Plateaus can be defined as a state of little or no change following periods of activity or progress. In fitness, plateaus can be frustrating as we have a tendency to form habits around routines that have achieved results for us in the past. Eventually, though, these habits or routines can lose their steam and result in plateaus or overtraining. Below is a simple three-step process that can be used to break through any fitness plateau.
Step 1: Define the Plateau
Write it down. In your own words, write down what your plateau is. In other words, what changes do you expect to see that you are not seeing?
Step 2: Understand Why You Plateaued
The fitness results that we seek are nothing more than adaptations that our body makes to stimuli. This is often referred to as the “SAID Principle” which stands for, “Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands” and essentially tells us that the current state of our fitness is the result of the previous demands placed on our body. The adaptations (or changes in fitness) that we want to see may take shorter or longer depending on how well we optimize our training around the principles of training, which include:
Specificity – The SAID Principle (described above).
Progressive Overload – It takes a progressively stronger stimuli (or stress) to provoke the same physiological response over time. To create the necessary overload, changes can occur via training frequency, intensity, and/or duration.
Individuality – Everyone responds differently to the stress of training.
Reversibility – Adaptations can be lost if the stimulus is too infrequent, emphasizing the need for consistent training.
Review your training and nutrition history with these questions in mind:
- Are your goals/expectations realistic? We all have professional and personal demands on our time and energy. If your goals do not take into consideration these demands, you could be setting yourself up for failure.
- Are you undertraining? If your training sessions are too short and/or infrequent, this may an opportunity for improvement.
- Are you overtraining? If you train too often and/or at the same intensity all the time, you may benefit from adding more recovery and/or variation of intensity to your schedule.
- Are you recovering? Many athletes make the mistake of pushing too hard on easy days and not hard enough on hard days. In addition, many athletes (especially those with professional lives outside of athletics) do not get enough sleep. Without sleep, your body cannot effectively absorb training, resulting in plateaus.
- Are you varying your training? Incorporating different types of exercise and at different intensities is important so that you maintain balance and allocate adequate time for recovery.
- Does your nutrition support your goals? If your nutrition does not complement your fitness goals, this is an easy way to sabotage fitness gains.
- Are outside stresses affecting your progress? Stresses, no matter if they are physical or mental, can prevent you from seeing results. That’s why it is important to take a step back and consider all the stresses in your life that may be getting in the way of progress.
Step 3: Get Organized and Excited
Develop an exciting roadmap to success:
Knowing what your goal is and what you have done thus far to achieve it, develop a new plan for success that excites you! Plan fun workouts, schedule fitness vacations, join teams, etc. The key is to have a plan from where you are now to where you want to be, by when, and make it as detailed as possible. Then, go the extra mile and make it fun!!
Whether it is your friends, family, or coach, get others involved and invested in your success.
Gather and analyze your performance data:
There is nothing more fun than watching your success develop every day. Get in the habit of tracking your performance data and celebrating milestones! You will find yourself wanting to achieve specific results during every session just so that you can see the data afterward.
Monitor and modify your training:
Life happens, but we adapt! If you hit a speed bump in your plan, learn to modify your plan or goals and then getting refocused. Avoid getting frustrated and throwing everything away.
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