5 Culprits Behind Your Fitness Plateau

Amy Schlinger
by Amy Schlinger
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5 Culprits Behind Your Fitness Plateau

Whether you run, bike, swim or hit the gym for exercise, it’s inevitable you’ll hit a fitness plateau. You may not even realize it at first — you’re so used to your routine that it’s second nature. But, after a couple weeks or even months, you may feel like your body isn’t responding the way it used to. Weights aren’t feeling heavy, the distance you’re running is starting to feel easy and you’re not even out of breath after swimming laps.

“The human body is incredibly proficient at adapting to the stress that’s placed on it,” says Adam Rosante , founder of Strong(h)er. “Do the same thing for too long and you’ll stop making progress.”

In order to prevent or push past this standstill, here are some possible fitness plateau culprits to  lookout for:


You like to stick with your routine because you’re comfortable with it. “Now, that can be a great thing for mastering technique and improving skills,” says Rosante, “but if you want your body to continue to make progress, you have to find ways of changing up what you’re doing.”

His suggestion? Have a plan designed specifically for your goals, that includes a variety for intensities, durations, movement patterns and modalities. “I like to tweak my workouts every week to make sure I’m pushing myself, and then I’ll change things up entirely every three weeks.”


It’s probably close to your home and it feels safe. Plus, you’re still getting in your miles. But if you’re looking at running as a way to lose weight, you may need to step out of your comfort zone. “That might mean increasing your distance overall,” suggests Rosante. “It could mean turning your long, steady run into a series of sprints. It could mean adding in a few days of weight training. Or it could mean setting a time goal and pushing yourself to maintain a certain heart rate for the duration of that run.”


Yes, it’s exciting you’re finishing faster, but it may just mean your route is becoming easier for you. Are you still sweaty when you finish? “In regards to running or indoor cycling, effective and efficient speed intervals are important in order to not plateau,” explains Luke Lombardo, RRCA certified running coach, Ironman triathlete and master trainer at Lagree Fitness in Los Angeles. “You must continually change the speed interval workouts so your body doesn’t adjust. Think about always keeping your body on its toes.”

His suggestions? For running, have an easy run day, a tempo run day, as well as a track day. For both running and cycling, you have to accept that, on harder workout days, you will push past your threshold to work at a serious effort.



It’s all about a commitment to fitness, right? Wrong! “Overtraining can be detrimental to your progress and success,” says Lombardo. “Rest and recovery play a huge role in fitness and are actually when your body changes. If you’re not taking the proper amount of time off to let your body recuperate from the workouts you put it through, it won’t be able to perform the way you want.” Translation: You won’t see progress.

His suggestion: Be sure you’re getting at least eight hours of sleep a night, and fit at least one or two rest days into your workout schedule.


Being hurt is never fun — especially when you’re not able to workout. Because of that, many individuals return to fitness prematurely, before allowing their body to fully heal itself. “This can set you back significantly,” explains Rosante. It opens up the chance for you to injure yourself further, or create muscle imbalances by overcompensating because you’re still in pain.

“It’s important to maintain great form through all your exercises,” says Rosante. His suggestion if you’re not able to? You may need to take more time off or see a medical professional or trainer to help you slowly work your way back from an injury in a safe manner.

About the Author

Amy Schlinger
Amy Schlinger

Amy is a New York-based fitness and health writer and editor whose work has appeared in SELF, Men’s Fitness, Shape, Muscle & Fitness HERS, Pilates Style, Max Sports & Fitness and more. Check her out at www.amyschlinger.com.


7 responses to “5 Culprits Behind Your Fitness Plateau”

  1. Rich K. says:

    Your body does adapt very quickly. I have lost a lot of weight by tracking my food and exercising regularly. But different exercises do effect the body differently. I do all my cardio based on heart rate and time, not distance or speed. When I started about 6 months ago 3 miles an hour at at 9 incline on the treadmill got my heart rate to 138, a good Target for me to maintain. Then I had to increase, and increase, and increase, to the point where 4 miles an hour at a 15 incline wouldn’t even get me over 130bpm. I was also intermixing elliptical and other cardio, but at the treadmill I couldn’t get my heart rate fast enough, and above 4 miles per hour I began to run and then it jumped too high. So naturally I started interval training. Three weeks after I started interval training I passed out in my kitchen. Since I was 17 I was on blood pressure medicine, and back then I was running cross country and playing sports and lifting weights, I was in great shape. High blood pressure just runs in my family they told me. Well 3 weeks after I started HIIT I collapsed in my kitchen, because my blood pressure Tanked. Now for the first time in 34 years I am not on blood pressure medicine, and my blood pressure is well-controlled. It is actually lowest on the days after I interval train. I have also been able to come off of all of my injectable diabetes medicines. My blood sugar was bottoming out as well. My point in telling anyone this is that if you were on medications and you decide to start a fitness program, you need to monitor your medications closely. I could have been seriously injured in my kitchen had I hit my head on the counter. Hypoglycemia could also have sent me into a coma. And you need to keep track of this yourself and be your own advocate. My doctor saw me during this time, and enthusiastically congratulated me and encouraged me, but never took it upon himself to adjust my medication. Take full control of your health and don’t depend on anybody else. Commit not only to exercise and diet, but to learning about your physiology and any medications you are on. Wouldn’t it have been horrible if just as I got back into shape I cracked my skull open on the kitchen counter? I was alone in the house when that happened.

    • BP says:

      This is mostly my experience as well, except I haven’t almost passed out because I have been monitoring my BP daily. Until my next checkup and an Rx adjustment, I spread out doses to every 1.5 – 2 days because it’s too low with a daily dose. I guess it’s not best to adjust your med on your own and I don’t recommend it, but I already have a checkup scheduled and didn’t want to change it and figured that it wouldn’t hurt me for a short time. But yes, be your own advocate. My unmedicated blood pressure went down 25 points after just 6 weeks of cardio. I was shocked how quickly it decreased. And like you, I have increased my workouts based on heart rate and incorporating interval training to get my heart rate high enough.

  2. Ryan D says:

    Good read. Nutrition is another thing to evaluate. The body adapts very quickly to everything…and that includes our diet. Adjusting your macros can blast you through sticking points as well.

  3. sheilla says:

    what happen when the opposite occurs, you have been working out for 8 months for 5-6 days with 4-5 days of jogging or stair mill and 2-4 days of weightlifting, instead of getting stronger the jogs are harder to maintain, the weights are feel heavier, and you feel unable to maintain a previous doable 7-8/10 routine, it progressively worsen to the point you have to stop the workout 2/3 of the way

    • Ragtatter says:

      It means you’ve been over-training and not giving your body the time it needs to recover between workout sessions, so you’re destroying muscle faster than it can rebuild. Workout days are for doing microscopic damage to muscle. Recovery days are for allowing your body to repair that damage and build the muscle back stronger than it was before.

      You don’t actually get stronger on the day you work out. You get stronger on the recovery day when the muscle fibers are rebuilt. If the result of your exercise is that you are weakening instead of getting stronger, then you are not giving your body sufficient recovery time.

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