All workout regimens have one thing in common: the dreaded plateau. And we all know how to recognize one — after several weeks (or even months) of progress, you suddenly hit a wall. All your gains level off, and the number on the scale stagnates.
“You can’t continue in a linear progress,” says Noam Tamir, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and founder of T.S. Fitness in New York City. “Your body cannot build the muscle and strength to continually get stronger. If you start to get weaker then that’s a sign you have plateaued.”
While you may accept the plateau as a necessary workout evil, you need to know what’s really going on in your body so you can accurately address it.
Routine is the biggest culprit behind a workout plateau. “People get into a comfort zone of doing the same exercises at the same reps, the same weight, the same rest, the same speed and just go through the motions,” Tamir says. After between 4–8 weeks of going through the motions at the gym, your body adapts and progress levels off.
“The body responds through a philosophy called progressive overload, in which you keep challenging the body and the body’s response is to get stronger and build more muscle,” Tamir says. No break in routine means no progressive overload — and no progress. Being in shape will make keeping up with progressive overload harder, says Tamir: “The more conditioned and experienced the individual, the faster the body will adapt and the less results will occur.”
First, you have to stay on top of the obvious. “You must track your reps, sets, weight and rest — period,” Tamir says. Keeping tabs on your nutritional intake and sleep schedule can also help you get a handle on a plateau. “You remedy this by making small changes to a program,” he says.
To do this, either increase your reps or switch up the type of exercise. Start small — if your normal routine calls for 6 squats, increase your reps to 8. If you typically do barbell presses, work the same muscle group in a different way with a flat dumbbell press — a little move called “muscle confusion.”
Constantly changing or progressing your routine might seem intimidating at first, but it makes a difference in terms of keeping the dreaded fitness plateau at bay. If you don’t stay on top of that key progressive overload, you might actually start backsliding on your progress. Not ideal.
The bottom line: As soon as your workout starts to feel less than challenging, cue the creativity and start switching it up.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT WORKOUT: