Are you training hard, eating well, doing all the “right things” and still not getting the results you’re looking for? Chances are you’ve hit a plateau. If you’ve gone from losing weight at a steady rate to being stuck at a certain number on the scales – this is probably the case. A plateau isn’t just experienced by those trying to shed kilos, so if you’ve been building strength and gradually increasing your resistance but you’ve suddenly hit a wall – a plateau might be the case for you too.
One of the many amazing things about the human body is its ability to adapt. Our muscles will adapt to the stress of strength training just like our heart and lungs will with running or boxing. So if you’re wondering why you almost died in your first spin class and you’re now queen of the bike – you can thank your body for its resilience and ability to adapt. The flipside of this is that your body can get so used to the training that you stop seeing results. One of my favourite quotes I tell my clients is: “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity”.
Variety is key and, in my opinion, it beats volume every time. Here are my top five tips for breaking through that barrier and beating a plateau:
1. Change your workouts
If you’re a steady state cardio addict, swap out some of your long runs for shorter HIIT sessions instead. Stairs, circuit training, boxing or fartlek training are some great options and some of my favourite ways to spike my heart rate.
2. Increase the intensity
Whenever I catch up with my clients and I really, really push them I always finish that session by asking them about their own training habits. When I ask them how often they reach the same intensity when working out alone I always get the same look. It’s a combination of a little bit of guilt and a lightbulb moment where they realise that even though they thought were pushing themselves there is always another gear to go to. This doesn’t mean that every workout needs to be maximum intensity but I definitely recommend twice a week finding that uncomfortable limit.
When you train inside your comfort zone you stop burning fat once you stop moving. When you push yourself you will continue to burn fat, even while resting for up to 24 hours. Your metabolism has an after-burn effect, especially when resistance is involved.
3. Look at your portion control
We are conditioned in the Western world to fill up our plate and eat until it’s clean. It’s either bad manners not to or how we've been brought up, so portion control could definitely be something that is holding you back.
I certainly don’t believe in counting calories but you do have to be sensible about your portion sizes if you are looking to lose weight. Drastic changes are not the best method here. A 10 % reduction in portion size, allowing your body and hunger to adapt, will be much more effective and much more achievable.
4. Add in some incidental exercise
Do you spend your whole day sitting? Only to get home and sit some more? You may have done a workout before work but this doesn’t mean you can spend the whole day on your behind. Try and add in incidental exercise wherever possible. Take walking breaks every hour, park a little further away from the office or have that meeting with your colleague on foot instead of at the local café. The recommended step count is 10,000 per day. If you have a smart phone, chances are it can track it for you. You might be shocked at just how few steps you’re getting in during the day when spending most of your time at a desk. Remember, awareness is the first step towards change.
5. Find a training buddy that will push you
It is not easy to workout at a 10/10 intensity when training alone. If you know you could take your workout to the next level then train at least once a week with someone fitter and stronger than you that you know will push you out of your comfort zone. Yes, it will be tough but you will thank yourself when those endorphins are flowing.
So there you have it, my top five tips for breaking through that plateau and getting back on track to achieving your goals.
Sam Wood is the founder of online training and nutrition program 28 by Sam Wood and Australia’s largest personal training gym ‘The Woodshed’.