Plateaus occur when you slow down progress to your fitness related goals. But one question commonly remains. Has your body really stopped producing results for reasons beyond your control? Or, are there ways you can continue moving in the right direction? In most cases, plateaus happen for 3 reasons- metabolic changes, nutrition regulation, and workout strategy. You can fix these plateaus and get back to the results you wanted.
What is a Plateau?
Sometimes plateaus are in the form of performance. For example, your running pace might not be getting faster or you aren’t getting stronger as quickly as you were before. Maybe you get tired in your workouts faster than usual.
Most of the time, people talk about plateaus when it comes to losing weight. In this case, they use the word “plateau” when the numbers aren’t going down as fast as before. Sometimes, people stop losing weight altogether.
Regardless of how you are experiencing a plateau, it has one simple definition. Plateaus are an abrupt halt to progress and are the result of your body’s ability to adjust and change.
It isn’t that your body can’t adjust and change. Instead, you aren’t getting results for 1 or all of 3 key reasons. Once you know these reasons (the 3 golden rules), it makes things easier to see results again.
3 Golden Rules of Weight Loss Plateaus
Below are 3 golden rules of recognizing and overcoming weight loss “plateaus”.
1- Metabolic Changes
Metabolic changes are about burning calories and using energy. In weight loss, the more you lose the less there is to carry around all day. This means your workouts and general daily living are burning less calories. For example, if you’ve lost 20 pounds you could be burning 150 – 250 calories less per day. If you haven’t changed your nutrition, workout, or general movement strategy, this becomes a problem. You can find out how many calories you’re burning here or with the help of an activity tracker. Just make sure you always update your weight.
Once you know your updated daily caloric burn, you can make changes. You can change your nutrition, daily movement, or workout strategy. It’s most important to make a change easy for you. Evaluate which change will have the smallest impact on your life and go with it. If it’s easy to do, you’ll stick to it.
2- Nutrition Regulation
When you think of nutrition control, it’s not obvious. People tend to think of overeating as indulging. If you’re working hard, you aren’t making those mistakes. Instead, you might’ve just loosened up the discipline reins unknowingly. For example, you might not be logging your foods, because it feels so routine. Or, you’ve been logging your foods but your portioning accuracy might be off. Evolution created mechanisms for you to not starve. If you’re in a calorie deficit then your body wants to protect itself. So, 6 oz of chicken breast might look like 4. Your glass of wine might just get a little bit bigger. You never know how much you’re eating until you measure it. Once you measure it, compare it against your burn total. This situation isn’t your fault, it’s your mind working against you. Just make some adjustments.
3- Workout Strategy
People tend to do the types of workouts they enjoy most. And even though you feel like you’re working hard, your perceived intensity can change with monotony. Without a heart rate monitor or activity tracker, estimating calorie burn is tough. To further complicate things, your body will adapt to your workouts. It becomes better at what you make it do. Unless you’re competing for a specific sport, you need to include variety. What’s important to remember is only change your workouts as often as the body needs it. For most types of workouts, it takes your body 4 weeks to adapt. This means you don’t have to do something different 3 days a week. Instead, plan your changes to get the most out of your workouts.
Where to Start
The 2nd golden rule is the most common for people not losing weight. Don’t assume you should immediately adjust your meal plan. Instead, take the time to be meticulous about measuring and logging everything you eat. Do this for two weeks straight and see what happens. If you’re weight loss starts again, then the problem was simple and only about unconscious eating. If it stays the same, then you should consider the 1st golden rule of metabolic changes. Decide where you want to make the adjustment for the weight you’ve lost and go from there. Finally, take a strong look at your workout strategy. Plan for how, when, and what you’re going to change. Then, watch what happens. If things still aren’t changing, you may have hit a more correct version of a plateau. In this case, there are some other things to keep in mind.
Considerations on Plateaus
If you checked out the 3 golden rules and aren’t seeing results or have other goals, take these things into consideration.
It takes the body at least 4 weeks to adapt to a workout stimulus. It adapts specifically and in 3 ways: metabolic, mechanical, and neuromuscular. Metabolic adaptations are how many calories it takes to complete an activity or how the body uses energy. To make this kind of change to your body, consider things like:
- Running distance or speed
- Number of repetitions
- Intensity of effort
Mechanical adaptations involve exercises and how much resistance you apply to them. To make these changes, think about:
- Types of exercise (turning lunge versus forward lunge)
- Increasing weight in strength training
- Swimming instead of running
- Cycling for a leg day
Neuromuscular adaptations are more about how quickly your body can do something. It’s a common thing to work on for sports. It also, has general applications like:
- Performing exercises explosively
- Standing on 1 leg (versus 2) for a squat
- Running outside instead of a treadmill
- Performing exercises on a balance pad or disc
You can learn more about how the body responds to adaptation in the basics of creating workouts. Read it by clicking here.
Sometimes people will hit a plateau and assume it’s overtraining. In general, overtraining is simply not giving the body enough recovery. Recovery is important for the work you are putting on yourself. Without it, you can’t do as much and will see fewer results. You’ll also be more prone to pain or injury. The type of recovery you need will vary but below are some components:
- Nutrition (quality and quantity)
- Rest intervals between workouts
- Emotional stressors
- Mental distractions
- Unchanged workouts
Nutrition for fuel
Like the component of nutrition in recovery, food is fuel. The type of food you eat needs to meet the demands you’re placing on your body. Weight loss, endurance training, and muscle mass increases all need different nutrition strategies. Familiarize yourself with the nutrition recommendations specific to your goals. What you put in your body counts- including water. So if you aren’t getting to where you want to be, take a close look at your food.
So many times, people can’t accomplish their goals because of their motivation. In these cases, mindset might be the problem not a plateau. It can be tough to admit a lack of motivation or realize you aren’t in the right mindset. Read this article on weight loss mindset to get back on track.
Hearing stories of how you overcame a plateau can be so inspiring to others. Let us and the community know about what happened and what you did to get to your goals after hitting a plateau.