Picture this. You have been grinding out your workout at the gym or at home most days of the week for a few months. At first, the gains are obvious: you may feel better, stronger, happier, and more energetic. You may be more toned and lose more weight than you expected.
Recently, though, imagine that those benefits do not seem to be coming anymore. You may not be losing more weight or gaining more strength or endurance. Signs of progress may not have come for a few weeks. The same workouts may not be as energizing.
What could be wrong?
You may have hit a fitness plateau. Though plateaus are something to be proud of – they mean that you have been consistent enough for your body to consider your workouts ho-hum, they are also frustrating. Who would want to work so hard without seeing results?
Why Plateaus Happen
Plateaus happen because your body is so smart. It learns to adapt to what you throw at it, and you have thrown a lot of exercise at it. You, for example, may have made your body go for a 30-min bike ride several times a week for a while, and now…your body is really good at going for 30-minute bike rides! Unfortunately, that means your body is also more efficient at it, which means you may burn fewer calories or build less muscle as you do the same workouts.
Still, as the Lark DPP check-in pointed out, one thing you have been training for, for as long as you have been physically active, is getting over plateaus. You are now in better shape than you were before starting to exercise, and you may have learned a lot about making adjustments to overcome barriers.
How to Break a Plateau
- Go longer. When first starting an exercise program, a 5-minute walk may have been enough to make a noticeable difference. Now, it may take 20 or 30 minutes to get that stress-busting, sweat-breaking satisfaction. Sometimes, adding as little as 5 minutes can make a difference.
- Go harder. Is strolling around the block or splashing around in the pool not doing it for you? Upping the speed, or resistance or incline on a cardio machine at the gym, can get those endorphins going and those calories burning. Try going harder for a minute at a time, then recovering while taking it easier, and then going again hard until you are out of breath.
- Go heavier or lighter. Try heavier weights with fewer repetitions (lifts), or lighter weights with more repetitions. It does not matter as long as you change it up.
- Set a goal. It can be to walk a 5k or go on a rock climbing trip in a few months, or, if there is nothing specific you are looking forward to, it can be a goal to strengthen your shoulders or do a squat jump. The point is to figure out how to achieve your goal and be engaged in the process of training for it.
- Take a break. A break from your regular routine can let you recharge, and it does not need to mean being sedentary. Try a new activity, such as surfing lessons, a dance class, a group fitness class at a gym, or circuit training in which you decide to try each machine at the gym for a few minutes. This can give your mind a break while allowing your muscles to learn new tricks.
- Rest regularly. Did you know that rest days are essential? If you have been going for too hard for too long, resting can allow your muscles to recover and be ready for more. If you never rest, you will never reap full rewards from your work. Resting also provides a mental break and lets you become more eager for when you do get back to exercising. A day or two each week of rest can get you over a plateau and keep your mind and body fresh.
- Change the scenery. Sometimes the plateau is psychosomatic: your body stops responding as the result of your mind not wanting to work out. It is possible that simply taking your regular treadmill walk outdoors with friends (or vice versa if you are normally outside with friends) can bring back the joy to exercising, which can make your body respond well again. Similar minor changes may be taking a cycling class instead of hitting the roads,, as lifting weights in a fitness class instead of by yourself, and lifting weights in a different order than usual.
Whatever strategies you try to break a fitness plateau, lose more weight, and stay motivated to lower diabetes risk, Lark can be there for you to encourage, strategize, and monitor.