It happens to the best of us–we train consistently and eat healthy, and we see results, pushing us to keep on going. Then we stop seeing changes. Though we work out regularly, do our cardio as always, skip a well-deserved cheat meal, take our supplements religiously and do everything by the book, nothing happens. It seems like we’ve just stopped progressing. We haven’t gotten stronger nor gained any muscle at all. That’s it–we’ve hit a plateau.
These are just some of the general signs our body has adapted to routine. A training plateau could be due to any number of things, such as overtraining, undertraining, overeating, undereating, changing workouts too often, or as you can probably tell, not often enough. It can be terribly frustrating not knowing what went wrong. Whichever the reason, worry not, because there are ways to get out of a training plateau.
Let’s take a look at some of these signs closely first and see how we can bust ourselves out of a plateau.
Loss of strength
When you start noticing a decrease in your overall performance–like you couldn’t add more weight to your sets–it’s a sign you’re hitting a plateau. When you can’t even match the lifts you did before, that means your overall strength has decreased. This is a clear sign that your body has not been able to grow more muscle tissue and recover properly. You’re close to overtraining, damaging your muscles and therefore losing the strength you once had.
Lack of progress in workouts
Fitness experts recommend progressing constantly in exercises and workouts every week in order to build muscle. Examples of progression are adding 5 percent extra weight to a bench press or an extra couple of reps. However, if you notice you can’t progress in any of your exercises of two consecutive workouts that are exactly identical, it’s a sign you’ve hit a plateau and you have to switch things up.
Lack of progress in muscle gain
It’s expected to gain about 1 to 2 pounds a week if you’re training to gain lean muscle mass. If after a week you don’t see any changes in terms of weight and muscle mass after two consecutive weeks, there’s a big chance you’re experiencing a plateau.
Decrease in or loss of appetite
When you’re seeing progress, eating clean and generally doing well in your workouts, you’re usually hungry and always have a good appetite. However, when you notice you’ve lost that powerful edge when lifting or you begin to get fatigued easily, you may also observe you’ve started losing your appetite. Overworking our bodies leads to muscle receptor sites not being as responsive to taking in calories. Your metabolism starts to slow down and you’re not taking in as much nutrients as before. A plateau is on the horizon, if it’s not already there.
Lack of motivation
You start losing motivation as a result of not seeing any progress, so you also lose faith in what you’re doing. You can also lose the will to work out because your body is fatigued, so you don’t feel like training at all. This is your body telling you that you need to stop.
What to do when you’ve hit a plateau
First, get some rest. Rest is important for muscle recovery and growth. Our bodies don’t assimilate new muscle while working out. The body actually breaks down muscle tissue, so a recovery period between workouts is necessary to build new muscle tissue. Aside from making sure our body recovers and muscles are repaired, a recovery period of about a week also gives ligaments and joints a break. You’ll definitely come back to the gym refreshed, with more motivation and renewed strength.
Second, make small changes. You don’t have to change everything all at once. Small changes, such as switching to lifting dumbbells from doing incline barbell presses. Here are some other modifications you can do:
- Reverse the order of your exercises
- Change the time of the day when you work out
- Switch up the day of the week when you work on your lower and upper body
- Increase your weight or intensity
- Lower your weight while increasing reps
Give yourself enough time to apply progressive overload, and allow your body to progress in the new workouts.
As for the last tip, find a way to motivate yourself. It can be by working out with a partner, trying a different training program that will keep your body challenged, or perhaps even going to a new gym. See whatever works for you and keep at it. Remember that experiencing a plateau is normal and happens to everyone–it’s what you do to pull yourself out of it that makes a difference.
Once you’ve overcome a plateau, you’ll be able to apply creative ways to enhance performance, increase strength and trigger new muscle gains. You can then return to your original workout plan and make progress in your training again.