Why do we plateau?
Understanding why our progress towards our goals stalls is very important for getting long term success and the body we've always wanted. Let's use fat loss as the example here because in my experience this will apply to the largest number of people. You're losing inches around your waist and everything is going well. You're making healthier choices and choosing efficient training methods to use in the gym which you are going to 3 - 4 times per week and working your butt off. After three weeks of this the changes slow but, we stick at it because we think that maybe it's just because we weren't quite as good food wise this week. After another week our progress has stopped and a week after that, we've given up because we can't work out what else we could be doing better, and we put the inches back on. This must have happened to everyone at least once? It's happened to me anyway.
But WHY does this happen - you were doing everything right? Well there's three main reasons for this.
1. We get fitter. It takes a lot less calories for us to do the same amount of work in the gym. We could have the best programme in the world but if that's all we have, it's not going to be working very well in 2 - 3 weeks when the body gets used to it. It then becomes one of the worst programmes in the world!
2. Our metabolism slows down. The body thinks we're starving because we're burning more than we're consuming and so starts to slow the metabolism down in an attempt to hold onto fat stores. The body doesn't know we aren't happy with how we look and that actually our fat stores are too high!
3. Doing everyday stuff requires less energy. If we've lost weight, moving around is easier! We're moving a few pounds less everyday so even your daily activities require less energy. Our legs are stronger so suddenly stairs, cycling or just general moving is also easier.
What to do about it
Plateaus are normal. In fact it is pretty much impossible to regularly burn fat week in and week out on the same programme. The problem is, we've just never been told this! So we think we've failed and we give up. So...
1. If you hit a plateau - good! That means everything is going normally. It should tell you when to change your programme. Psychologically embrace the plateau and use it as a sign to push on with a new and more challenging gym programme. Don't quit!
2. Make it harder. There are lots of ways to make a programme harder. Increased sets, weight, time under tension, volume, intensity, pairs, giant sets. In my experience as a trainer, the list can go on and on! If in doubt, just... try something different. However, it your time is precious and you want to do it right, find a trainer who can help you find the most effective NEW system for you. This is something I do pre-emptively with my clients, changing systems every 3 - 4 weeks. It may not always even be obvious that it's happened. However, you can't always predict what will happen and sometimes I make changes and results still slow. Which is why being honest with your measurements is important.
3. Adjust your diet. Again, there are lots of things you can do to make your diet work better for you, and it doesnt have to involve living like a Spartan for the rest of your life. Make some simple tweeks and you'll be away.
Once the plateau becomes the norm, you won't be afraid of it. You can measure yourself and see progress, or lack of, and use that information to either stick as you are or forge on to a new phase of your training to bust that plateau.