different ways.