It’s bound to happen. No matter what you do, no matter who you are, no matter how amazing a fitness plan have, you’re going to hit the dreaded plateau. The fitness plateau comes in all shapes in sizes; there are weight loss plateaus, strength plateaus, performance plateaus; simply put, they know no boundaries. Since plateaus share company with death and taxes, let’s first and foremost accept them for what they are – another step in the body transformation process.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s make sure everyone is on the same page – what exactly is a fitness plateau? As the name suggests, a plateau is when your progress simply flat lines. You might have been making killer progress for a while; were burning tons of fat, losing weight, and getting fit and then all of a sudden…BAM. Nothing you do seems to work any longer. No more weight loss. No more strength gains. No more slimming down. Frustration and burn out quickly ensue. Sound familiar?
I think it’s safe to safe everyone and their mother (if she works out, that is) has experienced a fitness plateau at one point or another. Since the majority of my clientele have weight loss goals, the weight loss plateau is what we’re going to focus on today. That said, the tid bits you’re going to pick up in this post can be applied to nearly any plateau, with just a bit of tweaking.
The Weight Loss Plateau
To fully understand the weight loss plateau, I want you to think about a TV show most of us are familiar with – The Biggest Loser. When the contestants first come to camp, the weight seemingly drops in almost unimaginable ways. Losses of 10, 20, or more pounds in a given week isn’t unheard of. As time progresses however, the weight loss slows down or even stops altogether. This cycle is the perfect example of newbie gains followed by a weight loss plateau.
The same applies to you – while you may have experienced great weight loss (or fill in your goal of choice) in the beginning, there no doubt came a time when slimming down became more difficult, or nearly impossible. It doesn’t matter if you have 50+ pounds to lose or are simply trying to turn an average, soft-around-the-edges body into some lean and mean – the weight loss plateau is waiting for you.
The weight loss plateau in and of itself isn’t the problem – it’s simply your bodies’ way of letting you know what you’ve been doing is losing its effect. The real problem with this phenomenon is the fact so many people allow it to frustrate them, burn them out, and eventually cause them to start missing workouts and give up all of that great progress they worked so hard making. They’ll resume working out a month or two down the road, re-experience those newbie gains, get excited about working out again, eventually hit that weight loss plateau again, and repeat the cycle all over.
The Perpetual State of Mediocrity
The scenario described above is something I’ve seen play out more times than I can count. The result of this vicious cycle is the fact you’re locked in a perpetual state of mediocrity. You spend your entire fitness journey taking one step forward, one step back, making absolutely no progress, never transforming your body, and bouncing from diet to diet or fitness plan to fitness plan, in search of the magic pill that will finally help you achieve your goals.
First, you’ve got to understand this weight loss plateau has very little to do with the plan you were on or the diet you were keeping. If you were experiencing great weight loss or making other gains at one point, it’s unlikely your diet is the reason you’re suddenly no longer experiencing those gains. Rather than looking for a quick fix when your weight loss engine abruptly stalls out – you’ve got to take a step back, and take a calculated and thoughtful approach to get things firing on all cylinders again.
That calculated and thoughtful approach is what I’m going to show you today. It’s what’s going to end your perpetual state of mediocrity, get you up and over your weight loss plateau, and put you back in the fast lane.
Breaking Through That Weight Loss Plateau
Let me re-phrase that – I’m not going to show you how to break through a weight loss plateau, I’m going to show you how to absolutely DESTROY IT. First off, I want you to develop a bit of attitude (for some of you, this shouldn’t be hard). To hell with that damn plateau. That plateau is standing between you and your goals – are you really going to let it win? Hell no. This time, you control the plateau – it doesn’t control you.
Follow these guidelines, don’t slack on your diet because you’re frustrated, and stay consistent – you do all of those things and you should get yourself over that annoying little weight loss plateau in a matter of weeks. Now’s the time to put your head down and go to work, so focus on your workouts, and always keep your eye on the prize.
Bump the intensity of your cardio workouts. It doesn’t matter if you were doing static-state cardio or a variety of super intense HIIT workouts – it’s time to bump things up. If you were doing static-state cardio, please, I beg of you, please start doing HIIT sprints. We’ve got amazingly effective HIIT workout plans for you. Use them. If you’ve already been doing HIIT, I have a few suggestions that are tried-and-true methods for breaking through any plateau.
- Increase the lengths of your sprints
- Increase your sprint speeds
- Decrease your recovery intervals
Bottom line, make your HIIT cardio sessions more intense. If you’re looking for a detailed workout that will absolutely destroy you (and your plateau) you’ve got to check out this killer treadmill interval workout we’ve put together for you – guaranteed plateau buster.
Stoke your metabolic fire. By this I mean, start doing workouts that will keep your caloric burn at a heightened level throughout the day. Which workouts do this? Well, I’m glad you asked. As the name implies, metabolic conditioning workouts are great for bumping your metabolism. Check out this fat burning metabolic conditioning workout to get yourself started.
If you’re already familiar with these type of workouts, there are a few things you can do to dial up the intensity…
- Increase the weight you’re using
- Lengthen cardio exercises in the circuit
- Add an exercise or two to the circuit
I would suggest including a metcon (metabolic conditioning for short) workout into your overall plan at least once, preferably twice a week. Just make sure you’re putting enough space between metcon workouts so your body has time to properly repairs those muscles.
Power lift your way past a weight loss plateau. It’s amazing how effective adding some new exercises to your fitness routine can be. I’ve seen people stuck on a plateau, unable to lose weight for many months – as soon as we introduce those “hardcore” power lifts into their routine, magically, they start slimming up and leaning out again. Not only that, they start developing lean, shapely muscle in places they never thought possible. So which exercises am I talking about? I’m talking about barbell squats, barbell deadlifts, bench presses, and clean and presses.
If you’re thinking, “Matt, what kind of idiot do you think I am? I’m already doing that!”, then my suggestion to you is to mix things up by…
- Superset your powerlifts
- Increase the weight you’re using
- Increase the rep/set cycle
The last one is particularly important. If you’re standard weight training workout includes sets of repetitions 8-10 (or something similiar), I want you to completely change things up. Try increasing the weight and using a 5 x 5 (five sets of five reps) sequence. Try lowering the weight and performing two to three sets of 12-20 reps. Get what I’m saying here? Keep varying your reps, sets, and weights every so often so your progress doesn’t go into hiberation.
Cardio comes in a variety of formats – use more of those formats! It seems the average person has at least a vague idea that they need to change up their strength exercises/weights every 4-6 weeks, but it amazes me how few people know the same is true for their cardio. If your standard cardio routine is a 4 mile run, or 30 minutes of HIIT conditioning with a :30/1:30 split, over time, your body is going to adapt to this stimulus. That means your body becomes more efficient at performing THIS type of work; or in other words, it takes less energy (calories) to perform that same run you’ve been doing forever.
Embrace the fact there is more than one way to get a cardio workout. Add some variety to your life by mixing in some new formats that will absolutely push your body to the brink. We’ve got tons of amazing cardio workouts for you on this very blog – all you have to do is search. One particularly awesome example is our INTENSE at Home Cardio Workout. This workout uses a variety of timed plyometric drills to really spike that heart rate and get you up and over that stubborn weight loss plateau.
The overarching theme today is DIVERSITY. If you continually strive to diversify what you’re doing and evolve your workouts, any encountered plateaus will turn into little more than a speed bump.
Now, this isn’t to say you won’t encounter another plateau at some point down the road. But if you stick to what you learned today, keep the variety, always be looking to bump the intensity, and increase your weights when appropriate, you’ll learn to view a plateau as a simple reminder to step up your game, rather than something to be feared.
Need a little extra help getting past your plateau? I’m here for you. Leave a comment below and I’ll happily get back to you.