Dr Susan Baxter
What is a plateau?
Updated: Mar 2
If you are no longer noticing changes in your workouts despite working hard, you might find you have hit a plateau.
A plateau is a descriptor that nothing is changing. What it means is that your body has adapted to the stimuli that you have created for it: either the calorie deficit or calorie increase nutritionally; the workout intensity and frequency.
Plateaus are kind of a good thing in a sense: it is what the body does to reach equilibrium. So the body adapting to what you have changed before to get changes, means that you have become fitter (or if you have abandoned your efforts in the gym then your body has stopped changing to the lack of exercise).
Here are some things you might notice as part of a plateau:
1. No longer seeing improvements:
If your lifts are no longer getting heavier; your runs are no longer getting faster or the scales are no longer budging… it is time for a change! If you aren't changing what you are doing, how can you expect to change? Of course, you need to follow a program in order to know that what you are doing is creating a change (hence why you follow a program an monitor it); but you can’t always do the same thing and expect the results to be different. There is the law of diminishing returns to think about. What that means is that a program will bring about less change over time. It is when those changes become next to nothing that it is time to mix it up: change the weight, the volume of the order, or the reps. Perhaps have a de-load week (see the article dedicated to de-loading).
Now that is not to say that there isn't the “overcompensation principle”: beginners see immediate and huge results simply because the body reacts to new and demanding workouts by overcompensating in response, but it does mean that by the same principle, creating a new program that challenges your body will also be of over compensatory benefit! A new menu could be in order or a new program.
2. No longer being sore after your workouts:
Perhaps your workout is no longer demanding as much from your body as it once did. Or perhaps you need a de-load week because you are no longer recruiting those muscles in the correct way due to being overtrained or fatigued? The overload principle is responsible for this: basically, your muscles are being over stress so much that they cannot be overstressed any longer. They either need to be challenged in a different way or allowed to recuperate before they will show further change.
3. Always being sore after your workouts/moodiness/ irritability:
It is possible that you are not allowing your body a chance to ever recuperate or recover between intense sessions. Remember that muscles are torn down in the gym and built through adequate rest and recovery and nutrients. Perhaps you need to re-visit your nutrition plan as you have more muscle mass that requires more fuel? You are bored: If you are sighing mentally with each new set, how can you expect your body to be interested? Or if you are bored chewing chicken, broccoli, and sweet potato, why suffer? You mind is paramount in any healthy lifestyle. Challenging it to do exercise is one mission: why add to the mission by making things monotonous? All that is required is to add one different exercise here and there, or perhaps take yourself out of your comfort zone and try a class, or select one new meal to try this week.
One of my personal favorite things to do is to also browse on bodybuilding.com: they have programs that you can search and download for free based on your goals and time schedule!
4. Inability to sleep or restlessness:
It is time for a de-load week or a refeed! Your brain, mind, physiological, and nervous system needs a break. Muscles need time to recuperate: they rebuild when you are out of the gym, not when you are destroying them in the gym. Constantly challenging muscles without allowing them to properly recover will harm your “gains” and progress in the long term. Nutritionally, the body will adapt to what you are always feeding it. Giving it something different will keep your body guessing and can even fend off food intolerances. Above all, if you recognize any of these signs, why not switch things up and fall in love with the results you see all over again!
Some ideas to break through?
1. Check out Bodybuilding.com for some free workout programs 2. Go to a class or enlist a personal trainer for a new program. 3. Change 1 thing: the rests/reps/sets/weight/order 4. De-load for one week 5. Nutritionally: rotate your sources of carbs/protein (there are so many more carb sources than sweet potato and more protein sources than chicken). I have some enticing recipes on this site you might want to try: Walnut-crusted Salmon with Kale, a delicious take on Chicken, and Banana Ricotta Pancakes. 6. Reassess your diet: does it have enough energy to sustain your goals?
Above all have fun. Life is about balance. Think to yourself that fitness is a marathon and not a sprint. You must be able to keep it up for the long term for a consistency that adds up to overwhelming change!
If you like what you read, I do have a series of eBooks you can find here. I have designed these to inform and educate with real no-nonsense information about how to live a sustainably healthy life long term. It is the tool kit and knowledge that you need to make your own informed decisions for long-term health.
Thank you for reading.